Beyond the Border
As the others looked back toward the pursuit, Yari stared at the second group of riders approaching from the North.
“The horses need rest,” Ledran called from the rear, ever the practical quartermaster.
No sooner they passed beyond the New Republic’s border, the lawlessness of the Lands Beyond became all too real.
“Not going to happen,” Mikailut replied, pointing to the second group ahead with his right arm, awkwardly bent since the duelling injury. His size, his dark-red studded brigandine, and the imposing hand-and-a-half blade at his hip, might deter half the assailants. Yari witnessed first-hand how fiercely the old Viper fought. With or without his steel armour, mindful of his damaged arm and leg, on horseback Mikailut was worth a dozen.
“Why the hell did I agree to this journey?” Ledran asked.
“They’re called orders, Lyo,” Risto teased. “Your father was a general. You should know how it works.”
The Corsair’s blackest humour came out at times like this. Since discovering her mother’s name on a manifest, the journey to Blackmoor Gate was her obsession. Risto Tallas, with her blades and knives and Corsair’s curses, wasn’t about to let a bunch of bandits stop her.
Yari needed to reach the mine workings to find her father. Nothing else mattered.
Yari made a count of the new threat. Eight or nine behind, now six more in front. She needed one of the three to come up with a plan. Mikailut, the veteran; Risto the thief and gambler; Ledran the steadfast young soldier who had run with the Regulators after the war.
Too young to fight, but blessed by the Council, Yari remained, somehow, in charge.
Risto hated Mikailut for his time with the old Emperor; Ledran resented Risto for whatever secret of the Emperor’s death she kept between them; Mikailut regarded them both as weak-willed mercy-peddlers. In truth, Risto came from a line of pirates, while Ledran knew what it was to stand in line on the battlefield as a cadet.
“What do we do?” Yari yelled as they brought the horses to a halt.
“Perhaps Mikailut can keep a couple as pets?” Risto suggested unhelpfully, taking her short bow from behind the saddle.
Mikailut glared as he yanked back the string of his crossbow with his good left arm, his right foot through the stirrup ring.
Ledran sighed with resignation. No stranger to violence, it was never his first resort.
Yari, too, had seen plenty during the Emperor’s reign. It cut short her childhood, stole away her father amongst the Vanished. A bloody exchange with bandits came as a risk, at best a delay, and not one she entertained.
“Can’t we bluff it out? Say we represent the Freedom Council? Offer them a pardon, now the Emperor is gone?”
“I doubt they’re much interested in politics,” Ledran answered, fitting the slim wooden box to the centre of his own longbow, becoming his own corps of archers.
Yari looked at the three of them grouped around her, calmly preparing for the encounter; guile, ferocity, invention. They didn’t need a plan. No plan survived engagement with the enemy. They would improvise.
She gripped the long knife under her cloak and for the briefest moment felt sorry for the bandits.