Aleyne stayed close to the underbrush, sometimes even going through it if she could and still travel noiselessly. She was watching again to see who traveled the pass tonight. What had started from a request had become an obsession born from concern and fueled by her anger.
After Commander Trodara had requested that they help find out more about the bandits, Raul had spent a good deal of his time following them. Other scouts joined him on the pass to give better ears and more keen eyes for the search. He would return to Ethaia every few weeks to rest and give updates about what he had learned. The bandits were not a casual danger, they were organized and deadly. They would ambush a party on the pass without any chance of warning, overwhelming the travelers by sheer numbers. If anyone resisted they were simply killed. They did not take hostages for ransom. In some cases they killed the party from ambush leaving no one alive. No survivors, no witnesses, and no chance of capture. The simple request had grown from learning about a small group of bandits who were attacking once a month to investigating a large group that was raiding caravans and killing travelers nearly every day. If the rumors were to be believed, they were even breaking into homesteads to steal.
The scouts protected the travelers as they could, driving away the bands and fighting them if they stood. The soldiers from the fort were nearly helpless. When they could they would help fight and they would apprehend the bandits whom the scouts left alive. But the bandits knew when the soldiers were out on patrol, so they simply stayed on the other end of the pass.
Aleyne and Iacaus often joined Raul on the pass. They attacked the bandits when they were found and escorted travelers as a type of vigilante protection. When Aleyne was not able to leave with Iacaus, she would travel on her own to meet them. Tonight was such a night. As she was searching for them she had come upon a group of bandits lying in wait along the road. A black wolf on the pass gave her the ability to see past the bandits and she knew there was a group of travelers approaching. She did not have time to get past the bandits without being seen. If she went down the pass they would attack her, and there were more than she could fight alone. She heard Onyx speak to her silently. He was concerned she would do something foolish. She snapped back, “No, I would not do something stupid, but I will not sit here and watch them attack. I refuse to.”
Onyx was as frustrated as she was. “I cannot land anywhere near. They always choose the heavy forest.”
“I know… If you can see Lome,” referring to her elven-bred stallion, “Send him to me on the road.” She worked her way to the edge of the packed path.
“Aleyne…” Onyx sounded frantic.
“Just send him, Onyx. Please do not question me.”
A few minutes later cantering hoof beats were heard on the road behind Aleyne as Lome came up. The bandits heard them also. She had ridden the stallion without saddle or bridle so that he could wander freely while she stalked the pass. So the bandits only saw a loose horse and turned back to wait for their prey. Suddenly an Orcish war cry echoed from the trees and the black horse thundered past on the road. Two black wolves ran with the horse and a black dressed elven girl peppered their party with arrows as she rode towards the travelers who were just beyond the bow range of the bandits.
In anger the bandits gave chase to be met by Aleyne standing on the road with her sword and the now-warned travelers. All that now faced her knew who she was. Suddenly Aleyne felt familiar steps coming alongside and she gave a quick smile to Iacaus. “I am glad you waited for us,” he teased. Raul and two other scouts stood by the wagons. Two others were in the shadows along the road. A few of the bandits broke and ran back into the woods when they saw the improved odds.
Now it was a standoff. The bandits knew that Bladesinger would not attack first and she would not chase if they ran. They had not done anything wrong, yet. They had the better number of armed men. They also knew that most, if not all of them, would die to the superior fighting skills of the scouts. Raul clicked, calling the scouts back. The travelers had decided to stay at the inn midway between the forts and to travel again in the morning. He had offered to escort them on their journey in the daylight. Aleyne lingered as they retreated, finally standing nearly alone on the road. The bandits knew she was hoping that just one of them would try to fight. Even harder to do than watch the bandits flee without chasing them, was to turn and walk away. All parties knew the game was over for the night, but neither wanted to be the first to yield. “Come,” Raul spoke. “The travelers are safe. This is the reason we are here. Let them go.” Glancing once more at the eyes behind the masks, Aleyne turned. She shared the same expression as her wolves, that of a wild animal being denied its prey.