At Days End
Kros and Grega stopped long enough to do one final check of their equipment. Kros also carried, apart from the obvious rifle and side arm, his combat knife on his left side, the double barrelled shot gun tucked into his pack and the small pistol in his jacket pocket. Their food was limited to three days of bread and dried meat.
Kros had also added extra dried meat in his pack, along with a small bottle of green pills that had been stored in the cellar of the cabin, he had not used them before, but the man he had spent time with had told him about what the pills could do if they were ever needed, the label on the small plastic bottle had long since rubbed off and the bottle itself was scratched and faded
Once checked, the boys turned towards the barrier gateway, by now the sun was low. It was the right time to make a start. Danil and Davi were ensconced on top of the rim and would keep watch over their home while the other two would take to the sandy wastes and work their way around the mesa and black mountain.
Once outside the barrier and emerging from the narrow defile, Kros and Grega set their faces towards where the enemy were camped, tonight they would walk or trot to a place they could safely lay an ambush for one of the search parties. The two boys discussed their strategy as they moved.
Kros had the suppressor fitted to his new rifle; he would take up a place closer to where they thought the searchers may go. Grega would stay further back as cover for Kros if he had to retreat in a hurry, a possibility that was almost a certainty.
They had talked over the most pressing part of their ambush; it was to take out the dogs or their handlers at the first opportunity. Without the aide of the dogs and trackers, the Priests would lack the tracking abilities and the boys would have a freer rein.
The two boys had walked or trotted until midnight before they picked up the scent of wood smoke. In the distance, they could just make out the faint glow of several dying fires. The camp was now no more than an hour's run from them; it was time to start to make preparations for the next day's fight.
Kros and Grega sat down with their backs to the high cliff of the black mountain. As Grega began to chew on some smoked meat and swig from a bottle of water, Kros took some of the extra meat from his pack and soaked it for a short time in a little water, until it was rehydrated, once it was a little softer, he took his knife and cut several slits into the side of the thick cut of meat. Once completed, he slipped three of the small green pills, one in each slit, into the meat. Once he had eight pieces done, he wrapped them in a piece of deer skin and placed them back in his pack for later.
Although the two boys could not see any of their foot prints in the dark, they hoped that they had been careful enough not to leave any to be followed. They had stayed as close to the cliffs all the way where the going was solid rock and shale. It would not cover their scent, but they hoped it would give them the time they would need to at least perform the first part of their plan.
The boys dozed for a few hours, and then were up and moving two hours before sun rise. When they were closer to the camp, Grega took up a position that was well hidden and well protected, while Kros took off towards the camp in his long loping stride. With luck, he would be close to the camp site within half an hour and would then have at least one more hour of dark to get back to Grega.
Kros quietly made his way as close to the camp as he dared. In the darkness, lit only by a half moon, he crouched down and looked into the camp. Most of it was blurred by the darkness, but he could make out the dim figures of sleeping men around the dying embers of the cooking fires, there was a distinct chill in the early morning air. As he slowly crawled closer, Kros heard the first soft, deep throaty growl of a dog warning. Kros immediately went to the ground on his stomach.
With the soft growl still in his ears, Kros crawled backwards and away from the camp. Once he thought he was clear enough, he slid his pack off his shoulders and searched blindly with his hands for the deer skin bundle. Once he had it unwrapped, he began to move on hands and knees in a half circle around the camp, leaving one piece of dried meat in each of eight spots at about ten feet apart. His next part was to be very tricky and would take all of his long learnt skills.
With the meat traps laid, Kros moved through the dark towards where he thought the two upper lookouts were. He knew they would be difficult to see in the dark, but with the aide of his scope, he was certain, that given time and his superior eye sight in the dark, he would eventually spot them, he only hoped it would be in time to have space to get back to Grega.
The night around him was strangely silent, none of the usual night sounds could be heard, even the crickets had gone to ground as though they knew something terrible was about to happen.
Kros surmised that he had a little over an hour before the first hint of light would show in the dark sky. With the consummate ease of long practice and the lessons learnt from being alone in a wild land, Kros made his way to a place as close to where he thought the two upper guards may be positioned.
It took less time than he thought he would need, as he lay in the soft sand a little out from the towering cliff of black shiny stones. Kros's sharp eyes saw a very faint glow on the hillside a little distance along from where he lay, and high enough up the cliff for the two guards to be sitting.
Kros brought his rifle up to his shoulder and scanned along the mountain side. At first he saw little but dark shadowy shapes in the early morning darkness, and then, again the faint glow which seemed to start out as little more than a spark then grow into a stronger glow. Kros smiled to himself as the answer came to him; one of the guards was smoking a pipe; it was all he needed to fix their position.
Kros began to move to a better angle, in a few minutes, he could now see the two guards, one was sitting under a low bush with a pipe in his mouth, while the other was leaning back against a large black rock, his head on his chest as though asleep. It was perfect. Kros began to settle his scope on the smoker, the other would not be aware of his shot until far too late. With the aide of the suppressor, even the guard should not hear it.
Kros lined up the dark patch just above where the softly glowing pipe could be seen. He could not make out the features of the Priest, but the dark outline of his head would be enough at this range. Kros squeezed the trigger and felt the sharp recoil along with the louder cough of the cartridge as it fired. Through his scope, Kros watched as the pipe fell to the ground and the guard slumped without a sound towards the ground. Not waiting for anything else, Kros lined up on the sleeper just as the Priest began to lift his head, it was enough for Kros. The rifle coughed once again, and the second guard slipped silently sideways. It was time to get out and make his way back to where Grega waited for him. The first part of their plan had been accomplished.
Even though Kros had a good sense of time and distance as well as his sharper eye sight, he almost missed Grega. Even though it was now starting to get the first faint hint of daylight in the sky, it was only a very soft hiss that alerted Kros to where Grega lay hidden.
Greg had not spent his time idly sitting around waiting; he had used it wisely and constructed a good hide for the two boys, it was a shallow hollow, close into the side of the cliff and he'd partially dug under it, with the excess sand being used to build it up at the front so you would have to be standing right on top of it to make it out, from even a short distance. There was nothing there but a low pile of loose sand and the towering cliff face.
Kros checked for any foot prints as he jumped over the sand pile and landed beside the smiling Grega. Both boys were now under the base of the cliff, and tucked back a little underneath it where Grega had excavated the hollow. Kros smiled at Grega and removed his pack for comfort. They would spend most of the next day here as long as they were not found out in the furore that was sure to erupt later in the morning.
Kros and Grega did not get to see the results of Kros's foray, but they were told later, by Danil, of the events that morning, as the two boys, after eating and settling down to doze for a couple of hours, were almost asleep, they heard far off in the distance, what sounded like a dog fight. The yaps and loud barks carried to their ears in the still morning air. Kros looked at Grega's enquiring eyes and smiled.
Danil, after they returned to their canyon, days later, was to relate to them the uproar in the camp as the sun rose that morning.
"It was like a big circus. First the dogs started to bark and pull on their lead ropes until the owners let them free, like four legged bullets, they all took off to just outside the camp site, once there, they started to fight amongst themselves, as each dog won, he would take something from the ground and the others would run off to another place, and it would start all over again. It took me a while to make out that they were all eating something. When they finished whatever it was, they ran back to their owners and started to lap up water set out for them, and eat some more." Danil paused at this point to get his breath, he then continued.
"The rest of the camp paid little attention to what the dogs were doing, except the owners, but the dogs would not listen to them until they had finished whatever it was they were doing. Then the shit really hit. One of the Knights called for the two guards to come down for breakfast. I could see the guards asleep by a bush, but even after the Knights yelled really loudly, the two didn't move, so they sent another Priest up to wake them. That's when it got really interesting. The two guards were dead. All the other Priests ran for their guns and started to look all around. the handlers also were looking afraid. Then the first of the dogs started to be sick, five minutes later, and all the dogs were really ill. It was only about ten minutes after that that the dogs just fell over and foamed a lot at the mouth, then lay still. The camp was now in a real uproar; the Priests were all running around, the handlers looked to be almost crying, it was a real mad house. It took me a little while to realise that you two must have raided the camp during the night. Davi and I had a real giggle over what was going on. They looked like a lot of chickens with no heads."
"When they all got settled back again, one of the Knights stood and started to give orders. The handlers shook their heads and started to bury all the dogs. It appeared that the handlers did not want any more part of what the Priests were doing, so they must have been told to stay and guard the camp while the Priests went out to look for you. After all the Priests got their horses, they broke up into their groups of eight. They then spread out in different directions and began to search for you. That's all we saw that day, except for the handlers guarding the camp and they seemed to look very nervous for the whole day."
Kros and Grega managed to get quite a bit of sleep. As always, Kros slept with one ear to the ground, in case they were approached too closely. This was the time all his knowledge would be needed to keep them both safe. The two boys had set their target for the next night and would need as much rest as they could get during the day, as long as they were not disturbed by the searching Priests.
The first indication of the Priests search came just after midday for the two sleeping boys. It was Kros's sharp hearing that heard the horses in the soft sand not far from where they lay in hiding. Being very careful not to make any sounds, Kros nudged the sleeping form of Grega next to him. As Grega awoke, he saw Kros with his finger up to his lips in the gesture of silence, Grega, too, soon heard the horses, now closer to their hiding place.
Much to the surprise of the two boys, the eight Priests seemed to be grumbling about not seeing anything all morning. As they neared where the boys lay, one called for a break in their search. All agreed willingly. It had been a fruitless day so far, those that had attacked their camp in the night had not left a sign they could find. The Priests knew they had to be around, but there was just no sign of them, they were like ghosts, and these hot burning wastes did not leave the Priests in a good humour.
By the sound of the Priests' voices, they stopped no more than fifty yards from where the boys lay, by the sounds coming to Kros and Grega, the men were stopping to eat and rest, Kros took a handful of sand and rubbed it into his hair, once done, he slowly and carefully lifted his head until just his eyes broke over the pile of sand in front of their hideaway.
His scan took no more than thirty seconds before he shrank back down beside Grega, in a soft whisper he related what he had seen. All the Priests were looking out towards the wastes and not one of them was looking at the cliffs, for now, the boys were safe, as long as they stayed down and very quiet, which is exactly what they did. Two hours later and they heard the Priests move off along the cliff. Another hour passed and the group came back along the same path they had made, but this time they were heading towards their camp site. Both boys breathed a sigh of relief. They still had a couple of hours before they could move out and start on their next plan of attack.
In the last rays of light, the boys checked over their weapons to make sure no sand had got into anything important, the plan for the night was to put as many of the Priests on foot as they could. Without the dogs to warn the camp, they stood a good chance of at least getting some of the horses. It would not be easy, as there was a very good chance the horses would be spread out and well guarded, but for every Priest they put on foot, it was one less they had hunting them.
It was full night by the time they got close to the camp. It was still a good five minutes away, but they could see the fires and the shadows of the Priests around them. They had built the fires up higher. It was obvious they were not happy with their position. The boys stayed in the dark and watched. Their target tonight would be the horses. they knew they could not hope to get them all. There were just far too many for two boys to handle, and at the same time stay quiet.
They lay and watched as the night drew in. The faint light from the half moon helped them to see the layout. By the way the horses were set out, the Priests had learned from past experience that they could not take chances with their animals. The horses were set out in five lines. A stake was driven into the ground and a rope tied between each end with the horses unsaddled and tied at intervals along it. There was a fire going that lit up most of the area, except the two outer lines, they were in partial darkness. Around the fire, sat or stood four of the handlers. It looked as though they had been relegated to nothing more than camp guards.
Kros began to whisper quietly to Grega on what they should do and when to do it. Grega nodded his assent and they settled deeper into the sand to wait. They did not need to worry about their tracks back to the camp. They had simply trotted along in the prints left by the Priests' horses earlier that day. Unless the Priests had an experienced tracker, they would never be able to tell the difference.
The night moved on. Kros and Grega watched the fire grow smaller as the guards on the horses began to tire in the silent night. It was now early in the morning, and all but one of the guards were now laying asleep around the embers. The single guard was hunched over the fire for warmth as the desert sands grew colder and colder. Kros nodded to Grega; both boys began to move silently on their stomachs towards the lines of horses. Their objectives were the two outside lines. if the opportunity arose, they would try to at least release the other three lines, so those could have the chance to scatter in the darkness.
Kros went for the three closest lines; hopefully he could cut them all free while Grega took hold of the last two, which were now almost in total darkness as the fire had grown to a small pile of embers. As he crawled closer, Kros heard the soft sounds of gentle snoring. He smiled to himself as he realized the last guard had also dropped off.
Ten minutes later, and all three close in lines had been cut. Each horse had also been freed from the long holding line. Kros went in search of Grega who had silently led the two ropes of eight horses on the outer strings to a safe distance. Kros had little difficulty finding him in the dark as the long string of horses stood out even in the dark night.
Kros jumped onto one of the lead horses and took up the rope offered by Grega; both of them now had a string of eight, all the others were milling around, now loose from their own ground ropes, Kros nodded to Grega as he took his sidearm from its holster. Grega doing the same, with a loud yell, both boys fired shots into the air, and dug their heels into their new horse, with the wild whooping and fast fired shots echoing in the still night, the loose horses startled and ran off into the dark as the two boys took off towards the far off canyon of their first home. Behind them, they heard the first loud shouts of the sleeping camp. Keeping their heads low, they spurred their own horses to more speed, those tied behind them could only follow along.
The ride was hard and fast, as they drew closer to the canyon, the boys slowed their horses to a trot. They were all blowing hard and the boys did not want them to drop dead. Not long before first light, the narrow cleft showed in the dim light, with the horses now settled down after their hard ride, they trotted quietly into the defile, they would have to pull out the large bush once again, to get their prizes into the valley. There would be enough water for them, but feed would have to be cut from the other valley and brought through the small passage. The extra horses would take a lot of looking after, but it deprived the Priests of their use.
The boys had no idea how far the other horses would scatter, hopefully a long way. The Priests would have little option but to try to track them down as they were now all afoot and would need what horses they could find to get out of the wastes alive, Kros did not think that the Priests would have the stamina or the knowledge that Kros had in surviving in the bad lands.
By the time the sun was two hours old, all the captured horses were inside the canyon, Kros and Grega were working on the large bush to put it back in front of the gate. Once this was done, and the gate closed and locked, the two boys ran for the end of the valley as the horses drank from the small pond by the cabin.
After wriggling through the small crack and into the new valley, Kros and Grega set about cooking some hot food, the first in over two days. They did not forget the two boys up on top of the ridge. after eating their fill, they packaged up a large amount and Kros set off on a fresh horse for the ridge top to feed Danil and Davi. He also took with him an extra skin of fresh water.
While Kros was gone, Grega set about cutting the long grass close to the cabin, he soon found it was going to take a long time to get enough for sixteen horses and so sat down to think things over, there had to be a better way to cut a large quantity without so much effort, spying the length of steel they had used as a stone cutter, Grega built up the fire until it had a pile of hot coals, he then lay the length of steel in the coals and watched as it began to heat up.
It took some time, but eventually he thought it was hot enough, holding one end with a thick piece of cow hide wrapped around his hand, Grega got the hammer and began to pound as hard as he could on the heated metal, slowly, and with more heating, he began to turn the piece of steel into a longer length, he had seen this sort of thing in the blacksmith's shop, but never tried it himself, when he though he had enough and the curve looked as close to what he wanted as he could get, Grega then tried to work an edge on the inside of the curved steel.
It took Grega some time to get what he was looking for. As he finished the last of the sharpening with an old rusted file, he heard the galloping hooves of Kros's horse returning. The boy was just in time to help him finish the rough looking scythe, for another two hours, the two boys experimented and adjusted the hand made scythe until they were satisfied that it would work, the wooden handle had been just as hard to shape as the blade had been. When they looked at their new tool, they smiled at each other, the scythe would not win any prizes for perfection, but after trying it out it did do the job reasonably well. Grega set about cutting more grass while Kros bundled it up into thick sheaves and tied them around the middle with a length of thin string,
By the time night was close, they had more than twenty sheaves ready, taking a long length of rope, Kros crawled through the tunnel letting the rope out behind him, just over half way he felt the tug on the rope, Grega had to join another rope to make it to the end, they had left enough of the string on the sheaves to tie onto the thicker rope, Grega would tie the bundle of sheaves on about a foot apart as Kros pulled the rope through, they hoped they had enough rope to get them all on.
For an hour after dark, they worked to get the new horses fed. Kros had to brace his feet against the cliff face to get enough leverage to pull the long line of sheaves through the crack, once they were all through, Grega crawled through and helped Kros to spread all the grass out for the waiting horses, finally finished, the two boys worked their weary way back through the crack for the last time. with luck, the grass would last for a few days, if they managed to get rid of the Priests, they could then take the new horses up and over to the new valley home. Until then, they would have to feed them through the crack like today.
Kros and Grega cooked another hot meal; they would rest for the night and then go up to see what had happened in the camp below the black mountain. It would give Danil and Davi a chance to take a break from their watching duties. Now the Priests were on foot, they could afford to rest a little.
The next morning, after another hot breakfast, the two boys set out for the ridge top to relieve the others. They would stay up there for the rest of the day and the next night, giving both Danil and Davi a chance for some comfort.
Once they were on top of the ridge, and after giving the younger boys a hug and complimenting them on a good job, they sent them down to rest while they took over. The first thing they did was to carefully inspect the camp below the mountain. It did not take them long to see that the Priests had already managed to recapture five of the horses. Of the rest, there was no sign. With luck, they would by now be well on their way back to their home paddocks. The Priests were now mainly on foot.
The boys also took note that the five horses were now tethered very close to the tents of the Knights. It was easy to see who had seniority in that camp. Even from their greater height, the two boys could see that the dog handlers were not happy about being out there. They all huddled close to each other and well away from the black clothed Priests. There was now obvious dissention in the camp. It all went to make the boys hold stronger.
As they watched intently below them, Grega and Kros talked over what they could do next to disrupt those below. Sooner or later, the large number of men would run out of food and water, although, while there was a thin stream of water coming through the side of the black cliffface, there was not enough to keep every person, as well as the horses, fully watered. Kros wondered if the Priests would try to climb the mountain, in search of relief, it was a definite possibility as they grew hungrier and more thirsty.
There was little action in the camp during the night, although the boys took notice that they now had alert guards during the full darkness. The five horses had not been increased by any others, even though they had gone out to look for more. The five Priests had returned empty handed. They would soon be getting desperate.
Grega was on duty the next morning and watched as one of the Knights looked carefully up at the high cliff they had camped next to. This man was not a fool. None of them were, but out here in the wastes, they were at a disadvantage against anyone that knew their stuff like the boys they had been chasing now for nearly a full year.
Grega nudged Kros awake as he saw a group of six Priests begin to put small back packs on. The direction of their gaze told Grega they were going to try to get to the top of the cliff, perhaps just to look around, but it was a chance they could not afford to let them have. once on top, they would soon see the valley on the other side.
Kros watched with Grega. Behind them, they could hear the soft clop of the other two boys arriving after their short break below in the cabin. They would soon have all four of them together to defend the ridge. Once it started, they knew they would have to stay and defend their new home, when the Priests saw that the boys were right here, they would try to attack in force and capture or kill their long hunted prey.
The six Priests started the climb. It was obvious to the watchers that, as yet, the men below had not seen any of the small game trails leading to the top, as they continued to scramble and scrabble among the black glass like debris of the lower slope, Grega told Davi, as he was the smallest, to wriggle along to where they had set up the deadfall of rocks, and to check that the trap could be sprung when needed, it had been in place for many months and they did not want it to fail when they needed it the most.
It took the six men nearly an hour to finally find a game trail leading up the steep mountain side. Below them in the camp, the boys could see the rest of the large party standing and watching the very slow progress of the first attempt. Grega whistled just loud enough for Davi to hear, it was not worth releasing the deadfall for just six men, he signalled for Davi to crawl back to their hiding place, the younger boy quickly slithered back and settled down with the others to watch.
Grega told Kros they could not afford for the six men to get too high. It was nearing the time they would have to take action, even though it would mean they were going to be revealed and the fight would be on.
The boys watched and waited. They had decided to let the men get high enough where they had no retreat, and preferably in a dangerously narrow place on the trail. They spied a section of the trail they were on that was straight and very narrow. If any of the men slipped and fell over the side, they would be killed by the fall on the hard sharp glass like rocks below them.
Grega eased his heavy rifle up to his shoulder while Kros did the same. The rifles of the other two did not have the range to make any difference, when the six men got to the long straight part of the trail, Grega and Kros opened fire. The first two Priests crumpled to the ground. The third one jumped and slipped on the glassy rocks and went over the side with a loud, long scream of terror. The other three looked up in fear as the two boys fired again and shot the next two men. The third turned in a panic and ran for his life. He was not fast enough, as Grega fired for a third time and he fell off the side and tumbled head over heels down the mountain side, his body like a rag doll as it hit and bounced its way over the sharp rocks.
Below in the camp, all was pandemonium, as the shots were faintly heard. The suppressors made it difficult to hear, but the sight of the bodies falling made it quite clear they were under attack from above, the two boys eased back and replaced the few shells in their rifles. This was the start of what they knew would be a long and difficult fight.
Kros asked Grega if his night vision battery was fully charged, Grega held up both batteries and nodded, they would be needed before long. They had little doubt the Priests would try a few more times during the day, but then probably wait for dark and try again. Their prediction was proved right, as far below, a number of Priests raised their own rifles and started firing blindly at the top of the ridge, it was obvious they had no real idea where the boys were, but tried, never the less, if nothing else they hoped it would keep the defenders' heads down while they tried to get more men up the mountain.
The boys were well aware their place was easily defended against day time attack. It was at night they would have to be really alert. Only Grega had the night site, they would have to depend on him during the dark hours, without a full moon, the others would be partially blind, as the men in dark robes against a dark background would be hard to see.
Half way through the morning, the Priests sent another attack. This time there were more than fifteen men in the group. The boys watched as two or three would try to run for a short distance, then lay on the ground as those behind made a dash, as each group ran forward, the others would fire up at the top of the ridge. Most of the shots landing far away from the hiding boys.
Each group would leap frog the one in front, it was an effective way to make ground, and only put three or four men in the firing line at any one time. The boys waited patiently as the small groups worked their way up the trails. None of them used the same game trail, it spread their attack out along the side of the mountain and hopefully made it harder for the defenders to pick targets.
Nearly half way up the mountain side and the men had not been attacked, only their own rifles were in use. They began to get a little sloppy at the lack of return fire. In their heads, they began to think they had shot the defenders with all the random firing, the four boys stayed hidden behind their low wall of rocks and watched through the cracks as the Priests grew bolder.
The boys waited. Soon the Priests got to the place where they had nothing to hide behind. Those in front could now see that the only cover was a rough pile of old logs up on the side of the mountain above them. They would have to try to make it there before they continued on. the hot sun was taking a toll of their legs. They had been too used to riding, and the steep climb along with the nervousness of being under the barrels of an unseen enemy, brought a new tiredness to them. Their heavy black clothes only made it that much harder; half way, and they were already close to exhaustion. The boys felt they had waited long enough.
The front Priests were now just inside the range of the smaller rifles, although Danil and Davi would have to take their time and aim slowly, they may have a little success if they were careful. For Grega and Kros, the shots would be easier now they had let the men get a little closer. Kros would start with those about midway along the file of now careless men. those in front were for Danil and Davi. Grega would look after the rest at the rear. With the narrowness of the trail, there was also the chance of some falling to their deaths on the sharp rocks far below.
At a signal from Grega, all four boys rose just far enough to get a good sight of those below. Almost as one, they fired at their chosen targets. Three men fell and rolled off the side of the trail. The fourth cried out in pain and grasped hold of his left arm as he went to his knees, those behind looked up in fear as the second shots rang out in the stillness of the mountain side. Two more men fell. There was now panic as those remaining realized they were caught out in the open.
Those with a faster reaction time began to fire at the small targets higher up the mountain, as others looked in vain for cover, the higher angle of their ambushers made it very difficult for those below to hit them. The boys ducked for cover as the sporadic fire rattled on the rocks around them.
From far below in the camp of the Priests, others tried to fire upwards and cover those caught out in the open. The air sang with the reports of the battle going on. Safe behind their rock wall, the boys waited and picked their shots, Danil and Davi stayed down and peeked through the small cracks in the wall, Grega and Kros took their time in aiming at the open targets. From those caught on the open trails, it was now a matter of escaping with their skins in one piece, as those above continued to fire with an accuracy that was chilling. Each shot was scoring a hit. They were being cut to ribbons out on the open trail.
As if a signal had been given, and under the barrels of those above, the remaining four Priests decided to take to their heels and hope for the best. Rising as one, they turned and ran back down the trails, only two made it to some small rocks for cover. The boys settled back down. The first full attack had been won. Now it was going to be a matter of wait and see. There was little doubt the Priests would now wait for nightfall. It was all they had left.
With still more than six hours of daylight left, Grega sent Kros and Danil back to the cabin to organize some hot food and to check their ammo. The two boys decided it was better to take all four horses with them. If they had to fight a rear guard, the horses would only be in the way. They would leave them hobbled at the bottom of the track, in case they needed to run for the cabin.
Kros and Danil got to work cooking a huge meal. As they worked, Kros decided to make a small plan of his own. Once the food was done and both boys had filled themselves, Danil would take the rest back to Grega and Davi, he would stay there while Kros took off back out of the other canyon to stir up a little trouble in the rear of the Priests' camp, when dark came.
After Danil had headed back to the others, Kros set about readying his weapons. Tonight, he was going to be alone, a position he was more happy with. He would use one of the other horses to get as close to the camp as was safe, then wait for dark. If or when he heard an attack from above the camp, he would act. With all of the Priests watching the ridge top, he could cause a lot of havoc behind them, and then once again disappear into the darkness.
An hour before dark, Kros left the second valley. With the large bush at the gateway still in loose ground, it was easy to get the horse through, leaping onto its back he rode off at a canter. Once close to the Priests camp, he would slow to a walk then hobble the horse close to the cliff while he went further on foot. It was a daring plan, but he was sure it would only cause problems for their attackers.
Kros's plan went without a hitch. By nightfall, he was lying close to the camp where he watched the Knights organizing another attempt at going up the mountain. With his body partially buried in the soft sand outside the camp, he could easily hear the plan of attack. Kros smiled as he listened in to their plans. He also made some of his own.
The Priests and their dog handlers, now minus their dogs, had been camped out in the hot sun for a number of days. Their food must have been getting short, and he well knew that the water was very limited. He could just make out the demeanour of the handlers, and they were not happy at this turn of events. As they were not Priests, they were well down the food chain and got only leftovers, when a meal was served. From the soft grumbles coming from them, Kros knew it would not take much for the handlers to desert the camp and leave the arrogant Priests to their fate. Kros was about to help them make up their minds about leaving.
The camp had been set up in the usual fashion of travelling Priests, the Knights in three large tents at the centre, ordinary Priests in smaller four man tents close by, and finally, a row of two man tents for the handlers, all of the tents were arranged around a central large fire pit, with the loss of the five horse lines, there was no need for the outer guard fire.
Kros set his sights on the central tents of the Knights. If he could get to them and do some damage, it would unsettle the others. If by chance he got time to do even more damage, then he would. The less equipment the Priests had, the less likely they would stay around. Hunger and thirst were a mighty weapon.
Kros waited as the darkness got deeper and the shadows from the pale moon left dark spots for him to hide in. As he waited, he watched as the Priests readied themselves for the upcoming climb and battle with those above, this time, Kros took note of the three Knights that would lead the attack.
It must have been two hours after dark when the Priests began to move, Kros noted that all the others were now on the other side of the camp, away from where he was partially buried in the sand. They were all watching the column of black clothed Priests start their climb, Kros waited and watched.
Some little time later, Kros could barely make out the shadowy forms of those climbing. The heads of others still on the firm ground were now all turned upward. It was now time for Kros to add to their discomfort. With the silence of a desert creature, Kros wriggled out from under the sand. He then slithered like a sand snake through the camp as silent as the shadows around him.
Kros made the centre of camp with ease. Lying between two of the Priests' tents he waited for his chance. From above, on the dark mountain side, Kros heard the faint echo of a shout, all those on the ground were now totally engrossed in what was going on up above them. Kros rose from the shadows and silently ran for the fire, grasping two or three burning brands in each hand, he scooted for the large Knights' tents.
Kros threw a burning brand into each of the larger tents and then with the remaining brand, started on the four man tents. Kros made another dash for the fire and scooped up more burning wood and again threw them into the other tents. As a last defiant act, he used a nearby spade to scoop up a full load of hot embers and threw them with all his might at the handlers tents and let out a loud yell as he sprinted for the darkness.
As Kros ran, he glanced over his shoulder. He wanted to be on the horse and well away before they got too close to him. He could see the fires taking full hold on the tents, the mass of men at the base of the cliffs were now in disarray as they tried to look out into the desert for the culprit and take care of the fires as well. Both were a lost cause.
As Kros leapt onto the back of the horse and turned its head for home, he could just make out the chaos of the camp. It looked as though the tents had all caught fire, they had been so dry that even the smallest of sparks could set them off. With no water to fight the multiple fires, the Priests would be totally tentless; Kros rode away well satisfied with his nighttime raid.
On his return to the gateway, Kros could not replace the large bush. All he could do was close and lock the gate and hope for the best, even if found, the gate would be a hard nut too crack, with only a few Priests on foot. Kros released the horse and made for the crack. Even in the darkest of night, he would easily find it. Once on the other side, he quickly sated his dry throat, He then checked his weapons, caught another horse, and rode for the ridge trail. He may be needed up there when the Priests arrived to take their revenge for the loss of their camp.
Kros arrived at the small rock barrier in time to see the other three boys getting ready. as Danil and Davi could not see the men clearly in the dark, all the shooting would have to be left up too Grega. They had instead crawled to the other means of defence, Davi was near the large rock that would release the deadfall. All he had to do was knock out a smaller number of stones and the logs and rocks would roll down on those below. Danil was lying hidden just above an outcrop of rock that hung slightly over the main trail, beside him, he had the ten bags of grey dust. Kros made for his side as silently as he could in the dark.
Kros looked over the edge of the outcrop and was surprised at how easy it was to see the on-coming Priests. Their black robes actually stood out from the dark shadows quite well. with his night-scope, Grega was easily able to make out his targets. In the time it had taken Kros to cause havoc in the camp and return, the attackers had made it high up the trail. They were now just edging onto the widest part where it became a single track, just ahead of the leaders was the small outcrop where Danil and Kros waited, the bulk of the force was now almost directly under the deadfall.
Kros and Danil checked their side-arms and got ready for Grega's first shots. He was going to aim at those in the rear, causing the others to try to push forward and to the top, Grega opened fire. His shots echoed around the mountainside, as he took toll of the men at the rear. At the same time, Davi began to kick the smaller rocks and stones out from under the pile of logs, in no time at all, there was movement, then came the sound of cracking as the first logs gave way. The deep foreboding rumble of the deadfall alerted those below, but it was already far too late. For those in the lead, it was nearly as bad, as they looked for cover from the firing above, the air around them seemed to become a grey impenetrable mist that filled the eyes and mouths with a chalky dust. Partially blind, three of the Priests stumbled off the trail and began the long fall down the side of the mountain, of the two Knights that were left, the first one fell under a veritable hail of small arms fire from above.
The muted crack of Grega's rifle filled the still night air, Davi had slithered his way back beside Danil and Kros and was trying to help out with his small pistol, the chaos he had caused with the deadfall did not seem to affect him in the least, as he fired off the last bullet at the dim shape of the last Knight.
Finally, it was Grega that hit the Knight. As silence filled the side of the mountain; the boys looked down at their handiwork. Of the twenty or so Priests that had attempted the attack, only three could be faintly seen trying to make their way back down the trail, one was limping badly, with the other two trying to support him. The boys let them go, there was still the possibility that the three could fall over the side in the dark. The four boys sighed with relief. Attempt number four had been unsuccessful.
The boys took turns sleeping for the rest of the night, there were no more attempts by the Priests to take the ridge. In the first rays of dawn, the boys got a clear view of the camp below, as they looked over the burnt remains of the camp, the boys made out the results of Kros's raid.
Not a single tent was left. It seemed that the first fires had jumped and set the rest alight, with no water to fight the flames, all the other tents had succumbed. The Priests and handlers now had nothing for protection from the hot sun or cold nights. They were also now cut down to less than twenty five men. In the morning light, the boys could not see any sign of the last five horses. They had no idea that Kros's fires had scared them and they had fled into the wastes leaving the Priests once again on foot.
Kros volunteered to stay and keep watch while the three brothers went back to the cabin for hot food and rest. They had little doubt that the Priests would try another frontal attack. Their camp was now just piles of smoking embers. All their food stocks were gone and they had only the few back packs, their weapons and the limited amount of water from the small spring in the cliff. With the sun beginning to rise, it would soon take its toll. Kros settled down to watch.
As the day wore on, even from his lofty perch, Kros could almost feel the sense of despair from the burnt out camp below, the Priests had tried rummaging through the ashes for whatever they could find, which was very little. The handlers looked as though they had no further interest in what was going on, and all they wanted to do was return to their homes and get as far away from this deadly mountain as they could.
The Priests, however, had been given their orders and they were not about to disappoint their bishop or leaders in the church. They had the boys whereabouts, and they had to find a way to finish them off, there was not a doubt in any of the Priests' minds that the boys were not going to be taken back alive. The loss of so many Priests could have only one answer. They were now only spurred on by religiously motivated revenge. The boys would have to pay with their lives for what they had done, and the Priests would make sure those deaths would be long, hard and as painful as they could make them.
Late in the afternoon, Kros was rejoined by the three brothers. They had brought hot food and fresh water for him. As he sat back well out of sight of those below, Kros listened to the brothers talking, even little Davi now knew there was no going back. They would have to completely destroy the Priests, so no one would know where they were. Although the dog handlers were only ordinary men, the boys had to debate if they also would have to be killed, so no mention of their home could get out, it was the one thing they could not all agree on. The handlers had taken little part in the attacks. All they had done was look after their dogs and now even they were no longer around. The decision on the handlers would have to wait until they had destroyed the Priests.
Plan after plan was brought up, discussed, and put aside. The boys had to find a way to bring this fight to an end and quickly. The longer they waited, the more there was a chance of one or more of the Priests getting away to call for reinforcements. They could not allow that to happen. Finally, in the very late hours just before midnight, the boys came up with a plan they could only hope would work.
So far, they had sat back in their barricades and waited for the Priests. Both Grega and Kros thought it was time to take the fight to them. For this, they would have to take the bull by the horns and hope for the best. The plan was for all four of them to go together. They would make their way down the trails and settle themselves in, close to the base of the mountain, being somewhat smaller than the Priests, they should be able to conceal themselves in the myriad of bushes and jumbled rocks on the lower slope. From there, they would open fire on the camp at first light when the men would still be half asleep.
There was also the fact that the Priests had been out in the sun totally unprotected by their now burnt out tents. With the hot sun, lack of food and minimal water, the boys thought the Priests would be ready for the death blow. They would have to hit them hard and as accurately as they could. At such a close range, and with little cover to retreat to, they were leaving themselves open to a hard hitting counter attack.
Kros led them down the mountainside in the dark. Over an hour passed before they settled on a place for their morning ambush. It was about one hundred yards above the camp. For any of the Priests to attack them, they would have to climb up over open ground in the loose shale and detritus. There was little cover below the boys. Most of the small bushes that had grown there had now been used for the camps fires. Kros settled out on one side closest to the camp, between him and Grega at the far end, Danil and Davi lay behind small mounds of black rocks. All four boys were almost invisible to those below. Grega and Kros would target the remaining Knights, first. Danil and Davi, with their smaller rifles, would have to go for head shots only. The small .22 would not be very effective in a body shot. Their targets were the ordinary Priests, until Kros and Grega could help them. They had all decided to leave the handlers alone unless they joined in the fight.
The boys watched the dim outline of those in the camp. It seemed they had not even put out guards or they had left the handlers to do the guard work. They could be seen huddled further out in their own group. All looked to be sleeping as well. The camp at this early hour of the morning was silent apart from the odd soft snore from somewhere in the group of black clothed Priests. The boys waited for the first rays of the new day.
The first glimmer of daylight showed in the East. The boys settled lower in the small hides. Extra ammo had been checked and put close to hand. From the camp below came the first soft movements of those trying to get just a few seconds more of sleep. As the light brightened, the handlers seemed to stay unmoved by the coming morning and still huddled close together. Had the boys known that the handlers only wanted to go home and forget all about this disastrous trip, they would have felt better.
The last of the remaining Knights were slowly rising. As they tried to nudge the other Priests out of their sleep, Kros and Grega decided to open fire. All five of the Knights still looked as though they were half asleep. By the time they realized they were under attack, there was only a single Knight left, and he was still trying to work out where the firing was coming from. This short delay in his reactions cost him his life. Danil and Davi had opened fire at the same time as the other two. They had a larger target, as the ordinary Priests were still in a group lying on the ground.
Kros and Grega turned their attention on the lazy Priests. Some had recovered and were trying to find cover. Others could only sit and wonder what was happening. The last thing they had expected was for four small boys to attack them in their own camp. The confusion was total. As the boys continued to fire into the open and defenceless camp, one Priests after another fell to the boys' accuracy. It was like a hail storm of lead into the camp.
The Handlers had watched on in horror, although they did have the good sense to stay back from where the Priests had been, which was now a killing ground, as far as they were concerned. It was not their job. They had been hired for their dogs not to try to kill some boys that had upset the church. The Handlers stayed where they were and kept their heads down.
The Priests had been reduced to seven when they finally saw the pointlessness of their position. They were out in the open with no cover. The boys had the advantage of height and cover. It was a hopeless situation. The senior of the Priests called out loudly so as to be heard by those above in the attack force. He very much doubted that there were only four boys in the attackers' camp. The destruction they had caused over the last few days was way beyond the ability of a few boys. The Priests thought they had to have some adults with them. If so, he could talk to them and they could all walk away and one day return to wipe them out, now that they had their location. It was easier to deal with adults. They could be easily manipulated.
The boys heard the loud shout from one of the Priests. They stopped firing to listen to what he had to say. They had no intention of showing themselves while even one Priest was alive. The penchant for treachery was well known in all the lands. Grega, as the eldest, called back from his hiding place. He sounded like the oldest, so took up the role of leader for now.
"What do you want?"
"There's been enough death. We want to return to our homes. There's little point in us continuing with a fight we can't hope to win. All we ask is for your mercy, and to let us leave in peace?"
"How do we know you will keep your word, or that you will not return with others, next time?"
"You have my word as a Priest of the Holy Church."
"I see. Wait there, and don't move. I'll talk it over with my friends."
The boys had heard every word and Grega did not need to have a conference about any of it, but it would be a good idea to keep them waiting for as long as possible. With the sun rising and the heat building, the Priests would begin to feel the effects of hungry bellies sooner than usual.
The boys made them wait, as the sun rose higher. The Priests began to shuffle and felt the pangs of hunger. They had lost all their food in the fires and were in no mood to fight on an empty stomach. They all knew that if they walked away from here, they would eventually have their revenge, as soon as they returned to their church and resupplied. Next time, the boys would not know what hit them, the forces the Priests could call on would annihilate the small group of boys and any adults with them.
The four boys took their time as they lay behind their barricades. They took the time to eat a little bread and dried meat then take long swigs of water before Grega decided to reply to the Priests' request for release. Grega stood up on his knees to better see the small group of Priests as they huddled together surrounded by the now smelling bodies of their compatriots.
"Priest, call the dog Handlers to come over. They are to collect every weapon, including knives and hand guns, all the ammo and anything that can be used as a weapon from you and the dead. They are to pile it all together at the base of the mountain where we can see it clearly. If any of you make the slightest attempt at concealing or moving away, we will shoot you. Now call the Handlers."
The senior Priest did as he was told. He didn't like the fact of all of them being totally unarmed, but he had little choice. The Handlers, after much coaxing, came forward and began to search the dead and dying for weapons. Over the next hour, they gathered everything that could be used as a weapon and piled it at the foot of the nearest small animal trail, then stepped back, well away from the group of Priests.
Now that the living had been made defenceless, the four boys stood up and began to move towards the base of the mountain, the look of shock on the faces of the remaining Priests as they saw four young boys come into view almost made them wish they were still armed, it was only the thought of the destruction that had been done by these same boys that stopped any move towards the youths.
While Grega, Danil, and Davi had kept their rifles in hand, Kros had slung his over his shoulder and produced his sawn off shotgun. It was better when so close to more men, the change did not go unnoticed by the Priests. Grega started talking again.
"All of you sit down with your hands behind your backs and facing away from us. Handlers, I want you to search for some rope, as much as you can find, when you have it, bind each Priest's hands and then take one long piece and loop it around their necks until they are tied all together."
The oldest of the Handlers looked at Grega, then asked.
"What about us?"
"That depends on what you do and whose side you're on?"
"What do you mean?"
"We four have talked it over, none of you have tried to help the Priests in the fight. You've all stayed out of it. If you do what we ask, we will give you some horses to go back home, as long as you never reveal our home, you will live, if you tell other Priests and they come looking for us, then we will eventually find you and your families. You have seen what we can do to the Priests, if we have to we will do the same to your families, even if it takes a lifetime."
The Handlers nodded. The boys looked to be well capable of following up on their threat. They began to search for rope. There were still the long ropes from the cut horse lines and it took little time for them to gather up the rope and begin to secure the Priests as they had been asked to do. Shortly after the Priests were tied tightly, their hands fastened behind their backs and a single length of rope tied them together around their necks. Once finished, the Handlers stepped back and looked at the four boys.
"What now?" asked the oldest Handler.
"We wait. One of us will go and get some horses for you, we will also give you some food and water to get you back home, or part way there, anyhow. For now, just sit over there in the shade and wait, the Priests can stay where they are for now, the sun will do them good."
As he finished speaking, Grega nodded to Kros. The boy took to the narrow trail leading up to the top of the ridge far above them. With luck, he should be back in a couple of hours, to ease the Handlers' worries. Grega tossed them his water bottle and the other boys rummaged around for the last of their food stock. They would soon be back home and had no real need of the extra, the Handlers fell on the food and water with a relish. It had been a while since their last meal and the fresh water made up for the loss of sweat while attending to the Priests.
The senior Priest called out to Grega after Kros had left.
"What about our dead brethren, they need to be buried properly?"
"Perhaps if you ask the Handlers nicely, they will bury them, if not, the wild animals will soon finish them."
The Priest turned to the Handlers with an enquiring look, the answer was soon obvious, after how the Handlers had been treated, at the loss of their dogs, they had little desire to help the remaining Priests, all the Handlers just turned their backs and ignored the silent plea, Grega said,
"Looks like your God's wild animals will feed well tonight."
Grega looked across at Danil and Davi.
"Go and check the pockets of the dead for any coin or other stuff we may be able to use later. Better check those seven as well, the Priests are known for their greedy ways."
The two brothers did as their older one asked. It was not long before they had a tidy sum of coins in a heavy purse which they put beside Grega then sat and watched dispassionately as the sun slowly cooked the other Priests in their long thick black robes, the lack of water was already telling on the hungry and thirsty Priests, the Handlers sat back in what little shade remained and waited patiently for Kros to return.
It was three hours before Kros made it back. With him, he brought three extra horses, giving the one he was riding and the other three, the handlers would have four horse to take them home, doubling up would only make the trip a little longer. On the back of one horse were two large water skins and a few bundles of dried food stuffs.
Kros dismounted and threw the lead rope to one of the handlers.
"Here you are, take these, and you can leave. There's food and water for about six days. It should just about let you make it home. Remember what we said, tell no one of our whereabouts if you value your families."
The handler took the halter rope, and along with the other seven, double mounted the horses and turned away to the West at a walking pace. Kros and the other boys watched and waited for them to get out of sight. Half an hour later and the doubled up horses were only small black dots on the skyline.
Grega took the lead once again.
"We are going to release you one at a time, you will strip down to your underclothes. When you are all undressed, we will release you to make your own way out of here. Any that we see from tomorrow on will be shot on sight."
Grega went to the first of seven Priests, he released the man's hands and waited until he had stripped down to his underclothes, once that was done, Grega retied his hands and replaced the neck rope, at the sharp look from the Priest, Grega said.
"I'm not going to trust all of you free at the same time; once all of you are undressed, you will then be released to go."
It took half an hour for the seven Priests to be relieved of their black heavy robes and the shirts and pants under then, once all the Priests were standing in only their underclothes and lined up with their hands rebound behind their backs and the neck ropes tightly tied together, Grega told them to move out.
The stripped Priests could not believe their ears, dressed as they were, with no supplies and tied together in a single line with their hands bound, they had little chance of surviving the sand wastes, if the sun did not get them, then the frigid nights might, if none of those did for them, then there were always the wild animals that roamed the wastes, the boys stood and watched dispassionately as the realisation of the situation that the Priests now faced came to them. Grega had the last word before the men could start to complain.
"Move now. We will give you one hour. If you are still in sight, we will hunt you down and shoot you, just as you planned to do to us. Now go."
Grega raised his rifle to his shoulder and took aim at the nearest Priest. It was all that was needed; with their hands bound behind them, and the course rope starting to already burn on their necks, the Priests began to stagger away from the small group of boys. The same boys that had defeated the best they had to offer, what happened to them now was no concern to the four boys. For the next half an hour, they watched the roped line of Priests stagger through the soft sand, when the captives were far enough away, the boys turned to the first trail leading back up the mountain. From the top, they would be able to see how far the Priests had got, none of the boys held out much hope for the seven men. They were a long way from help, and the wastes were a bad place to be in their situation.
When the boys got to the top of the ridge, they stopped to look out into the wastes. Using their rifle scopes, they were able to make out the very small dots of the Priests, even after only two hours, the men looked to be in trouble. One figure was obviously in trouble and his friends had no way of helping him. As they watched, the one figure fell to the sand, dragging the others with him. If they lasted the rest of the day, it would be a miracle. There was still one hour before midday, and they had a long day left in the full force of the sun's rays. On foot, and tied as they were, the boys estimated it would take the Priests at least ten days to make the nearest habitation. The sun would make sure they did not make it.
The four boys turned their backs on the far off scene. They had a home to go to. They would still keep a watch from the ridge every second day as they had before, but now, they felt a little more relieved that this danger had been finished with, perhaps now they could live their lives without further trouble. All they wanted now was peace and the chance to live as they wished in safety.
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