Outlaws

Three new Outlaws
How three new outlaws came to live in the woods

It has been told, how Zankov had lost some good men and women over winter. The band of outlaws was now reduced to only four people – Zankov, Irina, Necu, and the maid Rozali, who suffered from a fever. It was the early spring, and the snow had melted and the ground was wet.

At this time there lived in the Slopes a farmer named Carp. He was handy with hammer and saw, and helped his neighbors with repairs and furniture, though his business was wine-growing. His was a fine vineyard. This winter, he had shipped a fine barrel to the Duke. But when the Duke put the wine to his lips, he soon fell ill. Poison had gotten to the wine, whether by mischief or accident, and the Duke – when he was done retching – declared Carp a traitor to be executed for his transgression.

Fortunately for young Carp, the man who had delivered the wine heard the Duke’s complaints. He loosened his horse from the cart, and rode as fast as he could to deliver a warning. Carp, hearing that his days were numbered and that he was a wanted man, gathered his possessions and fled.

For two days he walked. He spent the night sheltered in a friends’ barn, and the following noon came he to the outskirts of the forest, where Zankov and his outlaws dwelt. He spoke to no-one, but went straight into the wild black woods, following a stream, hoping to find friends before night and nightmares claimed him. And so he did. A snare, placed by the bandits, gave him clue that some hunter was about; knowing the hunter would come back for his catch, Carp sat down and waited, carving a flute.

’Twas at dusk that Zankov and Irina came walking. They spotted the man, and heard his tale – they believed him, for what sane man would venture deep into the woods were he not hunted by the Duke? So then, knowing that Carp was a lawless man, they took him to their camp. He became the fifth outlaw.

~

Now, upon the next morning, Zankov rose early to hunt. Carp and Irina went alone to the road, looking for some fool to make Carp’s first catch; Rozali was ill, and Necu was off gambling in Roadside. The day was long, and no traveler or free-man came for some time.

But then came wandering a woman, who looked for all the world like a beggar. She was dressed in a sack-cloth, and despite the chilly spring, didn’t wear any shoes. She had blue leaves and gray stones in her hair. Her name was Regina.

Carp jumped out to try and rob her, waving a tiny knife. The woman was unimpressed, and not much more frightened of Irina and her heavy stick. She had nothing worth stealing. However, she was wise and learned in medicine, so it was decided to kidnap her for her knowledge, to see if she could aid poor Rozali, who was still wracked with fever.

Regina, Carp, and Irina returned to the camp. Rozali was taken out of the cave for fresh air, and given a strengthening tea; though Regina could inform them, that the worst was already over. The girl would live and recover. Regina’s aid would speed up the recovery, however – for which reason the band decided to keep her.

~

Meanwhile, it is told, a man named Valerian came wandering from the north. He was an exile from the Big Kingdom, a former bodyguard and soldier, skilled with a blade though owning no weapon nor a penny to his name. After stopping in Standing Stone for a bowl of soup, a bed, and some dry bred, he had walked all the way across the lonely fields to Roadside.

At this time, Necu had gone gambling and whoring in the village. When Valerian arrived, he was standing outside the ale-house, screaming threats and insults. The sight of Valerian, in Big Kingdom garb, made him silent. He gleaned the man had professional training, and lured him into the woods with promises of coin for easy work – and then revealed he was a bandit. Valerian, reluctantly, came with him, even though he learned he would replace a man who had died of a nasty, infected wound.

Zankov met Valerian and Necu, and at first he was suspicious, though he warmed up to the man after hearing of his roots. He gave Valerian a rabbit to eat, and took him back to the camp – where he discovered the medicine woman, who had been cast out from her village on suspicions of witchcraft. This gave her no trust among the outlaws – but nevertheless, it was decided she should stay. The three newcomers would have opportunity to prove their usefulness in the morning.

Four outlaws had become seven. To celebrate this, the old barrel of peach wine was finally cracked open, and the seven bandits drank into the night – some more than others. Regina and Irina both drank themselves into a stupor; Valerian, Carp and Rozali stayed up for some time to talk.

It became night, and then morning.

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