On the road to Damascus, late summer, 1323
TEN DAYS OUT of Kerman their caravan was hit by raiders, a group of some thirty or forty men, a number equal to or out-numbering their own troops of guards. They struck in the hour before dawn, just after Rambahadur Raj had sent out scouts to find them lodging or a campsite for the next day. Almost everyone was dozing in their saddles, not excluding Jaufre, but he woke in a hurry at the sounds of screams and the clash of arms.
He found himself standing on the ground beside his camel, sword in hand, and then running toward the cries of battle. There was no more than a thin band of light on the eastern horizon but his eyes were adjusted to the dark and he saw Alaric’s distinctive white tabard almost immediately, surrounded by three men he could smell well before he came into blade’s reach. Coming at a run from behind, he sliced into the back of one man’s knee and used the force of the upswing from that stroke to thrust into the second man’s shoulder. Alaric dispatched the third, who collapsed, screaming, as he tried frantically to stuff a rope of shining entrails back into his belly.
Jaufre saw Alaric’s teeth flash in a grin. “Well met, young Jaufre!” which was all they had time for before they were attacked by a new group of assailants.
Their attackers were professionals who lived off the proceeds of passing caravans, but the disciplined guards led by Rambahadur Raj were their superior. The sun was well up by the time they were delivering killing blows to those wounded so badly there was no recovery for them, friend and foe alike. Afterward, Jaufre went a little way off the trail and was sick.
On his return Alaric handed him a flask without comment, for both of which Jaufre was most grateful. He rinsed his mouth and spat, and tried not to notice the severed fingers scattered in a little fan not an arm’s length from his right foot.
The bodies of the raiders were thin, almost skeletal, and dressed in rags. Rambahadur Raj was directing his men to pile the bodies of the dead to the side of the trail, a ferocious scowl on his face. He stopped beside Jaufre and Alaric. “This is my fault,” he growled. “I wanted to cut our time to Baghdad, so I took a shortcut. It has much less traffic, and this is the result.”
Alaric shrugged. “Not the worst outcome, Ram.”
“We lost two men,” the havildar said.
“They lost all of theirs,” Alaric said.
Dana sez–No point in writing a swashbuckler if you don’t include some buckle-and-swash. Alaric is a professional soldier, Jaufre a professional merchant. Alaric sells his sword, Jaufre his goods. A merchant can’t sell his goods if someone steals them en route to the marketplace. I wanted you to see this scene through Jaufre’s eyes. Robin Hood is famous for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but I’ll bet he and everyone who followed him was starving in Sherwood.
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