At Days End
Everything went as planned. It appeared the priests felt their numbers gave them some protection and had not even bothered with more than one guard who, at that early hour, was fast asleep, sitting by a smouldering fire.
Great care was taken while they led the horses through the cavern. Once on the track outside, Kros and Grega set about dividing their goods between the horses, one was a little smaller than the rest and so they decided to give little Davi a chance to ride his own horse, the young boy was ecstatic at his windfall and that he was being treated as one of the group.
The four boys then led their horses up the narrow trail. The rest of the horses were set free and pushed in the direction of the valley down below, Kros was sure the smell of fresh water and fresher grass would keep the freed horses moving long enough to make it tough for the Priests to capture them. It would give the boys a good head start.
Kros led his little band to the top of the ridge line where he got them all mounted and turned their horses South. It was not the direction of the next hidden valley, but he had a promise to keep and the man he wanted to see was in this direction. Afterward they would have to turn back East to make it to the valley some five days away, the detour would take them two days. He only hoped they would have enough of a head start before the Priests found their mounts and tried to follow.
They rode fast for the full day, stopping only for a brief meal and then back on the horses again, when they found a place to camp for the night, Kros saw that little Davi was moving very tenderly as he rubbed his bruised butt, riding bareback had taken its toll of the smaller boy, it did not take long for all four of them to bed down and they were all asleep within minutes.
The first faint glow of morning found the boys all up and ready for the next day. It was Grega that came up with something to help little Davi and his sore butt, with a sharp knife and a lot of care, Grega cut a pad from the thick pelt they had used for a blanket and then fitted it on the horse with rope, once Davi was seated on the pad and found it comfortable to sit on, he was happy to get underway.
They rode steadily through the day until, late in the afternoon, Kros called them to halt. He then pointed to a cut in the high walls of the small canyon they were travelling in, Kros turned off and rode into the cutting with the boys following close behind, it was not deep and, at the very end of the canyon sat a small stone cabin. Outside stood an older man with a large rifle in his hands, its barrel pointed in their direction, in a gruff voice, he called out.
"Who you, what ya want?"
"It's me, Kros, got business with ya." Kros Replied.
"Come ahead, boy."
The man lowered the barrel a little but never let it point all the way to the ground at his feet; he had survived this long by not truly trusting anyone, even a small teen like Kros.
The four boys dismounted and stood in front of the large man, he was over six feet tall with a barrel chest. The boys could see the heavy black hair showing through his slightly dirty shirt, and he wore an old fashioned cowboy hat that had seen better days.
"So what you after, boy?"
"Trade and buy." Kros told him.
"I can't make no profit in trades."
"I think you will like the trade item, and I need a small gun for the boy, something he can handle with ease."
"Gonna cost ya, little stuff is hard to come by. What you got to trade?"
Kros turned to Danil and held his hand out for the large pistol they had taken from the dead Priest; he handed it over to the man and waited while he looked it over.
"Hmm, Smith and Wesson .44 only the black birds carry them, what you have to do to get this out of their hands, kill him?"
Kros just smiled and waited.
"Yup, thought so. It'd be the only way they would let one go, ok, boy, what you want for it?"
"Something lighter but with a good punch, it's too big for Danil."
"Hmm, ok, let's go inside and natter about this."
The man hefted the large rifle over one shoulder and led the way into the small cabin. Inside there was only the light from the open door, the boys looked around but could see no fire arms anywhere, the man gestured for them to take a seat on some ratty old chairs, he then walked to the fireplace and dug his fingers into a stone. Next, the boys watched as a section of the wall pulled back to reveal a large room, it was covered wall to wall and floor to ceiling with fire arms and large wooden boxes of ammunition.
After the man went to various shelves to look and touch, he finally came back with two automatics, one larger than the other, in his left hand he carried two holsters, one looked strange as it had so many straps hanging from it.
"Ok, boy, this here is a Glock 9mm, it'll suit the young fella. For the little one, this here is a Beretta .32 automatic, not much good a long way off, but if someone gets close to the boy he will surely sort them out. The Glock takes nine rounds and the Beretta seven, at close up, that's more than enough."
The man handed the two automatics to Kros to look over; he dry fired them and could see they were in good working order.
"So, what's the deal then?" Kros asked him.
"The Glock, a holster and fifty rounds of 9mm, I'll swap the .44 and you give me one silver; the Beretta, a shoulder rig and fifty rounds, five silver."
"Bit high, how about the 9mm and everything as a straight swap and three silver for the little one?"
"You trying to ruin me, boy? Tell you what, the 9mm and gear for the .44 and ten copper, the little .32 and gear for four silver."
"You know I don't have that sort of coin. I'm only a boy, after all, it's not easy to get that sort of coin, what I will do is go with the .44 swap and copper and you drop the little one to three silver and five coppers, I mean it's the little fella's first gun, you got to go easy on a boy at this time of his life."
"You trying to break my heart, boy?"
Kros waited pan faced as the man looked at the small figure of Davi, the light in the small boy's face said it all, with a heavy sigh, the man looked down at Davi and said,
"Ok, but this is the only time I cut my price for you. It's only cause it's the boys first gun, you got a deal, I suppose I have to show these green horns how to use them?"
"It would help; after all, they have to come back here for more bullets when they finish those ones."
"Maybe, maybe not, there's plenty of 9mm guns out there, but for the little .32 you will have to come back here, they're hard to get that size."
Kros and the man shook on the deal, and once the man helped Davi to fit the shoulder holster and shorten the straps to fit his small frame, he took the boys outside to teach them how to use and look after the new weapons, Danil had little trouble learning with the smaller and lighter gun, while Davi was so excited his hand was shaking too much to hit anything.
When finally the two boys had learnt all they could, Kros asked the man one more thing, "We got a rifle here, another one from the crows, you got any ammo that will fit it?"
"Let me see it?"
Grega un-slung the rifle from his shoulder and gave it to the man.
"Hmm, nice, those black crows know how to get the best for themselves; this here is a Webley .308, trans-scope, good for day or night if you have the batteries for it."
"How does the scope work at night?" Grega asked.
"See this base plate, see how it looks thicker than it need be, well you put a flat pack battery in there and switch it on at night, you can see almost good as day except for the green colour, this here scope was military, but not the rifle. Tell you what, you got the coin, I got two of those batteries left, they charge up in the sun so they last forever as long as you don't break them."
"How much?" Kros asked.
"Two silver and no barter, they is really rare so it's a take it or leave it deal."
Kros looked at the hopeful face on Grega, Kros had the silver, in fact he had plenty, but did not want the man to know about it. After a short time, Kros nodded his head.
"You got to show Grega how to, what you call it, re-charge, them and how to use them in the scope."
"Done; wait here."
The man turned away and went back inside the cabin. A minute later he returned with a small packet in his hand, he opened the packet and showed the boys the batteries, they were only about an inch wide and quite thin and were about as long as a finger, at one end were two round flat metal pins, on one side there was a fine patchwork of thin black squares and on one thin side a clear strip of what looked like glass or something similar.
The man took the rifle off Grega; he then angled it until Grega could see the base of the scope clearly.
"This little black button on the side, you just press, see it opens the flap at the back; now you take one of the batteries, make sure the + sign is on the left. All you do then is push it in and close the flap, now when you want to use it, just push this here white button on the top and you can see at night, these batteries need to be charged up. You put them out in the sun with this side up, so the panel can get the sunlight. On the side, here, is the charge it holds; red line means it has about ten minutes left, the orange line is one hour, if it shows full green then you have about seven hours of use, make sure you have a full charge battery at all times, when you take a used one out put it in the sun for half a day to re-charge, got that, boy?"
"Yes, Sir, and thank you for your help."
"No thanks needed, just my two silver, hey Kros, I see you give that boy your .22, mayhap I got something here for you to replace it with if you got the coin."
"What is it?"
"Almost brand new Marlin .222 with a four power Zeiss Ikon scope, best optics in the world, would give you a mid range rifle, you got the little .22 for close in and the .308 for long range, this Marlin will cover the ground in between. It's made with a compound stock so will be light enough for you to handle, eleven shot semi auto, so plenty of back up shots if you miss the first time. You can have it and one hundred rounds for ten silver."
Kros pretended to be shocked at the price, he did a quick calculation on his remaining coins and knew he still had enough with a little to spare, if he paid full price, but he had no intention of doing that, and the man knew it.
"Tell you what, I only got eight silver left, you give me two hundred rounds and the gun, and I will give you all eight silver that I have,"
"You drive a hard bargain, boy, you realise I don't make any profit at that price, tell you what, one hundred fifty rounds and nine silver?"
"Nah, I only got eight, I really would like it, but it's too much, guess I will have to go look for something else later. For now, we can get by with what we got. Thanks for the other stuff; you done good by the boys. Perhaps I will see you next time around.'
Kros gave him a heart broken look and held out his hand to seal the other deals before they left, the man looked at the proffered hand and gave a heavy sigh.
"Ok, you win; eight silver and two hundred rounds, wait here, I'll go get her."
Kros smiled at the man's back as he walked into the cabin once again. Kros knew the man wanted to sell the rifle. It was the type of gun that very few wanted as it was in the mid range, and most buyers either wanted long range or close up, he waited happily as the man returned and gave the rifle and four boxes of ammo to Kros.
The stock looked strange as it was coloured in different shades of green and brown, it also did not have the feel of wood like the others, but Kros found it to be light enough for him to carry. Opening his back pack, he stuffed the four small ammo boxes into it and slung the rifle over his shoulder.
"Is Eagle Creek still ok to use for target practice?"
"Yup, no one goes up that way anymore, you go ahead and use some of that ammo; I always got more where that comes from."
With a last hand shake all around, the boys mounted and Kros led them out of the narrow defile and into the main canyon; it would be a good ten minutes before they came to Eagle Creek where they could all try out their new weapons in peace.
The boys spent over an hour at Eagle Creek and used nearly a quarter of their ammo on targets. At the end of the session, Grega could hit the bull ten out of ten at a very long range, it took Kros nearly fifty rounds before he got used to the new rifle, but after that time he was back to his usual good shooting, Danil took nearly one hundred rounds to get used to the .22 and a further twenty rounds with the automatic to be able to hit the small target from twenty feet, little Davi used thirty rounds from ten feet before he was hitting his target reasonably well. All the boys were happy with their efforts as they left the creek and turned Eastward, it was time to make the long trek to the new valley.
Kros had determined that if they gave the old valley a few months to be forgotten, they could go back and rescue what stuff they'd had to leave behind, he knew that the next cabin was set up similarly to the old one, but in a larger valley and with a lot more wild life around for meat. He had never been there but had listened at night to the man he had killed, regale him with stories of how hard he had worked to make his valleys liveable. It was now all paying off and the sacrifice Kros made during his time with the man he felt was well worth it.
It was a long five days ride; all the boys were feeling the effects as they came in sight of the opening into a large wide canyon, it was little Davi who once again was feeling the worst of the ride, but he held up so the older boys would not think he was weak, even though his small butt was on fire every time he was jolted up and down on the horse's back, the soft pelt pad had helped, but the long ride did not give him enough time to recuperate.
Kros led them at a fast trot deep into the canyon; when he came to a narrow defile, he turned the horse into it and slowed his pace, there was little room on each side for the horse and rider combined; had they been full sized adults, they would have had to walk and lead their horses on foot.
The defile wound back and forth for over a mile until finally their new home came into view. It was a cabin built much along the same lines as the last one, but this one was a little bigger and made all of stone. There was no timber in any of the construction, it backed onto the side of the large valley wall, so there were only three fronts to defend should it be necessary.
Unlike the last cabin, this one had no defensive gate to stop intruders, only the very narrow defile would make it difficult for attackers to come in numbers, as Kros had not been here before, he had to rely on his fading stories from the dead man, there were strings with alarms fitted in the means of empty tin cans with small stones in them that could be strung across the defile at different points to act as an alarm. He had to go in search of those in the morning. For now, all they wanted to do was eat and sleep.
Kros opened the door with the same strange lock system as the old one. They unpacked the horses and released them to go for water and grass, once inside, the boys made a hurried meal and went straight to the two beds to sleep, just as the sun sank below the level of the steep cliff sides surrounding them.
When morning came, the boys were already at work. The sun was barely over the ridge top so far above them when Kros set the work for the day. Davi was set to finding as much deadfall wood as he could carry back to the cabin, Danil was sent to look over the state of the garden hidden to one side and under the cover of trees. Grega and Kros went back to the narrow defile to set a number of traps and deadfalls used in the defence of the valley when occupied. One was a rickety looking cradle high up the side of the almost vertical walls. It was filled with rocks, and if tripped, would fall on the attackers and partially block the defile, making it very difficult to pass without being an open target from the cabin.
The high trap had been made by the man Kros had spent time with, the trip rope was concealed under the soft sand of the floor of the defile, once set, it would take only a single step to set it off. Anyone underneath would be crushed, there was the added advantage of the defile being so narrow that no one could ride through with a horse. Any attackers would have to be on foot.
Next, Kros showed Grega where the alarms were, they were a series of empty tins with small stones in them. When the string was touched or cut, they would rattle loudly in the narrow confines and echo back to the valley. As a final defence, there was another large pile of rocks and boulders stacked over the entrance to the valley, once they were released, there would be no way to come or go into the valley except for one hidden escape route that Kros did not mention to the boys, it was a last resort, and if one of the boys were caught, he did not want them to reveal it.
When the two boys returned to the cabin, they found little Davi on his knees with a small rusty hatchet, busily chopping a large pile of branches and twigs for fire wood, he looked up at the two older boys and smiled with pride at the large wood pile he had collected. Both boys smiled and patted him on the head for a job well done, Danil was inside trying to keep busy, he had a number of vegetables in the large dish and was washing them as they walked in.
The vegetables, he told them, were not all that good, as they had not been tended for some time and most had just run wild, what little he had gathered would only be enough for two or three meals, Kros showed them the usual cellar under the table, there had been a lot of vegetables bottled and preserved, they would be alright for a while. In that time they hoped to restore the garden to some of its former production.
Grega decided to take off for a hunt, there were plenty of wild deer to take, as well as they had heard grunting from wild boar, there were also many types of wild birds seen. Kros set to cleaning the dust from everything, the one difference in this cabin was the large rough wooden cupboard standing to one side of the fire place, this held all the ammunition, where as the last cabin had a long low bench to hold it. Kros knew this was more than what it seemed but did no more than check through their stock of ammo and add what they had brought with them.
That night, as the boys sat around the table after dinner, Kros looked at Danil and the other two brothers.
"Your time is up, Danil, you kept your side of the bargain; you are free to leave whenever you want to. It's just a pity we did not have enough time to spend together with those damn black birds chasing us, but you did all I asked, you're free to leave."
The three brothers looked at each other, they really had nowhere to go; was Kros trying to get rid of them so he could stay safe by himself? Kros spoke up again.
"I'm going for a walk to check the traps and alarms, you got time to talk and decide what you want to do. You can stay if you want, but you got to do what I say if you do."
Kros walked out the door and into the dark night, the only light from the moon was a thinning band crescent of the last quarter. It was ample for what he had to do, Kros walked on towards the defile. He knew every position of the traps and alarms, the need for strong light was not one of his problems.
It was almost an hour before he returned to the cabin. Walking into the cabin, Kros saw the three boys sitting quietly, evidently waiting for his return. Kros raised one eyebrow and looked at Grega, as he was the elder brother.
"We want to stay with you; we don't have anywhere to go now with the Priests after us. We need you to help us stay alive, if that's ok with you?"
"OK, but if you stay, I'm the boss. I know things that you don't, so I don't have time for arguing if we have to move fast."
"Sounds fair, that's ok with us, uhm, Danil wants to ask you something."
"What?" Kros asked as he looked at Danil who was blushing slightly and trying to not look at little Davi.
"I was... well I was hoping; we could, well sort of, uhm, keep the same sleeping arrangements; that's if you want to?"
Kros spent time thinking over Danil's offer, inside he was smiling, but he did not want the boy to know that, after a minute or so he looked at Danil.
"Yep, sounds good to me; now we have to start to think about those black crows; those Knights will not give up easy. We have to think that they will try to follow us. If word gets out about what we did and they don't capture us to make an example, then there would be others that try the same thing against them. I think we're safe here for a while, but we have to stay alert."
The three brothers nodded in agreement. They did not want to fall into the Priests' hands again; it had been too close last time. After all was decided, the boys went to their beds. For the first time in many long days, Kros was feeling like playing and Danil had now more or less accepted his roll in Kros's bed, but with little Davi in the room with them, they would have to be as quiet as possible and also wait until the smaller boy was asleep.
With his better hearing, Kros knew exactly when the other two boys were asleep; wasting no time, he began to push his butt back against the hard protuberance behind him, it did not take long for Danil to get the hint. Within seconds they were both naked below the waist and Danil, after using a little spit, was trying to get entrance into the hot waiting hole in front of him. Kros helped by trying to open up and push back at the same time.
For the next ten minutes there was the soft sounds of muffled grunts and moans as Danil went to work with all he had. Kros just let the feelings overwhelm him as Danil sped up like a piston until he stopped all of a sudden and held himself deep inside Kros. The pulsing throb told Kros he was getting all Danil had to offer; a deep warmth came over Kros as he felt himself release his own hot juice onto the bed, Danil lay on top of him for a long time just revelling in the feel of the hot flesh underneath him. Kros was just as happy to stay and sleep with the full feeling he now had. The weight of Danil was of little concern in his present mood; slowly the boys' eyes closed, when they awoke in the morning they found they were still joined. A quick glance at the other bed and they felt they had time for one more before rising for breakfast.
For the next ten days, the boys worked to improve the valley, almost every night Danil and Kros enjoyed each other, and in the mornings, Grega would give them a look that said he knew what was going on, but his main concern was for little Davi, as yet the younger boy had not caught on to what Danil and Kros were doing at night. It would be revealed eventually but that could not be avoided, if that time came then they would discuss it.
On the morning of the eleventh day, Kros decided to take one of the horses and ride back along their route to check for any followers, he had assumed that it would take the Priests at least that long to pick up their trail if they were going to continue to chase the boys, taking his new rifle with him, Kros told the boys to stay alert and to be armed at all times, he also suggested that Danil or Grega start to teach Davi how to fire the .22, they had a large supply of ammunition for that one and he may be big enough to handle the smaller rifle in an emergency.
Kros led the horse out of the valley to the far off muffled shots of the .22. As he went down the defile, he disarmed the traps and deadfall. He would rearm them as he returned. If he came back in a hurry he did not want to trip one by mistake.
Kros backtracked for over an hour before he found a place high enough to be able to look far back along their cold trail, it didn't take long for him to see the small black dots in the far distance, "damn" he swore softly to himself, they had found their trail. He could not see them in much detail, but he was sure there were more of them than last time and he could not see if there were any dogs with them, if no dogs, then how did they find their trail, it was something to think on as he rode back towards the valley.
Staying to hard packed ground and stony outcrops as much as he could, Kros made it back to the entrance of the defile, Kros estimated that the chasing Priests would not be here until at least the middle of the following day; they had plenty of time to get ready once again. Kros went to resetting all the alarms and the two large deadfalls, he would ride out early the next morning before the sun rose to check on the Priests' progress.
When Kros returned to the cabin, the boys were in the middle of preparing a large meal for them all. Kros related what he had seen and then began to issue orders for the next day. The three brothers listened carefully as he outlined his plan. This time he was going to take some of the fight to the Priests, he was getting tired of being chased, it was time to make something of a stand. With luck, it might stop the Priests from continuing their designs.
The next morning, a full hour before the sunrise, Kros left on foot. He could not take the chance of using a horse; he was much more nimble on his own feet, and he would be able to avoid all the traps and alarms without un-setting them. Once clear of the defile, Kros turned in the direction he had last seen the larger group of Priests. In his loping run he started out in the dark, he did not have to go very far to see the faint glow of a fire in the last of the night's darkness, in a few minutes the first pale greys of the new day would begin to appear, Kros wanted to be in place long before that happened.
Kros clasped the new rifle in his hands as he slipped over the small rise to one side of the camp. The fire had burned down and the shadowy figure of the guard could be seen huddled over the last warmth of the embers. Kros took the rifle up to his shoulder and got ready to make some noise. He knew he could reload on the run, he had been practising it for the last eleven days, it paid to be ready for anything in these times.
As the guard's head nodded, it showed Kros he was nearly asleep. Kros looked through the scope and centred the guard's head in the red cross-hairs. Kros slowly squeezed the trigger; The sound of the shot echoed in the morning stillness as the guard toppled over and into the fire, ignoring the guard's demise, Kros began to fire quickly into the tents at a height he guessed would be where the beds were, he was not trying to hit anyone, if he did, then it was a bonus, all he was trying to do was cause as much confusion as possible while he snuck away in the ensuing uproar.
As the last shot left the rifle, Kros saw the many horses tied to a long rope not too far from where he lay, changing his plan at the last minute, Kros rose and sprinted for the horse line, with a quick slash of his large knife, he freed the horses, a loud yell and they ran off at a gallop, the sound of the earlier shooting had spooked them and they needed no more incentive to get away. As they thundered away, Kros ran back up the rise and disappeared into the morning gloom just as the first of the Priestly Knights broke from his tent. He did not see the small figure disappearing into the dawn light.
As Kros loped along towards the defile, he reloaded his rifle. He knew he had stirred up a hornet's nest but was sure they would take a little time to get re-organised and follow him. If they stopped to chase their horses, it would take longer, but he was not about to rely on that fact. The Priests had lost another man; they would not be in the mood to wait, and that was the basis of his plan.
Kros came to the last gentle rise before the defile. As he went over the top, he slid back to the ground and lay with only his head barely showing over the top. In the long grass he was almost impossible to see. He lay and waited, his rifle to his shoulder and his eyes on his back trail.
It was a full ten minutes before he saw the first of the men trying to track him. They both wore green clothes and were busy watching the ground in front of them, the Priests had bought human trackers, they must have realised the dogs were no good now. Behind the two trackers was a long line of Priests. There were now more than thirty of them, and among them were now five with the red cross of Knights. Kros almost smiled. The Priests certainly wanted their hides.
As the long line of Priests made it to the base of the next rise, Kros opened fire with three shots, two of the Priests fell to the ground grasping their chests; They were dead before they hit the ground, the third was lucky, just as Kros fired at him, he tripped and Kros's shot took him in the shoulder. It was not a kill, but the Priests would not be able to continue with the fight.
As the first answering shots went over his head, Kros slid back and then rose to his feet and ran for a rocky ledge to the left of the defile. He hoped Grega was in place as he had told him to be, with a burst of speed, Kros made it to the rocks and then scrambled on his hands and knees in the direction of the defile opening, the mass of loose rocks and boulders hiding his progress from the Priests who were just now getting to the top of the last ridge below him.
Kros scrambled down behind a pile of rocks, just five feet above where Grega lay, behind another pile, in the mouth of the defile. The distance to the Priests was now at the very edge of his rifle's range for true accuracy, it would be up to Grega with the larger rifle to startle the Priests. He had tried to impress on Grega the importance of killing the Priests, even if it was against all the boy knew. Kros told him that every Priest that escaped was a very real danger to his two brothers. Kros hoped this would be enough incentive to make Grega shoot for the kill, they could not afford for one single Priest to make it to the other two boys in the cabin.
While Grega was lining up on the long row of Priests, Kros was watching the two trackers. He had told Grega to try for the Knights if he could get a good shot. If not, then do as much damage as he could before retreating back down the defile, making sure he did not trip the last deadfall or they would both be in trouble.
Kros waited as the trackers moved into his range. They were following his foot prints, just as he hoped. It would take them away from the defile, but closer to where Kros waited. The two trackers came nicely into range just as Grega opened fire, as Kros had asked, the first three shots were aimed at the Knights of the Red Cross. The first one had his left leg shot out from under him. As he toppled into the grass, trying to stem the flow of blood, Grega fired off two more rounds, both of which were successful. He watched as two more Knights fell clutching their chests.
For the next five minutes Grega tried to hit the now small targets that had gone to ground, with only small heads to sight on, he only got two more for the price of seven shots, but now they were firing back and his little bank of rocks was being peppered with bullets ricocheting around the defile.
In the mean time, Kros had taken care of the two trackers, they did not even know they were dead until they fell on their faces at the edge of the stony ground. Kros yelled for Grega to start making his way back down the defile, he wanted both of them out of there before the remaining Priests got bold enough to make a charge at them.
Grega scurried backwards until he could stand and run, he had to keep his eyes on the ground so he would not trip any of the alarms and especially not the deadfall at the end of the defile. He could hear the softer steps of Kros close behind him as he ran. As both boys made it to the end of the defile, Kros waved Grega on towards the cabin as he himself checked the setting of the deadfall, it would not be good if it failed to trip now.
As Grega made it to the cabin, Kros hunkered down behind a prearranged placement of thick tree trunks, cut long ago for just such an occasion. The boys now had an open field of fire. Grega with the longer ranged rifle from the protection of the cabin, Kros from behind the log barricade, although, for him to make it safe to the cabin, he would be exposed, the thought never entered his head as he waited and listened for the incoming Priests.
As he waited, Kros went over their plan and what had already happened. So far, everything was as it should be. He was now in a position to hold up the Priests indefinitely, or until he ran out of ammunition, the narrowness of the defile meant the Priests could now only attack in single file.
Kros drew in a few deep breaths as he calmed his once racing heart, laying the new rifle on top of the log barricade, he sighted down the defile, he could see as far as the second bend, from where Grega was, inside the cabin, he could only see as far as the last bend, it would be his job to cover Kros's retreat to the cabin when the time came. Until then, he would stay out of the fight so the Priests did not realise he was there.
Kros waited patiently. It was nothing new for him to have such enduring patience; it's what had kept him alive this long. As he rested, he occasionally looked down the scope to check the defile just in case the Priests managed to avoid the alarms. The sudden sound of loud tinkling told him they had not. Kros readied himself for what was to come.
Kros watched the far bend for the first indication of movement. Another alarm sounded. They were now close to where he could start to take action. Unknown to the Priests, the narrow defile also acted as an echo chamber, and so, when they started to talk to each other about watching for more alarms, it was almost like whispering straight into Kros's ears. He snuggled the rifle tighter into his shoulder.
The first Priest put his head around the corner for a quick look and then drew back. Kros let a small smile cross his lips as he watched and waited, after a quick whisper behind him, the first Priest slunk around the corner, his rifle at the ready and his eyes roaming all over the sides of the defile, looking for more alarms. When he was five steps from the cover of the bend, Kros fired.
The Priest's head was thrown back as he was hit; his body then flipped backwards and the rifle went flying from his hands as he hit the dry sand of the defiles bottom. From behind the bend, Kros heard what sounded like a curse, then another Priest came running as fast as he could around the corner. He was firing wildly with the rifle at his hip.
From his barricade, Kros smiled again as he pulled the trigger once again, the Priest fell forward onto his face, he was only two or three paces past his dead comrade, from the cover of the bend came another curse and then silence. Kros waited with eyes glued to the second bend.
It had only taken the loss of two men for the Priests to realise they could not advance as they were. It would take something else to get past this new death trap that the narrow defile created, Kros waited and watched. Now was not the time to let his mind wander. One mistake and he would be dead meat and the Priests would have a chance at the cabin.
Kros saw a head glance around the bend then pull back again. He lined up his sights where he had seen the head appear, he would only have a split second for the next shot, it caught him almost by surprise as one of the Priests suddenly stepped out from the bend and drew back his arm, in that split second, Kros saw something small, round and black in the Priests hand, instinct alone made him fire, as the man toppled forward, the small round thing in his hand fell free and rolled along the ground towards Kros.
Something inside Kros told him to get his head down although the black ball was some distance away, he had just got his head down when the enormous sound of the explosion filled the narrow defile, as dirt, stones and small flying pieces of hot metal fell around him, Kros shook his head and bravely glanced over the barricade, not realising he could be taking his life in his hands with that single gesture.
All Kros could now see was the defile filled with a thick cloud of dust and smoke. Whatever the Priests had used, Kros did not want one to land any closer. He decided now was a good time to get out of there, as the cloud of dust and smoke would cover his retreat, waving his arm at the cabin, to let Grega know he was coming, Kros jumped to his feet in a crouch and made off to the left of the opening so as to make sure Grega had a clear sight into the defile.
Running as fast as his slender but strong legs would allow him, Kros soon made it to the door of the cabin where Davi stood with the door open for him, what worried Kros now was this new thing the Priests were using that could cause such a large destruction from something so small as a black ball, they would have to be very careful not to let any Priest get close enough to throw one into the cabin, it would be the end of all of them if this happened.
Once inside, Kros double barred the door and then went to take up a place beside Grega at the wide shutter covered window, Kros removed the length of log that gave him a peep hole to fire through, just as Grega had done. It was now time to get the two other brothers started on their escape plan, in case the Priests got too close and were able to make use of the new weapon they had.
"Danil, I want you and Davi to go to the large cabinet by the fireplace, and start to take all the ammunition off the second shelf and put it into one of our packs, call me when it's done." Kros told the two brothers as he watched along with Grega at the thin trail of smoke and debris still coming from the mouth of the defile, it would be a good chance for the Priests to try to come through.
Through his scope, Kros looked carefully at the set up for the deadfall. Everything looked right, it would only take one Priest to trip over the concealed wire and the rocks would come down crushing those below and causing a blockage the rest would have to take a long time in clearing to get past.
Kros was not about to take it for granted that the deadfall would work instantly, they may get two or three Priests past the mouth of the defile before one of them tripped the wire. In the meantime, they would have to keep up an accurate rate of fire to keep them from entering and getting close enough to use this new weapon.
Kros listened as the two boys worked behind him, it took ten minutes before everything was clear of the second shelf, Kros glanced over his shoulder as Danil stood up. Both boys' faces were running with sweat, there had been a lot of boxes on the shelf that now filled two packs on the floor.
"Danil, look on the right side of the shelf, can you see where the board doesn't quite fit the end of the shelf?" Kros waited for Danil to look closer at the shelf.
"Yes, I see it." The boy answered.
"Take your knife and push the blade into the crack and push hard, you should hear a click."
Danil did as he was asked. When he heard the sound of a loud click, he turned back to Kros.
"Now, just push hard on the shelf, it will swing open. Once it's open, start to put all of the ammunition that's left on the shelves inside the hole, when that's done, take Davi with you and go down to the cellar and start getting enough food for us to carry." As he finished giving his instructions, Kros heard the loud boom of Grega's rifle, he turned back to his slot just in time to see the dusty figure of a Priest tumble to the ground.
Kros now concentrated on the entrance to the defile as he heard the two younger boys working behind him. They may not need these precautions, but Kros was not going to take any chances. Whatever that new weapon was, he did not like it. only one of them coming inside the cabin, or even just close to the walls, could kill them all or at the least, injure them beyond being able to defend themselves.
Kros saw the dark outline of someone trying to come through the last of the dust cloud. The heavy boom of Grega's rifle was heard an instant before he fired. The dark figure tumbled to the ground just past the opening, from behind the body suddenly came a fusillade of fire. The dull thunk of bullets hitting the wooden shutters and the whine of ricochets off the stone walls of the cabin told the boys they were now in for a fight.
The heavy pressure of the incoming fire sounded like rain on a roof as the Priests tried to make a way for them to get closer to the cabin where their targets were hiding, as Grega fired until he was empty, Kros waited, when Grega stopped to reload, Kros began to fire. They could not afford to both be empty at the same time. Behind the two boys, Kros could hear Danil and Davi working as fast as they could.
Four of the Priests had now made it through the opening and were hiding behind the barricade that Kros had used earlier. From there, they kept up a steady rate of fire at the cabin, but the sturdiness of its construction gave the Priests very little to hit, Grega and Kros kept up a steady rate of fire, to keep the Priests from getting closer. It would be at nightfall that they might have trouble. Even with the fancy new night scope, Kros knew he could not keep them all from getting in. he had to think of something else.
As yet, not one of the Priests had got close to the wire to set off the deadfall, they would have to leave the protection of the barricade to reach it, Kros decided to take a chance and slow their own rate of fire in the hope one or more of the Priests would venture to come towards the cabin.
Kros thought only of the threat of those little black balls, he could not let them get close enough to throw anything, but he had to let one of them set off the deadfall to block the path in, Kros glanced behind him to see that Danil and Davi, now both sweating heavily from their exertions, had finally finished what they had to do. Kros decided it was time.
"Danil, take your brother and as much stuff as you can carry and put it into the shaft, I'll come and help you in a minute."
The two sweating boys only nodded and started to carry or drag the small pile of equipment into the dark hole behind the cupboard as Kros outlined his plan to Grega.
"The tunnel goes right through the cliff and comes out on the far side, we will have to leave the horses, but it will give us a long start before they find out about us not being here, your brothers can start now, and take as much as they can to the far end. If you can keep the Priests off us, with luck, they will trip the deadfall and block most of them out, but we have to watch for any of them trying to get close enough to throw a small black ball. Can you keep them at a distance while I help the others?"
"Yep, but leave your rifle here, fully loaded while you're down there with the boys, I'm not going to be able to reload without leaving them time to get close."
Kros nodded and checked that his rifle was fully loaded. He then waited for Grega to reload so that he had both guns ready. The gunfire from outside had eased off and each side was now at a stalemate. Kros pointed out where the deadfall trigger was and told Grega to let at least one Priest come forward, in the hope of tripping it, if he didn't, then shoot him and let another try, if they did hit the trigger, then they would both try to finish off the ones left inside.
With Grega now ready, Kros left his slot and went to help the other two. They were already pulling two of the heavier packs filled with ammunition, Kros lifted one of the food bundles and the two large sleeping pelts and followed the boys inside the dark hole, the light inside was more of a dim grey as light from the far end showed where the exit was. It was about two hundred yards to the end and the tunnel was only four feet wide and five feet high, some of the tunnel was natural, but some had been cut out by hand to enlarge the more narrow parts.
As they reached the exit, Kros heard the boom of Grega's rifle, which sent an echo along the narrow tunnel. The three boys dropped their loads at the exit. Next, Kros looked at little Davi and smiled.
"Davi, I have a very special job for you. You will have to stay here and guard our things. Can you use Danil's rifle, yet?"
"Well, sort of, but I'm not very good. It's too big for me."
"Well, you keep it here while we go back for more things; you have your pistol so you can guard it all with that, ok?"
A look of pride came over Davi's face as he took in the fact he was being trusted with such a vital part of their escape, little did he know that it was Kros's way of making sure the little boy was not in harm's way, in case the Priests managed to get close enough to throw one of the black balls.
Kros and Danil left Davi standing at the exit with is small Berretta in his hand, a look of determination on his young face. Both boys smiled at each other as they ran crouching back to get more supplies, the steady deep boom of Grega's rifle still coming from ahead.
Kros went to Grega's side as he lowered the now empty rifle and took up Kros's lighter one; Kros went about reloading the heavy rifle as Danil started to carry more supplies into the hidden tunnel.
"Let them start to move in. We will wait to see if they trip the deadfall. If they miss it, we will have to get them quick before they get close enough to throw anything at us."
Kros and Grega watched as they stopped firing, it took a few minutes before they saw a single head show over the top of the barricade. They held their fire, but kept watch through their scopes as slowly the Priest lifted his head higher with no shots fired at him.
It was another minute before the Priest felt safe enough to stand up from the barricade. He was still wary, but with no more shots coming from the cabin, he got a sudden boost of confidence; Possibly the object of their hunt had run out of ammunition. He took a single step out from the barricade and looked long and hard at the silent cabin. Still nothing from the solidly built structure, he grew more bold and stepped forward again.
Kros and Grega watched the Priest as he slowly moved towards them, as far as they could see, he only carried his rifle in his hands, it was held across his chest at the ready for any sign of movement from the small stone cabin. behind him, three more Priests ducked through the opening of the defile and hid behind the solid barricade as they watched one of their black clothed brothers move into the open.
The solitary Priest stepped forward one more step, as he hit the wire trigger, he stopped, and with a shocked look on his face, he glanced down at his feet, at that moment, there came a deep rumbling sound behind him, as he turned to see what the loud noise was, Grega fired. The Priest sank to the ground silently, his face a bloody mess, while at the opening of the defile, the rocks tumbled down to drown out the anguished cries of crushed and dying men.
It was a very sombre moment, but Kros could not help smiling at Grega as the defile filled with rocks and debris. They now only had about seven Priests hiding behind the barricade to contend with, unfortunately for them, two of those Priests were Knights of the Red Cross. The first sign that they were in trouble came as two small black balls came flying through the air towards the cabin.
The distance was far too great to do any damage, but the effect on the two boys was very real, as the loud explosions filled the valley and dust, smoke and other debris took flight, the boys involuntarily ducked, they were just in time to lift their heads and hear the loud yells of the oncoming Priests. This was not good. The two huge explosions had given the remaining Priests the chance they had waited for. While the boys were ducking from the sudden explosions, the Priests had taken the chance to charge behind the cover of the smoke and dust. It was time to move, and move quick.
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