Hunting Bandits

Archenfel was three days behind her, three days of cool damp forest and sleeping wet against trees. Not for the first time, Meliantha swore that, should her big hoard come, that she’d have enough things built to sleep in comfort no matter where in the wilderness she was.

As she tromped through the deep, wet wood, she considered where she was going. North were orcs – there was always a bounty for them, but rarely did they travel in small enough numbers to make it worth the trouble – twenty on one was not a good idea, and maybe some shaman mixed in to make it much worse. South was goblins, stupid and crazy, and not worth the time. East were bandits – usually a good option, and West was the King’s lands, and the royal guard tended to look at those like her askance, not being fond of free blades outside of chartered adventuring companies.

East it was, then.

* * *

The trip was irritating, as she’d expected – a group of orcs that showed up anyway, and she had to fight them. She rested a few days until her wounds healed, but with almost fifty eagles to show for it, making it worthwhile – she mended clothes and armor while she could. Then back to the march. She crossed the bridge at the Immerflow with only a little slowdown from the guards, then kept on the road until she reached the forest’s edge, turning about a mile in to enter the deep forest and find a campsite.

* * *

She ended up hewing down some trees and building a lean-to, leaving them long enough to be used as timber if anyone came along, but making them carefully look like they’d fallen down. A couple of snares added to it gave her protection, and she set her temporary home up. Her training in woodscraft, thankfully, made sure she knew how to set up the traps and keep her campfire from being obvious.

Then she began her work.

* * *

It was three days before she found them: bandits hidden in blinds alongside the road. She was able to get close enough to hear them talking, finding out they’d been militia out of Deepingdale, until that town was destroyed by a dragon. Left homeless, they decided to turn to banditry instead of staying to rebuild. One of them spoke to his comrades of wanting to move on for richer targets, better spoils, and better comforts.

“We’ve got almost enough here to live a good life for a bit before coming back. We took those nice clothes off those bastard merchants, and the money and their things.”

“Aye,” was the reply to him, “next time we need to remember to NOT burn the Cyric-blessed wagons, Torvin.”

“I heard, I heard. Blasted bow did it itself. You remember that it does that, eh, sets the arrows aflame?”

“Well, next time try not to hit the wagons. And if you see Gondsmen don’t even try using it, just bash their heads in.”

“If we see Gondsmen, we run. That lot is mad!”

They laughed raucously, and continued talking of past spoils and why they’d need the wagons, and as they did Meliantha smiled thinly. Yes, this would be a righteous kill, protecting those who expected the East Way through the woods to be clear and patrolled, only to find bandits tracking them, killing them and taking their goods. With a hand on the symbol she wore around her neck – hidden, as in this land Helm wasn’t very popular! – and prayed for guidance and blessings from her god.

Both seemed to be given, as one of the bandits headed deeper into the forest to relieve himself. He emptied himself, indeed – Meliantha’s blade went straight through his heart from the side, killing him instantly. She kept him from falling noisily, then faded into the woods.

Before she could move back to watch, her ears pricked at the sound of a wagon. She moved as quickly as she dared to the area near the path where the bandits hid, and watched, with horror, as a small caravan of three wagons came towards the ambush point. Meliantha prepared to reveal herself, when there was a sudden shimmer, and the guards and merchants fell off the first and second wagon, dropping crossbows as they did, and hitting the ground.

A mage, she realized. They had a mage amongst them. Damn it all! Nothing to do now, as the bandits came out of the woods to approach the caravan. With a low snarl, she charged the ones nearest her – the one with the magic bow, and another one – and before they knew what happened, she’d sliced one almost in half, then brought her blade around to disembowel the bowman.

That got noticed, and one of the bandits stooped to get a crossbow, only to have a guard on the third wagon, laying prone, lay a bolt into his back, dropping the bandit. The others drew their blades, and moved to join combat. The mage hung back, his hands gesturing, and three slashes of pure magic lanced from his fingers. Two of them struck the brave guard, who screamed, then went silent, and the third lanced into Meliantha’s shoulder.

The pain made her grunt, and she proceeded to kill another one of the bandits with a blow from her sword. The others began to encircle her, moving so that one or another would get her back. Rather than let that happen, she charged through the ring, taking a cut for her trouble, and buried her blade to the hilt in the mage before he could cast again. He stared at her, eyes wide, as he slid off the blade, and his mouth moved silently, some kind of imprecation against her.

She turned again, and two of the bandits were almost to her, within blade range, and then dead. Foolish of them to come in with blades low, she had a moment to think, as both of them bled out through slashed throats, and then she had the leader on her, and he was a better swordsman than any of the others.

Thrust, slash, and parry, and dodge, and she stepped out of his range, and he stepped into hers, and she opened his belly. Giving him mercy he probably didn’t deserve, rather than let him bleed out that way, she then took his throat.

The bandits dead, she turned to find another guard pointing a crossbow at her. “Drop your blade, bandit!”

She gave him a look. “If I were a bandit,” she said, “why did I save your rotten hide?”

“Enough!” came a cry, and one of the wagons disgorged a man in tan robes covered by a light, swirling black cloak. “This warrior is our friend,” the priest said, “and I for one thank her in the name of my lord Denier. Let us wake the sleeping and see who needs healing and…” He looked at the bandit leader, and turned faintly green. “Uh… who does not. He does not, I think.”

“None of the bandits do,” Meliantha said. “They intended to kill everyone on this caravan.”

The guard lowered his crossbow. “Sorry, ma’am. Couldn’t really see.”

Meliantha cleaned her sword on the dead mage’s clothes, and sheathed it. “As it may, they’re no longer anyone’s problem by Kelemvor’s.”

* * *

The bandit bodies burned well enough, and Meliantha claimed their gear for herself, which no one disputed. The caravan stopped there for the night, and she resolved to find the bandit camp in the morning.

“I’m just a messenger,” the priest, one Sevrellor by name, said, over a meal of dried meat and hard bread, “and rather glad I didn’t get into that.”

“Few are more glad than me,” said the guard who’d been hit with the mage’s missile.

Meliantha, who’d been the recipient of some of the priest’s healing, admitted that she was also happy he hadn’t gotten himself killed.

“Where are you taking your message to?” she asked. The others had gotten over their tendency to jump a little when she spoke, and the priest chuckled, then paused.

After a moment, he answered: “Um…. You.”

There was a moment of silence.

“And who gave it to you to send?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“I received it from a wandering priest of my faith, who found out I was coming this way and asked me to bring it to you. As to who gave it to him, he merely said it came from Berdusk.”

Her heart leapt in her chest, as she extended a hand. “The message, please.” Let it not be bad news of Father, she prayed.

He reached into his pouch, pulled it out, and set it in her hand. It had two marks on the seal, marks she knew well – the eye-emblazoned gauntlet of Helm, set on the strings of a moon-shaped harp. She opened it quickly, and began to read. The first words alone settled her heart:

“Well then,” she said, “I suppose I’m off to Shadowdale.”

* * *

The next day found her in the bandit camp with some of the guards from the merchants. They helped her get the wares she couldn’t hope to carry – bolts of cloth and barrels of food – to their wagons, where they’d give them over to the trading coster that owned them, in return for – as they said – a certain fee for assistance. For herself, she took the bow that they’d stolen, some arrow, a large part of their coin and some trade-bars, a haversack to carry things in, and a blade they’d had, the size of the one she wielded, with an ornately carved green-black stone as a pommel.

“It’s enchanted, and quite powerfully,” Sevrillor told her after a brief spellcasting, “but I can’t tell much more than that. If you’re going to Shadowdale, you might be able to speak to the Sage of Shadowdale, Elminster. He might know more than I.”

They parted, and she returned to her lean-to for her things. It was there she realized the haversack was one of the enchanted kinds, and cheerfully put what was in her backpack, along with nearly everything else, into it. Her load lightened, she turned north, towards Shadowdale, and a mystery.

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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