((With thanks to Addiela and Finchley))
Addiela's eyes widened for a moment and then she offered Lyra an innocent smile. “I do. We solved the Case of the Three Torches...you’re welcome."
A stunned silence was soon followed by a spirited and quite frank conference, behind closed doors, between Captain Kraddock of Elendil’s Vanguard and Squad Leader Lyra of the Pale Kestrels. After the shouting and cursing was past, it was decided that Lyra would take a small party of Doves to be sure that Garon and his bandits could not retreat down the East Road and escape through the Needle, while Kraddock and his small force assaulted the bandit camp directly as quickly as possible, counting on surprise.
Following a rapid ride across the East Road, Kraddock, Addiela, Nethrida and Ryn reached a point near the X that had been indicated on the map. All seemed quiet as they arrived soon before Dawn.
Kraddock made sure the horses were secured and looked at Addiela. “Alright my girl, let’s see what Madame Bird can see.”
There was a bit of squawking back and forth as Addie tried to reassure Morn that Kraddock was just teasing her, in a loving way. Finally, the raven took off to scout the area while Kraddock waited quietly, sword drawn, keeping an eye on both the road and the ruins.
Nethrida stood behind Kraddock, sword in hand, her gaze likewise zipping between the ruins and the road. She glanced at the big man now and then, as if schooling herself in his leadership and demeanor.
Addiela patted Rollo nervously, while she scanned the sky waited for Morn to return.
Only a few minutes passed by before the raven returned and landed on Addie's shoulder. There was some frantic cawing and Addie's eyes widened. "Oh dear! Miss Elsa has likely been discovered. She is tied up and Morn says that she doesn't appear to be well. There are other people there also, kept like animals."
Kraddock nodded. "Alright then we are out of time to weigh options. if Coinspinner knows that isn't Gerda, then he is likely wondering what is going on. I have no reason to believe that he knows Gerda has a sister, so he must assume this is some sly game on Drasia's part. Killing Gerda would only bring Drasia's wrath upon him so... what does he do? If this is not Gerda, but looks just like her, then he will likely assume Drasia changed someone's face to slip them in as a spy. Thinking he has a spy is not good. People torture spies for information… Have Mister Bear circle around the camp, draw the guards away from where this Elsa is tied and support Lyra’s squad when they come in from the Shire side. Remind Mister Bear not to eat any Doves.”
Addiela glared at Kraddock as he said “Mister Bear”. "Now you're just doing that on purpose..." She nodded anyhow and leaned down toward Rollo's ear to give him the instructions, to which he immediately took off.
A few minutes passed until an alarm sounded from the far edge of the camp, with a few cries.
Kraddock smiled to himself. “Remind me to make friends with a few bears. Alright, lets move. Stay low and look for the girl. Anyone stops you, kill them quietly. Nethrida, you and your friend here go to see if you can free Elsa near the pens. Adiela girl, keep an eye out for reinforcements…I’m going to find the head of this snake.”
As they moved forward, they saw that the camp was carefully tucked into the Hillside ruins; smaller tents off to the left, a larger central tent in the middle, and, to the right, what seemed to be animal pen.
Nethrida sheathed her sword, replacing it with the knife Addie had given her. She pursed her lips and looked around for a moment, a little out of her element. She tried to slink off into the ruins, sticking to the left hand side edge for now, knife at the ready should someone accost her. Ryn did a similar thing, sneaking toward the animal pen with her dagger out.
Nethrida heard the sounds of combat from further left; cries for others to join in fighting the rabid bear. “By Elendil... Go, Rollo...” and she focused on the animal pen before her.
Addiela glanced toward the sword worn awkwardly on her hip but, after seeing that Neth chose a knife as she moved off, decided to work with her staff instead. She clutched it tightly in both hands, took in a deep breath, and then looked around while quietly whispering safe wishes for Rollo. She saw Kraddock moved toward the central tent in a determined fashion, as Neth and Ryn moved to the Pens. She had a deep desire to go with Neth to free Elsa, after all, she was in this fix because of Addie, or so the believed. However logic intruded. She had faith in Neth’s prowess and she had Ryn with her to guard her back. Captain Kraddock was on his own, facing a known and dangerous foe…where she was needed right now was clear.
Addiela quickened her pace to catch up with Kraddock. She had already guessed his intentions when she saw his path. "You were not going to face him alone, were you?" she whispered. "Did you not say that you would have the entire company here to capture either him or Gerda? Are all men such fools? Always going off alone, keeping their plans and risks to themselves?" For a moment she remembered her father, telling her firmly that she had no need to worry and he would be fine dealing with Edoras politics on his own…until of course he wasn’t. The gruff, military Kraddock and her dignified, authoritative father seemed worlds apart…and yet so very much the same. She was not yet ready to admit HOW much the same, even to herself.
Kraddock shrugged. "Sometimes you have to improvise, my girl. Tag along if you wish, but stay close then.”
Approaching the Pen as Neth moved towards the guards, Ryn noted a figure in a set of stocks, locked in place. Upon closer inspection she saw that it was Elsa, who was a sickly gray color with a bandage on her leg that had begun to soak through with blood. Ryn cursed under her breath then called out to Nethrida. The knight quickened her pace a little to reach the two.
Ellsabeth remained rather motionless, almost defeated as she was strung up like meat dangling in place as the cold wet air brought a chill to her as she had little energy with which to do anything at that moment. In her dark dreams, she knew she was dying, and dying alone...just as she had always feared.
As Kraddock and Addiela approached the central tent, a voice with a slight Gondorian accent was heard from inside the tent, clearly a conversation that was already in progress. "Well, if you didn’t send her, then who did? Drasia? If so, you should be glad you are back behind Kheledul’s thick walls, ‘cause she is coming for your fluffy gray head.”
Addiela did as Kraddock advised and stayed right on his heels, probably a bit closer than he intended due to her nervousness of being in a place like this. The voice coming from the tent did give her some pause as she immediately recognized it. Garon. The fact he was speaking of Kheledul didn’t make matters any easier for her. She struggled to master the cold, gnawing terror in her belly.
From within the tent, a voice answered Garon, but it sounded hollow and far away. The voice was unmistakable to Addie, but gone was the kindly, concerned tone she was used to hearing. A woman’s voice…aged, and harsh barked threats. “Let the bitch come, if she tries to make trouble for me she will need more spare parts then she could ever find. However, Coinspinner, I swear to this ring I wear that if you have BROUGHT the trouble on us, the last fine delicacy you will savor will be your own balls shoved into your lifeless mouth. Understand me, you pitiful outcast of a pitiful people?”
Addiela 's face paled at hearing Ynna's voice and an even stronger sense of dread washed over her for a moment before a fire lit up in her eyes. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the staff even tighter and readied herself for the confrontation with Garon.
Kraddock raised his voice. "Garon, Exile of Minas Tirith, you are under arrest by order of the Steward of the White City. Come forth and answer these charges. Please… resist arrest.”
Garon sighed as he spoke again within the tent to his unknown superior. "Hold on. I'll have to call you back.”
Nethrida nodded at Ryn as she looked at Elsa, half certain they were too late. "Take care of her. See if you can break the locks. I'll go have a look at the others.” She stashed the knife away. The time for sneaking was over and she drew her sword to enter the horse pens, ready for a fight.
Carneryn looked around for a decently sized rock and found one easily. She brought it back with her and set to figuring out how to break the locks binding Elsa with it. Ryn slammed the rock down on the locks, now pressed for time. A loud snapping sound echoed as one lock snapped off as she hissed “ELSA!!!! Wake up!!!!”.
Ellsabeth inwardly rejected the notion that her friends were present thinking that she was dreaming the whole thing.
Carneryn brought the rock down on the other lock and it also snapped. "Gonna have to move quick..."
At the central tent, the flap opened and Garon stepped out, sword loosely held at his side, an easy, sardonic smile on his handsome face. "Oh, by golly, the Vanguard has come for me. The Captain himself, by the seal on your shoulder. But you aren’t old Captain Bryant so I assume he died like a good soldier of Gondor should and you are his replacement.” He looked between the two of them. “Both of you are knights eh? Funny, she doesn’t look the type. So that spy over there is yours then?”
Kraddock smiled. "Indeed she is. And you fell for it like an orc with a hot lunch. Did you think you could kill off all those Doves without raising an alarm? You never used to be that stupid, or so I had heard. I must admit, you don’t live up to your reputation, Coinspinner.”
Addiela kept her expression calm though the fire still burned in her eyes as she glared at Garon. She remained a few steps behind Kraddock and stood there silently, trying to look as 'knightly' as she could manage.
Garon glanced towards where he had locked up Elsa, eyes growing a bit wide. "Well, it seems you are already reclaiming your Dove then.”
Kraddock nodded. “You're under attack from all sides, and the main force has not even been deployed yet. I jumped ahead to give you a chance to come peacefully and face the noose you missed the last time with dignity... if you have the nerve. You destroyed a good man's career - a man I respected - along with all your other crimes, which, I have heard, have just grown more heinous since you ran…SLAVER.”
Moving away from Ryn and Elsa, Nethrida's eyes widened once she was inside the pens. "By Elendil," she gasped and rushed to the nearest captive to inspect their restraints, and, of course, attempted to break them to set the lot free. Just then, she heard a whimpering cry. Across the pen, a slave had been bound to what seemed like a rack, and had just been branded on their side, in much the same location Neth remembered. As the work was finished, the two noted Nethrida and grabbed their weapons to rush at her.
Nethrida's anger flared when she saw the poor soul branded. She hoisted her sword up and readied her stance. "You worthless pigs! Come and die! Cast yourselves to the void!" she snarled and went on the offense to strike at the bastards, her blade slashing forward.
The first of the guards raised his blade to block the blow but recoiled backward from the force of it, the sword in his hand breaking along with his arm. Only his speedy defense saved his life. Neth’s sword, Shrouded Glory, shimmered like water, it's form almost indistinct.
Nethrida pressed her attack even though it and been stonewalled at first. She withdrew back a step and a half before lunging for a new attack, this time aiming for a feint aiming follow through with a swift vertical slash when their guard dropped.
The maneuver worked as Neth brought her attack to the startled guard’s now exposed flank. Her sword seemed to shake in Nethrida's hand and, with a roar, the blow crashed into the guard like a steel wave, cutting deeply into his side, even through the light armor. The force lifted him off his feet, sending him flying across the pen to slam into the now dead body of the Watchman Elsa had seen earlier, having been butchers by the guards just before Nethrida’s arrival.
Nethrida, caught up in the heat of the moment, didn’t question the oddities with her sword. Instead she nailed her gaze on the remaining guard, lunging in for an attack, a two pronged strike where the first upward slash was aimed to knock the blade of the guard outward, and then using the momentum of her own slash to twirl around and drive the sword through his gut to finish the job.
The guard managed to block the attack with the remains of his broken sword, held in his left hand, as he backpedaled, looking to escape. His nerve finally broke and he turned away to flee.
Nethrida reared back to realign her sword and to lull the guard into a false sense of security. She twirled around again, this time trying to slam her sword into the guard's shoulder in a heavy downward cleave as he turned.
The sword danced in her hand and slashed down where the guard had been before fleeing. Yet, somehow, the force of the blow behind him would seem to catch him like a riptide, smashing him to the ground. The strange nature of the blow also broke the tether line of the horses beyond, causing them to run wild through the camp.
At the stocks, the sound of the smashing of the locks attracted Elsa’s attention but, upon seeing it, she closed her eyes even harder as if trying to force away a dream so she could face the evils that awaited her in the camp.
Carneryn patted Elsa on the cheek gently. "Can you move at all?" she asked, drawing her sword with her right hand, prepared to both carry Elsa and fight if needed.
Ellsabeth glanced over at Ryn, finally realizing that she was not dreaming. She could not speak for the moment simply shaking her head no in response to her question.
Ryn picked Elsa up so she could lean on her before calling out to Neth, "We'd best be quick, yes? I don't know if we can carry every one of these prisoners out."
At the central tent Addiela's body remained rigid and still; at command, just like any good soldier. But her eyes looked around to make sure that no one was trying to sneak up on them while the two talked. She noticed no other person, but she did manage to attract Garon’s attention. "You look so familiar to me, sweetheart. Tell me, what is your name, Miss Knight. Or perhaps just say ‘Whatever you want, Garon’ in a sultry tone.”
Addiela tried to ignore the man entirely for the moment; a show of how little his words meant to her, but her eyes flared with rage despite herself.
Garon smiled as recognition dawned. "AHHH, I remember that look of hate now. You are Addiwyn's runaway daughter. Didn't Halley take you home as intended? Or was your wedding night not all you had dreamed of and you ran again? What are you doing playing squire to this blockhead…or is this who you chose over a comfortable home and hearth, strumpet?”
Addeila went pale as chalk and Kraddock twirled his sword in his hand beside her. "No need to keep digging, Coinspinner, your grave can’t get deeper than six feet. Now leave the girl be...I am your opponent here and I will see you dead.”
Garon looked back to Kraddock. "What happened to ‘under arrest’?”
Kraddock shrugged and stepped forward. “I changed my mind. Now defend yourself or lower your sword and die painlessly. Your choice.”
Before Kraddock could attack however, Addiela forced away her shock and smiled brightly at Garon as she stepped closer toward him. "So, you do remember me? I am glad to hear that." She brought the end of her staff up abruptly between Garon's legs until it hit its mark. She did not hit him overly hard but it was enough to cause him to flinch. "Then you'll know who taught you the lesson that you should learn to think with something else besides that."
She flipped the top of the staff downward in an attempt to bean him on top of the head but Garon brought his blade up to easily block the staff, a flip knife dropping into his hand from a wrist sleeve as he kept her hands and staff lifted, stabbing towards her midsection. But before the knife could land, there was a strong scent of ozone and the tip of her staff ignited in a blood red flame where Garon had blocked it. Fire bathed his sword and hand as he cried out and rolled backwards.
Never one to miss a chance, Kraddock moved forward, attacking Garon as he rolled back to his feet.
Somehow, Garon managed to bring his sword around to block the blow, his hand steaming and the leather glove smoldering. Due to ill luck, Kraddock's sword was caught in the hilt of Garon's sword and wrested from his grasp. Garon smiled, still on one knee the point of his dagger in his off hand drawn towards the disarmed Captain. “Just not your lucky day, knight…” as he moved to drive the blade home.
Addiela's jaw clenched as she felt the pain in her chest and lessened her grip on her staff. She had watched in horror as Kraddock's sword went flying but, without even having to think about it, she reached to unsheathe her father's sword and gathering her strength, hurled it towards Kraddock, the blade tumbling end to end. "May his strength be with you." she whispered.
Kraddock heard the blade whooshing through the air without seeing it and jutting one hand skyward caught the thrown blade one handed, bringing it around and blocking the dagger thrust from Garon. He moved to kick the man before he could rise fully to his feet. Garon seemed to let the kick land, using it to force himself up to his feet and into the path of one of the stampeding horses. Catching a fistful of one of the horses’ mane, he swung up on the mount as it raced away, calling back, "Well I was wrong…Guess it's just MY lucky day, Captain.”
Addiela smirked as she watched Garon take to the horse. This she could deal with. With a sound that mimicked the braying of a horse, she called out to he animal and asked it to throw its rider. The horse reared and sent Garon flying...only to land on the back of a second horse.
Garon grabbed the reins, spitting blood before called back, "Yep, my lucky day indeed... But not yours. Your spy friend will be dead in a day Captain, and there is nothing you can do about it.” And, in no time at all, Garon was gone.
Addiela's eyes remained locked on Garon. She was somewhat in disbelief at what just happened but also felt intense anger that ignited the wrath within and blinded her to anything else around. As Garon rode away, the tent nearest to him burst into flames but he paid it no mind. He would live to fight another day.
A few minutes later, two figures in gray armor along with a very self-satisfied bear walked toward the party. Rollo was bleeding from several wounds but looked quite well fed. Lyra of the Doves raised her voice. "Kraddock! I saw a single man riding like a demon down the East Road for the Needle, too fast for us to stop. Was that--…?”
Kraddock signed and retrieved his own sword. "Yes. That man has the luck of a Nazgul holding a rabbit's foot. We have a number of slaves to free here…”
Lyra nodded and addressed her companion. "Barret, secure those poor bastards.”
Nethrida finally came down from her adrenaline rush. She stared at her sword, dumbstruck for a moment, until the whine of the captives snapped her back to reality. She, with the help of a young man in the armor of the Doves with a crossbow across his back, set to freeing anyone still held within while internally trying to make sense what had just happened. Once done, she helped Ryn bear Elsa to the others.
Ellsabeth stumbled to the ground, unable to support herself, even with their help. What little energy she had was used up being dragged away from her captivity.
Ryn lifted Elsa up again and brought her to Addie "Okay, does someone want to help or not? I'm no healer.”
The faintest of smiles formed on Elsa’s face. For the first time since her capture, she felt safe, knowing she was among those she loved. As pain and darkness took her, she did not fear falling asleep, going limp in the arms of Ryn. If this was to be her death, it was gentler than she had expected.
As the tent burned brightly, Addie collapsed down to her knees, breathing hard and still glaring into the distance where Garon had faded from sight.
Kraddock rested a hand on Addie's shoulder and she accepted the touch. "Easy there my girl. We'll get him another day. For now, his operation is broken and he will have to answer to a Master far harsher than we are… Breathe, let it all go. I've got you.” He helped her up. “C'mon now, we can’t win them all my girl… Anyway, I am in your debt." He handed her back the heavy sword gently.
The Captain’s actions and words were enough to snap Addie out of whatever thoughts she was lost in. After reaching to take back her father's sword, she stared down at it for a moment before looking around, finally seeing Elsa. "I suppose that we should focus on the victories we have had here today. Elsa is free and we need to get her aid now."
Lyra banged one fist against Kraddock’s armored back. "You are damn lucky the operation was broken, Mister. I told you people to investigate, not start a private little war in the Shire. If this had gone badly, Captain Lianna would have had your heads, if you'd survived it. At least it looks like he left quite a bit behind. So, despite being a bit stupid, this may indeed be a victory after all.”
Kraddock smirked. “Well, I'd rather have a stupid victory then a clever defeat. We have seen too many clever defeats, if ya ask me...now back to Breed.”
Addie shook her head but smiled. "Is BREE that hard to remember?" For the first time in days, she felt a weight off her shoulders. She drew the cloak tighter around her shoulders and felt that Caine would at least not be ashamed of her. She saved a friend...just as he would have done. A victory indeed....and Septimal Caine would not think it stupid at all.