Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
|Introduction: Robber Baron and the Crossroads|
I woke as the sky began to lighten and ate quickly. Getting the packs on the horses and secured proved harder than I thought it would. I was tempted to just lead the horses but knew I would have to relearn to ride sooner or later. I made a last look around and finally climbed clumsily into the saddle. The horse was not like the ones I had ridden long ago.
After I picked myself up and picked the grass out of my hair, I started trying to coax the horse back so that I could try to mount again. This time I was remembering a TV show I had once seen. When I landed in the saddled, I grabbed onto it and leaned forward as the horse started bucking. I slammed my fist against the side of the horse’s neck and to my surprise it locked its legs and froze.
I hesitantly patted the horse, “You and I have a ways to go. If you take care of me, I’ll take care of you.”
It turned its head and I pulled on the rains to make it turn towards the lead pack horse. I pulled my rifle out of the pack and then took the lead rope. Each of the other horses was tied to the packsaddle of the one in front of it. I turned my horse towards the west and as he started walking. I tied the lead rope behind my saddle and settled back. I slung my rifle as we entered the forest.
We weren’t going very fast. At first the horse would grab a mouthful of grass and I had to remind it to keep going. By afternoon the horse was into a rhythm, it would get some grass and then start moving again. It was a few hours before dark when I called a halt for the night beside a small creek. I was sore and tired but unsaddled the horses and put them on a long picket.
I had thought about things as we went along and as soon as I had camp made I set out a few snares. It had been many years since I had practice martial arts and it took awhile to loosen up. I let my mind relax as I moved through the katas and as I finished, I started practicing with two long daggers. After the daggers, I used one of the better long swords as if it was a katana. When I finished, I pulled the longbow out and shot a couple of dozen arrows.
When I was done I washed up in the creek and made dinner. The next day was a repeat of the day before and it was almost five days before I came to a road. I had been catching rabbits and sometimes birds in my snares. Along the way, I had learned that the plants and animals here were both familiar and in some cases different.
My first encounter with another person came a few hours after I had started out for the day. We came out of the woods into a field. I could see some kind of track on my right and turned to ride to it. Twenty minutes later I was approaching several mud brick huts. As I started getting closer I could see a couple of women rushing as if to hide with their children.
It reminded me of some of the third world countries I had been in. By evening I had passed a dozen more small communities. I made camp on the edge of a small group of trees next to a field. I had just finished my exercises when a man came to my camp. He was wringing his hands as if very nervous and waited until I nodded to him.
He looked down, “My lord, word was sent to the baron of your travels. I have been told to… direct you to his customs stop.”
The man was speaking an old type of Spanish but I could understand him well enough, “Customs? And why does your baron want me to go to his custom stop?”
It was almost as if I could smell the man’s fear. He was shaking as he continued, “You have to pay the baron for crossing his land.”
The image I got was of a robber baron from Europe in the middle ages. I thought about it and nodded, “anything else?”
The man shook his head, “No, my lord.”
I looked out at the narrow track, “Where is this custom stop?”
The man seemed to flinch, “A day’s travel down the track and to the left by his keep.”
I nodded and the man hesitated before turning away. He stopped after a couple of steps and reluctantly looked back, “Be careful my lord. Not many travelers escape the baron’s men.”
I looked at him and then grinned. I fished a couple of silver coins out and tossed them. “Thank you for your concern.”
He caught the coins and looked at them with both fear and gratitude. I watched him walk away and thought about what I should do. If this baron was like the robber barons of Europe then he wouldn’t stop at a simple toll. I made a meal of roast rabbit and wild onions with something that was similar to potatoes. I was worried that one of the locals might try to sneak up on me and slept lightly.
I was up early and took my time in saddling the horses. The track widened as I got closer to the baron’s keep and the gathering of huts became small wooded houses and then larger communities. I was able to buy a rabbit and some cheese at one of the isolated farms and ate a late lunch.
I was close to what looked like a small town with a stone keep on a hill over looking it when I saw a half dozen riders heading towards me. It was only a couple of hours until dark and I stopped to wait and swung out of the saddle. I tied the reins to a small tree beside the road and checked my rifle.
When they came up to me they spread out. I could see the two men carrying what I recognized as crossbows. One of the men was better dressed than the others and rode closer, “You are on baron Tennison’s land.”
He looked at one of the men, “Take the last six horses.”
I cleared my throat, “I don’t thinks so.”
He laughed, “Alright, we’ll take them all.”
I nodded as the two riders without crossbows moved forward. I raised my rifle and shot the man in front of me through the head. I shifted to the two men with crossbows and took them down. The other two men were fighting their mounts until one slipped off and pulled a long sword.
I shot him twice and shifted to the last man as he finally got control of his horse and turned to me with a snarl, “You are dead stranger.”
I smiled, “I was going to pay a toll but I think you can tell your baron I will be coming to collect his head.”
The man backed his horse before turning and riding off fast. It took several minutes to calm my horses and I moved them back into the nearest wood line. I unsaddled and picketed them on long leads. I kept an eye on the keep while I worked and when full darkness came I slipped out of the camp and headed for the keep.
It took a half hour to get close and I moved quietly as I approached the tall wooden walls. I watched the sentries walking along the top of the wall before moving forward. The rough wooden walls were easy to climb and I waited for a sentry to pass before I slipped over. It only took about twenty minutes to take out the sentries.
This baron must be paranoid, the door into the guard barrack had a drop bar on the outside. I was quiet as I put the bar in its brackets and quietly took out two more guards by the main keep and slipped through a side door. I could hear the loud voices from a large room I thought might be the main hall.
I looked though and listened as a large man with a big belly was drunkenly telling several men how he was going to have me torn apart while I was still alive. The servants came and went keeping their heads down and tried to avoid his notice. I had been watching for about five minutes when a girl almost tripped while carrying a tray of food.
The baron roared as he came to his feet, “Fool!”
He backhanded her and she was sent sprawling. I stepped into the room before I realized I had. The fat baron was stalking after the girl while everyone laughed, “Touch her again and it will be the last thing you ever do!”
The room went silent as the fat man turned to me quickly, “Kill him!”
As the long table that ran down the center of the room was overturned I brought my rifle up. I shot four men that sprang towards me and then I turned towards the fat baron. I shot him three times in the stomach before pointing back at the other men. They were all frozen as they stared at me.
I shifted slightly as I took a step towards the dying baron and looked at the men, “I am heading west. You will leave now and head anywhere except in that direction. If I see any of you I will kill you.”
I glanced at the girl on the floor. She had crawled into one corner and lay there shaking, “Come here girl.”
She slowly crawled to me as the men backed out of the room. I looked at the servants in the other doorway, “Does the baron have a wife or child?”
Several shook their head and I looked at the girl and knelt to lift her up. I looked her in the face, “Ruling others is done by leading them. A true ruler is one who looks after the welfare of her people first.”
I caressed her face before looking at the servants, “This girl is your new baroness. You will follow her or I will return.”
I looked at the frightened girl, “Go among your people and get their advice on how to do things but always remember the decisions are still yours as well as the responsibility. Rule fairly and treat your people as you would want to be treated. If you fail and become like him…”
She looked at the fat baron as he lay in the dirt of the floor. I was a little surprised when she stood straight and looked into my face, “I will not fail.”
I nodded, “The guards that remain can be sent away or kept if you think they will remain faithful.”
I turned and walked out of the room quietly. The main gates of the keep were open and I walked out. I was careful as I made my way back to camp. It was a long night and I kept thinking one of the guards would try to sneak up on me. I made an early breakfast and cleaned my rifle before saddling the horses.
In the small town people were out in the street and stood watching me as I rode through. I stopped when I saw an older man I recognized from the keep. I gestured to him, “Would you be good enough to take something up to your baroness?”
I could see his fear but he came closer and ducked his head, “The mistress is in with her mother.”
He gestured to a small house with several children standing around watching me. I bowed my head, “Would you be kind enough to get her for me?”
He bobbed his head and hurried into the house while I slid out of the saddle. I went to the last horse and untied the lead rope. I led the horse to the front as the girl came out with an older woman following her. She held her head up as she walked to me and I smiled and bowed before holding out the lead rope, “You will need something to help get you started.”
She looked from me to the horse, “Get me started?”
I looked at the horse, “Silver.”
I looked back at her for a moment and then walked around my horse and mounted. I looked down on her, “Good bye youngling.”
I started off and didn’t even glance back. I had a warm feeling in my chest and knew I had done something good. The country I rode into became rolling hills with small streams everywhere. I had taken out my sectioned fishing pole and flies during the first evening. I caught two really nice size fish that almost looked like trout.
The small track became a narrow road with wide grassy sides that I rode on. The road twisted and turned but kept heading in the general direction of west. There were a lot more small towns that I learned were part of the barony. It was almost a week after I had killed the baron when I crossed a wooden bridge and saw a crossroad ahead. I had been riding with the long bow at the ready incase I saw a rabbit.
I rode up to the intersection carefully. The last small village I had passed had warned me about robbers. I swung down and tied my horse to a thick post. I walked towards the sign post to read it. The way south had the name of someplace called Darkholm. To the north was Sithern Plains City. To the west was Glevin Trade City.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the nearest clump of bushes. As I turned back to my horses I reached for an arrow. Someone had been watching me and gave a yell that sent a dozen men rushing at me. I had left my rifle on my horse but turned to face the men rushing at me.
My first arrow sped past the rushing men to hit a tall skinny man pulling the string back on his own bow. My second arrow took the man in the lead and my third took the man behind him. I released my fourth arrow before tossing my bow aside and pulling the long sword from over my shoulder.
Almost all of the men had make shift weapons like long kitchen knives. I slid easily into my fighting stance and waited. I didn’t have long to wait as the first man stumbled into range and died as my blade swept out to take his head. I continued to make a follow through with a downward slice that took both hands from the next man.
A half spin and thrust slid the point of my sword through the ribs of another man before I pulled back and turned. A diagonal cut to block and then a spin and side step to avoid a rusty looking long knife. I jabbed into one man’s throat with my fist and backhanded my sword through the stomach of another man.
I slid past the man on the ground gagging and trying to breath as the others followed me. I spun and lunged, the first foot of my sword slicing through a man’s stomach before I yanked it back. I wasn’t fast enough, as he fell he took the sword with him. I pulled my fighting knife and the long dagger I had started carrying.
There were three men left and they followed as I carefully stepped back. With a rush two came at me and the knife came up to block as the dagger went home in the other man’s chest. I shoved him into the other man and turned in time to catch a descending blade with my dagger before cutting his throat with my knife.
The last man was just coming back to his feet and kept looking around for a way out. He lunged and took a swipe with his knife. I blocked with my knife and stabbed through his arm with the dagger. I twisted as I moved sideways and then sliced across his throat with the knife as he screamed. I looked around to see all the men down and dying.
I stepped away from the bodies and really looked around. In the distance I could see someone riding towards me from the south. I knelt to clean my weapons before putting them away. I found my bow and picked it up before heading towards my horse. I swung into the saddle and shifted the horse to put the bow and quiver on the first pack horse before pulling out my rifle.
I turned back to see several people riding closer. I could see what looked like wagons behind them, as they got closer I had to work not to stare. They were riding horses but each person was very short, like four feet tall. They were also very wide in the shoulder and each rider carried what looked like a crossbow.
They stopped about a hundred paces away and looked at each other before one that looked better dressed started forward. He kept looking at the dead and dying men and then at me. I waited quietly to see what he was going to do. He pulled up in front of me and gestured at the men, “Bandits?”
It took me a moment to realize he was speaking very old German and I nodded, “They made a mistake.”
He grinned and then laughed before turning to wave at his men. He looked back at me, “Where are you bound?”
I pointed west with my chin and he nodded, “Us too. We go to sell our wares.”
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