A 784 word flash fiction about the Rogue and an encounter he has in the mountains.
In the mountains a herdsman struggled with his herd. A storm had scattered them. And so he and his son had mounted horses, took rope and seeds and nuts and dried fruit, and set off. It was a struggle and it had been a long day, but together they managed to gather up most of their herd. One remained. And so, he and his son were following a heifer up a trail. Behind them the three moons were waxing toward full.
It just so happened that in the mountains dwelt a group of bearded brigands, rough folk, outlaws who molested the nearby villagers, stole from them, and, occasionally, at their boldest, raided the villages and took away livestock, and metal, and even women and children (who they would turn to their hard way of life). This group of brigands were particularly distraught this night, for, of late, a new lord had taken this land as a fief prize, and whereas the previous lord had been slothful and indifferent to the brigands dwelling in shadows in his lands, this new lord was a responsible steward and eager to organize and make safe and prosperous his newly acquired lands. Thus, he organized a ranging patrol of well-armed fighting-men who had been a plague to the brigands and driven them up to barren heights.
The brigands were wet from the rains, and hungry, for the storm had driven them into the mountains, into caves. And so, it appeared as a miracle to them, a gift of god, when a fat heifer, steaming from the rain and cheerfully jangling a bell, strolled into the mouth of their cave. Some fell and worshipped a grim name.
It just so happened that the Rogue was traveling these mountains this night. He, too, had been waylaid by the storm. He had heard of the new lord of this land, had heard of the lord's desire to hire strong, sword-fighting men. The Rogue desired to reach the lord's stronghold of stone by the end of the following day. This is why he was in the mountains. He was unaware that close by was a cave filled with brigands and a farmer and that also near was his son searching for a wandering heifer. The Rogue drank steaming blackroot, by his fire, read in his tattered black book, as was his habit, and whispered prayers and curses to himself, and aimlessly fondled his curving blade.
It so happened that the son of the farmer, separated from his father, stumbled upon the Rogue. Knowing the mountains harbored brigands, he was startled. His hand went to his short blade. The Rogue noticed him, was startled for a moment, but, making a survey of the boy's clothing and manner, realized him for a young farmer or wandering villager.
"Stay your hand, boy!" he hissed. "You've nothing to fear of me! Have a sit by my fire! Warm yourself with blackroot! I'm but a mercenary coming hence to the stronghold in response to the call of the lord of this land!"
The farmer's son dismounted his horse and sat with the Rogue. In short time, they were friends, laughing, drinking together. The Rogue had been saving his liquor, and was lonely, and so he did not scruple unstoppering it and sharing a drink with the young boy. They were telling their stories when the sound of a scream echoed through the mountains. "My father!" the boy gasped, tossing aside his drink, throwing aside his pipe. The Rogue threw on his cloak, grabbed up his blade, and set off with the boy, alert, his blood heating with the scent of battle.
They found the boy's father murdered; they found his body, face down, in a pool of the red blood. And around him stood ten bearded brigands, their blades naked, dripping with innocent blood. One of the bedraggled wretches searched the dead farmer's body for coin. Another admired his horse, calmed it with tender caresses. Still another tied a rope around the heifer and was leading it into the cave, cooing in its ear.
Instantly, the boy screamed, and, brandishing his short blade, charged at the brigands, caught them unaware. The Rogue was also startled. His hand went to his blade, and he tried to stop the boy. But it was too late. The brigands parried the boy's feeble attack, and--he was pulled from his horse and cruelly killed, garroted swiftly. The other brigands, seeing the Rogue standing there, readied their blades and approached him.
The Rogue looked at the dead body of the farmer. The slain boy. The heifer. The horses. And the gaunt and tortured and desperate faces of the brigands, who had not eaten in many days. And in a breath, he was gone.