|Long Live Insanity #11: The Ambush
A narrow, little-trodden path winds its way through the dark forest, far from any outpost of civilisation. There are rumours of bandits in these woods. Not many people pass this way any more.
But what’s that sound? Footsteps in the distance, and voices coming closer, talking and laughing with no thought of danger. Figures appear around a bend, vague in the pale moonlight.
The men crouched in the branches smile contemptuously. Two women, they count, and an Ogier, and a big fellow with a sword and an odd horned helmet who must be their guard. Fools, coming this way at night with only one armed man. Looks like a quick profit ahead.
As the four pass beneath the tree where they hide, two of the bandits leap from the branches, tackling the hulking bodyguard. The results are not quite as they expect.
“Go get ‘em, Snarg!” Shani and Shaiel cheer as the bandits are picked up by the big - what in Shayol Ghul is that creature? - and slammed against the tree a few times, growling “Stupid bandits!” Meanwhile, Someone busily writes in his notebook.
The third bandit appraises the situation and does what appears to be the smart thing. Which proves him rather lacking in brains, since the smart thing in this situation is clearly to run. Instead, he jumps down, grabs Shaiel and holds a knife to her throat. “Okay,” he snarls, proving himself to be also a lousy actor, “tell your friend there to let my mates go, or the girl gets it!”
There is a scornful laugh from somewhere in the shadows. And, somewhat disconcertingly, from Shaiel. Snarg takes no notice of the threat and continues slamming the bandit pair.
“Don’t hurt anyone!” Shani sounds alarmed, to the bandit’s relief. At least someone here is showing a normal reaction. “You do what you’re told, pretty, and -” He is cut off by a withering look from Shani.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
“It’s all right,” Shaiel says, “I won’t.” She pauses, considering. “Not permanently, anyway.”
“I said let them go!” The bandit brandishes his knife, frothing at the mouth in fury.
“Oh, very well,” the voice from the shadows sighs. “Snarg?”
The Trolloc slams the pair against the tree once or twice more, then, with a disappointed look, lets them go. Emphatically. The two bandits go flying back into the woods. “Stupid bandits.”
“Well done,” the shadowy voice applauds. “Now let me explain a few things about ambushes. What you don’t do is attack Trollocs. They can get quite annoyed about that. Then, it’s not really a good idea to...”
The third bandit is looking frantically around, trying to find the source of the mocking voice. And unaware that his hair is slowly beginning to smoulder.
“...pick a hostage who could tie you in knots without breathing hard,” the voice continues, “and if it comes to that, deciding to ambush...”
The bandit’s hair, being rather greasy, is catching fire quite nicely.
“...a group containing an -”
“Aaargghh!” The bandit dances around, trying to beat out the fire on his head without letting go of Shaiel. He manages, but only because Shaiel is laughing too hard to do anything about it. “Aes Sedai!”
“ - ranks fairly high on the list of stupid things to do,” the voice concludes. “Actually, though, you were wrong. The correct word to fill in was Asha’man.” Shadar, his black coat merging with the night, moves out of the shadows.
“Stupid bandit!” (Guess who that was)
“That’s right,” Shani agrees blithely. “Fire does tend to be a male strength. If you want Aes Sedai work, on the other hand...” A large quantity of ice-cold water is abruptly dumped on the bandit’s head, quenching the remaining flames. “Does that help?”
The bandit’s jaw hits the ground. His eyes roll up in his head.
“Hey, what’s going on?” A white-cloaked figure appears at the bend of the path. “It’s raining bandits back here! Snarg, was that -” He sees the group. “All right, let’s not have anyone hurt.”
“I already said that,” Shani tells him.
“Spoilsport. What’s happening?”
“Thank the Light!” the bandit gasps out. “Aes Sedai! Asha’man!”
“What in the Light for?” Sycho takes off his helmet and leans back against a tree to enjoy the show.
The bandit collapses. Not due to shock, although that would probably have happened had there been time for it, but due to Shaiel deciding to do something about the knife at her throat. An elbow to the ribs, a fist to the jaw and several kicks to various vulnerable parts of the body lay the bandit out cold on the ground.
(The author has just realised that she hasn’t mentioned Someone for a while. Please assume that all through this, he is standing to one side, taking notes for his book. Thank you.)
The group applaud. Sycho relieves the unconscious man of his purse and adds it to the two he collected from the earlier pair.
“How much?” Shani asks him.
“Enough for a few cups of wine. What say we head for the nearest tavern?”
“Why not?” Shadar shrugs. They stroll off down the path. “Think we’ll run into any more bandits?”
“Not if they have any sense,” Shani laughs.
But do the bandits have any sense? No...and now you know how Shadar can afford all those things he pulls out of his hat, too.