She wasn't sure herself. "No... no. Let's just hurry." What was going on?
The sun was setting when they reached the ambush point. There was no sign of the dwarves.
"Back home," Robin directed, cursing silently. "Real fast." Before they left she took a moment to look around and see what might have happened to the bodies, but between the uncertain light and the mess that the fight had left was able to learn nothing.
They began working their way back, all of them feeling more than a little tense. Fluttering noises from above turned out to be a flock of harmless sturges, who swooped around them for a few moments, grabbed a few bugs out of mid-air, and flew away. They relaxed a minute fraction.
We're all dead, aren't we? Robin found herself thinking.
As the sun set, the folks at the Keep were starting to worry about what was taking the party so long to get back. There had been more than enough time for them to get there and back.
Terzin paced and fretted.
"It is a trip with Dubricus," Harrick remarked. Something was bound to wrong.
They went up to their room and prepared to try to sleep. Jared had woken up long enough to eat something and gone back under.
Someone rapped authoritatively at the door. Terzin answered it; it was one of the guards.
"Sabine wants to talk to you right away."
"How did I know... okay. Let's go, Tusk-Face."
Down in the One-Eyed Cat, Sabine was sitting with a nervous-looking man they placed as the Keep's cooper.
"I got them," the guard announced.
"Gentlemen, have a seat." Sabine looked as grim as they had ever seen her. "Why don't you tell them what you just told me," she suggested to the cooper.
"Mendel's working with them. He's nothe's only partially a merchant, he's a wizard," the man explained. "And he's stolen my daughter."
"You told us six months ago that you'd sent your daughter off to go get educated at one of the Guild houses," she reminded him.
"He made me say that. He also, when he said he was leaving, he said 'Now don't tell anyone about this until I'm long since gone.' And I tried! But I couldn't open my mouth!"
Harrick gave a deep sigh. "Grand."
"Anything special about his assistants, the women?" Terzin asked.
"I don't know. But for the last half a year he's been having me make special barrels, ones that are only full half-way. There's space in them for keeping whatever he's smuggling, there's even room for people in some of the larger ones."
"Or zombies," Harrick remarked.
"There's probably no point in chasing him down, he's probably out in the woods with them by now," Terzin decided.
"What concerns me is that your cousin and Dubricus and the rest haven't returned yet," Sabine reminded them. "It shouldn't have taken anywhere near this long. And Mendel was leaving directly after them."
"We've got to get at least a night's sleep in us before we go after them," Terzin said with reluctant practicality. "Otherwise we're just going to fall down dead on the road."
Sabine, too, seemed to see no options. "If we sent out anyone to go looking for them right now, we'll just be cutting our forces down more, and they might start picking us off in the woods. I'm just letting you know that things are not looking good, I didn't want you to find this out tomorrow morning."
"First thing in the morning," Terzin asserted, broken by a coughing fit.
Third stopped dead in the middle of the road. Reese looked back at her, puzzled, then more puzzled, and stopped as well.
"Her spear's missing. Did she leave it behind backwhere's my sword?"
It rapidly became clear that none of them had any weapons, and none of them knew when they had disappeared.
"If they wanted us dead, we probably would be," Robin tried to convince herself.
Something out in the woods thought that was terribly funny. The four of them instinctively drew together into a defensive square.
"Who are you?" Robin called.
"No one of import. But... I can lead you back to the Keep."
"Road's right here, we're fine."
"Are you sure it's the right road?" the voice taunted.
It certainly looked like the right road. Then again, it also looked like it should be midafternoon instead of nightfall. She decided to ignore the voice, and nudged Dubricus to indicate that they should resume walking, still in their tight little knot.
Hoofbeats sounded from out in the woods.
"Hello?" someone called. "Do you see them?"
"No," another voice answered.
"Dammit, why did they wander off the path?"
"The reeve told us to go out and find them, we're going to go out and find them. We've got the only two horses."
"Don't pay any attention to this," Robin told the others. "Just stay on the road."
"When we come to the stream up ahead, we'll know that we're on the right road," Dubricus murmured. "Let's just ford over the stream, and not take the path through the woods this time."
"Really? You think?"
"Yes, that's my plan, Reese."
"Anybody know what these things are?" Robin wondered.
A horse whinnied.
"Can't you control that thing?" Voice 1 asked.
"No, I've never ridden a horse before!"
"Why did I get partnered with you... Reese? Reese are you there?"
"Do you know that voice?" Dubricus whispered.
"Kind of," he replied.
"It sounds like Asher."
"Reese!" 1 yelled.
"It is not safe for us to be out here," Voice 2 pointed out.
"Do you want to go back and tell them that we didn't find them?"
"I think we've made a valiant effort."
"Yes you have, now go away," Robin muttered.
"All right, just stay on the road and don't wander off of it," 1 commanded 2, and seemed to gallop off to the north.
The river gurgled ahead, right where it was supposed to be. They crossed without incident.
"Damn, I wish we had Harrick," she wished under her breath.
More hoofbeats. "Reese? It's Harrick, are you out there?" Voice 2 asked.
"Okay, they're pretty stupid," she observed, feeling a bit better for it. "Clever, yet stupid."
"I have a new plan," Dubricus murmured. "Why don't we run?"
"Sounds like a decent plan."
| Top |
Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al