Gared surveyed his men, a hardened crew of robbers huddled around their small fires, counting their shares of the latest pickings. He had tracked down and hand-picked his men based on their reputations, each one of them experienced survivors of broken bands of thieves and brigands. Unafraid, unbeaten, and most importantly unimprisioned. Free men could not be asked inconvenient questions. The bandit captain made it clear that a captured man’s share was forfeited to the one who killed him. In the two years that they had been marauding the highways he had yet needed to award such a bounty.
Mobility was key, never get greedy and stake out the same stretch of road for too long. It was best to move on before word of their activities reached the ears of anyone who was likely to do anything about it. It was hard to get caught if you were already gone.
Stay small that was the second rule, too many men got killed or thrown in the gaol for having the ambitious dream of becoming a “Bandit King” like in the tales of raconteurs. Besides, a half-dozen or so skilled men could easily take all but the most heavily guarded merchants. Also, fewer men meant fewer shares and mouths to feed, which meant the stakes could be kept manageable.
Be fair, and be generous. Men were less likely to turn mutinous when there was little to envy. Even his own share wasn’t much larger than any other man’s in the gang, and there was always boons given for bravery, loyalty, and service. These were always distributed nights they could spend in their drinks and songs, and Gared made sure there were plenty of those.
Over two years and they were all the richer. Yes, with these men, he had a great string of success. Provided they kept to their ways, he felt they would never be beaten. Soon they would be headed for Brayton to overwinter and begin again when the thaws came.
Something glinted in the tree line and caught his eye.
His hand fell naturally to the hilt of his sword. He squinted to see better.
A pinprick of light winked. The trees seemed to waver slightly. There was silence and the feeling of vertigo.
The forest in front of the outlaw spun widdershins in on itself leaving a hole where the trees had been.
A man stepped out. He was dressed in black breeches and a red tunic of silk, belted at the waist. His dark hair swept back and tied into a short tail.
Gared drew his sword. “Warlock!” he croaked, trying to alert his men. “Sorcery!”
Those that noticed what was happening began to gather their feet beneath them and there weapons to their hands, most unsure of whether to fight or run.
The stranger, raised two fingers and drew a small pattern in the air. The cool evening air seemed to thicken, and condense into dozens of clear, blue, ice-like shards which exploded outwards and into the band of thieves.
The forest unfolded itself back into existence.
Leyto lowered his hand and looked around at the remains of the camp. The presence of the bandits had been unexpected and regrettable. Mournful tradition decreed that no one but the initiated know of the where Sorcerer’s Road touched the world. These men had the bad fortune to camp within sight of one of its outlets. Besides, it simply would not due to have the locals talking of his presence, not till he reached Athendal anyway. Normal people always get so nervous around warlocks for some reason.
Picking up a fallen spear the warlock went about the unpleasant task of ensuring that none of them remained alive. He then washed his boots and began to walk down to the road that led through the forest and would take him to the city. He hoped to be there by noon tomorrow.
There he world find his swordsman.