“Are they armed?” Wolf’s question that morning was directed at Viper, one of Yungen’s most adept scouts, as he peered into his telescope. The two bandits were lying on a perch constructed near the top of a large oak, high above the road from the Pentapolis, and had been alerted to the coming group of travelers by a signal from Red Trout, the band’s advance lookout.
Viper grunted. “Men are carrying swords. The woman and boy, no. There’s other weapons packed on the mule, but it won’t be easy to get to them.”
“Just those four, and the mule?” After Viper nodded in response to her question, Wolf rose to her knees, and taking from her vest a small mirror, round and no larger than her fist, she climbed the oak until her head was above the tree line. Raising the mirror high, she twisted her wrist until the sunlight reflected toward Red Trout’s position.
A moment later, she received the all clear signal (two short flashes, followed by a long) from Red Trout. Twisting back toward the uproad scouting position, she soon received the same message from Talon. Viper was collapsing his telescope when Wolf returned to the perch. The bandit leader smiled, exposing her white teeth – “Pity, those pilgrims chose not to pay the escort fee.”
“Probably figure the road’s safe, even without an escort.” Viper picked up his sword from the platform floor, as Wolf gathered two of her daggers. “The road hasn’t seen a successful robbery in two years.”
“Politics.” After loading her two daggers into her belt, one at each hip, she collected two more daggers, shorter than the others, and inserted each into a holster on either boot. “We could’ve taken down any escort, but Yungen didn’t want to risk open confrontation with the Safety Committee. Plus, he knew they’d eventually charge a fee for their service.”
Viper laughed, as he adjusted his tunic. “And people never like paying for what they’ve come to expect for free.”
Wolf had reached the edge of the perch, and stopped herself before beginning her descent. “Pilgrims, most of all. They feel they have the right to make this journey to their precious shrine on Eighth Hill. Paying for protection – they take that as an offense.” She began climbing down the tree.
“Hey.” Wolf stopped, looked up at Viper. “I’ve – it’s good to be raiding again.”
She frowned in response. “Those pilgrims, they need to pay someone. Whether it’s us, the Safety Committee, or this god of theirs. Nobody travels these roads for free.” And raising a finger to her lip, she continued her silent descent.