Chapter 04: Enemy Unknown
To say that Nathan was excited would have been a huge understatement.
It was his first day working with Edan and his men and he hadn't expected much. The older man probably hadn't either, but a sudden turn of events had taken them outside of the city and into the countryside for Nathan's first trip outside as a member of the Royal Guard. Or at l east as a Guard in training, he supposed.
Of course, the part that interested him the most wasn't getting to go outside of the center of the kingdom, because he had traveled pretty far with Evan to even get to the Academy. No, what made it such a huge deal was that he was being provided with a perfect opportunity to prove himself to Edan. Nathan knew that if he did well enough during this assignment, as simple as it was, his chances of actually staying would go up a bit, and he was determined not to waste this opportunity.
Luckily, he had someone to lend him some help, because Ives was there as well. He was pretty good company, so much so that Nathan didn't even notice how long it really took for them to get to their destination.
They arrived at a small town just around the time the sun was starting to set. Apparently, there was talk of a group of thieves roaming the area and it was the job of the Royal Guard to make sure the roads were safe. After all, they were trained to guard not only the King, but also the people in general. Now, normally, someone like Edan wouldn't be sent out on such a mundane task, but because the group first sent had encountered trouble and had been forced to return, and thanks to the injury that Edan had received not long before - something that still bothered him however much he denied it – he had been appointed to the job.
It was a large group, the one that had been gathered, just about a dozen men, counting Edan, and a few of them were new, much like Nathan. They were chosen to go because it seemed like a good chance for them to get used to things, and because it was an easy task.
The town was more of a village really, made up mostly of farmers and merchants, with modest homes and just a few shops. A small group of children played in the streets under the watchful eye of the adults and smoke rose from the chimney's around them as supper cooked over fires and just across the street, a couple of men chatted and watched the newcomers pass by. It was a nice place, Nathan thought, it reminded him of his home, though much smaller.
As soon as they entered the town, everyone stopped to look, some people looking on in interest, while others observed them with expressions that Nathan couldn't quite place. There were a few whom he thought seemed nervous, but he didn't put much thought into it, as there were always those who disliked the Guard. It was, he thought, natural for people to dislike any form of authority to a certain extent. With that, he brushed off any other thoughts about it, and continued on his way.
Edan met with the town leader to discuss the problem with the thieves, while the rest of the men took a break. They knew they would be keeping watch during the night, waiting for any sign of the criminals, so they took this chance to relax.
"God, I hate these jobs," Ives muttered, as he sat next to Nathan on the low wall of a well.
The younger man looked at his friend in confusion.
"Why?" he asked.
"They're boring," the other shrugged.
"Nothing ever happens during these routine jobs."
"Well we know there are thieves around," Nathan pointed out.
"So we'll have them to deal with."
"Well yes, but it's still not a very challenging thing, is it? I mean, it'll be a small group and there are nearly a dozen of us and we have Lord Edan," Ives said.
"And really, Lord Edan could probably handle a bunch of petty thieves by himself, if it weren't for his leg still bothering him."
Nathan then remembered that Edan had fallen off a horse and had hurt his leg rather badly a while back. It was why he had not been at the evaluations when Nathan had been tested, but he had thought the man was over that.
"Is it still bothering him, then?"
"Yes, though it didn't seem so bad at first, I hear it still hasn't healed fully. It slows him down, I suppose, but not enough to shirk his duties."
Personally, Nathan didn't think that Edan was slowed down at all. He moved as smoothly as always, not even limping the slightest bit. It was just proof, Nathan thought, of how good Edan truly was.
As he thought this, an old man walked past them, gazing at the group of men with some odd look in his eyes. Nathan was the only one to notice it seemed, or at least, he was the only one looking in the old man's direction, and as soon as he made eye contact with the old man, he quickened his pace and averted his gaze. The young man quirked and eyebrow and recalled the nervous looks he and the others had been given.
"Hey, Ives," he said, still watching the old man walk away in a hurry.
The other grunted to show he was listening as he examined his bow for what seemed like the tenth time that day.
"Have you noticed something strange about this place?"
Ives looked over at Nathan with a questioning gaze.
"No?" he said, not sure what the other meant.
"I mean, what am I supposed to be looking for?"
The younger man shrugged.
"I'm not sure, its just, have you noticed the looks the people have been giving us?"
Ives looked like he was considering this, but then shook his head.
"Not really, I mean, people always stare at us when we go to small villages like this one. Guess I'm just used to it by now," he commented.
Nathan shook his head.
"That's not it though, it's like they're nervous or something, I don't know," and he really couldn't explain what it was that put him on edge.
Ives looked around the place, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Now that you mention it," he began, and Nathan looked at him, hopeful that his friend would agree and help him figure things out.
"There are an awful lot of old people in this place."
And really, Nathan should have expected something like that.
"Ives," he said, exasperated.
"What? It's true, and don't tell me you haven't noticed."
Actually, Nathan hadn't noticed, but he wasn't about to tell that to Ives. They didn't speak anymore about the strange little village.
It didn't take long for Edan to speak to the village's leader, and then all that was left for them to do was to settle down for the night in one of the inns. They were given a couple of rooms to rest in, as they waited for their turn to keep watch. They would be working in sets of four, two on each side of the village, guarding both ends of the road leading in and out.
The first watch was taken by two young men and two more experienced guards. Edan thought it would balance things to work in this manner, and the others agreed. Nathan thought it would also serve to put the younger men more at ease. In the meantime, he chose to stick close to Ives, and it seemed that the older man had the same idea. They would be staying in the same room with two other men and would take the second watch, so all of them headed straight to bed, wanting to get as much rest as they could.
All of them were so tired, that it didn't take long for them to fall asleep on the soft beds they were given. Even with Ives grumbling about how much he hated working the second shift of the watch, Nathan had no trouble falling asleep.
It was late during the first shift, perhaps a bit past midnight, when the first signs of trouble began, though it didn't seem that way at first. To the men standing guard at the village entrance, it was merely a couple of villagers heading their way, perhaps to offer them a warm drink. It had happened before, so it wasn't a cause for alarm. This time, however, it should have been, because no sooner were the men within arm's length than they struck out with swords, too quick to let the guards strike back and too precise to give them a chance to utter a cry of alarm.
As soon as they were on the ground, eyes void and still open, more men emerged from the outskirts of the village, previously hidden amongst the shadows of the forest. A similar chain of events was occurring on the other side of the village, resulting in two more dead guards and another group of men entering the little village. Inside their homes, the villagers did their best to remain quiet, all knowing what was happening just outside their doors. Knowing what was to come for the guards currently at rest, but none of them willing to risk their lives to help.
Inside the inn, the other guards were peacefully asleep, all tired and taking full advantage of the hours of rest they would get. All of them were unaware of the danger they were in, and when the bandits crept to their rooms, they were completely unprepared. The only warning was the creaking of a door, quiet, but drawn out, and it was enough to wake Edan. Though surprised, he rolled out of his bed just before he was struck by a sword, and took up his own weapon, which had been leaning against the dresser at the side of the bed. He blocked another attack with the sheath and struck out with the sharp blade, slicing through his attacker's leg.
The cry of pain the man emitted was enough of a warning and just as the first sword was swung in the other guards' room, the men awoke, and the guard closest the door jumped out of bed, the bandit's sword just barely cutting his arm. Ives sat up quickly, instantly reaching for his bow an arrow, and in an instant, the first two bandits to enter were on the floor with arrows buried in their chests. The others were standing and grabbing their weapons, their boots were hurriedly pulled on and they could hear footsteps heading their way.
"Shit, what the hell happened to the first lookout?" Ives said, scowling as he nocked another arrow.
"I don't think we want to know," Nathan muttered, sword drawn.
They met the bandits just outside the hall and Ives dispatched the closest before he could draw his sword, but the second was quicker and took the time Ives needed to reach for another arrow to stride closer, sword ready. Nathan saw this, though, and pushed forward with his own weapon, driving the man back, allowing Ives to shoot an arrow straight through the bandit's heart.
"You two stay out here and watch out for anyone else," Ives ordered the other two men.
"Nathan, watch my back, I'm checking on Edan."
He hurried to the room the young man had stayed in, bow ready to fire and burst in, taking in his surroundings in a haste. The bandit who had tried to kill Edan in his sleep was laying on the ground, blood surrounding him, and an expression of pain still on his face. Edan was already making his way over to his men, sword in hand.
"Is everyone alright?" he asked.
"For the most part, Sir. Gill has a minor injury and we can only guess what happened to the others," Ives reported.
Edan scowled and looked at the men still left. From outside came the sounds of people moving about and it looked like Edan was thinking of what to do next.
"What the hell's going on?" Ives muttered, listening in for anyone approaching them.
"Seems it was all a trap," Edan spoke up.
The men with him looked at their leader with varying expressions of surprise.
"The bandits were never after the villagers, they came here for us," he told the men.
"What? Why?" the youngest guard apart from Nathan asked.
"We'll find out later, first we need to get out of here and get more men to help," Edan said.
"The gate's not far from here, but it'll be a hard task to reach them if there are as many bandits as I think, waiting outside. You four need to say alert, weapons at the ready, be as quiet as possible. Ives, I want you ready to fire and at the rear, you're watching all of our backs."
Ives nodded resolutely, already having expected to be put in such a position.
"Colt," Edan addressed the young guard.
"Stay with Gill, he'll need support with that injury," he instructed, nodding at the older man's arm.
"Frewer, stay with Ives."
Nathan wasn't too happy with the instructions given to him, but he wasn't going to argue, not at that time. Besides, he would at least be able to watch out for Ives.
Quietly, they moved down the stairs, stopping at the bottom at Edan's signal. He went on ahead, sword drawn, looking around for any of their enemies. Edan reappeared a moment later, signaling for them to go towards the back. As soon as they had cleared the stairs there was a shuffling sound and then the creaking of a door opening and voices, speaking, but too muffled to understand.
Edan led them towards the back door, but there were armed men standing outside, heading their way. They ducked under the windows and Edan motioned for Ives to be ready as he positioned himself by the door leading towards the front. As son as the men outside walked in, Ives shot off two arrows. The first man dropped to the ground, blood spurting from his neck, while the other had been quick enough to begin to dodge. Still, he had been hit on the shoulder, and let out a pained cry before Ives shot a second arrow to quiet him.
Rushing footsteps were heard heading their way and the door burst open and two more men hurried in. Edan was waiting for them, though, and immediately struck down the first man to walk in. The second was hit with an arrow, but still swung at Edan, who dodged and cut the man down. He wasted no time afterwards in moving towards the door.
"Come on," he told the men, stepping outside cautiously.
They hurriedly moved away from the inn and towards the back of the shops nearby. The shadows served to hide them, but they still had to be silent as bandits roamed the place, dragging their stolen prizes and laughing at the people hiding in their homes. Once, they stopped, hidden behind a short fence of crumbling stone and listened to a man run up to his comrade to inform him that their enemy was loose in the village.
"How the hell did they get out?" asked the man in surprise and irritation.
"Seems they woke up, left the idiots that were gonna get rid of 'em dead, serves 'em right, the lot of useless morons," the other grumbled.
"The boss says we have to be on the lookout, says they're 'round here, prob'ly headed to the old man in charge of the village."
"They won't make it in, what's the use of keeping them from getting there?"
The other shrugged, hefting up a bag filled with stolen goods.
"Who knows, but the boss says to kill 'em if you see 'em, except for Dacre. Boss wants to get rid of him in person, must've pissed him off somehow," he said.
He left after relaying his message and a moment later, the other bandit walked off as well, eyes roaming around the village, probably looking for the guards. The small group of guards moved away from the fence and hid in the shadows of an old shop.
"So they're looking for you?" Ives said, sounding surprised and looking at Edan.
"Why would they be looking for you? And how would they even know you'd be coming? They could have sent anyone over here," he pointed out.
Edan looked like he was seriously thinking about it, before he looked back up at the others.
"Guess we'll find out when we reach the village leader," he said after a while.
Ives looked at him like he was crazy, and Nathan was starting to wonder about it himself.
"What, no, you heard the guy, they're waiting for us to go there. We need to get out and get more aid," Ives insisted, but Edan shook his head.
"No, who know what they'll do if we leave, and we can't just leave these people on their own. We have to get to the village leader and find out what's going on."
"But we're so close to the gate!" Ives pointed out and indeed, the gate was visible over the rooftops, just a short distance away.
"Which is why you will go back to get help, along with these three," Edan told the archer.
Immediately, Ives begin to shake his head.
"Oh no, you're not going ahead alone, you'll need someone to watch your back," he said.
"I'm going with you."
He sounded so determined that Edan couldn't really turn him away. He frowned but nodded in consent.
"Fine, but you three," he said, looking at the other men.
"You'll head back and request for aid."
Colt and Gill seemed fine with the idea, but Nathan wasn't satisfied. He hadn't joined the guard t run away at the first sign of danger.
"Sir, I think two people are more than enough to get help," he said.
Edan frowned, and Ives tried not to smirk, having expected something like that from Nathan. When Edan looked at him, he merely shrugged and gave him a look that clearly stated the younger man wasn't going to change his mind. With a resigned sigh, Edan nodded.
"Fine, but you had better be able to keep up," he said.
Nathan nodded, mind made up to show Edan that he could do it.
Colt and Gill set off for the gate on their own, and the other three hoped they'd make it out and return with help soon.
They set off in the direction of the village leader's home, the hoods of their cloaks drawn up to help them blend into the shadows. It wasn't long before they reached a wide dirt road that needed to be crossed, but it would leave them open to attack and make them highly visible until they reached the other side where they could hide between the small homes. Ives crossed first, moving quickly and silently, safely reaching the other side and ducking behind a cart filled with hay. He drew another arrow and was ready to fire it, as he nodded at the two men left on the other side.
"Go," Edan told Nathan, motioning for the young man to cross before him.
Nervously, Nathan moved forward, eyes flicking around for any sign of the enemy, before he hurried across the road, his feet stirring up dust as he moved. He reached the other side safely and crouched next to Ives as Edan crossed the road behind him, already nearing the halfway point. It was at that moment that Ives let an arrow fly to the side and Nathan saw a bandit that had emerged from around a small home stumble back. But he didn't fall.
Instead, he let out a cry of pain and rage and drew his sword, charging at them with Ives' arrow still sticking out of his side. Edan raised his sword, and blocked the bandit's strike, giving Ives the chance to shoot another arrow at the enemy. He didn't take any chances as he drew back his weapon and sunk his sword through the man's chest. It wasn't a minute later that they heard shouts and the loud footsteps of the other bandits hurrying their way.
"Hurry," Edan urged, leading them away from the road and towards the small church ahead.
They moved along the back wall, crouching below the arched windows and listening to the bandits' angry exclamations at finding another of their comrades dead.
"Damn it, what do we do now? They'll surround us at this rate," Ives said in a hushed tone.
Edan was about to answer when the small wooden door to their side opened and an old priest emerged.
"Come, quickly now," he said quietly, motioning for them to get inside.
The men wasted no time in entering the church, and the old priest shut the door behind them, locking it securely before turning to them. They could hear the bandits outside and saw their shadowed forms moving past the windows.
"They won't come in here," the priest said to them.
"They think an old man like me too cowardly to defy them," he sounded thankful for this.
"What's going on?" Ives asked, taking the chance to find out more of what was going on.
"Why is the village so overrun with bandits and why did they say nothing to us?"
The old priest sighed tiredly and looked at the three guards before him.
"You must understand, it is not that we did not want to, but that the people were too frightened. The bandits, they showed up and took what they wanted and when the men stood up to them," he trailed off, gaining a look of sadness and the others understood.
"After that, they took the women and the children, they said it was to make sure no one would fight back. Only the people too old to do anything and too afraid to try were left."
"But you called for help, how did you manage that?" Nathan asked.
The priest shook his head.
"It wasn't us that did that, but the bandit's leader. Not long after the message was sent out those thieves showed up with a small group of your men."
Edan frowned, looking surprised at this.
"What? They have members of the Guard here?"
The priest nodded.
"Yes, they took them to the village leader's home. I don't know what became of them though, but I pray for them to still be alive."
The news that there were captured men in the village surprised Edan. Lord Bray, the first member of the Guard to be sent out to patrol the area hadn't mentioned anything about it, he had only claimed to have heard of a problem with thieves from the small village. Before he could reach it, he had supposedly had an accident while riding his horse and had to return. All men had been accounted for, according to his report.
"Edan," Ives called, snapping the man out of his thoughts.
"What are we going to do now?"
He looked at the his two subordinates, both waiting for him to come up with a plan, and made up his mind.
"It looks like these men were waiting for me to show up, if what we've heard is true. They must have chased off Bray when he showed up instead of me," he reasoned.
"So we should leave before they find us," Ives said.
"No," Edan declared, shaking his head.
"If we leave they'll be even more enraged, and they have more of our men, we can't abandon them."
"What are you thinking of?" Ives asked cautiously, not liking where Edan was going.
"They want me, that's what this is all about, why they did all this to lure us here. I don't know why, but their leader has a grudge against me, and I'm going to settle it now," he said, smirking.
"They sent me an invitation, Ives, it would be rude not to show."
Ives had expected something like that, but he had hoped Edan would be more reasonable. He glanced at Nathan, who merely nodded, and let out a sigh as he turned back to their leader.
"Well then, let's not keep them waiting."
Edan grinned and patted Ives on the back, already planning their next move. At the very least, he thought, he'd have someone to watch his back, no matter how insane his next move was.
Hurray! I finally got the time to post this! I've been busy with stuff, so sorry about the wait, but at least this chapter is moderately long. Anyways, hope you enjoy this chapter, sorry I left it in a sort of cliffhanger, but the next chapter's in the works and I'll try to get it ready and posted soon. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed and/or added me to their lists and, as always, please review if you get the chance.