Once he was over a hill and out of sight of the encampment, he headed south. He still moved cautiously and stuck to shadows, padding silently along, senses bare to the raw elements, anticipating the Thune pickets posted at intervals around the camp. As expected, he smelled the horse before he saw the man, sitting with his back toward the camp and eyes outward looking for intruders rather than escapees. There wasn’t any obvious way past the picket. Jispin didn’t want to leave easily-followed hoof tracks, so he left nothing but the Thune’s body and an unteathered pony.
He had to avoid two more picket riders with no safe way to approach undetected before he was free of the encircling watchers.
Once past them an in the open, he started running again, eating as he went. He loped along in the shadows of the night, going in one direction carelessly and fast for a way, then when he hit a patch of hard ground he changed direction and moved carefully. When he hit a creek, he took off his moccasins, rolled up his pants, and waded into the icy flow without a splash. A mile upstream he stepped out at a rock outcropping, put his mocs back on, and flew south at a ground-eating jog.
By morning’s light he was many all-but-impossible-to-track miles away and back across the river that had caused so many deaths two days prior. He was mostly dry, had weapons, a few days’ supplies, and had gained much valuable information.
With eyes tracking the horizon, he kept running.
Hours later he came across a good hiding spot, a small crack in a mossy hillock that wasn’t visible until he was right upon it from a particular angle. It was an unlikely place to climb, little more than an unassuming bump in a valley, big and rough enough to walk around, too small to give much of a view. He crawled in, got comfortable, and got a solid three hours of sleep before the muffled clank of metal on metal brought him instantly alert.
The sound reached his ears again. His eyes on the entry to his hideout, he put his hand on the hilt of the knife, a weapon much more appropriate for the tight confines of the cave than a Thunish bow or saber. The sound, faint and rhythmic, repeated, slowly growing louder. He inched forward and up toward the entry. He could see nothing amiss from its limited vantage, but the sounds grew more distinct. Multiple men, moving together. He pulled a rag of dirty gray and brown wool over his head to conceal his features and edged farther out of this hole, trying to see something.
The sounds indicated many men, and at least a couple of horses. The jingle of leather harness, horses blowing, the slap of scabbard and shield, hoof beats, and men speaking Argentain were clear. He inched his way out further.
A small army was moving down into the little valley his hillock was in. The scout riders had ridden past and were still visible at the other end of the valley. He smiled. The old Thune was right. It would be a slaughter. Outnumbered, slow, and blind. He could see why Andronikos had thought they’d want to hire skilled cavalry. As entertaining as the thought of all these morons getting poked full of arrows was, it wasn’t very profitable, and it wouldn’t kill many of the Thune who’d captured him. He considered the options briefly, and a smile crept upon his features, the smile of a hunting panther with quarry in sight. Perhaps there was a way to kill two armies with one stone, and possibly make a sizable bag of coin to boot.
The small army marched in loose formation, and ended up going around the south side of the hillock. One of the officers, a very junior one by the youth of his face, spurred his mount upon the small mound to get a slightly improved view of the troops passing by. The soldiers slogged on, feet plodding and eyes down or on the back of the man directly in front. Jispin almost laughed as he rose like a ghost from a grave, silent and gray in his stolen jacket, to stand just behind the officer.
“Your scout riders are too close,” he said said in a conversational tone.
“They are-” the sesquiplicarius started to reply before turning his head to see who was addressing him. Seeing the utterly unexpected Krugen boy in Thune clothing standing almost touching him on his weak side, his words turned into an inarticulate squawk of panic as he grabbed for his sword and shield simultaneously, while kicking his horse forward to gain distance. The result was his tumbling off his mount onto the ground at Jispin’s feet, while his shield rode away on his spooked horse.
“I’m not familiar with that maneuver,” said Jispin, no longer restraining his laugh. “Is it peculiar to Argentain, or just the big cities?”
He liked the word peculiar; Andronikos had been using it a lot recently.
The nearby foot soldiers, mostly veterans of multiple battles, had their shields deployed and weapons out before the dismounted officer could regain his feet. Loud calls for battle order and “shields UP!” rang out down the line. In seconds, Jispin faced a hundred drawn swords and a score of nocked arrows ready for the word to be passed. He raised his hands to show they were empty.
“Looks like a fair fight to me. But the Thune ahead might be a little more trouble for you.”
“Who are you?” demanded the sesquiplicarius standing in front of him, red-faced and trembling more than Jispin thought seemly. He was maybe twenty, his face had the fine lines of a well-bred aristocrat, and he’d just been caught unawares, startled, scared, thrown, nearly disarmed, and was standing elevated before the whole army to see it. “How did you get here? How many are you? Why are Kurgen here?”
Pick your own adventure time!
99% done with the main part of the story, but I have three very different endings, and not sure which to go with:
1) a double cross he doesn’t catch, and it’s off to the mines;
2) the same double-cross but he catches it and turns a profit on it while learning a lesson;
3) or a straight-up win, and some of the survivors appreciate him.
Each has good points and bad points long-term. Thoughts?