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Tales From The

Savage Lands 4

Raymond Towers

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2019 Raymond Towers

Smashwords Edition, License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All of the characters in this e-book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This e-book contains a HIGH amount of controversial subject matter.


Table Of Contents

Part 1 - The Braggart

Part 2 - The Tactician

Part 3 - The Rogue

Part 4 - The Swashbuckler

About The Author


Tales From The

Savage Lands 4

Part One

The Braggart

This is a story of Ayel Constandour, a man whom many would call a privileged braggart.

“Bring the next one in.” Janasi called out.

There were days when the veteran warrior and knight had only menial tasks to look forward to, but today he was actually doing something important. Janasi’s lord had just successfully taken over the township of Hwen, after having laid siege to Lord Rodocan and his modest castle for over three weeks by then.

Many men had been lost on both sides of the siege. It was the task of Janasi to convert the captured men who’d fought under Rodocan so they would be loyal instead to his master. If they refused, Janasi would take those stubborn fighting men and haul them onto open wagons to parade them around Hwen. This would give the townsfolk a good long look at them, before they were taken to the outskirts and hung from the trees. The lamentable truth was that half of Rodocan’s knights would rather hang than change their loyalties. They were, unlike the men who fought for his master, honorable men.

Janasi’s sentries brought the next captive into the small canvas tent that had served as a command post for the siege. This man was tall and strapping, handsome with dark hair and a thin beard. Unlike the previous men Janasi had interviewed, this one did not have a look of fear or even anxiety on his face.

“Your name, you bastard son of a whore!” Janasi demanded. He was aggressive toward the captives, hoping to intimidate the men into either joining his lord or to giving up Rodocan’s secrets. “Go on then! What is it?”

The raven-haired knight was seemingly unflappable, as he casually took in the meager state of the tent. Finally, he centered his attention on Janasi. “I must correct you, sir. I am neither a bastard, nor was my mother a whore.”

“And I suppose you know the name of every lover your mother ever had?”

“My mother was pure when she met my father.” The proud knight replied. “My father may have been a bit of a philanderer, but my mother never was. In her memory, I would ask that you not insult her dignified name, sir.”

As with the other prisoners, the man had been stripped of his armor and searched for hidden weapons. He stood before Janasi in a tunic, trousers and boots stained in several places with the blood of other men.

“You’re not wearing the garb of Rodocan’s men.” Janasi observed. He glanced to the guards that had brought him in. “What about this man’s armor? Did he have a shield with Rodocan’s coat of arms on it?”

“He didn’t.” One sentry replied. “He has refused to tell us his name or rank.”

“Did he have anything on that could identify him?”


Janasi faced the captive again. “Why not? Every knight I’ve ever known carries his surname or his house on his shield.”

“My armaments were stolen some time ago. I fought in surplus equipment lent to me by the lord of the castle.”

“Are you going to tell me your name or not?” Janasi threatened.

“My name is Ayel Constandour.”

“And where do you hail from?”

“I will not say.”

“And why not?”

“It involves a scandal I do not care to divulge to you.”

“But you are a nobleman.” Janasi presumed. “I suppose we could fetch a good ransom for you, if we delivered news of your capture to your kin.”

“To the contrary. My older brother is a minor king. If you asked for a ransom, he would surely pay it, and then he would have you followed by his assassins and they will slit your throats while you and your men sleep. My brother holds no great love for me. If he can, he will have me killed quietly and my body disposed of. You brought me here to tell you where Rodocan has hidden his valuables, yes?”

“We’ll get to that in a bit.” Janasi held his hand up to halt Ayel. “First off, are you loyal to Lord Rodocan?”

“Not anymore. Not after he has lost his standing.”

“Then who are you loyal to?”

“I am a mercenary knight.”

“Are you?” Janasi asked. “I was told that all of Rodocan’s mercenaries abandoned the castle when the food began running out.”

“All except one. I stayed behind.”

“If this is true, you knew the siege would break that bastard’s back. Why would you stay when there was no wealth coming to you?”

“I have my reasons.”

“A woman?”

“Honor. I swore to protect Lord Rodocan until the end. I did that. I was in the second charge that left the castle to attack your side. If I hadn’t fallen from my horse and thudded my head on the ground, I would have surely been slain then. I was told that none of the other men from the second charge lived. At any rate, I was captured and here I am before you.”

“They did not survive.” Janasi said. “I was among the knights that stopped that charge. Who are you, Ayel of nowhere? There is more to you than you are letting on.”

“I have been called the Wolf of Loxton.”

Janasi laughed. “By all accounts, that hero is dead!”

“The accounts are wrong.” Ayel revealed. “The man who stole my armor and put it on is dead. He pretended he was I for some ruse or other, but when he was found out, he was killed. I wish I knew what happened to my armor, but it may be gone from me forever. Last I heard, some collector had acquired it.”

Janasi was good and ready to call that man a liar, but he was busy that day and he had a good two dozen men still left to interview. “Will you swear your loyalty to my Lord Wyon?”

“I will not.” Ayel answered. “I have no dealings with that man to know whether or not he is honorable.”

“But you were loyal to Rodocan?”

“Rodocan was honorable.” Ayel replied. “At the end, I served that man without pay, and I was willing to die for him in battle.”

“But you are still a mercenary? How much were you paid?”

“Twenty Pigeons per day.”

“Twenty Pigeons?” Janasi blurted out. His personal wages were a fourth of that. “Are you pulling my arse, man?”

“For that amount, I was Lord Rodocan’s champion. Had my horse not tripped on some infernal rut, and had I not fallen with such a hard impact, we would not have lost that charge. I and the two knights flanking me were going to break through your line and head directly to your lord to kill him.”

“Are you so sure about that?”

“Your lord sent all of his fighting men to the line. The only men around him were young runners and old advisors. Hidden men in the trees were sending signals to us by using small mirrors to reflect the sun toward the castle. Your lord was so unprotected, a peasant could have walked up behind him and stuck a pitchfork in his back.”

All of that was true, Janasi considered. Thanks to their losses, Lord Wyon had very few men in reserve. They were all on the front lines of the battle, as Ayel had said.

“A good archer could have done the job.” Ayel muttered. “The bad thing is all of the good archers were inside the castle where we were. The only men left outside were the men trying to smuggle food to us. I suppose they could have thrown rocks, but who knows he well their aim is?”

“Will you fight for Lord Wyon?” Janasi asked.

“For how many Pigeons per day?”


“Hang me. I refuse to lift a sword for a man I do not know, for anything less than ten Pigeons per day.”


“Hang me, and then burn my body.”

“Six.” Janasi offered.

“Hang me, burn my body and then scatter my ashes on the grass so the cows can eat them. Let me make you a counter offer. I will give you a Pigeon if you allow me to enter the castle and retrieve my purse that I have hidden there. After that, I will take my horse and ride away to find a lord who is willing to pay me what I am worth. Wait, did my horse survive the charge?”

“No, sir.” One of the two guards answered. “She was hobbled. We had to put her down, as the men on our side haven’t had much to eat ever since the siege started up.”

“My horse is dead, and you’re eating her?” Ayel looked aghast, before he turned to face Janasi. “That horse was worth a good ten Doves! If she is truly dead, I demand a just compensation for her. And if she is to be eaten, the least you can do is offer me a portion of her leg!”

“Well, actually she is being put into a stew, and not roasted.” The guard revealed.

Ayel crossed his arms. “Then I expect to have full bowl with a good portion of meat in it. That was my favorite horse!”

Janasi studied his prisoner for a long moment. The man looked and sounded serious. Besides, he still had a good number of men to get through. “Take him back with the rest. Put him last. Maybe I’ll know what to do with him when he comes up again.”

As Ayel was taken away, Janasi shook his head. He hated dealing with the sons of noblemen, because they were always spoiled brats like this one.

Lord Wyon was an older man with a grand and arrogant air about him. He didn’t like Rodocan’s great hall, and he especially didn’t like Rodocan’s modest throne. The seat smelled like the man Wyon had just overthrown. Wyon was wondering what to do about that inconvenience when his captain of the guard walked up to him. Behind the captain came four guards who were escorting two obviously drunk men.

“Is that Janasi?” Wyon asked.

“Yes, lord.” The captain bowed his head. “You said you wanted an audience with this man who claims to be from Loxden?”

“So I did. Bring them both forward.” Wyon replied. “Janasi, explain to me why you are drunk in the company of this man.”

“Well, you see, milord, Ayel said he would pay me one Pigeon if I allowed him to go into the castle...”

“Ayel, you say?”

“Yes, lord.” Janasi nodded. “That is his name. Ayel Constandour.”

“He paid you a Pigeon to let him into the castle. Go on, Janasi.”

“Ayel and I went into the castle, and we went to the garrison floor. He had stuck his purse into a hidden space in the castle wall. When he took the purse out, I asked how much coin he had in it, and he said five Doves and twice as many Pigeons. I said give me your purse, and he said no, he wouldn’t. I asked him again, and this time, Ayel said he would show me where the last of Rodocan’s ale was hidden if I let him keep the purse. I agreed, and he took me into the storage rooms under the castle.”

“From the looks of it, you found the ale.” Wyon noted.

“It was a foul business.” Janasi shook his head. “They buried a chest full of flasks in burlap, under where the waste falls. We had to dig it out! And then, we had to boil water to wash the flasks off with. The ale was quite tasty, by the way.”

“Where is this ale now?” Wyon asked.

Janasi pointed at his captain. “This man here very rudely confiscated it from us.”

Wyon looked to Ayel next. “I suppose you might know if Rodocan has any other hidden places. Where is the rest of that man’s wealth?”

“I’ll tell you where it used to be.” Ayel replied. “You see, some idiot decided to chase away the farmers from Rodocan’s lands, and then that same idiot burned down the crops just before harvest time. Lastly, that idiot chased away all the traders that bring grain and flour to the town of Hwen. Other than Rodocan’s jewelry and the possessions in the nobleman’s quarters, he has no wealth left. He used it all to equip his knights and to hire the mercenaries such as myself. In fact, any competent lord would have sent his men to sack the homes of the knights instead of putting all of his men to guard this castle with nothing valuable left in it. By now, the families of the captured knights have surely packed up their wealth and fled into the forest with it.” Drunk, but at the same time stern, he pointed at Wyon. “You, sir, are that idiot.”

Wyon motioned to his captain. “I won’t let any man insult me this way. Boil this man’s arse in oil.”

“But he may truly be the Wolf of Loxden!” Janasi intervened. “Milord, this man had no armor left after we took it away from him. While we were drinking, we went outside the castle to where your knights are setting camp. This man challenged your knights to wrestle for their armor. Ayel was good enough that he now owns a set of armor that is better than the armor any of us have!”

“I won’t work for anything less than ten Pigeons per day.” Ayel burped.

“Put him into the dungeon, until I figure out what to do with him.” Wyon decided. As the guards began to lead Ayel away, the older man considered how big and handsome he was. “Captain, be sure to keep that man away from my wife.”

The dungeon was badly lit. It smelled like old piss and shit on old hay, as dungeons are prone to smell. Two lowly sentries had shackled a dozen knights on the manacles and chains spiked into the walls, including Ayel. All of the knights except for him had sworn their loyalty to Lord Wyon, but they had yet to prove themselves to be honest men.

“The Wolf of Loxden.” One sentry said sarcastically, spitting on Ayel’s bare chest, as the robust man had been stripped down to his loincloth. “Some champion you are! Let us see you get out of those chains.” The man motioned to where Ayel’s recently acquired armor lay. “Let us see you stop me from taking what I want from your belongings!”

“What stories have you heard told about me?” Ayel asked.

The first man didn’t speak, but the other sentry who was a bit more cautious did. “I’ve heard that you have a ghost at your side, that keeps you from dying. I’ve heard that this ghost can pretend to be you, so that it will look as if you are in two places at once.”

“I’ve heard you’ve killed many men.” The other sentry added. “But you didn’t kill that many during this siege, did you?”

“It isn’t a ghost that follows me, but a demon.” Ayel admitted.

“Give us another tale about fairies and dragons.” The more incredulous sentry laughed. “A demon, he said, following a man like a dog!”

“She wasn’t always a demon.” Ayel related. “She was a witch once, when she was alive. She captured me and kept me in an iron cage that was used to hold savage animals such as lions and tigers. The witch fell in love with me. She prepared a potion that would dull my senses so that she might sleep with me. It was made of crushed henbane and verbena. For a time, the potion worked. I built up a tolerance to it, but I didn’t let on that I was unaffected. One day, I pretended I was in a stupor. The witch led me to her bed, and in the midst of our lovemaking, I put my hands around her throat and I choked her until she was dead.”

“A good tale.” The sentry laughed at him. “And now she’s become a demon for you? Is that what you’ll say next?”

“Go on and hit me.” Ayel dared. “I will bleed and bruise like any other man. It isn’t me you’ll have to worry about. It is she, the witch that haunts me. She won’t like that you’re hurting me and she will come for you in your sleep. Take my armor if you like. She will kill you, and once I’m free, she will lead me to where the armor is so that I can reclaim it. If it weren’t for your lord’s siege, I may have already found my valuable personal armor, which was stolen a short time ago. It is out there somewhere waiting for me. The witch will show me where it is once I have left this castle.”

“Drivel!” The sentry scoffed. He came at Ayel with a clenched fist. “All of his words are drivel!”

“Don’t strike him.” A chained man, one of Rodocan’s former knights, spoke up.

“Why not?” The sentry asked.

“All of us here have seen things we cannot explain. This man is not evil, but he does have an aura of evil that surrounds him. We have seen... things, around him.”

“More drivel!” The sentry protested. “I’ve seen nothing, and I’ve been watching him for hours now!”

“You will see.” The chained knight said. “I promise you that you will.”

“You leave him alone, man!” The second sentry, frightened now, called out. “Don’t touch him, and don’t touch his armor!”

The disbelieving guard glanced around. Every man in that chamber was looking at him and this other man Ayel, and all of them looked worried. Becoming unnerved, the guard relented and backed away.

Early the next morning, Wyon’s captain went into the dungeon. The men who were assigned to watch over the prisoners were asleep in fresh mounds of hay, while the prisoners simply hung quietly from their chains.

The captain kicked his guards awake. “Get that man Ayel out of his binds! Our lord is setting him free!”

“Has someone paid a ransom for him?” One of the guards asked.

“No.” The captain replied grimly. “Lord Wyon and his wife had nightmares last night. They envisioned a giant wolf that came to chew them up until they were left in bloody bits. Wyon said he could feel his skin and bones being masticated. That’s what he said: masticated. Half of our men had similar nightmares. Did you hear the wolves howling last night?”

“Not at all.” The guard replied. “We can’t catch a sound down here in the dungeon.”

“An unusual number of wolves were heard howling in the woods all around the castle.” The captain told him. “At any rate, we are to give this man his weapons and armor, and we are to give him a horse to ride away on.”

“Don’t forget my purse.” Ayel added.

“I have it here.” The captain said, removing it from his belt. “Five Doves and twice as many Pigeons, the same as when I took it from you. Leave this place, Ayel, and take your nightmares and your wolves with you.”


Part Two

The Tactician

It was still early in the morning when the first pack of bandits confronted Ayel on the road.

“Hold there, you dirty invader!” Their leader said. “Give us your armor and any coin you might have!”

“You are speaking to the Wolf of Loxden, man.” Ayel removed his helmet to let his face become seen. “If there are any men from Hwen here, come and have a look at me. I’m sure I’ve slept with half your daughters during my visits to your tavern.”

One of the men did ride closer to examine the rider. “Aye, it is he.”

“What news do you have of the siege?” The leader asked.

“It isn’t good news. Take me to where you have holed up, so that I can tell it to all of you at once.”

In short order, Ayel was delivered into a secluded grove of oak trees. Before him were the farmers and minor artisans from Hwen who had fled from Lord Wyon, plus their families, and their admiring daughters of course.

“Lord Wyon has taken the castle.” Ayel said, pulling a parchment from his horse’s saddlebag. “Here is a list of the knights who have pledged their allegiance to that man, and below it is a list of those that were hung yesterday. The families of the surviving men might be accepted back into the town, but it will cost them a pretty Pigeon. You see, Lord Wyon is an incompetent. He had only a little wealth before he came here, and he has very dumbly exhausted all of it during the siege. Now that Wyon has taken the castle, he has no wealth left except what he can demand from the people who stand in front of him.”

“We knew he was incompetent when he burned the crops so near to the harvest.” One man complained.

“His men will abandon him soon enough.” Ayel suspected. “The winter is coming, and that will be hard to get through on an empty stomach. When springtime comes along, there will be no coin to purchase new seeds for the planting. All in all, this does not look like a good place to reside in until that imbecile is gone.”

“We could get rid of him.” One of the women suggested.

“You would still have the problem of no food.”

“Well, we did ransack the knight’s homes after the noble families ran off.” A man told him. ‘We have some things that are worth selling.”

“And we caught a few nobles fleeing down the road.” Another man added. “We made them pay a tax afore we let them pass.”

“Let me see what you have.” Ayel requested. “I will appraise it and tell you what you can expect to fetch for it at the market.”

Most everyone was reluctant to let the handsome knight see their spoils, but it was either that or they wouldn’t get anything done. Guarded men walked him over to where the stash was hidden in the trees. Ayel saw clothing and tapestries made of fine fabric, trays and goblets of silver and bronze, well-crafted chairs and many other things of the like. When he dropped to one knee to examine a small lot of hairbrushes made of bone, metal and sliver, several of the men surrounded him.

“What? Do you think I’ll run away with a hairbrush, and that I’ll beat back all twenty of you to get to my horse?” Ayel asked, impatiently dropping the item he had in his hand. He stood to address the entire bunch. “Perhaps the people of Hwen are as incompetent as their new lord is. I had my spies in town. I know that you welcomed Lord Wyon’s men into your shops and inns. You were happy to take coin from them, weren’t you, despite that you knew Wyon had come to attack your lord? If you had any sense in the lot of you, you could have poisoned the ale Wyon’s soldiers drank, or you could have cooked their food with extra lard, so they would be too unfit to fight later. Perhaps it is a good thing that the town of Hwen is about to die. Lord Wyon is the right man to kill it. Step away from me so that I can go to my horse.”

The townsfolk hated hearing the knight’s words, but they knew he spoke the truth to them. Begrudgingly, those closest to him cleared a path.

“Let me show you the face of an imbecile.” Ayel said, scooping up a bronze mirror from the ground. One side of it had been polished enough to give a clear reflection. The knight held the mirror out to the covetous men, and also a few women, standing to either side of him as he walked through. “Take a good look at yourselves.”

“We are not all that way.” One woman said, daring to approach him while most kept their distance. “Will you tell us what we should do?”

“Nobody here will listen. Nobody here has the common sense to think past today and tomorrow, to see what next week or next month will bring.”

“Please.” The woman insisted, matching his stride while holding up her flowing kirtle. “We don’t have much food, and Wyon’s men are guarding our well now. You must help us.”

Ayel considered her. She was a handsome woman, over thirty years of age and with a hard face from too many years spent toiling. She did not have the soft face of a woman from a royal court, but perhaps she was very pretty in her youth. Despite that the knight was in a sour mood after Lord Rodocan’s defeat, a part of his demeanor relented as he empathized with her plight. “You must have some horses and wagons. Show me what condition they are in.”

“This way.” She nodded and walked ahead of him.

Ayel followed, absently fiddling with the bronze mirror. He inspected the horses and wagons, finding most of them average, but also noting a handful of purebreds that must have come from a nobleman’s stable.

“I cannot tell any of you what to do.” Ayel said, after he had seen everything.

“If your family were here, what would you have them do?” The same woman asked. Her name was Dirce, he’d gathered.

Ayel thought this over, as the less timid among the crowd stepped in closer to hear him. “Here are your options, as I see them. First off, you can band together and try to take the castle back. Wyon’s men are tired and hungry. If you can risk losing at least half of the men that are left here, you can lay a siege and kill the knights as they come out of the castle. You can start with the knights that are now guarding your well. Some of you must have archery skills. You can use them. If you do this right away, you can free the knights Wyon has captured and add them to your number. If you wait too long, Wyon will starve those knights. When he finally does feed them, they will pledge themselves to Wyon and fight for him.”

“We are not fighting men.” One of the farmers said.

“Then you are weak.” Ayel scolded him. “Your fear is so great you will not even attempt to poison these scoundrels that have come to take over your town.”

“You can lead us.” Dirce said.

“I won’t.” Ayel refused. “As I have told you, I had my spies in town. They all said the same thing. The laborers in Hwen have no guts. Any one of you could have killed Wyon when he stood far back behind the fighting lines, when he had no armed men around him except for a few squires. None of you took that opportunity.”

Frustrated, Dirce nearly shouted at him. “What else can we do?”

“You can stay here and starve along with your new lord.” Ayel replied. “Most of you will do this. You’ll stay here until your flesh shrinks with hunger and your bones wither with disease. This is not the first time I’ve seen the aftermath of a bad siege.”

“We’ve weathered through bad times before.” One man argued. “This will come and go the same as all the rest.”

“You should start collecting you acorns and hazelnuts then.” Ayel told him. “You will all be living like squirrels come this winter.”

“And what will you do, brave knight?” Dirce wondered.

“I will get on my horse and ride far away from here.” He admitted. “I will find a new lord with a fat purse that will pay me to be his champion.”

“You don’t care if we starve, do you?” The woman grew angry enough to lunge at Ayel and slap him across the face. When she tried a second time, the knight caught her arm and flung her to the ground. From her place in the dirt, she cried out, “Go on then! Leave us and think only of yourself and your fat purse!”

Ayel leaned toward her. “You’re all cowards. You let this Lord Wyon walk all over your backs, and now you expect me to come and save you?”

“Leave!” Dirce shouted, throwing dirt at him.

“I will.” Ayel said, taking a few strides. He paused and faced the inexperienced bandits, who were seemingly trying to encourage one another into attacking him. To scare them away, he held the bronze mirror up toward their number. “Do not pull a sword against me. There are hardly enough able men here as it is. It would be a shame to lose any more.” When the men backed off, he addressed the entire crowd. “Those are your first two options. You fight Lord Wyon and take the castle, or you grovel on your knees before that greedy man. Give him a few of your daughters. He might enjoy that. There is one other alternative for you. Hitch those horses to the wagons, and fill the wagons up with everything you can. Some of you will have to walk, but at this point in time, it is better that you walk so that you will have something worth trading for once you find a good place to stop.”

“We are not leaving Hwen!” An old woman raised her walking stick at him. “We were born here, and if we must, we will die here!”

“That is your choice.” Ayel replied. “If you remain here with all this wealth, surely real bandits will come by to steal it from you. You won’t get a good return for any of it in the poor towns and villages that you’ll find nearby. That means you’ll have to move all of it out to a larger city with an auction house. If you manage to do all of that, you will have to work together and keep your money in a pool, otherwise the greediest among you will take it all and leave the rest of you with nothing to start over with. I’ve seen this play out many times before with useless people such as you.” He looked up at the sky. “I’ll tell you this much. I will be riding north in an hour’s time. Any of you that wish to come with me must leave when I do. There is some armor among your valuables. Have your men wear it, or if there aren’t enough men willing to leave Hwen, then have your women wear it, or the tallest of your boys. This will cause us to look like a larger fighting force than only myself. I will help keep the bandits away.”

Ayel had given the townsfolk an hour not because they needed the time to load the wagons, but because he knew they would argue among their selves. Most of them wanted to take the wealth to Lord Wyon in the hopes that man would be lenient with them, as if a man incompetent in overtaking a castle would somehow be competent in how to go about administering one.

Only six men and their small families agreed to leave. They heaped what items they could onto two wagons, with only a handful of elderly allowed to ride on them. The men, their wives and their children, would have to walk. Besides the wagons, they took five horses that were used to pulling yokes and not to taking long journeys. The riders on these horses wore armor on them, and from a distance they did look like knights. Under the heavy gear, however, they were merely tall sons who hadn’t yet seen their twentieth birthday, in addition to a couple of women. Dirce was among these. She wore a full face plate so that no spies on the road would see through her ruse.

Ayel allowed a pretty maiden to ride with him. When he tired of her chatter, he replaced her with another, who was, unfortunately, even more chatty. It would be no lie for Ayel to say he was the most handsome man in Hwen, and also the best fighter. Everyone knew it, especially the young women.

On the road, they caught up to three noble families that had fled Hwen. Ayel halted before each of them, giving them the news about the siege and informing them of which knights still lived. Some of these nobles were angered to see their valuables heaped up on the backs of wagons.

“You give our belongings back to us!” One rich trader demanded.

“You abandoned them.” Ayel countered. “These people just took what was already disowned. If you have quarrel, go to Lord Wyon and ask him to send riders out after us. I’m sure he’ll agree, once he finds something to feed his horses with.”

Two of the wealthy families decided to return to Hwen, while the third, which had lost their patron during the siege, joined the slow-moving caravan. At least Ayel had a new pretty maiden to ride with.

They only managed half a dozen miles before the sun began to descend. As the first of the evening shadows began to fall, Ayel had the caravan pull off the road and as far into the foliage as they could. It would be a hard night, he knew, as these people were not used to hiding out in the open, and thanks to the cold night, they would need to start up a fire to keep their bodies warm.

His fears became realized when the darkness was full around them. Ayel had put two guards near the entrance to their camp, to keep an eye out while he took half a night’s sleep. He figured the scoundrels would be out much later, but he was wrong.

“Who is in charge here?” A brusque voice called out, startling the frightened townsfolk and waking up Ayel.

The knight stood up from his spot near the fire. It would be pointless for him to arm himself, as the flames illuminated him and would make him a clear target for any hidden archers. “I am. You have nothing to fear here. I am the only man with any skill in combat, and I do not wish to put any lives in danger.”

Two rough men walked up, each holding a cudgel up to throat of Ayel’s sentries.

“What is the meaning of this?” One of the new men demanded. “Who puts a boy in armor and has that boy pretend to be a knight?”

“A desperate man would.” Ayel admitted. “A man who has charge over two dozen people who have trusted that man to take them all to safety. Do be a good man tonight and release those boys.”

“We could have put arrows into both of them, and they would not have known it until they were struck.”

“And I am very thankful that you haven’t done that. Let them go, and then you and I can negotiate among ourselves.”

“We can negotiate better while you stand before that fire.”

“I am a man of my word.” Ayel admitted. “There is only one threat to you here, and that would be me. Because I am surely outnumbered and I want to keep these people safe, I will not put up any fight unless I am forced to. Tell me, man. Have you heard of the Wolf of Loxden?”

“I have. What about him?”

“I am that man. Let us talk in privacy, away from this fire and away from all of these extra ears. We can come to an agreement without any need for violence.”

“You are the Wolf of Loxden?”


“Can you prove it?”

“With my sword and my fighting I can.” Ayel admitted. “I don’t have my usual black armor, as it was stolen from me after I drank a barrel and a half of ale, and a wench told a thief to help himself to it.”

“Whom do you fight for?” The bandit demanded.

“For myself first,” Ayel replied. “For the man who hires me second.”

“And for the people? Do you fight for them?”

“When I choose to. The people don’t usually have any coin to pay me with.”

The bandits released the boys, taking in their stead Ayel. They walked the man away from the campfire and toward the road, where sure enough, hidden archers stepped out from the dark trees.

“This man claims to be the Wolf of Loxden.” The head bandit said.

“Does he now?” An archer asked. “Let’s put a light on and have a look at him!”

“I heard that man broke Anakletos the Pirate out of a dungeon once.” Another bandit grinned. “I heard the Wolf became a ghost to get into that dungeon!”

“It was destiny that lead me to the pirate.” Ayel admitted. “A very interesting tale, actually. Before we negotiate here, will you trade news with me?”

“Aye, we will.” The head bandit said. “Give us a moment. We’ll go and get a torch lit from that campfire first. I want to get a good look at you myself.”

“What is your name, man?” Ayel asked.


Two men walked off. When they returned, they had their torches burning. The torches were thick branches with rags wrapped around their ends. The smell of pig lard was evident from the flames.

“We’d better be careful with those torches.” Zontas chuckled. “The smell of roasted pig is sure to attract the wolves!”

“A wolf like me, you mean.” Ayel asked, going along with the joke.

“Tell us your news first.”

“If any of you has the wherewithal to be a lord, I know of a good place to start with.”

“Do tell.” Zontas urged.

“The town of Hwen has fallen to Lord Wyon.” Ayel revealed. “He has killed Lord Rodocan and many of his knights. I was there during that battle, but I was captured early and thrown into stocks.”

“I thought the Wolf of Loxden couldn’t be captured?” A bandit asked.

“My horse fell into a rut and threw me off.” Ayel answered. “That rumor is not entirely true. I can be captured, but I usually find my way out very quickly. Regardless, many knights were killed in that battle. Lord Wyon’s forces are depleted, he has no wealth left, and he was fool enough to sever his own food supply. An ambitious man could bring, say, twenty to thirty healthy soldiers to Hwen and lay siege to the castle. It won’t take long for Wyon to surrender. The caveat is that the ambitious man would need to supply his own food through the winter and into the next harvest. Wyon burned the crops that could have kept his soldiers fed, because he is an imbecile. Do you know of any man capable of wanting a minor throne, a castle and the manor that surround it?”

“We might.” Zontas nodded.

“Any bandits could double the taxes on wagons passing to and from Hwen.” Ayel continued. “Wyon doesn’t have the manpower to watch the roads. He’ll probably lose the men he does have, the moment they become hungry enough. That brings me to my next concern. The people I have brought with me are fleeing from Hwen. They are mostly common folk, but there is one noble family among them who has been left near penniless thanks to Wyon. To be honest, I don’t know if they are worth ransoming or not. I am looking for a place to deliver just over two dozen people who want to start a new life. This can be a village or town with some open land around. It can be anywhere, as long as it isn’t too far. There are some elderly women and children among us. Do you know of such a place?”

Zontas considered the question. “All these minor nobles think they own everything they put their eye on. There are a few places scattered about that might fit your needs.”

“You could go north, to the river that borders Evesham.” One of Zontas’ men mentioned. “You’ll have to deal with the wild clans out there. They keep coming across the river to raid the settlements. There is plenty of open land out there, though.”

“Evesham, that’s a good thirty miles away from here.” Ayel calculated. “I will mention it to these people in the morning. Now, bandits always want something. What do you want in order to give us safe passage to the north?”

“What do you have?” Zontas wondered.

“We have two wagons’ worth of wealth. I will offer you a third of what we carry.”

“We could kill you and take all of it.” Zontas returned.

“You could.” Ayel agreed. “It would be better than dying of old age. On the other hand, I think there might be an opportunity for you if you show these people a new place to live.”

“In what way?”

“You are all outlaws.” Ayel reminded them. “Some of you have families, and most of you are probably former soldiers. Use your heads and think for once. The people with me, they are farmers and artisans, and not fighting men like you are. A little authority will keep these people on a narrow path, the same as they were on at Hwen. The farmers will grow their food, the artisans will make their goods, and the wives will stay at home and brew their ale. These people will need someone to guard their town, and someone to go out and sell their surplus. You are outlaws out here, but in a small town, you could be the keepers of the law. Zontas, you could be the lord there, if you can manage these people the straight way. If I had a family to worry about, that is how I would do it.”

“You said you’d give us a third of what you have. What sort of goods?”

“Goods these people can’t eat, such as fabrics and precious metals.” Ayel told them. “You can see them for yourself in the morning. What these people need right away is food and water. What they will need for later are seeds and livestock. If you take a third of their wealth, they will have a third for their immediate needs and a third for when the planting season comes. That is the best that I can hope for them. Of course, if you are greedy men, my hopes mean nothing and you can take everything away from them.”

“Some of us became bandits because we were taxed out of our homes.” Zontas admitted. “And some of us fought with lords who lost their little kingdoms.”

“Think it over.” Ayel said. “Do what you want. If I had more than your five men on my side, I would challenge you. As you see, I am alone here. One thing I feel I should mention. If you start raping the women, try to spare the two daughters of the noble family.”

“Why?” An archer asked.

“Because they are pure and they have more ransom value when they are pure.” Ayel answered. “Their parents could then marry them off to some wealthy suitors and the family can begin to regain the wealth they lost thanks to Lord Wyon. Or better yet, if you have the idea to establish a town as I’ve suggested, then keep the nobles happy. They will be the ones trading surplus goods with other nobles. They know how to conduct their business, else they wouldn’t be nobles in the first place.”

“He’s right.” Zontas nodded. “There are some good chances here for us, both in taking advantage of a weakened Hwen and also in putting these refugees into a new settlement. We should discuss this together.”

“It does get tiring to be chased around by the constables.” One man said.

Ayel pulled his purse from his side and held it out to Zontas. “Look here, man. I don’t want my throat slit tonight while I sleep. There are ten Doves and twice as many pigeons in this purse. That is all the wealth that I own. Once I have taken these people to safety, I was planning on hiring a few men to help me recover my personal armor. I am sure that whoever has it will put up a good fight for it, as it was a very expensive armor made by the best smith alive today. I want my armor back at any cost.”

“Ten Doves?” Zontas snatched the purse away.

“Count it. Tell people that you have robbed the Wolf of Loxden. Or go and buy a town somewhere and be its king.”

“You don’t care about your wealth?” Zontas marveled.

“Of course I do.” The knight replied. “If I am meant to have it back, then I will. At the same time, I am not ready to give up on adventuring and will surely earn more wealth that than in the future. Perhaps the man who has my armor now is a rich man, with a fat purse ready for me to claim. Whatever the case, you are holding my purse and I can sleep without having to worry about being killed for it.”

“What about you?” The archer asked. “You won’t try to attack us in the night, will you? You won’t become a ghost like they say you can?”

“I am only a man.” Ayel grinned. “I will be sleeping by the fire. You can put a guard over me if you want.”

As the knight walked off, the bandits looked at Zontas and the heavy purse he held in his hand.

“Let me hold it.” A fellow bandit said. “I’ve never held ten Doves in my hand before.”

“It might be cursed.” Zontas said, passing the purse over. “They say the Wolf of Loxden is a cursed man.”

“They say many things about him.” The archer said. “Who knows what may be true or what may not?”

“It is heavy.” The bandit weighed the pouch.

“Do you know what I heard?” One of the other men spoke up. “I heard a rumor that the Pirate Anakletos will kill any man who harms even a hair on the Wolf’s head.”

“I’ve heard that, too.” Zontas seconded.

“When has Anakletos ever been seen in these parts?” The man with the purse asked. “If we have anyone to fear, it will be the Wolf that sleeps next to us. We shouldn’t hurt him, Zontas, but we should put a guard on him in case he vanishes.”

“That much coin can buy us a ship full of wine.” The archer chuckled.

“Not so much.” Zontas said. “But enough to fill three wagons, at least. Ghost or not, that cursed man has given us plenty to think about. We can rouse up enough men to take the castle at Hwen, or we can do as he said, and take these refugees somewhere that they can start anew. Hell, if he is serious, we can let that man hire us to find his armor!”

“Think of that!” The bandit with the purse laughed. “The bunch of us, fighting alongside the legendary Wolf of Loxden!”

“That is something to think about.” Zontas nodded.

While the refugees from Hwen slept warily thanks to the presence of the bandits, Ayel slept soundly. In the morning, the bandits went through the goods piled up in the two wagons. They did not take any items, but they did take a good accounting of them. Except for one archer, the rough men mounted their horses and rode off, taking Ayel’s worthy purse with them.

After a slight portion of oatmeal boiled in goat’s milk and honey, the tired people dusted themselves off and made ready to trail behind the slow-moving wagons. The archer was a man named Hemarc. Since the man was a bit impatient, he rode on ahead and acted as a scout for the rest.

Not being in the mood to listen to any chatter, regardless of how pretty a maiden was, Ayel took the lead. The handsome knight enjoyed the slow ride through the forest as much as any outdoorsman would. He watched what there was to see and listened to the sounds of fowls playing in the branches. After a short time, another rider pulled up close to him. It was the woman Dirce, dressed once again in men’s armor.

“I am surprised the young women weren’t raped last night.” She said.

“Bandits will do as bandits do.” Ayel replied. “Be glad that they didn’t. I will not be capable of fending them off if they try it, as they are too many for only one man.”

“You showed no fear against them, despite being so badly outnumbered.”

“No, I didn’t.”

Dirce had expected him to boast, but was surprised when he did not. “There is a rumor that the bandits have taken your purse. Is this true?”

“Aye, I gave my purse to Zontas, their leader. He still has it.”

“Why would you do such a thing?”

“I suppose I could have ridden in the opposite direction with my wealth.” Ayel speculated. “Then the bandits would have come in to kill the men, rape the women and take everything valuable away. The elderly would have been left to starve, while the children would be sold as slaves. That is how it usually goes. I would still have my wealth on me and nothing else would have mattered.”

“Knights are supposed to be righteous.” Dirce reminded him. “Knights are supposed to help the downtrodden, and the widows and the orphans.”

“I don’t follow the Knights Code of Conduct, Dirce. That code has lost its meaning to me, after I see how knights pretend to follow it, then break the rules when it suits them. There are plenty of corrupt lords who were former knights, including our Lord Wyon. Where is the Code of Conduct for them?”

“But you saved us from the bandits!” Dirce told him.

“Did I? All I did was to put myself between the bandits and your people. If I had been killed, only God can know what would have happened after.”

“The people think you saved them.”

“Let them think what they want.”

Dirce was about to mention how Ayel had flirted with a handful of the women the day before, but she decided against it. Dirce thought she had Ayel pegged as a womanizer and a cad, and perhaps he still was, but he hadn’t taken any of those maidens when he had plenty of chance to. Perhaps Ayel was entirely different than she assumed he was.

Only a couple of hours into their journey, the archer returned from his scouting. He informed Ayel that a squad of knights was coming through. Ayel found a suitable spot along the road and called for a rest. He stayed on horseback, with Dirce and a nervous Hemarc on either side.

“Ho there!” The lead knight announced, upon seeing the stalled caravan. “Who is in charge here?”

“I am.” Ayel said.

“What is your business with this rabble?” The man motioned with an arm.

“These people are fleeing from Hwen. Lord Rodocan was overthrown by another man who is obviously not ready to manage a minor kingdom.” Ayel went on to give the knight a few details of the siege. At the end of it, he added, “These people are good citizens, ready to put their backs against a plow or to fire up a kiln to make pottery. If your lord has ample land for them, or if you know of a good place where these people might thrive in safety, tell me about it.”

“They might all be criminals, for all I know.” The knight huffed. “There will be a tax for crossing this road.”

“Of course.” Ayel agreed. “Everything they have of value is there on those two wagons. These people have no food or water, so our hope is that we might trade our valuables over once we reach a town. What do you say to this? You and each of your men can choose one item each. Take it and leave the rest for these poor people to start over with.”

“We’ll take two items each.” The lead knight countered. “One item for us and one for our lord.”

“And you’ll spare the women?”

The knight leaned over, trying to gauge how many young maidens were among the travelers.

“Some of them are tavern girls.” Ayel said. “When we reach the next town, buy them a drink and coax them into a bed if you like. The ones I would ask to be spared are the pure maidens, for the sake of their poor families. The chance to receive a good dowry will be ruined if their daughters are not virgins.”

“I understand.” The knight nodded. “We will take our two items now, and we’ll meet up with your flock at the next town. That would be Three Streams. It lies about two and a half miles north and west of this spot. And don’t worry about your maidens. We have plenty of women at Three Streams. Of course, our men might take a fancy to them if they step into our tavern, if you understand my meaning.”

“I will explain that to them.” Ayel nodded, as he dismounted his horse. “Come, I will show you what I think is the most valuable of the heaps. There are some fine tapestries and a couple of good sitting chairs here.”

Dirce was appalled to watch Ayel helping the knights take the most expensive items. What was that man thinking? Hemarc, on the other hand, bowed his head slightly once he was standing on the ground, in the case the knights recognized him as a highwayman.

“There might be a few more of us coming, sir.” The archer humbly said. “Perhaps another fifteen or twenty. They are lagging behind this first group.”

“We’ll have to tax them as well.” The knight said.

“Of course, sir.” Hemarc nodded. “I only wanted you to know ahead of time, in the case you run into them while on your patrols. You ask them if they’re coming from Hwen and if they’re riding with the Wolf of Loxden, and they’ll say yes they are.”

“The Wolf of Loxden is traveling with you?” The knight asked.

“Yes, sir.” Hermac pointed. “That’s him right there.”

The knight turned to stare at Ayel. “Are you the Wolf? Is it true that you can best ten men in battle?”

“Not all at once, as you might think.” Ayel grinned. “One after the other, yes, I have done that. And these were capable, professional men, mind you, and not farmers posing as soldiers for a Pigeon a day. Of that type, I can probably beat fifty in a row. That was in open battle. In a tavern, I once beat six thieves who jumped me all at once. I was lucky enough to have a wall behind me and several tables and chairs to my sides. That made it more difficult for them to get at me. Of course, it was still early in the night when that took place. If I had been drunk, the outcome might have been much different.”

The knight chuckled. “You must spar with me! I want to find out if you are as good as they say you are!”

“We will meet at Three Streams then.” Ayel resolved. He pulled his sword and held it out by the handle. “Have a look at this blade. It isn’t mine, but one I was given after my armor and weapons were stolen, in a time when I really was too drunk to fight back. This blade is inferior to the one I had crafted for myself. Don’t expect me to beat every man at Three Streams with this one, because it is quite heavy and crude, but do expect me to put up a good fight. By the way, since I am longer employed by the deposed Lord Rodocan, I would ask if you know of any lords that might be looking for a champion to hire?”

The knight was scrutinizing Ayel’s largely plain sword, but stopped short when Ayel mentioned that last part. He gave it back. “Don’t worry about paying a tax to cross these roads. Come to Three Streams and meet our lord for yourself. There may be a post for you there.”

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