This is my favourite part of the hunt. Not the waiting but the moments before the trap is sprung, the adrenaline rush, there’s nothing quite like it. I had been ready now for hours, but this road is sparsely travelled, and a worthwhile prey is few.
The wait had paid off however; an unwary traveller was coming my way, towing his cart laden with goods. He drew closer to my hiding spot; I could hear him whistling, oblivious to us.
The fuse was lit, and the resulting explosion created a rock slide that slid down from the mountain above creating a barrier behind him, no way back only forwards. The trap was sprung and my men appeared on the ridge above, arrows in their bows. Only a fool would defend his cargo now.
I stepped out from behind my boulder onto the road in front.
“It’s our lucky day boys, pay day” I shouted up to them, and they responded with cheers.
“Not so lucky for you though. We’ll be taking that cart and all other valuables on your person. You’ll do it now without resistance or we’ll have your life too” The choice was his now, life or death. Seemed a simple predicament to me.
“Thie be dammed, mercy. Take what you want; you’ll have no trouble from me. ” the quivering man, hands raised above his head. A pathetic man, I thought to myself, barely three feet tall and dressed in expensive red silk. A stone merchant from the local town, profitable business when you’re not being robbed.
His cart was heavily laden with quarry stone, cut stone too, just what I’d hoped for. We took it all, and what gold was in his pockets, we took his pockets too and left him naked on the road side crying. Good day.
I often think about my line of work, I know it’s not honourable or favoured, but what choice do I have living on the fringes of civilised society. They rejected me years ago, dragged from my bed in the middle of the night and thrown into the snake pit, exiled on order of the King.
This abandoned mine is my home now, a drab place filled with exiled families and criminals like me, fighting to stay alive. Banditry is my way now, it was all my crew and I had, the stone and gold that we stole would keep us feed and alive for a while, but we always needed more, always. So we have to keep stealing from the well adjusted, those that tolerated the mad kings law.
There is no kings’ law here, only the law of the strong. Tribute must be paid or risk loss of home and limb. I pay what is due; a crippled bandit is no bandit at all. I must stay alive, I’ve much left to do, I must become strong.
My crew and I are well known, we go for the big payday. Arik likes us because of this, his cut is a big cut, he is the king of this mine, and he is emotionless and ruthless. He wouldn’t hesitate to cut down those that refused what he is due, I’ve witnessed his thirst for blood first hand, a sight I had no stomach for. Because of that he doesn’t see me as a challenger to his rule, my willingness to spare a mans’ life is a sign of weakness to him, but to me it is everything. I do what I do because I must, to survive this place; Arik is here because he chooses to be here. He revels in the madness that he has created.
I was torn away from my thoughts as I sat in silence in my home. Screams penetrated and tore the air. Something big was happening. Grabbing my weapon I rushed out into the tunnel, the screaming grew louder as it drew closer. I felt my heart speed up and my muscles tighten, anything could happen in this place; and I was ready for it. A throng of terrified people were running towards me, desperate to escape what terrors were behind them. I raised my axe aggressively, I did not intend to harm them, but they could harm me in their panic. I could not allow that to happen.
The crowd rushed by paying no attention to me and my crew that had now joined me from our hut, weapons drawn and waiting. But nothing came. The crowd has passed us by and the screams were dying down. My curiosity got the better of me and I headed deeper into the mine.
I came across the main hall, a vast opening filled with homes, shops and fences. It became immediately clear to me the cause of the panic. In the centre square a small stream of dark brown blood flowed and rested in pools on the uneven floor of the old mine. Bodies lay everywhere. I tried to turn and run but my legs would not allow it, I was held in place by horror. I saw Arik, leering over a freshly legless man, barely conscious.
“I did say to you, give me my cut before I cut you” with a smile on his face Arik raised his axe high above his head and slammed it down into the man’s chest; putting the poor man to rest. Arik turned to his men laughing as he wiped the blood from his face.
“Help yourself men, remember thirty percent goes to me, or end up like dead Rowyn here” that was when he spotted me.
“Thorold, I hear you have had a productive day, you industrious toad. Where is my cut?”
“Back at my hold Arik, waiting for you to collect”
“Clever lad, see here boys, Thorold knows whose King in this mine. Now scurry away to your hole, you’ve no business here. Or do you have something to add?”
I returned home, feeling sick at the joy murder brings to Arik. Helping myself to some rodent stew I returned to my thoughts as my crew ate and drank themselves to sleep. My thoughts rarely strayed from tonight’s drama. The image of the dead still fresh in my mind. I had killed once before; and it had destroyed me. The thought of having to kill again was a fear filled one. Whilst Arik killed for pleasure and show of strength I spared my victims because that is what comes naturally to me.
My life as a bandit has been hard, stealing to survive thrown among the dregs of society. I have no desire to be here among murderers and thieves. I may be that myself, but I feel remorse. Do they? Arik doesn’t I know that for sure, he loves it here, King of the exiled. He plucks on the fear of his subjects dancing to the music it creates, bathing in his thirty percent. I hate the man. But I must pay tribute to him or end up like Rowyn, dead and forgotten, thrown to the depths of the mine. Rat feed. That is not my fate. My situation is temporary; I will not spend my life kissing the boots of a mad man to have him chop me up for sport.
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