Long arm of the law
The wounded horse was greatly flagging, and while Aurei felt compassion for the poor mistreated animal, she was thankful for his injury, for she had caught them. Both riders turned in dismay as she thundered down upon them and she recognized both of them – it was the condemned killer, riding in front of the ‘old man’ who had rescued him in the Muddy Boot. As the convicted man clutched his wounded shoulder and tried his best to stay on the horse, the other rider leaned over and slid a long javelin out of a quiver secured to his saddle. Aurei knew it was time to strike. She rammed her heels into Vanyasulie’s ribs and the horse, sweaty from his sprinting, managed to find another burst of speed. As the rider leaned back to throw the javelin, she rode down onto him, thrusting her barbed lance forward and impaling him. He slumped over, the javelin dropping from his hand as he slid off the saddle, his inertia pulling the convict off with him. They crashed to the ground, bouncing once on the hard soil as Vanyasulie jerked hard to the right to avoid trampling them.
Aurei pulled the reins, slowing the horse down, but she slid off the side of her horse before he had stopped and ran over to the fallen bandits, dropping the now-broken lance.
Only the convicted man was still alive and he was trying to get on his feet, his left side covered with blood. The Drow girl hesitated, somehow feeling sorry for the seriously wounded man, but that changed when the man produced a very long hunting knife and swung at her. She easily dodged his swing and had her own short sword out in a moment. Again he swung at her and she casually knocked the blade aside, wondering if it was morally right to kill a wounded man, even one condemned to death. He thrust the blade forward and she parried, then with a quick move she cut deep into his face. The man growled like an injured bear and tried to do an overhand swing, but at that moment Aurei heard the sound of galloping hoofs bearing down on her. Instinctively she rolled to her right as one of the convict's compatriots gave a one-man cavalry charge. A long scimitar whistled by her, just missing her as she rolled out of the way. Leaping to her feet, she was surprised to see the convict lying sprawled out on the grass, dead, after he had failed to get out of the path of the charge.
This seemed to only enrage the horseman, who spun around and prepared to make a second pass at her with his curved sword. But just as he’d spurred his horse forward, suddenly over the crest of the hill appeared a heavy warhorse in full plate armor, with an equally armored knight, bearing down on her attacker with a lance. The bandit could not get his exhausted horse up to speed in time and the knight ran the man through with his lance, dropping the weapon as he circled back around, now with his sword in hand. With a single swipe from the knight’s sword, the bandit went to the ground, dead.
But the other three bandits had not given up yet. Two had bows and were quickly taking positions to open fire on Aurei and her rescuer. The other bandit rode forward as if preparing to charge, but then came to a stop about forty feet from where the knight and Aurei were. She then noticed a large holster opened across the saddle in front of him, filled with wicked looking throwing knives.
Two arrows were shot at the knight, one missing entirely, the other one impacting his stomach plate and bouncing off. The knife-thrower let fly two knives at Aurei, one bouncing off her chainmail, the other pricking her slightly before also dropping to the ground. It was at this moment that Alis crested the ridge, charging forward with her practice lance and shield, and behind her came Pectros and nearly a dozen others.
One of the bandits gave a short, shrill whistle and all three ceased their attack and turned to flee. But Alis seemed determined to unseat one and managed to intercept the knife-thrower who had been the furthest forward of the surviving trio. The Bandit whipped at his horse for speed, but the light-weight half-Elf’s horse was quicker and her lance stabbed him low on his back. He stayed in the saddle, pulling his reins to the left to break away from the end of her lance. Alis anticipated the move and swung the lance horizontally at the man, knocking him back on his saddle. Again he stayed on the horse, but he had lost hold on his reins and when he leaned forward to grab for them, Alis again swung sideways with her lance, this time with much more force, smacking him in the back of the head and sending him head over heels off his horse, which then trampled him as it ran on. She pulled tight on the reins and dismounted, but Aurei was already standing over the bandit who laid there moaning and seriously injured in the fall.
"Good job, Alis!" Sir Aeric said through his visor as he raced past, joining the other guards as they pursued the two remaining bandits. In a cloud of dust, the pursuit disappeared down the south road, leaving Aurei and Alis standing amid three dead bodies and a dying bandit on the field of battle.
"Alis, are you alright?" Aurei asked, racing over to her friend. Alis stood there holding the reins of her horse, looking down at the fallen bandits, trembling. But it wasn’t horror that had filled her but the after-effect of the surge of excitement.
"We did it!" She said to Aurei with a wide-eyed look, "We unhorsed them just like knights do! Wow, what a rush of excitement! Uh… who are they, anyway and what did they do?"
Aurei quickly recounted the events that had unfolded as the two women turned the wounded bandit over. Blood was pooling in his mouth and he had been stepped on several times when he’d fallen underneath his horse. Aurei was debating laying hands on him when he abruptly quit breathing and died.
"Yesh preserve us." Aurei exclaimed, feeling suddenly very sick at her stomach. Turning from the man, she vomited violently.
"How about you?" Alis asked as the Drow girl wiped her mouth, "Are you okay?"
"I’ll be okay." she weakly replied, glancing away from the bodies as she took deep breaths to calm herself. As she glanced about, trying to clear the image of the dying man from her mind, a bright gleam of reflection from something metallic caught her eye. It was a distance away, to the west of them, near the border of the Elven forest, but something laid there in the shade of a small tree. She squinted in the late afternoon soon and could make out a horse, untethered, standing nearby, eating grass as its lead dragged the ground.
Alis saw her squinting and looked the same direction.
"There is a man lying under that tree." She told Aurei, "he isn’t moving – maybe he’s asleep?"
"With all this noise, and in broad daylight?"
Alis nodded, "It does seem unlikely. Perhaps another victim of the bandits?"
"I don’t know – lets’ go find out; Aeric and Pectros have enough men to handle the two remaining bandits."
The two young women led their horses the short distance to the man, and as they neared, it became clear to both of them that he wasn’t just sleeping. His body was sprawled out on his back, his arms and legs spread wide as if he’d fallen in a battle.
"Oh no!" Aurei exclaimed as they neared, for she recognized the gray skin and white hair – it was the half-Drow paladin, Eleazar.
Cautiously they approached, not wanting to get too close in case it was some sort of trap. He was very still, but they could see a very faint rise and fall of his chest that shown them he was still alive.
"What happened to him?" Alis said in a whisper, looking around as if expecting something to jump out at them.
"I don’t know." Aurei knelt down, but hesitated to touch the man, remembering how he had nearly killed her just the day before. But now he didn’t seem threatening at all, and with a quick swallow, she leaned in and with trembling hands mumbled, "In the name of Yesh, be healed."
There was the now familiar surge of power leaving her hands and it seemed to her that Eleazar’s breathing deepened slightly, but other than that there was no change. She looked up at Alis who was standing there with her mouth agape.
"What? What’s wrong?" Aurei asked, quickly looking around but finding nothing.
"What you just did! You laid hands on him!" Alis stammered.
"Paladins do that, Aurei!"
"Ah, now don’t you start too—"
"Aurei, don’t you see, you ARE a paladin!"
"Oh sure, a fine one I am, I nearly get killed by a bandit in my own Inn."
"I saw you riding Vanyasulie – you nearly blew us down you were going so fast, and without a saddle – then you swoop down and snagged a lance without even slowing down. Sir Aeric was absolutely amazed at the move – I saw the look he had on his face."
"Whoopee – I’m just agile, Alis --- I’m a Drow, remember, ‘my people’ are all like that. Besides, I saw your charge with your lance – that was very impressive too. Why don’t you try it – lay your hands on him and see if you can heal too."
"I’m no Paladin, Aurei, I’m just taking the same training as everyone."
"Just as I am, Alis, but apparently Yesh wants something more out of me, and I’ll bet he might have plans for you too."
The half-elf girl just sighed and knelt by her friend. With mock seriousness, she mimicked Aurei and said, "In the name of Yesh, be healed!" and touched the unconscious knight on the arm. But her amused expression turned to shock when the same flow of energy left her hands.
"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed, her eyes wide as she looked down at her hands, "Oh no! I don’t want to be a knight!"
Aurei smiled, patting her friend on the shoulder, "Don’t worry ‘Sir Alis’, I won’t tell if you won’t tell on me."
"You’ve got a deal… at least until I have time to think this through. Hey! He’s moving!"
Both women took a step back as the grey half-Drow Knight took a deep breath, groaning slightly as he weakly moved his hands to his head.
"Sir Eleazar?" Aurei said softly, careful to be out of the range of his hands, "It’s Aurei Bugley – are you okay? What happened?"
He opened his red eyes a bit and blinked her into focus, which caused him to frown, "It wasn’t just a dream. Where am I, Duchess?"
"About two miles outside of Westmark. We were pursuing bandits when we saw your horse grazing nearby and you laying here."
"I’m very weak, Duchess Bugley." He turned and looked at Alis then smiled almost shyly with a nod, "Ma’am."
"Sir Knight." Alis returned the greeting, "What happened to you?"
"I’m not sure. Some of it may have been a dream… I don’t know for sure." He turned back to Aurei, "Duchess, I can tell you that the creature that attacked that caravan some time ago is no more."
"You killed it?" She asked, surprised at the news, and the knight actually smiled – slightly- at her.
"No, I can’t take claim for it – it was the Faesidhe." He gestured with his head toward the forest.
"Did you meet them?"
"Something like that."
"Did they do this to you?!"
"No… I don’t think so. I’m not sure, Duchess. I will be glad to tell you the story sometime, but I wonder if you might help me get on my horse."
Alis snorted, "I’m very certain you’re not ready to ride, Sir Eleazar."
"I’m weak, m’lady, but I would feel better in the saddle."
"And where would you head?" Aurei asked him.
"Duchess, I explained my… discomfort… around you… um…."
"Yesterday." she finished, "It was yesterday. My throat is still sore, Sir Eleazar, but though I ought to use your weakened state to give you a dose of your own medicine, I don’t think Yesh would like that. Besides, smacking you around would probably not improve your opinion of me or Drow in general. So instead I’m going to do something for you that you just may think is even worse – we’re taking you back to Westmark so you can recover your strength."
"Duchess—" he began to protest in frustration.
"Don’t worry, Sir Knight, I’ll bring you to your fellows and let them nurse you back to health… if they’ll have you. They were rather upset at you."
"Which is another reason to just let me ride off. I’m feeling stronger, now."
The grey skinned Elf sat up as if to prove his claim and then tried to stand up, only to wobble back on shaky knees.
"Uh huh, you’re good to go." Aurei said sarcastically and the half-Drow knight glared at her.
"I don’t want to go back with you." He said flatly.
"Well I understand that, but I don’t think Alis here can get you there by herself and there is no-one around but us two women. Close your eyes and pretend I’m just an Elf girl until we get you back to the Blood Knight Keep, then I promise I’ll leave you alone."
The knight sighed, "You are not going to stop until you get your way, are you?"
She smiled, "I’m a Duchess, remember, we noble snob-types ALWAYS get our way."
"Well, I’m too weak to put up any sort of fight, so against my better judgment, I’ll yield."
"Very smart, Sir Eleazar. Now let’s see if you can stand with our help."
Aurei and Alis got on either side of the knight and each took an arm, gently helping him to stand. He got to his feet with a bit of effort, seeming embarrassed at his weakened state.
"I wish we had a cart." Aurei said as they slowly led him toward where his horse serenely grazed.
A moment later, as if an answer to prayer, they heard the rattling of a wagon mixed in with the sound of many horses coming from the direction of Westmark. Over the hill came a company of horsemen, led by Sir Alvis and his handful of Paladins. The wagon was driven by Brother Darv with Thorm and several other Dwarves bouncing around in the back. Aurei waved to them and they rushed over to them, seeing the two women leading Eleazar toward them.
Minutes later the wagon was ready to head back to Westmark with the half-Drow inside, while the other Knights rode off to see if they could assist in the capture of the two remaining bandits. The dwarves piled up the bodies of the dead bandits, took off their weapons and other valuables, and then burned them to keep any lurking Necromancer Guild members from raising them as zombies.
Aurei and Alis checked their horses and then mounted them for the short trip back to town. As they rode back, Brother Darv cast several healing spells on the injured mixed-blood elf, but seemed very perplexed why the young knight’s strength was not returning. Aurei rode on in silence, pondering the events of the afternoon and eyeing Alis, who kept looking over her shoulder and straining her neck as she searched for something… or more accurately, someone.
"He’ll be fine." Aurei finally said and Alis turned toward her, prepared to claim ignorance at whom her friend was referring, but instead she just blushed and looked down at her saddle.
"Don’t be embarrassed, Alis, he’s a very handsome man."
"It’s a silly crush, that’s all. I haven’t really had any."
"Then you’re overdue."
"Aurei, please don’t say anything to him… or any of the other knights." she spoke in a near whisper, though Aurei suspected that Eleazar probably could hear her words. Yet the half-Drow had too many concerns of his own to worry about a girlish crush on one of his fellow knights.
"I won’t say anything, Alis." Aurei assured her, excited that her friend seemed interested in someone. He would be a great match for her, Aurei thought as they neared town, both half Elven and half human. "Much better then going through life alone.", she mumbled only to herself as she looked down at the frail-seeming half-Drow still being ministered to by Brother Darv.