Aquila:Rhine River Patrol - A Desperate Moment

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This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".
Rhine River Patrol - A Desperate Moment
Rhine River Patrol Story Index.

He awoke to darkness and rain. Slashing rain that penetrated his leaf cover and filled the shallow ditch in which he lay. He wondered why he was outside of the slave-pens, and then he remembered. He was free!! He was wounded, wet and cold, exhausted, starving and very thirsty, but for the moment he was free. For how much longer, was the question. He cautiously lifted his head clear of the leaf cover and listened for any sign of the guards who were seeking him. He heard nothing. He opened his mouth and drank thirstily of the falling life-giving rain, and was thankful for this unexpected mountain storm. He now had some kind of chance, if only the guards had sought some shelter. He didn't think for a moment that they would give up the search. He knew his value to the slave-master, and even wounded as he was it was more than both of the guards would earn in three months. No, they would not abandon the search, and sooner or later they would find this place. The storm and the resulting darkness was a temporary cover at best, but he must use this unexpected help both wisely and immediately. The pain in his arm was very severe and the arm was stiff, but there was little that he could do about that now. The mud poultice was still in place to his touch and he added some more mud to the wound, scraped from the bottom of his trench. The rustle of the few dry leaves that were left was drowned by the sound of the rain flailing the brush and trees around him. He was shivering now, and he knew that he must start moving and get lower down the mountain before he became so chilled that movement was impossible.

Carefully he rose to his feet still cradling his arm, gripping his one small weapon, and peered through the brush. The glimmer of a fire shown downslope just to the right of this patch of hidden ground. There appeared to be a rock outcropping there as revealed in the firelight, and it would be there that that the search party would be trying to stay warm and dry until this storm passed. Already the rain was slacking off, and the black sky above showed a glimmer of moonlight through the heavy storm clouds. He had to get moving!!! Cautiously he crawled out of his sheltering scrub, and wormed his way under a nearby thorn bush. He had to get past the guards, but they sat astride the only cover leading to the forest below. Another thousand paces or so below him beckoned a heavy dark forest in which he was sure he could lose himself.

Maybe if he couldn't get past them, where they were, perhaps then they could be moved in order that he could slip past in the shadows.. He cast about for a stone of the right size. He found one, which was fist-sized and not very heavy near the roots of the thorn bush, that he thought would do the job. If he could toss the stone over the outcropping, the sound of it rolling down the slope on the far side of the scrub would possibly move these oafs out in a search to find him. They had already proven themselves to be argumentative and not too clever, except for that damned archer. A sharp pain stabbed through him, as he thought about the hole in his arm. He hoped that individual had not joined the search down here on the slope. He could still see some torches up above on the trail where the chase had started, so he knew that they wouldn't give up so easily. He thought that the slave-master was probably laying about his with his whip, furious with the disruption of his work schedule. He hefted the stone in his good hand, and slowly stood, looking for a point of aim. He knew that this was going to hurt like the devil, and he would probably only get one chance. He was counting on the surprise to rob these searchers of the chance to think carefully about what they would hear.

He threw the missile with all of his might and bent over with the pain in his arm biting his lip until he tasted blood.. The stone didn't quite make it over the outcropping of rock, but rather bounced off of it where it hit and rolled down the slope on the far side. Shouts, from the fireside told him that the guards had heard the resulting noise, and two shadows leaving the fire, immediately after the shouting, showed him that he had been successful. The two guards left the fire, running across and down the slope directly away from him. The way down seemed clear now, and he shifted again to the outside of the scrub opposite the fire and moved quietly downslope toward the dark forest just below.

As he moved downslope he could hear the guards on the far side of the scrub shouting to each other in the darkness. They were well away from his path, and just a few more minutes and he would be able to lose himself in that leafy forest that lay across the shoulder of the mountain. Just a few more steps----

"That's about far enough!!” the rough voice behind him ordered and he felt the unmistakable pain of a sword-point jammed against his spine. He stopped dead still and wondered who the devil this was.

Holding the sword knife against Gaius' side the man moved around the slave, and in the weak light of the fire's flickering flames Gaius saw the archer. He was dressed in a skirt which came down to his ankles and his bow and quiver of bolts were slung across his back. His sword-knife was about three handspans long with a wicked upturned point. An empty leather scabbard hung from a broad leather belt. His pouch was on the opposite side, and was apparently quite full as it bulged so that the top flap strained against it's knot. A small water bottle hung from the other side of the belt

"Now what? asked Gaius. "I don't suppose an appeal would do any good."

"No, my friend, I am afraid not. You are much too valuable to let slip through my hands. Those two stupid hounds baying at each other over there were useless, and that's why I joined the search. I know you for a shrewd animal if nothing else."

Gaius let his shoulders slump in apparent defeat. But while he tried to show that he was totally defeated his mind was racing. He looked in pretty bad shape, and maybe this archer thought that he was all done. "I didn't really think so," Gaius replied, "but your remarks are not very complimentary about your fellow searcher's."

The archer sneered at this comment. "They are fools of the worst kind. They argue and quarrel among themselves, and they are so stupid as to be useless in this kind of a search."

Gaius looked beyond the archer's shoulder, and said, "well, maybe you should save your comments for those "hounds" to share face-to- face." He pointed behind the archer

"Eh!!??, The archer half-turned on reflex and then realizing that he had been duped endeavored to turn back, but he was too late. The arrow point in Gaius's hand that had been hidden by the mud covering and darkness, ripped into the archer's throat and he staggered back dropping the point of the sword-knife. Gaius simply fell on the archer and bore him to the ground grappling for the sword-knife. The archer tried to scream, but could only gurgle through the blood pouring from his ripped throat. He struggled to keep control of the sword-knife, but the outpouring of his lifeblood drew his strength from his arms and his struggles grew weaker. His opponent's weakening was just in time since Gaius was also exhausted and weakened with the pain of his arm wound.

Gaius's arm was shrieking in pain as he rolled onto the archer's head and finally got hold of the knife, but by the blade. He could feel the blade slicing into his hand as he wrested the sword-knife from his opponent. Raising himself he hit the archer as hard as he could in the side of the head with the sword-knife's pommel, and the archer's stiffened and then relaxed beneath him. Gaius rolled off his opponent and reversed the sword knife in his hand ready for a second attack, but the archer lay bleeding and unconscious. He thought to give the archer a killing blow, but decided instead to cut the bowstring and take a handful of arrows and his pouch and water bottle for what they might contain. Then he shakily stood in the dark shadow of scrub and still hugging the downslope side of the brush made his way carefully down the mountain taking care to keep the thick scrub always between him and the search party and keeping his head well down below the top of the brush-line. In this way he continued to the forest edge. He quickly stepped into the heavy shadow of a large tree. Gaius paused for a moment and looked back the way he had come. He could still hear the two guards calling to each other, and could still see some torch light up on the trail.

He certainly was not out of trouble yet, but he was armed again. Against that he was in severe pain from his arm and a deep flesh wound on his hand. If the archer's bulging purse held any promise at all, he might well have at least one meal while he was free, and the water bottle sloshing sounds indicated at least one more drink was available. Things were much better than they had been and he felt more confident than he had in many long months.

Gaius turned away from the shouting and the torchlight on the mountain above him. The fire seemed to have died, and he immediately sought out the deep shadows of the larger trees. He would move off until he was completely out of the area, then he would stop, and have something to eat and a drink. Then he would continue on until he felt that he was safe. He began to plan his trek further down the mountain and as far away from the mines and slave-pens as he could get.

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