On the Way to Marshend: Riding Hard
(Events continued from Attack at the Camp)
They rode at a good pace as the shadows lengthened and thickened to dusk, and then to night. But their way was not wholly dark, for there were the stars and moon above, and soon the lights of a few outlying cottages that told them Marshend was close.
In the distance a wolf howled.
And then they heard a strange sound in the distance. It sounded like someone singing ... badly out of tune.
Niko had heard Lantern sing, so was sure that this bad imitation was not he. But it was interesting enough to draw his attention, and seemed to be in the way of their travel. He looked towards his companions to make sure that they had heard, and slowing his steed, began to make his way in that direction, making sure he kept eye out for any unwelcome company.
The song began to drift to tham ... at first in drifts and snatches, and then, slowly, as entire verses ...
I am the bravest tinker ...
The lady came to the door and asked me could I stop
She took me up the stairs for to show me what to do
I put my hammer in her hand that with it she might knock
She put her hand into her purse and pulled out twenty pound
At this point, the singer came into sight. A large, stout man, he was weaving from side to side of the road, clearly in a state of some intoxication.
Niko assessed the situation quickly. "Let us skirt around him, but be alert. If he truly is drunken, then he will not be of any assistance finding help; if he is not, then leaving him may be for the best," he said to his companion. Giving the man a wide berth, they continued on towards the village, keeping their eyes sharp for any hint of wrongdoing.
The man did not seem to see them until almost the last minute. Then he gave a strangled cry.
"Not again! Not more of you! Go away!"
And he attempted to vault the tall hedgerow to his side and ended face first downwards in a ditch.
Holding up a hand to alert the others, Niko pulled to a stop, then turned his horse to move towards the man. "Keep alert- something..."
Tyek raised an eyebrow at this, but neither of them said anything, being more concerned about what might be coming out of the night.
"What did you mean 'more of you'?" he asked the man coming alongside him.
"Mmmmph!" answered the man, his legs kicking wildly. He seemed to have slid into a ditch at the base of the hedgerow in his anxiety to escape the armed men.
Niko rode closer. "Eron, keep watch. Tyek, help me get him out."
"Niko," Tyek said as he came closer. "Do you think we have time for this buffoon?"
Niko looked towards the older man, a bit of uncertainty creeping into his eyes. "His statement- 'more of you'" Niko replied. "I do not really want to ride into an unknown, and that sounds like others coming at a speed came his way. Others, as in..."
"...the ones you chased off earlier," Tyek finished. "It has merit. But the man's blind drunk."
"'e wouldn't know 'is own mother, the shape 'e's in," Eron chimed in, in his flat tone. "Seems a waste o' time t'me."
Tyek looked back at his friend. "We're just in a hurry's all I'm sayin'," Eron replied, defiantly. "And now I'll be holdin' me peace."
Tyek looked back towards Niko. "It's your call. I can see what you're saying, but I don't think even if he can confirm that it was them, anything that would do us good. And we lose time." He gravely added, "And that's a commodity the Septa doesn't have."
Niko considered again. Then finally, sighing agreed. "You have the right of it." He looked from Tyek to Eron as he turned away from the man. "Thanks to you both. Now... To Marshend," Niko finished, taking off towards the village.
They rode further down the road towards the town. They were passing a lighted cottage when suddenly ....
A scream of gut-wrenching pain rang out in the night air.
This time there was no hesitation- Niko immediately pulled his horse up short, wheeling and riding towards the cottage. He didn't even pause to make sure that his companions were with him- he merely rode for the door as fast as he could, prepared to dismount in the same way once he made it there.
The door was the far side of the cottage - they rounded the final wall of the cottage, Niko in the lead, the other two not far behind, to see the door of the cottage being closed. Outside they could make ut the shape of a man, tied to a tree, groaning in pain. There was light enough to see that he was dressed in the same style as the bandits who had raided the camp - and that he had an arrow in his belly and another in his leg.
Upon seeing this, Niko finally reined his horse in, waiting for Tyek and Eron. As they came alongside, he signalled for them to stop, saying, "There is more than meets the eye, here." He knew they had probably seen the man, but he pointed anyway. "One of the bandits."
He then indicated the door. "It closed just as I arrived- I could not see anything before it did. I cannot say that I understand what is happening here," he said, puzzled.
"Did he scream?" Tyek asked, puzzled himself. "Or perhaps there are victims inside?"
Eron looked on silently, very interested in the hapless bandit. "Tortured," he grunted.
"What?" Niko said, looking at the man quizzically. "I do not see any signs of..."
"Shafts. Arrows don' go in like that. n' th' other wounds on th' man." He stopped, shaking his head. "Tortured."
Niko looked again, harder. "How can you make that out from here?"
"Trust him," Tyek supplied mysteriously, even as Eron drew his bow. "So what now?" Tyek asked Niko.
"I would say advance, but I would say we also do not know what has occurred here- in situations like this, that can lead to the wrong people dying," he said, his voice sounding old beyond his years. "They know that we are here, but have closed the door..."
"Run inside," Eron interrupted.
"What?" Niko asked a bit put off by the information Eron was providing.
"Run inside. He's been done recently, by the looks of him."
"So they are not likely to view us as friendlies," Niko answered.
"Nah," Eron replied, turning and spitting. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he continued. "This here is killin' ground." He nodded towards Niko. "I know ye're good, boy. And fast. But th'others were scum." He shrugged. "You had some moves, ain't denyin'," he admitted freely. "But if it were me, I wouldn't chance it. Them arrows in that man- they from the same bow. Same person. Fast shot." He stopped considering. "Nah, I wouldn't do it." He shrugged and fell into silence, still scanning the area.
"He's right, Niko. This is something he knows about," Tyek confirmed.
"I... see," Niko responded. Then, after a moment's pause, he said, "So... Cover me."
He dismounted, taking his shield from his horse. But he didn't draw the blades sheathed within. Turning to make himself less of a target, he kept the shield low, covering his unarmoured legs and lower body. He stared intently at the darkened windows, anticipating... something.
"Hello," he said. Not loudly, but loud enough in the still night. "We mean no harm, just to help. And seek help."
(Events continued in The Septa's House)