Coming towards us out of the rain came two structures; the Toll Master’s house, and the bridge it was his duty to collect tolls from. The price wasn’t much, but I was still glad that our erstwhile employer was paying the coin per leg of those passing through. Vitus obviously expected this tax, as he had a pouch in hand before the Toll Master had even finished wheezing his demand through teeth stained with dark blood from his gums. As he started counting it out onto the rain splashed counter he activated the mechanism that began to raise the portcullis that blocked either end of the covered bridge.
The house and the bridge were of obvious Pelosian manufacture, and as such looked as if they would last through the next five ages. The Toll Master was talking in the common mish-mash of the two tongues of the Margomarissi however, and it struck me as unusual as we trudged through the wet ground onto the rain slicked stonework. From behind I heard one of my companions raise some kind of fuss. The Medic with the mask who spoke in sibilant tones was shouting about seeing someone off the side of the road, and Vitus turned his tether to investigate cantering away behind us. I was already uneasy, and this had me on edge. I looked through the rain towards the guards on the opposite side and started to notice things that made my hair stand on end.
Sure, they were dressed in the accouterments of the Pelosian legions, but it didn’t look right, even through the drizzle. I turned quickly to my right as I sensed more than saw some movement; a bedraggled man with soaking hair and rags was lumbering towards me with what looked to be a wood-chopping axe as he screamed out a guttural noise. I had no weapon to hand and if it wasn’t for my instincts I would certainly have been struck by his wild swing. To my left I heard the sound of metal striking wood and realised that my Dummoni compatriot was being assailed himself. Whether he was quick enough to throw his shield in front of the axe, or was just lucky enough to be fighting against an unskilled peasant, I was glad he had come out of the first encounter well, but immediately I had other things on my mind.
On the bridge ahead, even with the continuing deluge, I could tell that the Legionnaires had drawn and were attempting to aim stock bows at us. I can only imagine they had never used such weapons in the past as they had refused to drop their shields, and were struggling to bring them to bear. I had few options open to me as I drew my steels, but by using some fancy footwork I managed to get my attacker between the Pelosians and myself, offering me some cover if they were lucky enough to get off an accurate bolt. As I was moving, a Pelosian on our side took his chance and although I never saw it, he had climbed onto the roof of Skuza’s carriage and had loosed an arrow from a Dummoni bow.
All I knew of him at the time was that he had been hired on as some kind of physician to cater to Skuza’s many maladies, and that he was known as Valerius. What the hell he was doing with a Dummoni warbow and how he had managed to become so proficient with it was surely going to be an interesting story to tell later down the road. For now though all I knew was that keeping their shields up had done our assailants a favour as I heard the distinct sound of the arrow thudding into wood. I on the other hand was doing well, and with a quick thrust forward I had pushed the point of my Baseado through the bastard’s cheek. If we had left the fight there, he would have had a dueling scar to be proud of, but he was not to be dissuaded that easily.
As my own little melee was going on, my travel companions were engaged in their own struggles. I heard little of this, and saw even less, but will do my best to fill in the details based on what they had to say for themselves once the dust, ah, sorry, mud, had settled, and what other details I can remember. First I heard the Toll Master shouting a threat as the portcullis hammered down behind us, trapping the lead four of us on the bridge, while the others were left behind, “Just give us yer money! It ain’t worth it t’ fight back”! Well, he had obviously little experience of Pelosian business men if he thought that would be enough to get us to hand over what little we had, but it turned out he was deadly serious in thinking that we were outnumbered and sure to die unless we just rolled over with our money pouches exposed. There were two youngsters on the cliff above us, dropping rocks onto us as we defended against our assailants, but worse than that a hulking Hutzlnr was also soon in the fray, swinging a sword over a foot longer than my own as he charged towards the caravans. With him came a few others, all looking as down at heel as the bugger who was trying to make firewood of me, but with the giant on their side, they must have been confident.
Our own Hutzlner was quick to shout to him, and I only know what was said because it was translated to me afterwards. “Back down or feel the wrath of a Vytch!”, she screamed, but he was not to be dissuaded. Not even when a shot from her sling struck him in the chest. Vitus took advantage of the distraction to swing his short sword at the hulking northman, but to little affect. I saw the man after everything had calmed down, and he was a monster, even compared to his kinsmen I had previously met. He was also wearing a particularly fine doublet that I wasn’t too proud to grab, holed and bloody though it was. Back to the action though, and the masked man had already redeemed himself for distracting Vitus, by calling on the earth and the plants within in to pull down the cliff side, dislodging the children from above. Valerius seemed also keen to make up for an early missed shot and was quick to loose an arrow through the portcullis into the back of one of the youngsters who had regained his feet. The other was quick to leg it, and I for one wasn’t too keen to go after him.
The Vytch, Fjorlief, must have realised that intimidation wasn’t going to be effective against her countryman, and was soon employing her arcane arts, taking him over in body and mind, but leaving his soul in there to struggle against her bewitchment, his teeth grinding as he walked towards her and dropped the fine curved blade at her feet. With that in her hand, she and Vitus went at him with vigor, and although he eventually broke free from her enthrallment, it was too late to stop the inevitable and he fell beneath their blows. The hero of the fight off the bridge though was the New-Raphelian.
He had tried to tell us his name earlier, but I have no skill at his tongue, instead he translated it for us, and I think it was something along the line of “Fire Caused by Lightening”. I had thought of him as little other than a guide, but apparently he had performed exceptionally well, tearing through the swine who were trying to drag the goods from out of the rear carriage in seconds. No one was able to stand against his onslaught, as the ground was pink with blood and rainwater wherever he trod. He even saved the masked man, who although gifted with Earth Power, was unable to turn aside a knife slash from one of the bastards who had cornered him against the side of the middle caravan.
While all this was going on, I had problems of my own to deal with. While Cadeyrn the Dummoni was handling himself with a mix of style and brutality, I had a bolt shot at me as I turned aside another axe blow with my dagger. The swine was obviously expecting to take advantage of my previous thrust, exploiting an opening in my defense that only my dagger could close. I hoped then that many others would try the same thing; the dagger was specially made for my style of fencing, with a heavier blade than one would expect, a basket hilt and reinforced pommel meant that I had no trouble parrying even his vicious attacks with a hand axe. The wound on his face didn’t seem to be slowing him down much, so I thrust forward again. This time I aimed lower, and ended the thrust with a flick, puncturing his neck and opening up the artery beneath the skin, causing a spray of blood to splash against the carriage, and through the small window on its side.
He was made of rock this man though, and looked ready to come in again, maybe in his final act ever. I stepped backwards quickly, seeing one of the Pelosians running towards us, his stock bow dropped and a short sword now in hand to match his shield. I either wasn’t quick enough, or was paying too much attention to the charging Legionnaire, but the blow just about landed, and I felt it jar against my left arm. I was very glad indeed for the armour I had picked up earlier, as it cut through it but didn’t even break skin.
If he was still on his feet, blood gushing from between his fingers, and his mate was on the way, I needed to change my tactics. I dropped back onto the ball of my rear foot, and set my steels across my chest, It still might not be enough though, so I quickly inscribed a rune in the air and flung it forward. A powerful gust of air ripped ahead of me, as if from nowhere. The bleeder was flung from his feet, and even the Pelosian was staggered onto his back foot. I decided to still play it safe though, and kept in a defensive posture until I had got a read on my new friend.
I was very grateful I had, as within a few seconds I knew he was a pretty close match in terms of skill. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, but his large shield meant he could stay behind it indefinitely, with little I could do to break his defenses. As I was contemplating my remaining runes, wondering which would allow me the chance to disarm him, Caderyn jogged towards us, his arm red from a blow he was unable to get his shield in front of. The Pelosian looked from one to the other of us, and I saw panic in his eyes. “Drop the sword”, I said in Pelosian, and was gratified to see him acquiesce. Switching to Dummoni, I turned to Caderyn, “He has surrendered to me, he is to be spared”. He leaned forward and used the hook of his own waraxe to drag the shield free from my prisoner as we set about discussing terms.
By then, the fight was all but over, and the Toll Master had opened the portcullis once more, but refused to exit his hideaway. I knew I had little authority of the prisoner, but I found out his name, Marco, and took his blade from the ground. It was a Ferros, a Pelosian honour blade, and there was no way it was his own. The other Pelosians were quick to question him about what had happened, and although he had few answers, they did establish that he was a deserter from an actual legion. I had heard from others that punishment for desertion was death, but I was unhappy allowing anyone else to kill him. Bandit or legion man, he had fought well, and surrendered to me personally. I offered the Ferros to Skuza as a trophy, but insisted that I be allowed to carry out the punishment. I had heard how the Pelosians liked to make deserters suffer before allowing them to pass on, and he didn’t deserve that.
While he was on his knees, begging for his life, I took his shoulder firmly in hand, and leant down to whisper in his ear, “Go to your God with honour”, before pushing the point of my dagger quickly into his skull just past his spine. As he heard my words he started to struggle, and then went stiff as the dagger went in. I felt a little bad for him, but knew that at least he had died quickly at the hands of his enemy, rather than bleeding out whilst nailed to a cross.
With everyone who had engaged in the ambush either dead or fled, we took stock of their gear, taking anything of value leaving the rest to the rain. I also took the time to close up Caderyn’s wound with a simple rune, but the masked man had taken care of his own deep gash with Earth Power. It had all taken a few minutes at most, and the majority of that involved talking to Marco before I killed him. Skuza was as happy as I had seen him, covered in blood though he was – the spurt had apparently caught him full in the face as he had lain, passed out in his carriage after the fight broke out – he was pleased that we had quickly and easily fought off the bandits with barely a scratch, and no loss of his valuable cargo.
And with that, we were once more on our way…