Jispin, Eut, and Sil pondered what to do. The third picket guard didn’t have a horse as they’d expected. They needed to move in three different directions fast, though, and very far, too.
“You’re a good runner, Jispy,” said Sil. “Damn near outran this scrawny little pony. Think you got it in you to run ‘stead ‘a ride?”
His sides still heaving, Jispin didn’t say a word; he just took off running again.
“His feet must have wings,” commented Sil. “Good luck to you, Eut.”
“God speed, yourself. Bet you a gold you don’t make it.”
“You ain’t got a gold to your name, but I bet I do! Taken!”
“He-yah!” Eut replied as he kicked his pony to a gallop in a different direction than Jispin.
Sil’s grin at his bet suddenly faded into the dark shadows. Damn. Wrong side of a sucker’s bet. Not one he wanted to lose, though. He waited for five minutes, then kicked his stolen pony away from the Thune encampment, in a different direction than Sil. He hoped that Jispin had time to get in without a problem. Otherwise, it was going to be a very short and painful end to the night for all concerned.
Eut reigned in hard before the massed shadows. “Kid was right,” he started his report to centurion Vergilius Gaius. “Dead one – stiff as he ought to be – right where he’d left him. Two more killed without a problem. Kid had to run for it, though. Third guy didn’t have a mount.”
The third-ranking princeps posterior centurion didn’t call out loudly, nor were any horns blown to issue instruction. The orders had been long passed and confirmed, it was just the final command to move out passed quietly down the line. A corridor had been cleared, if all was as reported, and by the time the under-strength century arrived on foot, the warriors should have fled and the camp would be in chaos. Behind him, the sixty eight men under his command, with armor carefully muffled with leather and cloth, rose, and started moving forward as silently as any such band of heavily armored men could.
Jispin entered the camp as silently as he’d left it.
He took a minute at a yurt on the edge of things with no fire outside, a pony tethered to it, and the cheery glow of a small fire from inside it to prepare his escape. A further quick investigation revealed that his previous work of cutting hobbles and loosening straps deeper in the mobile village hadn’t been noted yet. He set to work arranging for as much chaos as possible. He cut bridle-straps and tie-downs, took convenient ropes and tied them between saddle and tent with a coil on the ground, moved top corral rails, and committed a surprising amount of sabotage in the twenty minutes he estimated he had.
Stealing his way to the first yurt near the edge of the encampment he’d visited, Jispin silently untied the tether wile patting and petting the animal calmingly, letting it smell him again. He’d always been good with animals.
He waited. It wasn’t long before he heard the distant thud of hooves suddenly pick up on the dark and quiet air. Numerous horses at a trot, no longer at a stealthy walk, nor yet to the gallop of urgency.
He smiled. Shortly the night would be filled with glory and death, and the dawn light would break upon a totally different scene than the sun had set upon. Jispin gauged the distance of the approaching squadron.
“Ho! Who’s there!” called a guard from a fire a good hundred paces out from the last yurt.
Jispin slapped the pony he stood next to hard on the rump. “HYAH!! YEAH!!!” The beast, startled and beset, reared up, plunged, kicked once, and bolted. The rope Jispin had made into a simple harness pulled the coil of rope in Jispin’s hand after it, and then the yurt it was attached to collapsed and went flying after. The sudden gust of air kicked up a cloud of sparks and flame from the little fire, and the arrows from the now galloping squadron of Argentain scouts kicked gouts of blood from the guards at their campfire.
The mostly sleeping encampment took time to respond, time in which the flying horses of Sesquiplicarius Hadrian Tatius, the young cavalry officer, rode through not as scouts but an attacking force. Lances, swords, iron-shod hooves, and shields were deployed with vigor. The three mounted archers he Hadrian had with him quickly put their bows away and joined the fray on its one shallow pass through the one edge of the camp, leaving wreckage and confusion in their wake.
As soon as it looked like the Thune were starting to respond, Sesquiplicarius Tatius took a hard turn and rode out of the mass of yurts, corrals, and confusion. The squadron left the way they entered, shouting insults, making noise, slashing ropes, kicking over torches, and riding over half-naked Thune.
Jispin hunkered down, tried to look small and hide in the shadows. The Thune warriors rapidly geared up and rode out, a steady flow streaming after the audacious but now fleeing Argentain horsemen soon as they were dressed, armed, mounted, and able.
In a quarter of an hour the whole camp was awake, half-empty, and all but defenseless with none but the injured, the young, the old, and the women left behind.
Sesquiplicarius Tatius slowed his horse to a trot once they were well out of bow-shot, but they still made plenty of noise. He was elated. A quick count revealed only one missing man, but his horse was still with them. No one was quite sure what had happened to him, but there was no going back to find out. They’d left at least a score of dead for certain, likely three times that, but not all were warriors. An excellent raid. If the rest of the cohort had gotten their assignments done properly, he’d earn his father’s respect for once.