Thread

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 
CHAPTER 4


Chaos reigned in the centre of town; it appeared I had used just a little too much power, the town centre was also a crumbling mass of wooden beams and rough stones, fires had begun in some of the ruined houses and people were running around in terror.

Carefully I led the boys through the now dark streets towards the outer limits, the small band of boys were ignored as there was other more important things to take care of, of what would happen to the boys from now on, had not crossed my mind, for now, it was more important to get well clear of any activity.

The main gate had also collapsed and there was no sign of any of the town guard, the boys followed close behind as we climbed the pile of rubble and were soon outside and disappearing into the darkness.

We had been walking in the dark for about an hour when I called a halt, we were well clear of any attempts to follow us and the surrounding forest was silent apart from the occasional call of an owl of other night creature, it was then I felt the weight of the boys fears, they were all of the town and not used to the darkness of the outside, I could feel their fear like a damp weight upon my shoulders, they were all huddled close together, all except for Gregor.

Having watched the fear on their young faces, I detoured into a thick copse of trees where we could not be seen from the road, there I used a little magic to set a fire, Gregor came up beside me as the others tried to encircle the small area of heat and light, it was Gregor, the one time bully that was the first to speak in over an hour.

“Thank you, we were all destined for the hangman, I don’t know about the others but, I would like to accompany you to the South, my Father is a seaman and I haven’t seen him for more than two years, I’m sure he thinks I’m dead.”

“It’s ok, Gregor, it was just as easy to get you all out as it was to get myself away, I think I would like you company, but I don’t know how far South I’m going, it all depends on the Thread, I just have to keep moving as it pulls me, what about the other boys, where can they go now?”

“I don’t know, let’s ask them what they want to do, they are all town boys so maybe they want to go back although they are putting their heads on the block to do so.”

We moved close to the fire, most of the boys had curled up into small balls as they tried to get some warmth in the cold dark hours before dawn, I spread an aura of warmth over them and watched as they moved in their sleep to get more comfortable, Gregor and I sat in the one remaining place by the fire, it was then that the pressure of the moment hit us and my eyes as well as Gregor’s, began to close, I started awake and quickly cast some wards to protect us while we slept, we were all too tired to walk or talk any more that night.

It was the chirping of birds and the scratching of crickets that finally awoke me, the wards were still strong and I stretched my aching bones to get the kinks out, next to me, Gregor mumbled in his sleep, a few of the other boys were also mumbling and one, a small boy, was shaking with fear as he dreamed of something horrific.

I got to my feet and looked down at them all as they slept in their innocence, time for a little more casting, I was well rested and it was time to eat, for the next few minutes I conjured up a large breakfast for the boys and myself, as I said before, it was not as fulfilling as real food but would sustain the boys and myself for the next day or two or, as long as it took to get to the next town, hopefully, we would be well forgotten by his Lordship and the other minions, they would have a lot to do and a few lost boys would be the last thing on their minds.

As the smell of food seeped into the boys nostrils, they groggily came to life, each looking around as their eyes opened, once they saw that they were truly free and where they were, the look of fear returned, they were just not used to the open spaces and new noises of the forest, only Gregor seemed not to be afraid, I suppose his life as a seaman’s son had inured him to loneliness and open spaces.

I had prepared a simple breakfast but for these boys in their state of hunger, it may well seem like a feast after the rough gruel of the prison, fresh smelling bread and soft creamy cheese were the main stays along with some fruits, the boys were all soon awake and the smells were enough to make them begin to eat before they were fully awake.

To watch them it would seem a long time since the last full meal, dirty fingers tore the bread into bight size pieces and grubby hands pulled large lumps of cheese from the roundel, among the eating and scratching to get some relief from the vermin of the cell, the boys were a lot more active than on the previous night.

I left my wards in place while they ate but collapsed the aura of warmth, the sun was now high enough to give plenty of heat, even through the overhead canopy of tall trees, as they ate the boys relaxed a little more and the occasional burst of soft laughter broke out as the realisation that they were free from the hangman at last.

Once they were all filled to capacity, I looked them over; it was easy to see that some of them were pairs as they sat very close to each other and, at times, showed a little embarrassment when I saw them holding hands, my next job was to get them clean and better clothed, the clothing was only a small piece of magic but they would have to get clean by normal means, we had to find a river or swimming hole of some sort.

I told the boys to wait for me and to stay together as I would be away for a short time, once said, I left the boys and moved deeper into the forest, I let the quiet of the trees surround me as I moved away until I was out of sight and hearing of the boys.

Taking my stance of humility, I closed my eyes and called to Papatuanuku, her presence soon surrounded me and I could feel the ley lines close by, using her power I searched for a friend among the tall trees, soon I was looking through the eyes of a pigeon as it sat on a branch, using the voice of Mother Earth, I asked the pigeon to seek water for me.

The wild pigeon left its perch and was soon airborne, it darted skilfully through the trees and was soon in an open glade no more than half and hours walk away, there a small stream meandered through the glade and at it’s centre was a deep pool of crystal clear water, this would be fine for the boys too clean up in, once they were clean I would conjure some new clothes for them, I thanked Pigeon and Papatuanuku for their help and made to return to the boys.

When I had returned to the small open camp, I told the boys what we would do and where we were going next, most of them were anxious to get clean and ready to follow immediately, one was obviously afraid, he was a small boy of about ten seasons, his eyes showed fear like I had never seen before in anyone, I went over to him.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Peitro.” His voice was soft and I had to listen carefully to hear him.

“What are you afraid of Peitro?”

”I..I can’t swim, and water scares me, the town guards would tease me by throwing me into the town fountain and then laugh because I was so scared of drowning even though the water was only inches deep.”

“You don’t have to worry Peitro, you don’t have to go in the water, I’ll sit with you and you can just wash by sitting on the edge of the spring, I’ll even help you get clean and then I’m going to make some new clothes for you to wear.”

“Clothes, but where will you buy clothes way out here in the wilds?”

“Have you forgotten already, Peitro, I’m an Elvin Mage remember, I can make anything with the help of Earth Mother, where do you think our meal came from?”

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten, I was just so happy not to have my head chopped off, thank you Alexi, I will try to be brave for you at the spring.”

I smiled at him and rubbed his dirty mop of brown hair as I got up and told the boys to follow me into the forest, it was not easy moving through the thick undergrowth but eventually we made it to the small stream and pond, I did not have to say a word as the boys saw the clear pool in the centre of the glade, their rough dirty clothes were thrown from their thin underfed bodies and, naked, they jumped eagerly into the pool, only Peitro held back, I took him by the hand and, after convincing him to throw off his dirty clothes, led him to the edge of the pool where the others were laughing and splashing as the attempted to clean their bodies for the first time in forever.

Using a little of the fine sand along the edge of the pool, I, along with the other boys, began the long process of ridding ourselves of the vermin of the cells, for their hair I conjured a thick curry comb and each boy took turns helping his friend to scour their untidy hair until no more vermin were found, once they were all as clean as they were going to get, they stepped to the bank and I used a small amount of magic to dry them, it was now time for new clothes, the old ones I put to the flame.

To help the boys to warm up after the chill of the pool, I asked each one to gather six leaves of the largest type they could find, the boys scattered looking for their special leaves, after half an hour they had all returned, their six leaves held in their now clean hands, each boy had somehow found the leaves he liked, little Peitro had found only one, but it was a large round leaf from a Lilly, there were none in the pool so I had no idea where he had got it from or, how he had managed to overcome his fear of the water to get it.

As the boys stood around me with their eyes wide and their leaves held carefully in their now clean hands, I smiled and asked them.

“Now, what would you like to be and what sort of clothes would you like to wear?”

Each boy looked at another, finally they all looked to Gregor, he had been their leader in the cell and was older than the rest of them, Gregor looked at them and then at me, as if they had already discussed this among themselves, Gregor gave a half nod and turned to me where I waited.

“I want to be a soldier and go with you to the South.” Gregor said.

“What of you others?”

They answered as if they were one voice.

“We also want to be your soldiers and go South with you as your guards.”

“Why, why would you want to go with me and, why would you think I would need my own soldiers?”
Gregor answered for them all.

“What else do we have, we can’t go back to the town, they will only hang us or worse, you are the first person to like us and help us, we want to be your guards, we can learn to fight and some day we will be able to get some weapons to help defend you on your quest.”

I thought this over, was I ready for such a heavy burden, oh yes, I had my magic and could look after these boys for food and safety, but would this slow down my search for the Thread and where it was leading me, I knew deep down that I still had a long way to go and an army of young boys would find it difficult to stand up to grown men in any fight that might happen without the help of my magic.

From somewhere deep in the forest a soft wind blew towards me as I contemplated what they had said, would it look strange to outsiders for a young soon to be fourteen year old to have an army of young boys at his back, possibly not, the wind blew closer and on it I heard a soft whisper, it came from the very depths of the forest but it had strength in it, I son realised it was the very voice of Tane Mahuta, guardian of the forests.

“Accept your friends and I will protect them, bring them to the cliff of no return and I will supply them with what is needed, the cliff stands at the rising of the sun.”

Now any Elf will tell you that you never ignore the voices of the guardians, what else could I do but follow his command even though it took me from my chosen course, the tug of my Thread seemed a little less as though it was aware of the needs of the guardian, my mind was made up for me, I had to follow the guardians advice.

I returned to the here and now and looked at the boys.

“Ok, if that’s what you would like to do, then so be it, now hold your leaves close to your chests and close your eyes.”

I watched as the followed my instructions, pulling magic from the ground and the surrounding trees, I let the power flow from them to me and from me to the boys, in a final flash of bright light, the boys leaves changed to cloth and then to clothes, each boy was dressed as he had imagined the leaves to be as cloth, they were a varied lot but all looked now very clean and tidy.

The clothes were not flashy, that is all except for Peitro, his sole Lilly leaf had turned into something other worldly and he now looked like a young Elf except for his ears, his once short hair now hung down his back in along train of flowing brown curls, his Lilly leaf had turned into deep green silken breaches and shirt that hugged his thin body like a glove, on his small feet were thin boots of the same colour, the other boys were now dressed in varying shades of brown and tam and the cloth was a strong looking home spun, well suited to the rigors of a long travel, on their feet were solid but light weight boots of brown leather, it was time to look for the Cliffs of No Return.

As we moved out of the protection of the wards, which I turned off as we went, the boys settled into some self defined place in the twin lines, Peitro, the smallest of all the boys, walked directly behind me, almost like a little shadow, beside him was Gregor who had a protective arm around Peitro’s thin shoulder, the rest of the boys took up a place behind Gregor in a line of two’s, just like a little and young honour guard, in this way we set our steps to the East, towards the Cliffs of No Return.

We must have looked a little like a rag tag bunch even though the boys were now well dressed in new and clean clothes, but there were no strange eyes out here to see us, it was a three day journey to the Cliff of No Return, in all that time, not one boy complained or slackened his pace, even the smaller Peitro seemed to have energy to spare, I was sure it was with the aide of the Guardians.

It was close to evening on the third day when the Cliffs came into view and close to dark when we stopped under their towering heights, I used once again my magic to conjure an evening meal, we had been able to sustain ourselves on fresh fruits and nuts from the forest which seemed to be in abundance along our path, I would not have been surprised if the Guardian had not had something to do with that.

Scraps of wood were soon gathered and I set fire to it for the boys, they had finished eating and now all lay down around d the warmth of the flames, their eyes closed quickly as I went about setting my wards for the night before also settling down to sleep, now that we were where we were meant to be, it was up to Tane Mahuta to tell me what was next, I didn’t have long to wait.

I was awoken by the soft voice of the Guardian in the middle of the night when it is at its darkest and most quiet.

“I see you have made the journey in good health, young mage.”

I looked at the sleeping boys around me, the Guardians voice was stronger now and I was worried that it might awaken the boys, I did not want them to be afraid of our protector.

“Do not worry about your army, young Mage, they sleep with my blessing, now to the work at hand.”

“I thank you for your protection and the blessing of the four Guardians, great Tane Mahuta, protector of all that grows above the earth.”

“You have no need of flattery, young mage, you were chosen at your birth for great things, you will go from here and, once you have found your mate, you will create a new realm, one who is tolerant of all that is different, your young army will be given the gift of long life when they reach the age of eighteen years, as will your mate when you both lay together for the first time, tonight, as your army sleeps, I will give them all they need too know, it will only be for them to practise what they know to become your guardians, when they wake in the morning, they will have all they need, the son of the seaman will be your Captain, now my young Mage, it is time for you to rest, sleep well young one and on the morrow all will be revealed.”

Tane Mahuta’s voice receded as my eyes once gain closed into sleep, my future had been set by the Guardians themselves, I could not deviate from the path they had set, any Elf that did so, did so at his own risk.

It was the sound of happy and somewhat mystified voices that awoke me in the early light of morning, all the boys were standing around where they had slept and looking down at the small pile of items that lay on the ground, it took me only minutes to realise what the Guardian had done for the boys, each had his own set of Mythral armour, five had a pair of long Elvin swords, nine had Elvin bows and quivers filled with the long shafts of arrows, only Peitro seemed a little put out, he had neither sword nor bow, instead he had a wide belt of Dragon leather, fitted into the slots were four thin throwing knives of Mythral, beside that was a pouch of the same leather with a long strap so it would hang from his shoulder, it was accompanied by the Dragon leather sling, each boy also had a Dragon leather pack that could carry most of their new possessions, their armour could be tied to the packs when not worn, the light eight of the Mythral made it easy for the boys to carry or wear it.

The bows were a true favourite of moist Elves, these had been made from the best of the Tapsil tree, it was a very rare and almost indestructible wood that grew only in the high mountains of Lealvander, a country way to the north of the Elvin realm, only the troops of the Elvin King were armed with such bows as they were so rare and yet here, my little army of boys was outfitted with the best of any land.

Only Peitro had no helm, the others all had helms of Mythral and from the top of each helm flowed a long tail of the whitest hair that had to have come only from the fabled Unicorn, that is all, except Gregor, his was of the darkest black, a colour so dark that in the light of the sun it shone with a blue hue, it could only have come from the also fabled Minotaur, my small army had been given that which was never given to mortal man or Elf.

The boys could only stare at the boon they had received, where it had come from they had no idea, it was time to reveal some of the mystery.

“Well my army looks to have received gifts in the night, are you happy with them?”

Gregor of course spoke for them all.

“Where did it all come from, how did it get here?”

“It is a gift from the Guardians, they have seen into your hearts and found you worthy of their help, Tane Mahuta, Guardian of the forests and the trees and all that grows upon the ground, visited me last evening, he told me that you were the ones to be my army, each of you has been given the weapon you are best suited for, the armour is of the finest Mythral and the weapons are the best that can be made, each of you already has the knowledge, it was given in your sleep by the Guardian, you now only need to practise what you already know, there is only one thing you must remember, and that is that you must thank the Guardian for his bounty, it is all he asks, I will show you how to do that later, for now, pick up your armour and weapons and get the feel of them, they now belong only to you and are protected by the power of the Guardians.”

I watched as the boys took up their individual armour and weapons, each seemed instantly at ease with the new items, the power of the Guardian was already at work, even the bowmen, who up until this time had never held such a weapon, found it no effort to string their bows although they were of the full size of an Elvin mans bow, a normal human fully grown male would have had difficulty in stringing one of these bows and yet, the new owners had little or no trouble with it.

Only Peitro seemed still a little upset with his new possessions.

“What’s the trouble Peitro, don’t you like your new gifts?”

“Yes, yes I do but they seem to be so small, I don’t even have a nice sword like the others, it always seems that as the youngest I only get what is left.”

“There is a very good reason for that Peitro, the Guardian told me that you were to be my personal guard, because I will be going to places where large weapons like the other boys have, will not be appropriate, the Guardian has given these to you so you can keep them hidden and, if you practise very hard with your sling, you will find that you can do as much and sometimes more, than a bowman, your throwing knives also have magic, after you have thrown them, you can call them back with your mind and they will return to your hand, a swordsman can not do that, also your pouch of Mythral balls will always stay full because of the magic of the Dragon leather, so, you see you are better armed than the others and will always be at my side, Gregor will be Captain of the others as the guard commander but you will be my own personal guard.”

The brightness that showed in Peitro’s face showed me he now understood how important his place was, his young thin shoulders pulled back and his once lowered head lifted to show pride in himself, something that he had been lacking up until now but, there was still a question in his eyes.

“What?”

“I have no armour, how will I not be killed in battle?”

“First you place is not in battle, it is by my side, second, why would you need armour when you special Lilly leaf clothes will make you unseen if you wish it so.”

“Unseen, how do I do that?”

“See that small tree over there, the one by the large grey boulder?”

“Yes.”

“Go and stand beside the tree, when you get there just think of yourself as a tree.”

With a very sceptical look on his face, Peitro did as I asked, for a few seconds after standing against the tree, Peitro, disappeared and became no more than part of what could be seen as the small tree, his voice came from the very air around the tree.

“I don’t see any difference, what is it meant to do?”

“Stay quiet and stay where you are, I going to ask the other boys to find you, then you will see.”

The other boys had been too taken with their new gifts from the Guardian to have taken any notice of what Peitro and I had been doing, it was now a good time to prove to Peitro how much more he had than the others.

“Gregor!”

“Yes Alexi?”

“Have you seen Peitro, he seems to have disappeared while no one was watching, get the other boys to help you, we don’t want to lose our youngest soldier.”

Gregor looked around startled that Peitro had gone off without anyone seeing him, in many ways and too all the boys, Peitro was something of a mascot or little brother, they all had a protective trait towards and for him, immediately there was pandemonium in the small camp under the towering cliffs, their little brother had disappeared, the boys began to cal loudly for him, others began to rush around the camp looking for some sign of where he went while they were taken by their own gifts.

I stood back and watched as the began to spread out to look, the smile on my face would have given it all away had they not been to intent on finding the lost one, it was the tinkling sound of suppressed laughter that finally gave Peitro away as one of the boys came close to where he stood concealed by the magic of the Lilly leaves.

“I hear him, I hear him, but I can’t see him any where.”

The boys put his hand out tentively, there was a sudden sneeze from the tree and Peitro stepped back into view rubbing his nose and water running from his eyes.

“Hey, why did you stick your finger in my nose, that hurt.”

The boy looked surprised as Peitro appeared from thin air rubbing his nose.

“I..I, didn’t see you, how did you do that, do you know magic now?”

I decided to tell them all about what was happening, I first described why Peitro could disappear at will and that it was his special clothes that gave him the power to blend into anything that was of the natural world.

“It was his own personal armour, if you can’t see him you can’t hurt him, from this day on Peitro is my own personal guard, as you can see, Gregor has the only black tail on his helm, he is now the Captain of the guard, you are all my own warriors, Gregor will help you practise to make you better, you already have the knowledge of how to use your weapons and armour, now it is only practise, from today, as we move South, we will stop early in the afternoon, it is then that you will use the time to practise, very soon, and with the aide of the Guardians, you will all be experts, this I promise.”

Too my surprise, none of the boys seemed to mind Gregor being the leader, it was after all, the role he had played in the cell, what surprised me was the way he treated Peitro, he walked over to the smaller boy and lifted him up until Peitro’s forehead was level with Gregor’s lips, he then kissed the much smaller boy on the forehead and set him back on his feet.

“That’s to let you know I’m happy you were not lost but, if you do that too us again I will kick your butt so hard you will not be able to sit for a full week.”

Gregor then cuffed him around the head lightly to tell him he was really joking, or maybe he wasn’t, Peitro wiped his forehead and giggled as he backed away and came to stand by my side as he began to fit his personal weapons in place around him, what surprised me the most was that he set his sling so he could use it with his left hand, I had not noticed before but the left was his dominant hand, this was a very rare trait in this world, very few people had the dominant hand as the left, in fact, it was almost unheard of, I could now see why the sling was given to him, in a sword fight he would be at a disadvantage with a person who used his right.

Every boy checked his new gifts, all the packs were also made from Dragon leather as were the belts and sword scabbards, the boys discussed what and how they would carry or wear their gifts, after some talk, it was Gregor that came up with the obvious answer, the Mythral armour was light and not at all bulky so, it was decided they would wear it under their clothes, their helms would be put in their packs until needed, their weapons would be worn where they could access them if needed and, in these times, that could be at any time.

It was now mid morning and we decided to make a start on our new quest, the boys lined up as before, Peitro beside me and Gregor just behind with the rest in pairs, two swordsman and then the double line of archers with the remaining two swordsmen at the rear, turning from the Cliffs of No Return, I set our course Southward once again.

For the next ten days we moved Southward, each mid afternoon we would stop to camp and Gregor would set the boys to practising with their weapons, where he got the knowledge from I did not fully understand until I asked him.

“Gregor, how do you know so much about fighting?” I asked him on the third day as we walked along.

“Well Alexi, as I told you, my Father is a seaman, in fact he was a Captain of a trading boat, everyone who works the ships has to know how to fight, there are a lot of pirates out there trying to steal your cargo as well as other raiders, my Father was teaching me from the age of six to fight with anything around, only Peitro’s sling I don’t know how to use but he seems to be doing everything right, he hits his target as often as the bow boys do and, he is exceptional with those throwing daggers, I think in another few days the boys will be as good as any soldiers, they all seem to know the basics somehow, it must have been the Guardian that gave us this knowledge somehow.”

“Yes, he did say he was going to help you too understand, do you know where the next village or town is from here?”

“Yes, when the Duke brought me this way we passed a small farming village about four days horse ride from the city, so that would be a good ten days walking so we must be getting close.”

“Well, we will just have to keep going; I know the Guardians are with us so we will be ok for now.”

“How do you know the Guardians are here?”

“Haven’t you noticed that all the berry bushes and fruit trees are in full fruit all the time as we pass?”

“Well...yes, I suppose I have but never gave it much thought; it is full summer after all.”

“Yes, full summer, also a bit late for fruit to be so abundant don’t you think, it has to be the Guardians, it is their way to keep us well fed and for the boys to fill out and put some muscle on, they have been starved for a long time. Who do you think is the best bowman?”

“They’re all pretty much as good as each other; it’s as if they were born to be archers, why do you ask?”

“We need some meat, all this fruit is good but they need red meat to build muscle and regain their true strength, I think you should select four of them to go ahead and try to find a deer or pig for our dinner.”

Gregor turned as we walked and called out four names, the boys replied, he then told them what he wanted and the four of them set of at a tangent to our course, they would meet us at our night camp when they had something, in these time, every boy knew how to dress game meat, it was something all people had to know how to do.

When midday came around we were near a small stream, I decided to call a halt for a short rest and to gather some ripe red berries as well as refill our water flasks, after a short rest we continued on, none of the boys seemed the least distressed by now with wearing their armour concealed under their clothes.

As the time passed and it came close to the mid afternoon stop, we heard a soft two note whistle from off to our right, looking over in the direction I saw one of the bowmen, he was signalling for us to come in his direction, we all turned towards him and then followed him deeper into the thickening forest, after no more than ten minutes we were in the middle of a glade of tall trees, a small stream ran through the circular glade, at the centre were the other three boys, they already had a fire going and a large haunch of deer meat turning slowly on a spit, in a nearby tree hung the rest of the deer, they had done well for us and the fest tonight would be a big change for us all, the enticing smell of freshly cooked venison filled the air around us.

It would still be some time before the meat would be ready and so, Gregor set the boys to their practicing, even after the long walk of the day, the boys still seemed to have energy to burn as they set about their various forms of practice, the clashing of swords was mixed with the almost silent zip of the archers arrows, it was interspersed by the soft whirring of Peitro’s sling and the soft thud of hit targets.

As I had no weapons to practice with, I spent the time watching or going over my known spells both of defence and attack, after a while I stopped to watch Peitro as he began to practice with his daggers, it was like watching a small boy do some form of complicated dance as he leapt and jumped then rolled and turned, with each action came a stab or slice of the small daggers, at the end of the “dance” he threw all four daggers as fast as the eye could follow into the outline of the round target drawn on the thick tree, where he had got the dance from I had no idea, I would have to ask him at the evening meal.

When practice was over, the boys rested for a short time and then wanted to play a new game they had come up with, they called it ‘one hide and go seek’, the idea was for one boy to hide nearby and all the others would go to find him, it seemed that they always wanted Peitro to go and hide as he was a real challenge to find with his special ability but, this did not deter them from asking to be the hunted and he was happy with all the attention so readily agreed.

This game had been going on for two or three days when the other boys began to realise that with a little thought, they could begin to find Peitro easier, it appeared that the Guardian had thought of everything, the boys, as they became more aware of their surroundings, began to be able to see what others could not, a very handy talent if your enemy was concealed, even so, Peitro could still give them a hard game.

As darkness descended on us, the smell of the cooked venison became too much and the boys surrounded the dying fire and began to feast on the first fresh meat they had had for a number of days, as the cooked haunch was removed from the spit, the rest of the animal was cut up and draped over wooden sticks to cook slowly overnight, by morning it would all be ready for carrying and would last us a couple of days with the addition of the readily available berries.

By the eleventh day, as promised, the boys were very proficient with all their weapons, they were now well fed and all of them had put on some weight and now looked healthy and strong, I was sure it also had a lot to do with the gift of the Guardian, as we came over a low hill, we saw below us, a small hamlet, it was surrounded by farms and a wide cobbled road ran through the centre, it looked to be a peaceful sight but, somewhere in the back of my mind something stirred, something did not feel right about the peaceful looking hamlet.

I felt Peitro stiffen slightly beside me and the sudden awareness of Gregor as he scanned the hamlet back and forth also set all the others on the alert, we had all felt it, something was definitely off about the scene below us.

With little thought, Gregor started to organise the boys, turning to Peitro he asked the boy to disappear into the trees and work his way carefully towards the hamlet and too keep his eyes open for anything unusual, the archers were set out in a line along the top of the hill as he led the other four swordsmen to a place just in front of the line, I stood behind them all and watched closely.

It was as we waited that it finally struck me what was wrong, there was no movement or sound coming from the hamlet, we were close enough that at least the ring of a blacksmiths hammer should have been heard or, the yells and shouts of children should have reached us, even the birds were silent, it was as though every sound had been stopped as we approached.

Time passed slowly as we watched and waited, of Peitro there was neither sight nor sound but then that was his best ability, if we could not see or hear him then normal humans had no hope of doing it. It was another half an hour before Peitro appeared as if by magic by my side and began to whisper his report as Gregor and I listened.

“There’s no one in the village, it looks as though they all just ran away, from the trees I also saw why, there are a large number of brigands with horses hiding just South of the town, I think they were going to attack the village but the people must have seen them and have run away, if we go down there I’m sure they will attack us instead.”

“What are they doing?” I asked Peitro.

“They are just camped there now, they seem to be taking a rest, they have four guards out but they are lazy, they look as though they will fall asleep so they don’t think there is any danger around.”

“What do you think we should do Gregor?”

“Well, we don’ have much daylight left, if we go over to the other side in the trees, we might miss them but we won’t get far before dark and we’ll still be in danger from them, if we go down to the village they will see us but, if we hurry and get there before they can attack, we will have the advantage of the houses to hide in for protection, when the attack, as they surely will, then at least we will have some cover and they will be out in the open, how many do you think there are, Peitro?”

“Hmmm, about twenty I would guess.”

“Do you think they saw us up here?”

“I don’t think so, we are out of the line of sight and they are back in the trees a bit.”

“Right, we’ll get every one to make a run for the village, I think this is a good time for us to use our armour and helms, perhaps the sight of the armour will give them pause and, if they can’t see our faces under the helms they might think we are real soldiers and run away, with our numbers we are almost equal in numbers.”

I looked along the line of archers and the four swordsman, I didn’t think it would really work as some of the boys were small even thought they had grown a little with better food and all the exercise they had got over the last days but, looking at the options, there really wasn’t anything else we could do but make a run for the hamlet and hope for the best, if the worst happened, I would have to use a large amount of magic and that would give me away of any of the brigands escaped to tell the story.

It was decided that we had to try to make the hamlet, Gregor lined up the boys in the same form we used when travelling but this time they had shed their clothes and put them in their packs, they now stood in their full Mythral armour with their bright helms on their heads, the long flowing tails of hair flowed down to their shoulders, it was as I looked at them that I realised that Peitro’s now long flowing curls could be a curse in a fight as his hair often fell over his eyes as he danced his dagger dance.

It took little imagination to fix the problem, I quickly conjured up two green stone rings, showing them to Peitro I indicated they were for his long hair, he turned after showing me his bright red blush and let me pull his long hair back into a pony tail and place the rings at different lengths, one right up close to his head and the other about half way down, this kept it from falling over his eyes, as thanks he turned quickly and gave me a close hug as a small tear filled his eyes.

We were now ready for our run, the archers held their bows at the ready and swordsmen held their weapons in their hands, Peitro had his sling ready as we lined up and waited for Gregor to give the word, I had been surrounded by the boys and placed in the centre of the two lines while Gregor took the lead, at his signal, we took off at a brisk trot, each boy keeping his place in the line as we descended the hill and made for the empty village.

From a distance we must have made a good sight, Gregor at the van with his sword held tightly in his hand followed by two of the other swordsmen, next the double line of bowmen with the bows in their right hands with an arrow already notched, Peitro and myself in the centre of the to lines, the long flowing tails of their helms moved with a gentle sway as the boys ran.

The distance closed quickly at the pace we travelled, as we came to the first of the houses we heard from the distant trees, a loud yell followed by a commotion of men trying to get their horses saddled, quickly we made our way into the hamlet and Gregor quickly set places for the archers to take up a defensive stance, the four swordsmen took up a place in the centre of the hamlet where Gregor, Peitro and I joined them, from this place we could see all four directions but mainly concentrated on where the brigands were coming from.

Gregor called to the archers to ready their bows, the ploy was to try to hit the men and not the horses, if we could capture the horses our travelling would be made that much easier, we could call it the spoils of war if we succeeded, the pounding of horses hooves on the open plain before the hamlet, told us we would soon be put to the test.

Gregor watched as the horsemen closed on the village, all the archers were now well covered by the houses and would be difficult targets for the invaders, we watched and waited as they drew closer, suddenly, at a word from Gregor, the air was filled with the whistling of arrows, the second flight was on the way before the first had even reached the horsemen, in the next seconds, the arrows struck, of the twenty or so riders that had tried to attack us there were now only seven men left, the practice the boys had put in and the speed of the two volleys had decimated them even before they knew what had happened, another close volley set its course for the remaining men, even as they tried to make sense of what had just happened, again it was too late.

With the final volley, the field of battle was empty although we could hear the groans of the wounded even from this distance, it was now that Gregor took his swordsmen out into the field and approached the dead and dying, they would have shown us no mercy and by the look on the faces of the five, they did not intend to show any either.

After a careful look around, the boys determined that we were safe and some of them went too look for the horses which had run off a little ways after the sudden dismounting of their riders, it was another half an hour before everyone was back in the centre of the deserted hamlet, there were now enough horses for each of us to have one, two boys who had once been from farming families, took care of the horses and saw to their feeding, the rest of us looked into some of the houses and selected which one we would stay in for the night, Gregor set out some guards for the night, sets of four boys would take turns to keep watch while we slept.

It was in the early hours of the morning that one of the guards came hurriedly into the small house where Gregor, Peitro and I slept, he reported that he had heard some sounds out in the darkness and it sounded like a group of people coming towards the hamlet, we all quickly got up and the other boys were called quietly to get ready.

As the first rays of the dawn sun rose, we were all in the middle of the hamlet, armoured and ready for any fight that may come our way, the noise of the approaching crowd could be heard clearly as the first birds called in the dawn light, with new people coming I had remembered, almost at the last second, to put my leather cap on and hide my ears from view, we had enough to worry about without the added lure of an Elf.


TBC.

Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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