by thefourpartland

The fifth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.

Fryca slipped past the inn, stepping around peasants forced to sleep outside as she made her way to the stable. There, she looked for a Knight’s warhorse, for she would rather steal from them than a villager. Finding none, she saddled a draft horse and muffled its hooves.

There should have been guards at the town gate, but with the Knights in town, the few sentries slept in their homes. No bandit lord would risk the wrath of the Knights of the Broken Wheel for a few petty trinkets.

The horse protested mildly as it was lead away from town, more from being asked to work at night than any true tiredness. Scrub farms slipped past on either side, and soon Fryca was searching the edge of the swamp for the skiff she had tucked away.

Good, it was still there. Smiling, she lifted the heavy crate onto the pommel, then strapped it down tightly. She swivelled it about a few times, seeing that it moved smoothly, before stepping into the stirrups and onto the horse’s back.

Seated there, she slotted two crank handles into the case, one on either side, and let her knees guide the horse at a gentle amble back to town. Fryca chuckled and shook her head. Not her first rescue, and likely not the last. Ellgis was always getting himself in trouble.

The Knights guarding Ellgis looked up as the horse clopped into the square. One grabbed at the sword next to him, the other raising his lantern to see the rider’s face. Fryca waited a moment as they came towards her, shields at their sides. The tool in the crate worked better at close range.

She turned the crank handles, taking up tension on a spring inside the box. The motion set the Knights running, their armour slowing them just enough. A dull thud sounded as Fryca finished the rotation, and a bolt appeared in the chest of the closer Knight. He died with surprise on his face. The second Knight shouted, his lungs good and strong. He dodged and rolled, and the next two bolts missed. The third took him in the leg, the fourth the head.

Fryca jumped down from the horse, grabbed a dropped sword, and slashed at the bonds holding Ellgis to the stake. Pulling him into her arms, she tossed him over the saddle before climbing aboard herself. A quick cut sent the bolt-thrower tumbling away. A painful loss, but they needed speed more than anything else.

Shouts echoed through the town as Fryca kicked the horse into a gallop, holding onto Ellgis with one hand and the reins with another. The horse snorted and took off, thundering down the dirt street. Their only chance was a head start, for although this was a healthy horse, it would be no match in speed for the chargers of the Knights.

Urging the animal on, Fryca bent low over its neck as they raced from the city gates. The shouts behind them grew more frantic.

In the scrub farms, she looked back to see four Knights pounding after her. No armour on, for they had been roused quickly, but she no longer had a weapon, and to fight four without surprise would be a fool’s task.

There! The edge of the swamp! Fryca prodded the horse into a final dash. They should make it. Maybe.

Shoving Ellgis to the ground, she dove from the horse, dragging her stumbling partner to the skiff, kicking him into it as she pushed the boat off the shore. He lay in the bottom groaning as she jumped in, grabbing at the oars and pulling.

Thunk. A scream of pain had Ellgis writhing on the floor, and as Fryca bent to look, she felt a searing anguish in her thigh. An arrow wound was already staining her clothes red.

The archer stood on the bank, taking aim for a third shot. He let fly, but only hit the gunwale. Another strong pull and Fryca disappeared into the mists and tangled woods. Then she slumped over the oars.


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