Broken Bridge, Adventure, Danger

The scout returned with troubling news. The Pretender’s men had seized their intended bridge and there was no suitable ford for at least a day’s journey to the South.

“What about the bridge at Quinan?” the commander asked.

“It is still standing, but looks like it might not be for long,” the rider replied. “And, it would take some serious skill to take the wagon across when it was at its best.”

“So we can go two days out of our way and hope that the southern bridge is unoccupied, or we can brave the Quinan. I don’t think we have any choice, we will need to try Quinan,” the commander said after a pause.

He called his small command together and explained the situation, and then he went to address the prisoners.

“We are going to try to cross the river about an hour’s journey from here. It is a wooden span and it hasn’t been maintained well. Nonetheless, it is the way we are going to go. We should be able to get your wagon across it, but it will need a really steady driver to get a team across. I am not going to risk one of my troopers, so its up to you to pick your best driver.”

“I will take it across,” Omar said. “I have worked with horses my whole life.”

“Well let’s hope horses won’t be the end of that life,” the commander said, in an attempt at a friendly tone. “Let’s get moving, we need to have full light for our best chance.”

The commander sent two riders ahead to secure the Quinan Bridge, and then the entire party moved out at the pace of the wagon.

It was about two in the afternoon when they arrived at the river bend known as the Quinan. The two advance riders were tightening some ropes that they had lashed onto the bridge frame. The closest of the soldiers went to report to the officer.

“Sir, we have made it as secure as we can, though there are some missing planks in the middle. But these are randomly spaced. Aviv has walked to the far side and back, and then did it again leading his horse, but we haven’t tried to ride across.”

“Thank you, Corporal. Go get Aviv and we will get organised,” the commander said, giving a sigh.

“Okay, I want the first two of you the lead your horses across and then hitch them to the support ropes on the far side and give us some tension. Then the next two ride across and we’ll see how that goes.”

“Yes Sir,” the first four men replied in unison.

The first pair crossed easily despite having to take wide strides in a couple of places, and then tightened the ropes as they had been ordered. The next two crossed mounted and then set up a guard to watch the approach on the far side.

The officer then went to the Omar. “I am sending most of my men across. Me and two others will remain behind, then you will take the wagon across followed by the rest of your party. Then I will join you. Take your time, but don’t dally either.”

The soldiers were able to ride across in pairs, but the bridge began to moan with their passing.

“Wish me luck,” Omar said to the others and nudges the team forward. As he did so Maya mumble an incantation to sturdy the boards. As the wagon reached the section with the missing slats, there was a snap, and an additional plank plunged into the river below, jamming the rear left wheel of the wagon in the void.

Wayne, dismounted and told Gwen to lead his horse behind hers, and then leaped onto the cable that served as a rail on the left side of the expanse. He tight-roped to where the wagon was stalled, and twining his legs into the ropes pulled up on the wagon frame with all his might. It was just enough to allow Omar to get the team to pull to wagon free and to cross to the other side.

“Now, the rest of you,” the officer said with a tone that was more of an order than a suggestion.

Slowly the party made their way across to Quinan and finally the commander and his remaining riders made the precarious crossing right before an additional plank dropped into the torrent below.


Cutting The Mustard

Mustard, Shell, Spice, Sharp, Food, Eat, Kitchen, Cook

Wayne nimbly swept down the passageway occasionally ducking into doorways to scan the hall for onlookers. At the end of the corridor he found the door locked, and he adroitly picked it in mere seconds. With another quick check of the passage behind him he closed the door and prepared to descend the spiral stair.

Before proceeding he took a small metallic bowl from a compartment in his trouser pocket. Inspecting that the rubber rim-guard was in place he silently placed it on the landing floor, and placed an ear against it. Some muffled sounds of life were detected, but there was no indication of movement on the stairs themselves. He returned the listening device to its compartment, and dextrously made a near-noiseless descent to the next level.

On arriving he again checked for movement above and below, before silently wedging the door at that level shut. He then made his way to the next floor where after checking, silently made his way into the corridor beyond.

This was the place he needed, on this level was the General’s private pantry. On entering he made note of the varying amounts of dust on more costly bottles of wine, and any indications of shelves that seemed to have the greatest traffic. It was then that he saw exactly what he was after – jars of spicy mustard on a shelf that was well used. He had heard that the General was passionate about the condiment. Taking the nearest jar, he used a strap of treated cloth from his sleeve to build friction on the jar’s lid. Once warmed it opened easily, and he drew a small envelope of powder from his other trouser compartment. He added just about a quarter of it to the jar, and stirred it thoroughly before again heating it and returning the lid to get a near perfect seal. Near perfect, but it would provide enough resistance that a casual opening would not reveal it had been tampered with. He then looked at the remaining two jars, and decided to make a sure thing of it. He followed the same process with them, being sure not to use too much or too little of the powder. It needed to be strong enough to kill the General, but not enough to cause symptoms in any would be food taster, at least not until the fat commander had eaten some himself.

The task completed; Wayne retraced his own steps until he emerged on the battlement just before dawn. A skilful descent of his hidden rope, and he was away free with another contract fulfilled.


FOWC with Fandango — Adroit


Man, Bridge, Lonely, Walk, Wintry, Winter, Landscape

The stranger approached slowly through the snow. To say he was tall would be an understatement. At seven feet in height, he towered over the party he was approaching.

“Hallo,” Briany greeted.

“Hello,” the stranger replied good-naturedly.

“Where are you heading all alone?” Briany asked.

“Wherever the road takes me I guess,” the tall man replied. “And you?”

“We are heading to Farmington,” Briany responded. “Have you come from there?”

“No, from the East Woods,” the stranger replied.

Briany found herself drawn to the man’s eyes. They were green, but not like a cat’s green, more like green of a spring acorn, and his pupils were tiny, mere pinpoints in the glare of the snow.

“I am Briany or Brin,” the young healer said offering a hand.

“I’m Cory,” he responded taking her hand and giving it a gentle shake.

A strange sensation surged through Brin’s body. For her entire life she had felt the illness and frailty of others when she touched them. Often their maladies passed into her, draining her physically, but leaving them healed. This man, Cory was different. What she felt was not the influx of disease or depression, but a surge of energy, almost as if it were he that was healing her.

Briany shivered involuntarily.

“I hope your journey is pleasant,” the tall stranger said, giving her a wink. With that he nodded to the party, and continued on his way. As he passed Maya she too felt a pulse of energy that left her feeling refreshed. She looked back at the man as he began to leave the road and enter a nearby copse of trees.


Quick Thinking

Castle, Knight'S Castle, Tower, Castle Castle

This isn’t right, the black-clad ninja thought as he opened his eyes.

He vaguely remembered mounting the battlements, and then being pushed backwards off of the wall.  In desperation he had grabbed hold of the warrior that had shoved him, and the two fell together to the ground below.  Somehow, he had managed to land on top of the soldier, who was definitely dead, his head turned at a grotesque angle. 

As the ninja came to his senses, he could tell that the defenders were combing through the bodies at the base of the wall, retrieving their fallen and mercilessly dispatching their foes. 

The assassin quickly began to undress and to strip the armour and equipment from the man who had accompanied him on his fall.   As he removed his own britches, agonising pain shot through his entire body, and he could see the jagged bone of his left leg protruding through the skin.  He nevertheless completed the task at hand, and donned the garb of the other man.  His ribs also gave him pain, as he pulled on the jerkin.  He pulled his own clothes onto the corpse, and then feigned unconsciousness on top of the body.

A few moments later, he let out an uncontrolled scream, when he was nudged in the leg by the boot of one of the burial party.

“Call the medic,” the man shouted.  “We have a live one.”

The man then stooped down over the ninja.

“Who are you?” the man asked in Ralulee, gazing uncertainly at the ninja’s features.

“I Sealandian Mercenary,” he replied, doing his best to remember the Ralulee phrase for ‘soldier of fortune.’

“You took a hell of a fall,” the man said, lightening up a little.

“He grab me – take down me,” he replied, trying to stress a Sea-Land’s accent.”

“Well help is coming,” the man said.  “We will get you to the infirmary in no time.”

The ‘mercenary’ only really understood the word ‘help’, and ‘infirmary,’ but under the circumstances it sounded perfect to him.

Soon, he was being carried on a stretcher through the gates, into the fortress that he had attempted to storm the night before.  What are the chances, he thought to himself.  Why didn’t I think of something like this in the first place?



Climbing, Climber, Mountain, Climb, Adventure, Sport

The remnant of the assault team made their way across the battlement.  The feint and its discovery had bought them time, but they needed to be quick.  Senior Trooper Hij took command being the senior surviving warrior following the ascent and initial encounters, but he quickly asserted authority over his nine remaining comrades.

“This is the tower,” he said in a whisper.  He and Trooper Ama were just try the entry door when it suddenly opened. 

There was a prolonged moment in which the young guard from within, carrying a pot of hot tea to the defenders on the battlements, stared in shock at the assault team.  The just has he began to call out, Ama severed his throat with a single stroke of his dagger. 

“We’re in then,” Hij said in a low voice, and he and his men entered the dimly lit passageway.   The passed two closed doors and then stood at a stairwell.

“If this map is right, we need to go down two flights and then we will be next to the Royal Chamber,” Hij said, and weapons in hand they made their way downwards, leaving Ama to watch their escape route. 

Hij and the others passed the next landing and a sailor named Ali was left to watch for any unwanted interruption from that level. 

Hij’s team then came to the floor where the Royal Chamber was.  Hij used a small hand mirror to peer around the corner.  There, outside an intricately carved doorway, were two sentries in the livery of the Sultan’s Guard. 

Hij turned to his remaining squad and held up two fingers.  Three members of the assault team returned their blades to their sheaths and took small crossbows from their backs.  His then pointed to one of the men and mouthed the word “right,” and then to another, mouthing “left.”  He then mouthed “misses,” indicating that the third man should reserve his shaft to complete the task.

“On three,” Hij mouthed and began a countdown on his fingers.

At the indicated moment the three crossbowmen rounded the corner and first two loosed their shafts.   Both struck home expertly.  But just as access to the chamber seemed assured, the sound of several sets of feet could be heard coming up the stairs from below. 

Hij and the five men with him on the stairway turned to meet the threat, and the crossbowman who had yet to loose stepped back into the landing in time to shoot the lead newcomer in the forehead as he mounted the stairs.  Six other men in the uniform of the Sultan’s Guard immediately rushed forward, while a seventh scurried downwards to sound the alarm. 

A melee soon ensued on the stairs, and as the original two crossbowmen struggled to reload, the door to the Royal Chamber opened and three additional Guardsmen emerged scimitars in hand.  The first bowman loosed a partially cranked charge into the first of these, and then swung at another with the weapon.  This was easily knocked aside, and the Guard cleft into the archer with an overhand cut. 

The second crossbowman dropped his weapon, and drew a dagger which he managed to drive into the belly of the Guard who had dispatched his comrade.  He then rolled and snatched the scimitar of the Guard he had just gutted.  In a brief encounter, both the remaining Guard and the crossbowman collapsed with mortal wounds which they had inflicted on each other.

On the stairway, Hij noted the outcome of the engagement outside the Royal Chamber and then ordered his men to make a fighting retreat up the stairs in the direction they had come.  On reaching the next floor they found that Seaman Ali had managed to close the door to that level and then use some pitons from his pouch to hold the door shut.  He joined them in the retreat as they passed, dropping one of the pursuing Guards himself with a thrown knife. 

By the time Hij reached Ama’s position only three of his other men remained.

“Run to the ropes,” Hij shouted.

Only he, Ali, and Ama managed to repel to the ground.  The others being either killed, or captured and later executed.

The mission to assonate the Pretender had failed.




Campfire, Outdoor, Fire, Camp, Outdoors


“Why did you come to our aid, back there at the bridge?” The large-eyed officer asked.

“It was the right thing to do,” Omar responded.  “We aren’t who you think we are; and secondly, we were as much at risk as you were.”

“I suppose you were,” the officer said thoughtfully.  His prisoners definitely didn’t seem to be the hardened mercenaries that they had been reputed to be.  One of them was a teen-aged girl, and she had somehow healed his wound.

“I am going to let you keep hold of your weapons for now, but only on your word that you will not use them against my men.  I will also require you to surrender them again before we get to my headquarters.”

“Thank you,” Omar said, accompanied by the hand gesture common in the Sultanate.

“You know our ways well, and you speak our tongue; though my men find your accent amusing.  How did you learn them?”

“My mother’s mother was a Green-lander, but lived most of her life as a slave of the Ralulee.  My mother was born in the Sultanate.”

“To a Ral?” the officer asked with genuine interest.

“No, she said to a desert tribesman,” Omar responded with the half truth. “I was born in the Kingdom though.  My father was from there.”

“Pardon my questions,” the officer begged. “But was your mother a slave then?  And if so, how did she gain her freedom to marry a Kingdomer?”

“She was born a slave, but her master’s son gave her her freedom, and she travelled to the Capital where she met my father, though they never married.”

“Ah,” said the officer, “Intriguing indeed, but I’m not going to trouble you about your personal affairs any longer.  Get some rest, there is a long ride tomorrow.  And please let your companions know that I thank you all for your aid.”

With that the officer stood and walked into the night.




FOWC with Fandango — Aid




Distant Riders

man riding on horse


Tamen, the old family retainer looked out at the approaching dust cloud.  Could it be Master Ral returning so soon after his departure? he mused.  Soon it became apparent that it was about twenty or thirty riders wearing an unfamiliar livery, the glimpses of a red and silver occasionally appearing through the rising dust.  They were definitely coming his way, and they seemed in a hurry.


Being a cautious man by nature, Tamen called for Benu, the yard man, to assist him.


“Benu, we need to close the gate. Give me a hand quickly.”


Benu, a tall and gangly youth of about twenty, dropped his rake and came to help the aged Tamen push the heavy iron studded gate closed.  They dropped the heavy oak cross beam into its sockets and took a quick look about to see that the rest of the compound was secure.


“Go tell Mistress Almira that there are strangers approaching at speed,” Tamen instructed.


“Okay Tamen.  Then what should I do?”


“Just go do it!” the usually kindly retainer snapped.


No more than five minutes after the cross beam had been put in place there was a forceful banging on the gate.


Tamen hesitantly slid open the iron cover of the viewing hatch.  “What business to you have with the House of Ral?” he asked.


“Open the gates in the name of the Sultan,” a steel helmeted man demanded.


“I will go fetch my mistress,” Tamen replied, and then quickly closed the hatch.


Just then Mistress Almira arrived, accompanied by two of the five Storm Riders that had been left behind in the compound.  Two other members of the elite unit moved stealthily to positions on the wall on either side of the gate.


“What is the matter?” Almira asked, still fastening her girdle sash as she approached.


“There are riders from Prince Yaqub outside demanding entrance,” Tamen replied.


The young lieutenant at her side said, “Allow me to deal with this Mistress.”


“Very well, Rahul,” she replied.   “But be courteous.”


The young officer went to the gate and slid open the panel.  “My mistress, would like to the nature of your visit, Sir.”


“The business is between the lady, and your Sultan’s representatives,” the steel helmed warrior hissed.  At that he gave a nod, and Lieutenant Rahul Abbab barely had time to step aside before a short arrow flew past him through the hatch opening.  Abbab swiftly recovered and slid the iron cover closed before turning to find his mistress kneeling over the prostrate form of Benu, who had been loitering in the courtyard.


The two Storm Riders on the wall rose and loosed shafts of their own, taking down the steel helmeted spokesman.


“Mistress, you should go and take the children and the maids to the sanctuary room, but send Cook to me,” Abbab said a little less calmly than he would have liked.


“Should I send the other Storm-man as well?” she asked as she began to retreat towards the house.


“No Mistress.  He should attend to you and the household.”  The officer then turned to Tamen and said he should get the groom, and the houseboy and begin building a barricade of hay bales in front of the main house.”


The old man nodded and then departed.


As Abbab was speaking, a portly Greenlandian woman came to him.


“Cook, fill all of the pots and cauldrons you have with fat and oil and heat them.  When they are ready send me word.”


About a dozen arrows sailed over the outer wall as he spoke falling ineffectually in the courtyard.


“Cook, how many days food do we have in store?” Abbab asked.


“We are well stocked, Sir.  Weeks I am sure.  And there is a well in the pantry house as well as the one in the yard,” she said in her broad Greenlandian accent.


“Good.  I think this could go on for a while.  When you see Tamen next, tell him when he has finished with the hay wall, to bring one, no make that three of the messenger pigeons to me.”


The cook didn’t reply, but turned on her heel to begin her tasks.


“This could be long indeed,” Abbab said aloud to no one in particular.





The Specialists (Part One)

Horse, Soldier, Warrior, War, Battle



“Your Majesty, the spies and scouts have returned and there are large dust clouds approaching from the west and northwest.  It looks like Ral has mobilised the western armies to try to remove you in a coup.”
“Yes, yes,” the Pretender responded.  “Is there anything to report that I don’t already know?” he retorted snidely to his general.


“I  – ah,” the man stumbled.


“Percisely,” the prince replied, giving a nod towards the inner door, at which the veiled Seer picked up her things and retreated through it.


“The spies say the second column is being commanded by Ali Mamode’s son,” the officer said quickly.


“Mamode, you say?  I thought we had dealt with that conspirator,” Yaqub said coldly.


“That is the report, Highness.”


“Very well,” the Pretender said.  “Leave me, and send in Captain Fer.”


A short while later a lean hawk-faced man knocked at the chamber door.  Alem Fer was a career soldier, and led a small unit of “specialists.”  He was tall and sinewy, and had a chill look in his eyes.  Many who fell under his gaze could feel that same chill creep up their spines.


“Enter,” Yaqub called.


The “Ice Warrior” stepped into the room and removed his helmet.  He then stood motionless, without uttering a word.


“Fer, it seems my orders to arrest and “interrogate” young Mamode have been ignored.  He is now approaching us from the west.  I would like you and your specialists to rid me of this problem.”


The hawk-faced officer gave a quick bow of his head, put on his helmet and departed.


“Excellent,” Yaqub said aloud.  “There’s that taken care of.”


An hour later, Fer and five other men dressed in the Black Stallion livery of the old monarch spurred their horses southwest-wards.   After several hours of hard riding they looped back north to intercept the column approaching the Pretender’s stronghold.


“Halt,” an outlying picket called.


The six riders reined in their mounts and an icy-eyed officer said, “We are from the Greenlands Border Garrison, and we have come to bring a message to the Ral.  Can you take me to him?”


The initial picket waved a red cloth above his head, and four horse archers approached slowly from behind a rise.  “If you will drop your weapons, you will be escorted to the camp,” the cloth-wielder said.  “Just precautions, you know.”


“Of course, quite understandable,” the icy-eyed leader replied.  The six riders dropped their scimitars and spears onto the ground, and the archers immediately relaxed the tension on their bowstrings.


“Take these men headquarters,” the initial picket ordered.


“Yes Sir,” one of the archers replied.  “This way gentlemen.”  The riders and their escorts then trotted off to the north, passing through another dozen waiting archers.



The Game: A Cousins Tale


Luke left the dining area and went towards the curtained door to the back room.  As he approached it, a drunk teamster raised his head from off a table.  “If you are going in there you must have some coins to spare,” the man slurred.

“I might have,” Luke retorted.

“Would you like to buy a dagger, Boy?” the drunk asked.  He held up an average looking blade and said, “It’s yours for the price of a flagon of red.”

“Not interested,” Luke huffed, and pressed by, emerging into the gambling room beyond.

Luke approached a table where a stern looking army rider and two merchants were just getting ready to play cards.

“Do you need a fourth?” Luke asked.

“Show us you coin first,” said the soldier.

Luke emptied his pouch on the table.  There were three silvers and a pair of coppers.

“It will do,” the warrior said, and the merchants nodded in agreement.

The first couple of hands were low wager, and no one had a spectacular hand.  Nonetheless Luke’s winnings were nearing five silvers.  Then Luke couldn’t believe his luck.  He was dealt four aces and a ten of diamonds.  This was the hand of his lifetime.   He bet all of the coins he had on the table.  While the merchants quickly folded at the gesture, the weary eyed warrior seemed unconcerned and matched his wager and raised it.  Luke quickly laid his sword on the table and called.

The sword that Bertram Drake acquired for Luke was an old Nordlandian infantry blade.  It had a functional wooden hilt, and an iron cross guard and an acorn shaped pommel. While it was not an elegant blade it was functional and of a good weight for a young man more used to a market stall than to an exercise yard.

The warrior looked at the sword, and then mumbled, “It will do.”  He laid down a straight Clubs flush and raked the pot to his side of the table.

Stunned Luke stared about the room.

He rose and walking with head hung and began to make his way to his room.  Then he saw it, a quarter-silver piece laying on the floor under an unoccupied table.  He as nonchalantly as possible stooped down and picked the coin up.  He went to the bar and exchanged it for coppers, and then returned to the card table.

“Back for more of a beating, Lad?” the soldier taunted.

“Just deal the cards,” Luke retorted.

This time he had two pairs.  He wagered his coin and hoped for the best.  The others had poor hands, after a couple of hands he had raised enough for a flagon of red.

He then went out into the bar and sat down across from the sleeping wagoner.  Kicking him in the boots, he said, “Do you still want to sell the dagger?”

“Do you have the wine?” the man asked.

“I’ll be right back.”

Luke went and bought the flagon and then sat down again.   He noted the man’s fixed gaze on the drink, and said, “And the dagger?”

The man slid it across the table and Luke took it and passed the wine to the drunkard.

Okay, I wagered my sword and my coins against the most perfectly balanced killing blade in the kingdom – and I won.  No, then I’d have the sword and money too.  I exchanged my coins and sword with a decorated warrior for a finely crafted weapon more suited for someone driving a wagon.  Yes, that’s what I’ll tell them.

He entered his room as quietly as possible, and didn’t wake until morning.