The forest path had caused unrest amongst the riders before even entering, but now, a solid hours ride into the midst of the Anarn Forest, having already been cursed by Lord Rallek for speaking up, they knew any paranoia was irrelevant. They were here now, their Lord had chosen his path, and they must accept it.
The carriage that Lord Rallek rode in was the middle most of seven, protected on all four sides, with a further carriage to the head, and another to the foot of the entourage. Rallek’s riders, Nalen and Fens were navigators of the highest order. Brothers recommended by King Litherson himself. They always had more of a say in the bearing of the royal carriage under the King. Rallek stamping his authority had left the brothers questioning his patronage. They knew the lands better than anyone, experienced journeymen and they knew that Anarn was not the place for aristocracy.
The crackling of the forest floor under foot was heard only by them.
“Alert Dorveen,” Nalen whispered into Fens’ left ear. The last syllable had barely left his lips before Fens was leaping gracefully, and silently onto the carriage directly in front.
Kale and Jorn were sat in the seats behind the horses. They didn’t hear Fens land, and so when he spoke they jumped almost to the saddle.
“Is Dorveen below?”
“Fens! With all the mercy of Litherson, do not sneak up on us like that!” exclaimed Kale.
“Must be more alert in the Anarn my dear warriors,”
“Yes, Fens, he’s below,” and on hearing Jorn’s words he swung away through the carriages window.
He returned only moments later but this time to a sound: the sound of an arrow whistling off a bowstring and hurtling through the air. It was followed by a blood-choked cry of pain from the trees to the entourages left.
“Swords!” was the cry from Kale.
Within a moment the carriages were at a halt, Kale and Jorn were on the ground, crouched low peering into the dense undergrowth for a sign of what Dorveen had killed.
The next two minutes turned a position of defence, into a desperate retreat. Arrow after arrow, with what seemed like greater accuracy than even Dorveen, rained down from invisible archers. Cries of pain were mounting on top of another rising into a deafening crescendo. Lord Rallek’s guard were reduced to pickings in an instant.
Kale and Jorn had thrown themselves to the ground, scrambling back behind their carriage in an attempt for cover. They looked back to survey the scene. Nalen lay slumped across both seats of the Lord’s car, two arrows embedded in his chest. Fens lay a few feet from them with an arrow in his thigh, crying for his lost brother. Not even he was quick enough.
More cries from nowhere, the results of more arrows from nowhere, and the worry was how many were left. Dorveen burst out of his car, firing off three quick-fire arrows into the canopy. Nothing.
“Men, this is an ambush, and we are at a loss,” he said, sternly.
“But, Lord Rallek?” Jorn questioned.
“Look there,” Dorveen pointed away from the Lord’s carriage. A rustle of leaves and a muffled plea for help was all the confirmation they needed. The ravine was only a few leagues away. “He is lost. Come. All. This way!”
Fens managed to follow, his half-pace as quick as the warriors’ full. As they disappeared into the hoped protection of the Anarn they counted only ten.
“Everyone else, murdered?” Jorn’s voice was mournful.
“We can’t stay still long, guys!” Silo quickly reminding that grief cannot linger at all on a field of battle.
“He is right. Everyone, this way.” Dorveen’s composure was reassuring even to a more experienced mercenary as Kale was.
They set off at as high a pace as they could. There were injured amongst them, but the threat of the ambushers against survivors was not to be underestimated. They would be hunted now.