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The Hunt for Bodamil - Part Three

Author: 
David Simpson (MacShimes)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
307

PART 3 OF 3

 

Bunford Whitehead smelled terribly. He was also ugly, short and as foulmouthed a creature as I had ever had the misfortune to come across. Top this off with the fact that he had a dirty finger constantly inserted into one nostril or the other and you had a thoroughly loathsome package that one would be wise to give a wide berth – or perhaps a bar of soap.

He did however seem to know where we were going.

We were amidst the rocky foothills of the mountains, some four days out of Gravestaff where I'd managed to convince one of the infamous General Bodamil's cronies to give up the location of his mountain lair. The convincing had required a fair bit of effort and not a little bloodshed, but had ended successfully with the evildoer's heads on spikes and me bedding the lovely Fae. I was now four days closer to my goal of killing Bodamil, stealing his ill gotten plunder and returning for more of the aforementioned Fae-related pleasures. I deemed everything to be going extremely well, considering.

Bunford Whitehead was my guide into the rocky and inhospitable mountains. The mountains, it seemed, were rife with dangers and twisting paths that no more pleasant-smelling man could hope to negotiate. A guide was therefore necessary and Captain Thorn, liberator of Gravestaff, had provided me one – dragging him from a farmhouse cellar that was being used as a makeshift prison. The story was that Bunford had come down from the mountains for a little fun and games amidst civilized folk and got caught on the wrong side of the bridge when Captain Oram had seized the river fort. He'd proceeded to make quite a nuisance of himself, annoying the locals and what not, until Captain Thorn had shown up and promptly thrown him into a cellar where he'd stayed for the past week.

All of which had done nothing to improve his odour.

"So Bumfoot," I said from upwind, "Looking forward to getting back to the cave? I expect it's a bit rustic living in the mountains, eh?"

"It's bloody disgustin'," came the nasally reply, "Eatin' rats and bugs. Sleepin' in the dirt. Not a willin' woman to be found… and the mountain goats are too quick, if you get me! Har!"

"You're a man of the world Bunny my lad."

The birds were chirping in the late afternoon sunshine. I was tired but satisfied. We'd made excellent progress and were now well into the lower reaches of the mountains. All around was tumbled rock and scree. Stunted bushes, tough grass and the odd, wind-twisted tree made for spare scenery, but the waning sun was still warm and the air was crisp. Bunford was a stone's throw ahead of me, making his way toward a small pass at the top of the rise.

"Bumble!" I called, "Let's call it a day, shall we?"

"Other side o' the pass ya farkin' weak arsed girl!" he shouted back over his shoulder, "There's a decent campsite an' a stream without too much bear crap in it!"

We trudged to the top and shadows enveloped us as we entered the pass – just a shallow cut between through the ridge filled with boulders and scraggy bushes. It had been a long day's march and I was looking forward to making camp. I didn't think to wonder that I hadn't seen many birds about, despite their frequent calls, until we were already in the trap.

As we passed from bright sunlight into shadow the ground erupted with dust and shouts as bandits leapt from their hiding places. My vision was impaired, but my reflexes were not. My short sword leapt from its sheath and turned a club that came crashing down at my head. I spun away, leaving that attacker stumbling with a sweep of my foot. Another shape was in front of me, whirling a net about his head. I dove at his feet, rolling beneath his cast as my left hand found the knife on my hip. Coming to my feet I drove the short blade into his chest and danced away from him as he collapsed. I lost the knife and spun to meet the next enemy.

Twist. Cut. Move. Never stay still. A bald man's nose crumbled under a well-placed fist. A tall man managed to snag my shoulder with a dagger, tearing the fabric. The shapes were resolving into people now as my vision adapted to the shadows. There were a half-dozen at least – too many, but no time to despair as a flash of steel came at me low from the right. My sword swung to meet it with a ringing of blade on blade. I freed a second knife with my off hand and growled in fury as I brought it around. My opponent's blade was quick however and turned it away. I got a look at her.

It was a beautiful young girl.

I stumbled, involuntarily checking the swing of my sword. In that split second of hesitation pain exploded in my head as something blunt and heavy was brought down upon it from behind.

Blackness.

#

My scalp was bloody and sore. My fingers gently probed it but aside from a massive lump my skull seemed to be more or less intact. I opened gummy eyes.

"He did for Lommy," I heard a nasally voice say, "I say we kill him"

"The other one's with Pointer's clan," another said, "Or so he says. I'm thinkin' we don't any want trouble with them."

"Aye," agreed a third, "Besides, if you ‘adn't missed him he wouldn't ‘ave killed Lommy, nor broke your nose."

"You jumped too early!"

The retort was heated and an argument was soon joined. My vision cleared and I saw them a few feet away.

They were mountain men, dressed in dirty rags and piecemeal armour. The bald one sported a bloody bandage across his face, which brought a grimace of satisfaction to my lips. The other two were alike of feature, both thin with unruly red hair. They were well joined in their argument, but it was of no advantage to me for, as I took stock of my surroundings, I realized that a few feet to my right sat the beautiful girl that had caused my hesitation in the fight. She was pointing a loaded crossbow at me with disturbing steadiness.

 

She was tanned and wholesomely beautiful with bright blue eyes and light brown hair that was pulled back from her face. Her lips were turned up in a small smile and I saw she had dimples.

I also noted that she wasn't a girl at all.

"You're either a Halfling or you have a strange preference for footwear," I said with a glance at her large, hairy feet.

"You're funny," she rejoined, "It'll be a shame to kill you."

"Then don't."

"You killed Lommy."

Looking past the arguing trio I saw the unfortunate Lommy lying on his back with my knife still protruding from his chest.

"Ah," I said, "Friend of yours was he?"

"Not really. He had bad breath and over-friendly hands. Still, he was one of ours."

"Accidents happen. You did attack me, you know."

She shrugged then turned her head slightly and called over her shoulder, "Shaggy!"

A moment later a large man approached. He was tall and well muscled, with a broad face and unkempt black hair. He carried a thick quarterstaff with metal shod ends that looked suspiciously equal in size to the lump on my head. He strode over and looked down at me. I noticed that the argument had stopped.

"The rancid one says you're looking for Bodamil,' he said with a deep, gravely voice.

Bunford obviously wasn't the strong, silent type. That being the case I decided to go against one of my standing rules (when in doubt… lie) and see where it took me.

"Yes actually. Have you seen him?"

The big man looked down at me silently. His eyes were small and black and didn't blink much. They gave nothing away. I noticed however that the knuckles on his hand holding the staff had gone very white. I rolled the dice.

"I've been sent to kill him."

He just looked at me for a moment then finally said, "By who?"

I suppressed a smile and launched into my now familiar tale.

#

The cage was cramped and Bunford was ripe. Even so, his sour smell was no match for my mood. I had spun my tale of lies and half-truths so well and so often that I had half-begun to believe them. Thus it was with great offence that I found myself tightly bound, marched to the bandit camp and thrown unceremoniously into a stout cage along with my guide. At least it gave Bunford time to fill me in on the locals as night settled over us.

"There's a bunch o' clans in the mountains. Stragglers an' outcasts that ‘ave banded together. These ones be the Locklan clan. That Shaggy bastard is the leader. Beren Shaglis by name. I heard tell he killed ol' Menkar Locklan in a fair fight. No small feat neither being as Menkar was a big farkin' pit wrestler from the north."

"So, maybe we can join them? We're stragglers, of a sort."

"Yeah, well there's a bit o' a problem there," Bunford said uncomfortably.

I just looked at him until he spit it out.

"I'm a bleedin' Pointer clansman. There's some bad blood."

What I thought was, ‘No problem… for me,' but what I said was, "Why didn't they kill us then?"

"You don't look like a mountain man an' Bodamil's not exactly farkin' popular ‘round here. Suppose they're curious."

I was silent for a while and concentrated on loosening my bonds. They'd left my legs free but the cords around my wrists were tight and taking a goodly amount of effort to relax. Still, come morning I was sure they would be looking at an empty cage. Well, maybe not quite empty as I would probably have to leave Bunford to his fate.

I wasn't given the chance. Up to the cage strode the Halfling woman and the red haired twins. They were all armed.

"Shaggy wants to talk," said the girl.

"Funny, he doesn't strike me as much of a conversationalist."

"Perhaps you'd prefer if he just hung you?"

"You know that's the second time you've threatened my life. This could have a serious effect on our relationship."

She looked at me stone faced, but her eyes twinkled.

"Are you going to be good?" she asked.

"I promise."

She snorted, but motioned one of the men to unlock the door. They pulled us out roughly, amidst a string of curses from Bunford, and marched us through the camp.

The encampment was set in a wide cleft in a mountainside; the enclosed ground was fairly level and quite expansive. Several shallow caves were set in the walls, extended with ramshackle wooden roofs. Small fires were set in front of several entrances to hold off the cold and a larger bonfire burned brightly in the centre. There looked to be a couple of dozen people gathered around it. We were pushed roughly to one side of the fire and sat, grateful for the warmth. The twins stood guard behind us while the girl sat apart.

One of the figures stood up and circled the fire to approach. Shaglis. Conversation ceased and the atmosphere became expectant.

"The rancid one is Pointer clan," his voice was low but carried easily, "He has trespassed on Locklan territory."

A muttering broke out and Bunford spat into the fire. The bandit leader moved to stand over him. He was a big man and the shadows leant him an extra sense of menace.

"A Pointer should know better," he said.

"I didn't ‘ave piss for choice did I? The Captain ‘ere wants to find bloody Bodamil and so I ‘as to find ‘im. The General won't be respecting farkin' territories, will ‘e?"

"Pointer's are always disrespectin' us Shaggy!" someone called out, ‘Let's hang ‘im!"

"We don't want that kinda trouble. Break his arms and send him home!" shouted another.

"Shut up."

Shaglis said it quietly but the potential argument quelled immediately. He moved to stand over me.

"You are difficult," he said, "I told your story. Most disbelieve it. Some think you work for the General."

I stayed silent. I was pretty sure he'd made up his mind already.

"He fights like an assassin."

The voice came from the Halfling woman. Her face was beautiful in the firelight. She looked at him with steady eyes. He eventually looked away from her and gazed into the darkness above my head.

"Bodamil is on the run," he said softly, "His time is over but he has left many debts. And you say you are here to collect on them."

"Yes," I said.

"Yet you have no proof."

"Pfah!" spat Bunford, "I don't know ‘im from a goat's bunghole but I'll tell you what I saw for free."

Everyone's attention, including mine, turned to the Pointer clansman.

"The river fort was ‘eld by Oram. Some of you scabs may know ‘im."

There was a general muttering as at least a few reacted to the name. I noticed Shaglis stiffen suddenly from the corner of my eye.

"The town was ‘eld by a fella called Thorn," continued Bunford, "A right bastard himself but a farkin' choirboy compared to Oram. Point is Thorn couldn't drive ‘Oram out. A crow's feast was pilin' up at the gates and it looked as they'd ‘ave to starve the bleeders out. Then in goes this farkin' lunatic," Bunford motioned at me with his chin, "Sneaks into the fort, does for ‘alf the guards and opens the gate for a bloody slaughter. I don't know what ‘e is but if ‘e's with Bodamil then I'm the Queen's eunuch."

A silence settled over the camp as everyone looked at me. Technically of course Bunford hadn't ‘seen' anything, being as he'd been locked up in a cellar, but I wasn't going to gainsay him. I looked at Shaglis with a calm expression.

"Oram told me where to look just before he… expired."

#

Two days later the camp had more or less returned to its routine. It was quite comfortable really. The cleft it occupied kept the mountain winds off and held in the sun's heat; the shallow caves and huts weren't luxurious by any means but they were dry and warm. They'd given me the run of the camp, though not all were happy about it. Bunford was restricted to the camp proper as they suspected he might scarper back to his clan, given the chance. However they seemed to think I wouldn't get far on my own and so left me pretty much to myself.

I was housed with the twins and had wheedled some information from them. Unfortunately most of it was to do with hunting and haberdashery – the former being their current occupation and the latter their previous. They did have some interesting tidbits though.

For one, Shaglis' reaction to Oram was explained by a rather sketchy story about his family farm being burnt to the ground. It was thought that Oram had instigated it and that there had been a wife as well, but there wasn't much detail to be had. He seemed to be well thought of as a leader, though mostly he just left people alone unless they had a problem. Everyone called him Shaggy.

Marjery, as the Halfling woman was called, also had a story. Halflings were quite rare – I'd only ever met a few even though I considered myself quite well travelled. She and her sister were amongst the few remnants of a village razed by soldiers two year's past. They'd fled into the mountains and been adopted by the Locklan clan. The sister had died a few months back from a fever. Marjery was generally considered the second in command and was fiercely loyal to Shaggy. I'd thought to get to know her better as she'd stuck up for me in a fashion, but she'd kept her distance so far.

To the rear of the camp several trails led off; one to a cold stream where they directed me to fetch water when I offered to help out. I figured I could use these people's help and needed them to trust me – at least a little. Along the bank I found thickening vegetation and weaved through the rock and underbrush, looking for a pool where I might gather water without falling in. It was a pleasant day and I wandered a bit farther than I needed. After a while I heard voices. Smiling at my good fortune, I realized that I had stumbled upon the camp women's bathing area.

I crept away from the bank and continued up stream, keeping just out of sight of it. I grimaced when an unmistakeable cackle rose above the rest. It belonged to Heffa, a jowly, heavyset woman with a mean streak as long as she was ugly. The thought of seeing her froglike body in its natural state was almost enough to turn me away, but I mentally shrugged and decided to take a peek anyway.

As I came even with them I crept forward and lay down behind a large bush. I had chosen a spot not five feet from the stream bank and only a few feet higher. Parting the branches slowly I saw a little pool had formed amongst the rocks and moss here making a sheltered place for bathing. Sure enough, there was Heffa in all her glory, scrubbing her hairy crevices with handfuls of sand and chatting away happily in her croaking voice. Several others also splashed in the shallows but my attention was immediately drawn to the other side.

Marjery reclined on a sloped rock on the far side of the pool. Her fur-clad feet dangled in the water and she gazed at the clouds with her hands behind her head. Her legs were smooth and hairless from the point where the fine fur stopped just above her ankles to the narrow, damp patch of hair of that graced their intersection. Her stomach was flat and speckled with water that had not yet dried in the sun and her small breasts pointed skyward, topped with hardened nipples of reddish-brown.

My loins stirred but my mind rebelled. I had thought her a girl at our first encounter and, even though she was obviously a grown woman – Halfling rather – I couldn't help but feel a little strange about it. Still, I didn't stop looking.

After a moment I decided to retreat but froze when Marjery suddenly sat up. In a single graceful motion she slid into the water and I lay mesmerized by her lithesome beauty. She was across the pool in two slow strokes and came to her feet in the shallows of the nearby shore. She walked directly towards me, water glistening on her body.

I suddenly realized there were piles of clothing not three feet from where I lay.

I remained motionless as only a thief can. My eyes followed her as she came to within an arms length of me and began towelling herself dry with bolt of rough cloth. I felt the droplets that flew from her wet hair as she shook it dry but didn't flinch. I watched unblinkingly as she slid ragged undergarments and coarse clothing over her naked limbs. Finally, with a wave and a word to the others, she walked away back toward the path.

I breathed again.

Unfortunately, Heffa choose that time to finish her bath as well. This time I kept my eyes tightly shut.

#

"Kaid says they came through a fortnight ago. Three hundred strong. More than half armed, a couple of dozen on horseback. Two dozen wagons, heavy loads. And women! Came up the Lion's Spur trail."

"What was a Leadfoot man doing there?" asked Shaggy, "That's Pointer territory."

"He had it from a Pointer lad. They're on good terms these days."

"Second hand information," I grunted, "Third hand now."

The man giving us the information had been gone almost since I'd arrived. It seemed Shaggy had sent a couple of scouts out hours after my capture. My estimation of the dour bandit leader went up several notches.

We sat around the fire, though it was still mid-afternoon; Shaggy, Marjery, Bunford, myself and the scout whose name was Gib. The information was intoxicating. I was finally closing in on my quarry.

"Where would they be going?" I asked, "Oram said something about a place called the ‘Gullet'."

Gib nodded but it was Bunford who replied.

"The Gullet's a long scrag of a valley. Lots of ‘idden places there. Water, berries, decent hunting. Man could ‘ide out there for donkey's years."

"You can guide me there?"

"Sure, for all the good it'll do. It's bleedin' massive. A body could waste a month pissin' around in there. More likely the farkers'd find us a'fore we found them."

"More searchers will shorten the time."

I looked up in surprise. It was Shaggy who'd spoken.

"You mean to come with me?"

He looked back at me with black eyes and I thought I was in for another one of his enigmatic silences. He spoke instead.

"I had a farm. We were tired of being ill-treated by our own soldiery and so welcomed the invaders. We gave them food; let them sleep in our fields. Then the battle lines shifted and Oram came through our area, burning and looting. My wife… my wife was taken. They left me for dead amongst the corpses of my farmhands."

He paused for a moment and I knew what was coming.

"I found her three days later. Naked in a ditch. Her throat had been cut. I suppose they had grown tired of her. I buried her and followed. I snuck into their camps at night and cut some throats. Eventually I grew sick of it and fled to the mountains. It made no difference. Killing Bodamil will."

There was silence. I had the feeling it was the most anyone had heard him speak of it.

"Count me in too," said Marjery.

Shaggy looked at her and was about to say something but she cut him off.

"Gib here can run things and you can stuff any other arguments you might have."

Shaggy responded with nothing but a small smile.

#

The next night found us camped in Leadfoot territory - Shaggy, Marjery, Bunford, myself and three others from the Locklan clan who had scores to settle with Bodamil. It'd been a tough hike but the tension had been eased once a Leadfoot scout intercepted us. Shaggy had sent word ahead of our intent and the Leadfoot clan had granted us leave to cross their territory unmolested. Not only that, they'd promised a dozen men would meet us at the border of Pointer lands.

Bunford and I shared a lean-to. It was in a sheltered spot and a small fire kept it quite comfortable but even so I lay restless in my blankets, thinking of many things. I was alone, Bunford having disappeared to who-knows-where. Thankfully he'd taken his blankets with him, leaving the air breathable for a change. Then I heard rustle of someone approaching and grunted in annoyance.

"Give me a break Bumfoot, I was hoping you'd fallen off a cliff or something," I whispered loudly.

It wasn't Bunford who slipped in beside me however, but Marjery. She had a blanket wrapped about her and the moonlight shone off of naked shoulders that showed beneath it. She knelt very close beside me and I tried to sit up. She put a hand on my chest, pushed me back gently and stared into my eyes.

"I saw you at the stream," she whispered, "I know you were watching."

"Marjery," I started to say, but she ignored me and continued.

"I liked it. It made me feel things I haven't felt in a long time."

She shed the blanket, revealing that she was nude beneath. Her eyes reflected the frail light like faint stars, her skin was polished ivory and her breasts hung in the moonlight like ripe fruits that ached to be plucked. She moved her hand to my stomach.

"I know what you're thinking," she said softly, "But I am woman grown and long past being a maid. You won't hurt me… though… I admit I have never… with tall-folk I mean…"

I was speechless.

Her hand moved lower, slid beneath my waistband and found that my body did not seem to have the same objections as my mind was hurriedly compiling. I grabbed her hand and pulled her away before my mind gave up and decided my body knew better. I sat up and held her hands firmly.

"I can't," I said.

"Your body says otherwise." Her eyes shone wetly.

"I know. You're beautiful and desirable and were I two feet shorter we'd wake the camp, but it's not just that…" I searched for the words. It wasn't just the height difference, though that certainly made me a bit uncomfortable, there was something else. Something strange.

"There's a woman," I began and suddenly, shockingly, knew it was true.

Fae.

How in the nine hells had that happened? I'd barely thought of her for the past week and now here I was with a willing and attractive, albeit short, bed warmer and I was having pangs of… conscience?!

Marjery started to cry and I hugged her to me, in part to quell the sudden terror in my heart, but she pulled away and ran from the lean-to, clasping her blanket about her. I lay back with a sigh.

It was a sleepless night.

#

"First of all, it was just an afternoon tumble," I complained to Bunford for the third or perhaps fifth time, "It didn't involve any declarations of love or starry-eyed silences or even an exchange of gifts."

We were scouting ahead of the main party, which now consisted of thirty people – a mixture of Locklan, Leadfoot and Pointer clansmen. Bunford remained uncharacteristically silent as we marched on the rocky trail, but his hunched shoulders belied his weariness with the conversation.

"Get over it already," he croaked irritably, "You're not the first idiot to ever fall in love."

"Love? Who said anything about love?!" I almost shouted in frustration, ignoring the fact that I just had, "The only things I love are my hide, other people's money and the ale at the Boar's Head pub in Blackport. Women are instruments of lust! NOT LOVE!"

"Look," he said, coming to a stop and turning to face me with his hands upon his hips, "I'm not a very good bleedin' tracker so I might be talkin' outta my ass, but if we're to be scoutin' our approach I'm thinkin' it'd be wise to KEEP YOUR FARKIN' MOUTH SHUT AFORE EVERY PIG-LOVING SOLDIER FROM HERE TO GRAVESTAFF HEARS US!"

I stared at him open mouthed for a moment then shook myself and took a slow breath. And another. He was watching me warily.

"Thanks," I finally said, "If I start that again, hit me."

"With pleasure. If it's any consolation, she ‘ates your guts."

"What! What did I do? The little tramp came to me!"

Bunford just looked at me for a moment then shook his head sadly.

"'ow on earth can a man can make it to your age knowin' so farkin' little about women?" he said, then turned and resumed the trek while I stood there with a tick developing under my left eye.

#

Bodamil's camp lay below me. It'd taken three days of marching through cold and inhospitable terrain but we'd been saved a long and frustrating search of the Gullet by the Pointer clansmen. They'd spied out the encampment when one enterprising lad had followed the wagons as they rolled in more than a fortnight ago.

It was laid out in a wide basin reachable by two narrow gullies – one to the west and one to the southeast. I sat in the rocks high above it and looked down. There were guards by each entrance and a lookout posted in the rocks above – he was thirty feet from me, whistling softly to himself and trying to stay awake.

Bunford waited far back, beyond a spur that kept him from view, not to mention smell. It had taken me the better part of an hour to travel the last two hundred feet without being seen, but the view was worth it. My quarry was finally in view.

Wagons, tents and simple wooden huts were scattered over the extent of the basin. Well over a hundred soldiers were there, along with dozens of servants, whores and tradesmen. The horses and oxen were corralled in a fenced area near the west entrance and the most permanent looking structures were situated along the north side.

It was going to be tough. I had thirty bandits – former farmers and fishermen mainly – against over a hundred armed and experienced soldiers. My particular talents seemed of little use here.

Eventually the nearby guard was relieved. I sat quietly for the better part of an hour as he stuck around to commiserate bitterly with his replacement about the cold, the poor quality of the food and slightly better quality of the whores. As they grumbled a plan grew in my mind. When the first guard finally left I made my way silently behind his associate, a grim smile on my lips.

#

After another day of hiding in the barren, raw landscape we were ready. A good thing too as keeping order amongst thirty bandits from rival clans was quite a challenge. They seemed to listen to Shaggy though, especially after he broke the nose of one of his own following a nasty argument.

It was he that went in first while we watched from the guard's position. In the late afternoon, with the sun behind us, he clambered down into camp wearing a confiscated soldier's tunic and posted himself inconspicuously near the officer's quarters. Then it was my turn. I went down at a leisurely pace but my heart was beating wildly. At the bottom I turned toward the officer's huts and strode purposefully toward them. A pair of soldiers crossed my path and looked directly at me.

One winked.

We'd co-opted three of them. The complaints I'd heard amongst the guards had made it obvious that the common soldiery wasn't too thrilled with their situation. I'd also thought back to a man named Potterson – one of the General's cavalry officers who'd become disillusioned with his service. Surely he wasn't the only soldier seeking redemption. Throw in the promise of a little wealth and… The three had promised thirty more. It would still not be a fair fight, but it was a sight better than thirty bandits and a thief. With surprise on our side we stood a good chance of pulling it off.

At least that's what I told them,

Shaggy fell in beside me and we headed for a hut near the back of the encampment. We'd timed it around the evening meal. The plan was that our mutineers would take care of the officers as they gathered for dinner, whilst we took care of the General. Shaggy would stand guard outside Bodamil's hut while I went in introduced myself. We'd been told that he took his meals alone.

The hut was a simple wooden building with a door at the front and windows on either side. A soldier slouched against the building near the door. I pulled a black strip of cloth from a pocket as I walked and quickly tied it around my arm. Shaggy follow suit. It would be our side's ‘uniform' for the evening. The guard caught sight of us and there was an anxious moment as he stiffened. Then, thankfully, he nodded and left his post, pulling out his own armband as he walked away. All was going according to plan. Shaggy took the soldier's place as I took a deep breath and walked through the door without breaking stride.

The ruddy light from a small stone fireplace lit the gloomy interior of the building. It was sparsely decorated – a couple of chairs, a desk against one wall and a table at the far end. A single interior door was set to my left, leading to a sleeping chamber no doubt. A man sat behind the table, a meal laid out in front of him. He looked up in surprise as I entered. I was shocked as well and came to a halt. The man before me was old, thin and balding with wisps of grey hair sticking out on either side of his head. He had a large, beaked nose, mottled skin and looked like nothing so much as a harmless old man. I thought ‘We've been had'.

"This had better be good else I'll have your balls given to the dogs,"

His voice was deep with a harsh edge. It was a voice used to being obeyed and full of such contempt that he may as well have introduced himself. I looked into his eyes and received further confirmation - hard and cold as iron, unyielding, uncompromising and utterly devoid of compassion. I'd seen their like before - killer's eyes.

I thought of a thousand things to say; a thousand curses to levy upon him; a thousand victims and a thousand crimes to lay at his feet as justification for what I was about to do. Looking into those eyes however, I realized that such would simply be theatrics. This man knew what he was and did not rue it. He would laugh. He did not deserve such a scene.

Suddenly, the bedroom door opened and a soldier entered the room carrying a stack of papers. My heart skipped a beat and I mentally smacked myself. Of course he would have an aide, I should have expected it. I acted quickly before either of them realized I was a stranger.

"General," I said, stepping up to the table, "The camp is under attack." Sudden, indistinct shouts from outside confirmed the statement.

"What?" he said, "By whom? Not those pathetic bandits?"

"Yes actually," I replied as I drew my dagger, "Oh, and Captain Potterson sends his regards."

Okay, so it was a little theatrical. Still, I expected to drive my dagger through his eye before I had the last word out. Unfortunately, he didn't hesitate even long enough to look shocked. In fact I had to give him credit as he immediately pushed the table over, forcing me to leap back, and darted behind his aide, through the bedroom door. Very practical, I thought.

The distraction gave the aide time to draw a dagger. He was off balance and done for before it started but was able to delay me for a valuable second or two. In the time it took to drive my blade into his heart, Bodamil had escaped out a window.

I followed in a rush, flying through the window and rolling to my feet with blade in hand. I spun around, looking for my prey. He was only thirty feet away but, to my dismay, had found a cluster of three soldiers who were not sporting black armbands. One peeled off in my direction while the others hustled the General off in the direction of the corral.

The one coming toward me wielded a wicked looking axe and this time I did not have the advantage of surprise. I had a short sword at my belt and drew it quickly; rising to the balls of my feet in anticipation of the charge. There was a sudden blur of movement from my left. I spun that way expecting another attacker, but instead saw Shaggy come barrelling around the corner of the hut. He met the axe wielding soldier like an avalanche, his sword held in an unskilled two-handed grip but slashing with lightning speed. The soldier blocked the first blow and I thought to dart in and finish him, but Shaggy was incredibly fast. He spun, bringing the sword around in a descending sweep that took the soldier's leg clean off above the knee. He fell to the ground screaming.

It was only then I noticed the battle. We'd split our forces and come at them from both sides, with our allies on the inside keeping the remaining soldiers from coordinating any resistance. We intended to hit fast and hard but these were battle hardened soldiers and the tactic didn't look to be as decisive as we'd hoped. It was pandemonium. Each entrance to the gulley was embroiled in fighting and small bunches of men clashed everywhere. My quick glance took in Marjery and Bunford at the west entrance, they'd clambered up some rocks were methodically sending crossbow bolts into the melee.

We sprinted after Bodamil. He had two other soldiers with him and Shaggy and I were thirty yards behind. As they reached the corral they were joined by another of their comrades – an officer. At a word from him, the two escorts turned back toward us as he herded Bodamil toward an already saddled horse.

"Get him!" shouted Shaggy, "I'll take these!"

We slammed into the soldiers at speed. I managed to deflect a blade and get a shoulder into one, knocking him off his feet. I stumbled but kept going; leaving my cohort outnumbered two to one. I reached the gate just as Bodamil came through. He spurred his horse at me and I tried to dodge while stabbing at him. My sword was far to short however and the horse clipped me. I crashed to the ground, covering my head as a second horse, ridden by the officer, leapt over me.

I jumped to my feet spitting dust and curses. Helplessly I watched them charge the west entrance, dodging clusters of struggling men. Marjery spotted them and loosed a bolt. Wrong man. The officer was punched from his horse with a bolt in his chest, but Bodamil thundered on. He did not slow as he charged through the battle, trampling friend and foe alike. I watched him fly past Marjery and disappear from view.

I started after him but suddenly caught sight of Shaggy. He was on his knees in a pool of blood. Half his face was gone and the sword that propped him up was red to the hilt. The two soldiers lay dead and mangled about him. He looked at me with one eye and tried to say something. I couldn't hear him but I knew what it was. He toppled to the ground. I swallowed hard then ran after the rider-less horse.

I reached the beast and pulled myself atop it - no mean feat since this one wasn't saddled and was wild with fear. Grabbing its mane with sword still in hand I managed to turn it toward the gulley entrance and dug in my heels. It bounded forward into the fury. I noted that black armbands seemed to be scarce now. Marjery stood atop her pile of rock still firing her crossbow while Bunford held off a press of soldiers, swinging his like a club to keep them from getting to her. I rode into the foe, slashing with my sword and screaming bloody murder.

"What are you doing?!" Marjery's voice broke through the clamour, "Get after him!"

I looked up at her, not twenty feet away, surrounded by the enemy. Time stopped for an instant. Her eyes burned into mine and echoed the same message I knew Shaggy had tried to convey. Don't let it be for nothing.

"Ride you bastard!" Bunford chimed in from somewhere in the melee.

I spurred the horse into the chasm and rode to do murder.

#

The noise of battle faded, replaced by the rush of wind and clatter of hooves as we tore through the rock walled gulley at speed. My head was pressed against the horse's neck and my left hand locked into its mane. My right still held my sword, but as we raced through a sharp turn I lost my balance on the slippery back and was forced to drop it in order to stay atop the beast. I gave it no thought. I would kill Bodamil with my fingernails if I had to.

The gulley was deep and darkening as dusk settled in over the mountains. We flew through light and shadow, dirt kicking up behind us. We came to a branch, wider to the left and barely six feet across to the right. I unhesitatingly took the right fork. I couldn't afford to think, I just rode, letting my instincts guide me. My prey was alone and had nowhere to run to. He'd try to hide, wait until the battle was over and return to gloat over the dead.

The gulley branched again. Again I took the right fork, this time slowing a bit. There was dust in the air ahead of me. I slowed to a walk as we rounded a corner.

It was a dead end – a natural amphitheatre perhaps thirty feet across with sheer rock walls and a flat dirt floor. Bodamil's horse stood near the back, breathing hard. The General himself was fifteen feet up the wall, trying to climb out. He seemed stuck, with no good handholds to further himself and another twenty feet to go. He looked back over his shoulder and saw me. No fear in his eyes; just anger.

I dismounted, drew a small knife and walked to the center of the amphitheatre. I waited.

After a few more feeble attempts to find a way up, Bodamil suddenly started back down. I waited patiently and as he jumped down the few remaining feet to the floor I approached. He looked at me with fury in his eyes, breathing heavily. He didn't seem old now; rather he looked lean and sharp. He exuded danger like a smell. A predator cornered.

"Give me a weapon," he croaked, "And we'll finish this like men."

I moved faster than I had ever done before or since. My knife flashed upward, driving into his throat and out the back of his neck. I pulled the blade back, shrugged off a grasping hand and stepped away as he hit ground; watching coldly as his life's blood ran into the barren ground.

#

It was a bright winter morning as we approached Gravestaff. We had just beaten the snows that were now covering the slopes behind us and travelled beneath perfect, pale blue skies. I was at the head of a dozen wagons, all loaded with supplies and valuables of one kind or another. Those who accompanied me were mostly whores and porters from Bodamil's host, along with a few bandits who had tired of the mountain life and were hoping to be offered a place back in civilization once our accomplishment was made known. The wagons were heavy and left deep ruts, but they were far fewer than what Bodamil had taken into the mountains. Bandits had taken their toll.

In fact they'd insisted on half.

I hadn't been too happy with that arrangement, but Marjery was a tough negotiator. That hadn't surprised me since, when I'd ridden cautiously back into the encampment after dispatching Bodamil, I'd found that not only had she survived, but the bandits had actually won. It turned out that our forces at the southeast entrance had a much better time of it and she'd been able to fight her way across the camp to them. She then led them on a death or glory charge that had broken the back of the remaining resistance - pretty good for a four foot tall beauty with hairy feet.

Bunford had taken a grievous wound but we found him in time and patched him up as best we could. The last I saw him he was cursing at his attendants with an enthusiasm that boded well for his survival.

Shaggy was buried without ceremony. Marjery was the only bandit from the Locklan clan to survive and she shed a few tears over his grave. I knelt beside her and offered a shoulder.

In fact, of the thirty bandits, only ten had survived. The allied soldiers had fared better, with about twenty still standing when the others capitulated. The deal had been sealed when I rode back into the camp with Bodamil's body slung over my saddle. Justice was handed out quickly after that. The bandit ranks were swelled by many of the soldiers; some were pardoned, some exiled and a few of the real bastards were executed out of hand.

After all that I supposed they could be forgiven for being a little stingy with the loot.

In return I'd had a safe and uneventful trek out of the mountains. We'd gone out of our way to another town along the river where I crated up a share of the shiniest trinkets, labelled the boxes as ‘tools' and sent them off to a man I more or less trusted. He would skim a large portion for himself of course, but I'd steal some back from him and we'd both be happy in the end. The rest I would donate to reconstruction efforts. I wasn't greedy.

As we approached it was obvious that Gravestaff had recovered. From a distance there was little evidence left of the bloody events that had preceded my adventure in the mountains save a field of new graves that were just visible past the last row of farms. As we approached the river fort, people began to line its walls pointing and waving. We waved back.

Eventually, our wagons clattered across the bridge. Smoke rose prettily from the houses on the other side and was echoed by the puffs of breath from men and animals. A few of the onlookers cheered us, though there was much confusion as to who exactly we were. Then I caught sight of a group of children racing toward us. They were the same ones that had helped me infiltrate the fort and recognized me immediately. Their shouts went up and soon we were parading into Gravestaff surrounded by half the town, with the other half coming out from their houses and in from their fields. I could not help but grin from ear to ear.

On the far side of the bridge we stopped and I stood on the wagon seat. I was not usually one for public displays, given my occupation, but for some reason I felt a swelling in my chest and exultation on my lips that had to be released.

"Bodamil is dead!" I shouted.

People cheered and jeered but amidst the growing noise and confusion the crowd began to pick up my message and other voices echoed the announcement, "Bodamil is dead!" One of my companions scrambled to the top of my wagon and began unfastening the ropes that held a tarpaulin in place. I turned to help and with a flourish we tore the covering away.

Atop the wagon was perched a coffin. Though it was only a featureless box, the crowd went wild. My grin felt as if it would split my face; my heart as if it would burst with the sheer joy of the moment. Then a flash of dark hair in the crowd caught my attention. I leapt down from the wagon and fought my way through slaps and hugs and shouts. I barely got a glimpse of her as we met, so quickly did I wrap Fae in my arms and bury my face in her hair.

We stayed thus for a long moment and when she finally pulled back to raise a smiling face to me it was streaked with tears. She tried to speak, but the noise of the crowd snatched away her words. I laughed and shook my head, so she pulled me close and kissed me instead. It was a long kiss and by the time it ended I knew I was done for. Bunford would've laughed. She pulled me close again and pressed her lips to my ear.

"Where's the rest of it, you disreputable scoundrel?"

 

End

 

THE HUNT FOR BODAMIL - PART 3 © David Simpson (MacShimes)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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