Where the Wind Blows Wild: Part Eight
Corbin looked at the long, slender knife in his hand. He owned several knives of his own, but those were tools – he used them to cut rope or meat. This was a warrior's weapon, and, frankly, Corbin wanted nothing to do with it. That had been one of Dad's rules: when the weapons come out, the best place to be is gone.
But Dad had never had to deal with the Mistress of the Double-Cross threatening to expose Svar and Magjan. And Corbin didn't think that Dad had ever been smack in the middle of a gold caravan with bandits attacking it, either.
Kell asked him as Kanrik, Hannah, and Grig ran off, "What are we going to do?"
For a second, Corbin really wanted to tell Kell that they were going to run to Celestina's and try to figure out a Plan B. But that would be wrong. If a pair of thieves were willing to join in the fight, he and Kell had no reason to keep away. He said, "We'll help. They need people around who know to keep an eye out for Masila and Marius."
Kell glared at him. "And we'll get ourselves killed."
Corbin sighed and said, "Hey, if it goes bad I'm all for running away like a pair of little girls. But we need to at least try. Try and tell me that you'd be able to go back and look Svar in the eye if we didn't try."
Kell grumbled, "I can't look Svar in the eye anyway – I barely come up to his waist."
Kanrik and Hannah came running back. Kanrik said, "They've got it under control over there. Which is why we need to be prepared for something nasty over – argh!" Kanrik ducked, and barely missed the arrow that flew over his head and stuck in the side of one of the wagons. "Take cover!"
Corbin didn't need to be told that twice – he shoved Kell toward the nearest wagon and dived under it right behind him.
Kanrik muttered, "Plan number one – don't get shot."
Kell rolled his eyes. "I think I got that idea."
Corbin said, "Okay. We're succeeding at plan one thus far. So how do we get out from under this Fyora-blasted wagon so we can figure out how to blame Masila and Marius for this?"
Kanrik asked, "Anyone see anything that could be used as a shield? If not, we'll be forced to wait until they come in for close combat – and if Masila's told them they're facing me, I bet they won't do that."
Corbin bit a comment back about someone being a little sure of himself, since Corbin himself certainly wouldn't be scaring off bandits any time soon. He looked down at the knife he was holding. As if it was going to help a guy with no training against some heavily-armed bandit.
Hannah said, "Looks like they're coming closer."
Kanrik shrugged. "Maybe they're stupid. Stupid is good. I can deal with that."
Kell groused, "Or maybe they've planned something nasty."
Corbin pointed out, "They're already trying to shoot us. How much nastier can they get?"
Kanrik said, a warning in his tone, "They're working with Masila. You don't want to ask that question."
Corbin wondered if Masila was as bitter toward Kanrik as Kanrik was to Masila. If she was, they were even more trouble than he had thought.
He looked around again, and noticed that someone had left wooden crate lids on the ground inside the circle of wagons, not too far from the main fire – they were stamped with FOOD on the top, and had likely been used for something the cook made. He grabbed one, and then Hannah and Kell found three more. Kell said, "Hopefully the shields will be better than dinner was."
Hannah grumbled, "That wouldn't take much work. I've tasted Alien Aisha food that was better than that."
Corbin had run into Alien Aisha food before – it was fairly hard to forget, and his stomach recoiled at the memory. He grabbed his shield, grateful for a handy grip on the lid that allowed him to hold it like he would a real shield. He'd had a little more experience with shields than he had with swords. Dad had taught them that a piece of something sturdy that could be put between themselves and something with claws was always a good thing.
Kanrik led the charge – he immediately leaped out and started fighting with the first bandit. Unfortunately, the first bandit was a mountain of a Grarrl a full head taller than even the Master Thief and at least twice as broad across the shoulders. That occupied Kanrik's attention, and that left far too many unoccupied bandits for Corbin's taste. He could still hear shouts and clashing of metal from the other side of the ring of wagons – how many bandits were there?
Too many. Including a tall Chomby with an eyepatch, who was stalking toward Corbin with a nasty smile. He asked, "Who let you two out without your mommies?"
Then he attacked. It was all Corbin could do to keep his makeshift shield between himself and the ruffian's sword.
But it wasn't just up to Corbin. The Monster Hunters always stuck together, bound by blood and by oath. Kell attacked the Chomby as Corbin got space to breathe, and then Corbin returned the favor when the bandit turned to try and face the new threat – the Chomby had more armor than was really fair, but Corbin landed a solid kick on his shins. It was no child's attack – their dad had taught them the use of their feet, and they always wore sturdy boots for that reason. The Chomby stumbled forward, and then apparently decided to take his chances elsewhere, stumbling back out of the light that surrounded the ring of caravans.
Then Corbin heard the bell tolling. There was only one bell that could be ringing – the bell in the tower in Brilforge's town square. It meant that the bandits were attacking the town as well. Maybe the inn with its customers. Maybe the forge with its weapons. It didn't matter. What mattered was that these bandits were also attacking the town. Not just the caravan, which had its own supply of warriors. The town, where the watchmen were few and largely complacent, the sheriff was a genial old man who liked spending the day walking around talking to people, and the townsfolk were all heading for their beds.
He looked at Kell and asked that question as Kanrik drove his opponent back away from the wagons. Kell shrugged. "They're bandits. Maybe some of them saw an opportunity for easier plunder." But despite the casual way he talked, Kell's eyes were wide, his mouth tight. He didn't like the idea any better than Corbin did.
Corbin said, "Do you have the feeling this is out of control?"
Hannah was suddenly beside them, having apparently dodged back from the fight to rest for a second. "Yes. And I think this is probably out of Marius's control, too. He wouldn't have wanted Brilforge attacked."
Corbin asked, "Masila?"
Hannah nodded. "That's what Kanrik thinks. Masila wouldn't mind having a little town all of her own. She's always wanted power."
Corbin shouted at Kanrik, "They've got things in hand here – we need to go toward the square! Maybe we can buy the townsfolk some time!" He knew quite well that Kanrik would be buying most of the time, but if he was capable of scaring some of the bandits away from civilians, it would work.
Kanrik nodded, then took the lead – his legs were long, he ran quickly despite the day they'd had, and Corbin had quite a job to keep up with him. Hannah and Kell were practically sprinting as they circled the wagons.
"Wait up! Wait up!"
Corbin knew that voice. "Celestina!"
The Cloud Kougra came up out of the darkness, carrying a rust-spotted sword and shield that Corbin recognized from her house – they'd hung on the wall of the parlor, by all the books about warriors and military history. Then she gasped and jumped back. "Master Thief!"
Corbin said quickly, "On our side. Celestina, we don't have any real proof yet that we can show people – but Marius is working with Masila, and they want to expose the Stone Shepherds. And we think that Masila is behind this bandit attack. We need to go help the townsfolk fight off the bandits and hopefully catch one or both of them – we need Marius discredited so no one will listen to him when he tries to say that the Stone Shepherds are real."
Celestina nodded once, slowly. "And the Arnsian?"
Kell said, "Gave it to Svar."
She said, "Let's go."
Kanrik moved slower this time, which Corbin was grateful for. As they half-jogged toward the town, Hannah said, "Hi, I'm Hannah."
Celestina nodded at the introduction. "I'm Celestina."
"They said you're a scholar – why don't you live in Brightvale or Altador? Seems like it would be better for getting ahold of books."
Celestina shrugged. "I was born here. Some people grow best where they're planted. Brilforge can be frustrating sometimes, but it's my home – I could no more leave it than I could grow wings and fly."
They'd entered the outskirts of the town, when all of a sudden Kanrik stopped still as stone. Corbin nearly ran into him, but then paused and listened. They could still hear the sounds of fighting – near the town square, where the blacksmith and the inn were, which didn't surprise him. But Kanrik was listening, and Corbin listened as well.
A silky voice replied, "I had to gather enough bandits to make attacking a gold caravan reasonable. They expect to be rewarded adequately for their trouble."
Masila. Masila and Marius. Marius said, "And you think you'll be able to bring people through this town to see the Stone Shepherds if they're afraid of bandits?"
"They're under orders. Get your cowardly little self out there and rally the townspeople! If they see you as a useful mayor rather than the arrogant little rich Bruce, everything will work far more smoothly."
Oh, that was not going to happen. Kanrik ordered in a whisper, "Kell, Corbin, Celestina, get Marius. Let Hannah and I handle Masila." Then he called, "You need a whole gang of bandits, Masila? Sweet Fyora, your plots are getting rusty!"
Masila stepped out of the next alleyway, holding a long, thin sword. Behind her, Marius started dashing away.
Corbin nodded at Kell. They knew what they were doing. He wasn't going to get away with making himself into a phony war hero and using that approval to launch an expedition to find the Stone Shepherds – Corbin had seen people try that before, dizzy with victory and determined to find more foes to fight. It was scary, how well it worked sometimes.
Well, it wasn't going to work here. The Monster Hunters would see to that.
To be continued...