“Are you sure you’ve never seen Master Neddrick before?” Robin asked for the fifth time.
“No, nor can I imagine what he would want with me.” Elizabeth was clearly tired of the question but bore Robin’s pressing with patience. After all, Elizabeth was just as curious and confused by Master Neddrick’s professed interest in her as Robin was.
The noon-day sun bore down on the travelers as they trudged along the road to the coast. They had spent the morning walking through the neighboring fields, but it soon became clear that no one in Downleigh had seen fit to search them out. Robin decided to give up worrying about Master Neddrick and focus on getting to Charing Vale.
Most of the land on either side of the road was either farm or pastureland. Robin remembered reading that most of England had been deforested since the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or something like that. Yet, here and there, small woods still stood amid the fields.
As the afternoon wore on, a brisk wind slid through the chinks in their clothes, and dark clouds piled up in the sky.
“Looks like we’re in for some rain,” Robin sighed.
“Think we could stay at an inn tonight?” Dean asked.
“I don’t know. We don’t have that much money, and we haven’t seen a lot of villages.” Robin glared at the sky. “We may not have a choice.”
Evening approached and the three left the road for the cover of another small stand of trees with a clearing in the middle. Robin found sufficient wood just as Elizabeth finished laying out the blankets. Dean re-entered the clearing with a good fat rabbit and Elizabeth reached for the pot.
“You’re back fast,” she commented as she left for the nearby stream.
“Just a naturally good hunter, I guess.” Dean grinned.
Elizabeth laughed and ran off into the trees.
“Got lucky, huh?” Robin smiled from where she was setting up the fire ring.
“Yep.” Dean dropped the rabbit next to her.
Elizabeth screamed from beyond the trees. Dean started in that direction, but Robin held him back.
“Get the blankets!” she ordered as she grabbed the bags. “We can’t afford to lose them.”
Dean had them slung over his shoulder in an instant. He was about to dash off when Robin held him back.
“Silently!” she hissed. “We could walk into a trap if we’re not careful, and that won’t do her any good.”
Dean followed Robin as she slunk down to the stream. From a screen of bushes they saw two men push Elizabeth down a path on the other side of the water. Robin nodded and silently she and Dean followed.
Ten minutes later they stood in a brake of trees and bushes around a large camp. Robin counted twelve men, most of whom were filling their tankards with ale from a medium-sized cask. The camp seemed to be permanent. There was a crude shack built on the other side. Primitive tents sheltered the area next to the shack. In the middle of the camp was a huge roaring bonfire. Elizabeth was tied with her hands behind her to a post next to the shack.
“Now aren’t you glad we didn’t go rushing down to that stream?” Robin whispered. “There may even have been a couple more waiting at our camp to take what we left behind.”
Dean nodded sullenly. “But what are we going to do? We can’t fight all those guys. I don’t want to wait until they’ve gone to sleep. They might rape her before then.”
“These guys are thieves, not rapists. There’s a whole different psychology involved.”
“Not when they’re drinking. And look at how they’re putting it away. I swear, Robin, I’ve seen perfectly decent normal guys turn into monsters when they’re drunk. And these guys aren’t even that good.”
“You do have a point,” Robin sighed. “But the two of us aren’t going to be much good against twelve of them.”
“If only there were more of us. Wait a minute.” Dean grinned. “What if we made them believe there was more of us?”
“How, Dean?” Robin returned.
“We could yell, maybe. Or…” Dean dove for the bag he was carrying. “We could use my iPhone.”
“Are you going to put the headphones on each every one of those guys?”
“No. I brought the speaker dock. Here.” Dean pushed the unit into place between the two small speakers.
“Deanie, boy, I do believe you’re onto something.”
“Damn. I don’t think I downloaded any concert stuff on here.” Dean pressed through the menu.
“Never mind. Anything on there should scare the pants off those fellows.”
“Just because you don’t like it.”
Robin rolled her eyes. “It has nothing to do with like. Elevator music would terrify these guys.”
“Hell, it scares me.”
Robin paused. “You’ve got a point.”
Dean squinted as he quickly pressed the menu button. “Damn. I can’t see the readout that well. I think I got some Motley Crue on here.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Robin said through gritted teeth. “Just play something.”
Dean shrugged and pressed the play button. The screeching tones of Van Halen filled the air. The men in the camp looked up thunderstruck.
“Panama?” Robin asked. “That’s way old.
Dean shrugged. “It’s a good tune.”
Elizabeth started at the sound of the music, then laughed.
“I told you!” she yelled. “My brothers have come. They are very powerful sorcerers, and they will destroy you all!”
Robin and Dean stepped into the camp. The setting sun and the firelight threw strange shadows on their faces. Thunder rumbled over from the gathering clouds, underscoring the wailing iPhone. The men didn’t wait. They threw down their weapons and ran full out. Robin and Dean let them. Within seconds the camp was clear.
Shaking her head, Robin walked over to Elizabeth and untied her. Dean went to the bushes and retrieved the iPhone.
“Nice build up you gave us,” Robin said to Elizabeth. “I’m glad you kept your head.”
“Hell, she’s heard it before,” said Dean. “She knows it can’t hurt you.”
“Just your eardrums,” replied Robin.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I guess one can get used to anything.”
Robin laughed. “Let’s check this place out.”
They found a huge buck being skinned in one of the tents. In the shack, under some recently overturned earth, was a small chest. Robin had a fair idea of what was inside. But the sound of thunder again made her decide to eat dinner first. They feasted on the buck, washing it down with plenty of ale from the cask.
In preparation for the foul weather ahead, Robin built a small fire in the shack next to the door and collected all the discarded weapons.
“Those men aren’t going to want to stay out on a night like this,” she explained. “So, we’d better keep a good watch. We may as well have the fire since one of us is going to be up watching. It’ll be too cold otherwise.”
“Fine,” said Dean. “Can we open the chest now?”
“Why?” asked Robin. “It’s too dark to see anything. Why don’t I sleep first?”
“But the chest.”
Robin glared. “We’ll open it tomorrow morning.”
Dean reluctantly agreed. Robin bedded down and went to sleep. Elizabeth waited up with Dean for a while until sleep overcame her. Around midnight, Dean decided that the patter of the rain on the roof was making him too drowsy, and he woke up Robin.
An hour later, as Robin poked the fire, she heard a twig snap outside the shack. Instantly, she was fully alert. She crawled over to Dean and shook him.
“Ermph?” he asked sleepily.
Robin put her finger to her lips. Dean blinked, then nodded. Another twig snapped, and whispering could be heard. Dean sat up and drew his sword. Robin drew hers also and removed a flaming branch from the fire.
The door flew open. Robin thrust the branch at the man in the doorway. He screamed and dodged. Others stampeded from the camp. But three were too wet and too worried about their loot to worry about sorcerers. Only one had a sword. The other two were armed with belt knives.
These two attacked first. Robin blunted the slashing blades with her sword and jabbed with her burning branch. The men backed off. Robin forced them out of the shack, glad that the rain had stopped.
Dean burst out after her. The swordsman took him. Dean parried the thrust with a gulp. It suddenly dawned on him that he was fighting with swords that could really cut. He charged forward, hoping his size would at least intimidate his opponent.
The swordsman was intimidated, but greed conquered his fears, and he met the charge with a parry and a vicious thrust. Dean barely dodged in time. He slashed at the swordsman. The swordsman dodged that, and thrusted. Dean parried. The swordsman thrusted again and again. Dean parried both thrusts, then thrusted himself. It was blocked. Dean felt his opponent’s steel swish by his belly. He spun around and started in with a quick series of slashes and jabs. It was all the swordsman could do to parry them.
Meanwhile, the two men knife men danced just beyond the point of Robin’s sword. One distracted her and the other tried to move in. In a split second, she slashed at the one and thrust the burning branch at the other. But the way her hand grew warmer told her that the branch was burning fast.
The men pushed her back further and further, moving in and dodging. Robin felt the cool of the forest against her back. She dared not step out of the camp, where possibly the others lay in wait. Leaves crunched underneath her feet and gave her an idea.
She was under one of the makeshift tents. One of the men lunged. She parried, then dropped her branch into the dead leaves. They burned hot and fast. Robin dodged around the flames. The men circled, utterly confused. As the flames died down, Robin cut the ropes holding the tent up. It fell and trapped the men.
Dean was still dancing around the swordsman. He had pushed Dean back in a strong counterattack but had yet to draw blood. Dean was finally backed up against a tree. The swordsman lunged. Dean dodged, and with a quick spin, pounced on the swordsman, and landed a good strong blow on the side of his head.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, the music of Van Halen filled the night. Dazed and frightened, the swordsman stumbled into the darkness. His two friends slashed their way out of the tent and ran off also. Gasping, Robin and Dean staggered back to the shack.
Elizabeth was sitting in the middle of the room holding the iPhone, still hooked onto its speakers.
“You do say it’s magic anyone can work once they know how,” she said.
Robin sat down heavily on the floor and laughed. Dean staggered over to Elizabeth, flopped down next to her, and hugged her.
“I would have worked it sooner, but I’ve never seen exactly how you worked the spell,” Elizabeth sighed. “You’re not angry with me, are you?”
“No!” Robin wiped the tears from her eyes. “Your timing was perfect. We had them down and you put on the finishing touch to get them good and scared and out of here.”
“I’m proud of you, Elizabeth.” Dean squeezed her again.
“Why don’t you go back to sleep, Dean?” Robin yawned. “I’ll finish my watch.”
“Oh, all right.” Dean crawled back to his corner and flopped down. “Goodnight, gang.”
In the light of the early morning, the three of them searched the camp again. No more chests or other signs of loot were found. As she promised, Robin opened the chest as they breakfasted on leftover venison.
It was mostly good jewelry, among a small collection of copper, silver, and a few gold coins. Dean was all for taking the whole thing, but Robin said no.
“That jewelry could be identified,” she explained. “And no one will believe that we found it.”
“I guess not,” sighed Dean. “But can we take the money?”
“We may as well,” conceded Robin.
“Here, I’ve a purse,” said Elizabeth, pulling a small bag from her bodice.
“We’ll split it among us,” said Robin. “That way if one of us gets robbed, we’ve still got something.”
“At least we’re rich,” chortled Dean.
“We’ve barely a few pounds,” said Elizabeth, and then she smiled. “But we are more comfortable.”
“Do you think we could stay in inns from now on?” Dean asked hopefully.
Robin looked at Elizabeth, who nodded. Dean cheered.
“We’d better get hustling,” Robin said picking up the two big bags. “People are a lot braver by daylight, and I don’t feel like fighting those bandits again.”
“Me neither!” Dean grabbed one of the bags from his sister and they were off.