As the sun set, the last dregs of the draught went pouring into Ged’s throat. With a smack of his lips and a loud belch he stood up and spun round addressing the general area, “Right then! I’d best be off!”
“Best be off what? Your head?”
Raucous laughter accompanied the jibes as they found their way into his head and he snarled a little before a broad smile spread across his weather beaten face and he dipped into a formal bow and spread his arms as he dipped
“I’d love to be off my head but alas, I have important things to do”
Peals of laughter sounded in response to his mock display of court charm and warm comments followed him as he made his way off the terrace and through the building towards the road.
“Sun’s going down Ged, don’t you want to wait for Anburt to leave so the two of you can share the road?”
The barman’s grim look said far more than his timid words.
“I’m not afraid of children’s tales, nor is it far to go to the farmstead and if I wait any longer I’ll have reason to be afraid when I get home. You know what Renda’s like!”
Ged loved walking at night, he found that he could walk for hours without thinking about the weariness that usually crept over him during the day and he loved to listen to the creatures of the night as they played out their drama’s in the theatre of the night.
He had promised Renda that he would be home before it got too dark. With the sun now fully set, he had only a short time left before her good humor would evaporate and he would find the sharp end of her tongue threatening to eviscerate him.
With a sigh of resignation he pulled his knapsack tighter onto his back and started a long loping stride that would surely get him home before Renda had reason to be unhappy with him.
As he was thinking about his time with Renda, their children and how amazingly single minded she could be, he heard an unfamiliar noise from the path ahead. A definite chink, the sound of metal on metal and his blood froze.
With all the recent talk of bandits on the road, he had held to the belief that they were in such a rural backwater that bandits would soon grow weary of putting themselves in harm’s way, only to be rewarded with the slim pickings available from the rustic folk of Shentzalayin.
He immediately stopped and listened harder, directing his attention to the darkness ahead.
With the sun only recently set, the moon waning and almost no clouds in the sky, his eyes had long ago adjusted to the lighting around and he could make out much of the scene ahead but could see nothing out of the ordinary.
As a precaution, he stepped off the road, moving into the scrub on the side of the road and heading deeper into the field adjacent to the road. Barley, a decent crop, young and green, silent.
He crouched close to the barley as he made his way quietly forward, hoping to get an idea of what he was afraid of, what he was hiding from.
His breath quickened and his senses became tighter, more focused, he hadn’t felt this alive since the last time he and Renda had… well since the last time they had had a few too many drinks.
The last effects of the beer he had had earlier was washed away in a flood of adrenaline and he remembered his days as a footman in the Duke’s army. The fear of dying, the sweat of a thousand men, the muttering of prayers and the ever constant presence of death had been his companion in those miserable months, how he longed for his rusty old blade now.
He lamented the fact that the little training in committing violence that he had had involved shouting and running straight at a wall of spears and hoping that he would live to see another day. He had, he supposed, and so he should remember that while he was no born warrior, he was also not someone who could easily be beaten down, after all, his hands were responsible for farming the land, for coaxing the oxen, for hauling the heavy barley sheaves. He was not a big man, but he was not the smallest man in town.
With his resolve set, he moved on a little faster and the distance to where he thought the sound had come from was quickly covered.
He could see nothing in the gloom ahead. He could see nothing on the road and for fear of stumbling into an ambusher on his side of the road he moved very slowly, very quietly towards the road again.
As he went he felt the sweat forming on his brow and felt the pull of his clothes as they stuck to his damp skin. He knew he would have to move swiftly if he came across someone, fast enough that the advantage of surprise would help sway things in his favor.
He quietly removed his knapsack and held it in one hand, ready to use it as a weapon, albeit a soft one, or something to catch his opponents off guard.
As he drew closer to the road he heard the sound of footfall on the path and he crouched down, his breathing labored but quiet.
As the footsteps came nearer he burst from the scrub, waving his knapsack like a heavy iron mace, shouting in a lordly voice “I command you to lay down your weapons and prostrate yourself before me!”
With a shriek, the man fell backwards to the ground and Ged leapt forward, looking for the weapon he knew he carried.
“Ged you fool! You scared the life out of me! What’s gotten into you?”
Anburt’s relief was clear in his voice, so too was his fear and his face, such as could be seen in the gloom, betrayed the anger at this unwanted surprise.
Laughing hysterically, Ged quickly told Anburt what had happened and helped his friend up. As the two men dusted themselves off, they both started when they heard the distinctive sound of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.
“Well that was a laugh, don’t think I have ever seen that happen before!”
The man holding the sword advanced on them menacingly as his three accomplices surrounded Ged and Anburt.
“Give us everything you’ve got then, and we’ll let you on your way”
As the bandits rode away, Ged and Anburt walked on towards their farmsteads, naked, cold, angry.
Ged knew that Renda would be angry that he had been robbed, but also that she would be grateful that he was unharmed.
He headed towards his home with a smile in his heart.