Morgan and Elfwine arrive at Sandway.
As Morgan had said, the trodden grass and broken plants made tracking forward to the Vialians’ camp an easy task. Just before dusk, the camp came into sight through the trees.
“Well,” Morgan said. “No wonder we didn’t find any lookouts. The place looks deserted. But keep alert.”
The men crept forward. There were no tents raised, but discarded items and rubbish were spread over a large area.
“That cottage at the back must be Fenglast’s place,” Elfwine said. “He walked over, drew his sword kicked the door open but got no response. He walked inside. “Very nice. I wonder what happened to the forester who lived here.”
One of the duke’s men had walked around to the back. “Morgan, all their tents and equipment are stacked at the back. They must be planning to come back.”
Elfwine walked out from the cottage. “The ashes in the grate are still hot. They probably left no more than three or four hours ago.”
“The tracks indicate two horses,” Morgan said, “but they can only move as fast as those on foot. It’s getting dark now. We’ll bed down and leave before dawn tomorrow. But which way? The tracks go off in all directions from here.”
“If he’s looking for men he might have gone to Advent,” one of the men said.
“No,” Elfwine said. “He’ll be a known bandit there. The town's militia are a ruthless force with bandits there. He won’t be tolerated.”
"That's true," Morgan said.
“Then he must be going to Sandway.”
Morgan looked at the man. “You are one of the men that passed us in the town during the attack. No prisoners, you said.”
“That's right, sir. I’m James. I was at the Pavillion uprising with you as were all these men. They all volunteered to go on this mission with you.”
“That’s very encouraging, James, and it's good to see you all," Morgan said. “Sandway, I’ve heard of it but never been there.”
“It’s in the Bad Lands,” James said. "A small port along the coast in the opposite direction to Advent. It used to be a nice town at one time. Not now though; the pirate ships call there for supplies and for the town’s illicit facilities. Low-lifes and disgraced warriors congregate there and the lowest form of sailors go there when they want employment with the pirates. But joining Fenglast’s Vialian gang will also appeal to a lot of those unsavoury types.”
“Do you know the way?” Morgan asked.
“Just head for the sea; the north star will give us the direction and then just follow the coast.”
“Okay, that's the way we go then. Get some sleep those that can but James we will need some sentries put out?”
"I'll see to that," James said.
“The earlier we leave in the night the better,” Elfwine said. “Then maybe we can get to them before they reach the town.”
It was two in the morning when they left the camp. “Hopefully they are not expecting to be followed and they will bed down for the night,” Morgan said. “We should be able to catch them up.”
“We must remain as quiet as possible,” Elfwine said. “We must surprise them and not let them surprise us especially as we don’t really know their numbers. Could be five, could be twenty-five.”
“I’ll scout ahead then,” James said. “Less chance of one man being spotted if we do catch up with them.”
“Fine,” Morgan said. “But be careful.”
Two hours later, James turned back to meet the men. “We are in luck. They are about five hundred yards ahead in a hollow. They seem complacent. They have the burning embers of a small fire and I didn't see anyone on guard,”
“How many?” Elfwine asked.
“Looks to be only about six. But I didn't see any horses so the leaders have probably gone off in front.”
“Let’s go and wake the bastards up,” Elfwine said.
“Try to get one alive,” Morgan said.
They crept up and managed to get right into the camp.
“Snoring like the pigs they are,” Elfwine whispered. He put his sword on the first man’s chest. “Good morning,” he said. The man opened his eyes and Elfwine pushed down hard on his sword. The man gave out a scream and the other five woke in a panic and tried for their swords but were overwhelmed and killed by the duke’s men.”
“So,” Morgan said. “Which one is alive?”
Elfwine shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“I wanted to find out how many more of them there were.”
“Easy,” Elfwine said. “Two on horseback obviously they went on without these fools thinking they were safe now and could make more time without them. We won’t catch up with them until we reach the town.”
“Let’s rest a while then,” Morgan said, “and we’ll carry on at dawn.”
The men set off as the sun was rising and, despite not having the North Star as a guide, it was not long until they came out of the forest onto a coastal track that led to Sandway.
“It’s no wonder they left their men camped in the forest,” Elfwine said. “The horses can make good time on this track.”
“Yes,” James said. “They are most likely bedded down at Sandway by now. But we still have a good day of hard walking ahead of us.”
* * * * *
Thomas was at the hospital building at dawn, as Morgan had requested, to make sure that Baldwin did not leave alone. Baldwin was still sleeping and Thomas went to see the doctor. He was not pleased that Baldwin was leaving but gave Thomas some clean dressing material for Baldwin’s wound. It was an hour later when Baldwin woke. He was soon dressed and the men took some food in at one of the market stalls before setting off for The Flashes.
They got to the marsh on the approach to the cave. “You know what, Thomas. I think I can handle my sword now.”
“Well don’t try just yet. You don’t want to be opening that wound up again.”
Baldwin looked toward the cave entrance and stopped walking. “There’s stuff from the cave strewn over the grass. Something’s wrong.” He ran towards the cave with Thomas following. He walked inside and was shocked when he saw everything scattered about and smashed. Then he saw a body. He rushed over and dropped to his knees. “Oh, no. Matilda no.”
Thomas picked up some material and covered Matilda’s naked and bloody body. “Where are the others,” he said.
“They must still be in the cavern,” Baldwin said. He walked back and tried to climb up onto the ledge but his injury was causing him problems.
“I’ll go,” Thomas said and he climbed up.
“You’ll see a small entrance that leads to the cavern, they should be in there.”
Thomas soon found the entrance and shouted down the tunnel. “Hello, is anyone in there?”
“Who’s that?” Erica shouted. “Who are you?”
“It’s Thomas. I’m with Baldwin.”
"I don't know who you are. Do you know my name?"
"Erica. And Baldwin's friends are Morgan and Elfwine."
"Why isn't Baldwin with you?"
"He was slightly injured at Mossley. He can't climb onto the ledge."
Thomas knew by her voice that she was in distress and he tried to keep her calm as he spoke to her. He shouted down to Baldwin. “It’s Erica. She said she can’t move a rock or something.”
“Is Dunstan not in there, or Osbert?”
“She said she thinks they are both dead, ambushed by pirates.”
“Get down the tunnel and try to move the boulder.”
Thomas crawled down but no matter how hard he tried he could not get much movement on the boulder. “Are there any stones or rocks you can use to wedge the boulder,” Thomas said.
"Yes, what do you want me to do?”
“When I push, wedge a stone under the boulder to stop it rolling back.” He only gained a couple of inches and then could gain no more. “Listen, I’ll go out and come back feet first; I’ll have more power in my legs.”
“He managed to make a lot of progress with his feet pushing the boulder and Erica wedging the stones and soon he was in the cavern.” Erica dropped into his arms as he stood up and she began to cry and shake violently.
“Okay, you are safe now. Calm yourself down. Baldwin is waiting for you in the cave.”
Erica left the cavern, climbed down, and threw herself into Baldwin’s arms as she became hysterical. “They murdered them, they murdered my family. I heard Matilda screaming and I was too frightened to go to help her. I should have gone, but I was terrified.”
Baldwin took her outside the cave and they sat on a rock and he managed to calm her down. She looked at his bandaged arm. “But you’ve been hurt.”
“Don’t worry about that it’s just a nick. Now tell me what happened here.”
Erica told them what she had seen. "I heard them call the pirate captain, Captain Swing. He told one of the men to kill Matilda and I think the one who did was called Squid."
Thomas walked out to the shore but could find no signs of Dunstan or Osbert. He checked the longboats and noticed the damage then looked over to the ship and thought how it looked calm and deserted.
He walked back and Baldwin looked up at him, waiting for an answer. “There is no sign. The tide must have taken them.”
“We cannot even bury them,” Erica said.
“They are at rest with the sea. We must bury Matilda now.” Baldwin said. “She can lie with Arabella.”
“Can I see her?” Erica said.
Thomas looked at Baldwin and shook his head. “It’s best if I clean her up a little first,” Thomas said. He found some decent fur and bound her body. He carried her outside in the small bay and laid her on the grass. He cleaned her face and got some water in one of the unbroken vessels and tried to wash as much blood from the floor of the cave as he could. “Okay,” he said.
Baldwin led Erica through the cave to the small bay and they sat looking over at Matilda.
Erica burst into tears. "I'm so sorry," Erica said. "I should have tried to help her, to save her."
"No, Erica, that would have been foolish and I would be standing here now looking at two bodies. You are not to blame in any way for this. And if you had been killed as well we would not know the names of the murderers that did this."
“I’ve had a look around and can’t find a spade,” Thomas said.
“There’s a spare one in the cavern but it’s dark in there.”
Thomas went back into the cavern and eventually found the shovel. He dug a grave and they buried Matilda near Arabella.
"We could have rowed over to check out the ship," Thomas said. "But they have smashed holes in the boats."
“We can leave that to the duke's men," Morgan said. "I think it’s best if we go from here and stay at Mossley.”
“I need to clean this place up," Erica said. "I can’t leave it in this state; Matilda would never forgive me.”
They made the place as presentable as they could but Erica was deeply troubled and broke down a lot. "We'd best get off then," Baldwin said. "I'll come back and repair the furniture another time." They set off for Mossley but there was very little conversation as they all dwelt in their own thoughts.
* * * * *The men got to Sandway. “Do you think we should split up,” Elfwine said. “Twelve armed men might look suspicious.”
“No,” James said. “They are quite used to armed men turning up here looking for work. But there are only a few Inns here. We won't have trouble finding our man.”
“The Mayfly,” Morgan said. “This looks as good a place as any to start.”
The men walked into a large packed saloon area. A mandolin was playing and there seemed to be no shortage of ladies plying their trade. As expected they drew a lot of interest, but it soon waned and they got to the bar.
A barman walked over with some jugs of ale. “Hello, strangers and where are you from?”
“What’s it got to do with you?” one of the Duke's men said.
“Just being friendly. I heard that there was some trouble at Mossley and thought you may have come from there.”
“Forgive my friend,” Morgan said. “We have come from Advent. We arrived there by ship from the Pavillion Uprising. That’s all finished now so we are looking to get hired for some other, shall I say, adventure.”
“There are two pirate ships that operate this area,” the barman said. “One has not been heard of for some time and the other is out on a quest somewhere.”
“Up to no good I suppose,” Elfwine said.
“That depends on your point of view. Captain Swing’s crew spend a lot of money in here. He may take a few of you on when he returns.” He looked at Elfwine’s bow. “But he has no use for archers.”
“We all go together or not at all,” James said.
“Wait a minute though.” The man called another barman over. “Who was that you were talking to in here? Looking for men you said.”
“If you are looking for work you are in luck," the second barman said. "Oliver Henglast is in town and looking to increase his followers.”
“Where do we find him?” Elfwine said.
“He’ll be at The Skate Inn. It’s not as lively as this place but it is the only place that has stables. We don’t see many horses here.”
“We’ll pop down and see him then,” Elfwine said. “We could be lucky.”
One of the girls had come over. “Looking for a good time, boys? I don’t mind you sharing me as long as you have the money.”
“Maybe later,” Elfwine said. “We’re going to have a good time somewhere else.”
“Oh. Off to find another girl. So you think I'm not good enough for you then?”
“It's not that; you sound like our kind of fun girl," Elfwine said. "But we're off to surprise a friend of ours first. Then maybe we'll come back and accept your kind offer.”