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The men dug while the woman sewed, a typical scene.
They spread the cloth over the freshly dug hole, covered it with leaves and took to the trees.
A kings transport, a carriage and typical detail of six guards drudged by, a sudden jolt as a carriage wheel got stuck in the hole.
The driver fell from his seat and the sleep walking guards almost fell on top of each other. The guards were knocked out almost simultaneously, from the trees a small rat featured man jumped to the driver’s seat and released the horses. A man in a striking regal suit of armor with Scandinavian hair lifted the driver off the floor. Agnar dusted the driver off and put a handful of coins in his hand.
“As agreed, your friends are all unharmed. Good work. Now, take some food and go home to your family.”
They gave the man a bag of potatoes and a chicken and sent him on his way. Once they had secured all of the gold and discreetly pulled off a few of the gold fixtures from the carriage this mismatched group moved on down the road.
Mingati never travelled with the others. He got his name from his tribe in Kenya, meaning “one who is fast.” He tracked ahead, through the bush to keep lookout. Without a word, he held out a hand to say, "stop," then pointed ahead. They instinctively took formation and moved to the edge of the road, a much heavily armored but more decorated group this time. A blade appeared suddenly under the throat of the big man, in the hands of a greasy unwashed Irishman.
“I saw it first.”
The woman with the crossbow attempted to reason with him.
“Surely we can split it?”
“No thanks. I don’t need your help.”
More guards appeared from the rear, he let the blade go.
“D’ye know what? Let’s share.”
Mingati appeared behind him, angry at the threat made against his friend. The others tried to reason with him to release the blade from the Irishman’s liver.
“It’s ok, he’s going to help us.”
Even caught dead to rights the Irishman wasn’t going to budge an inch. Once they had convinced Mingati to let him go they regrouped for the ambush.
The Irishman almost lost his head watching Mingati fight. He doesn’t wear armor, he doesn’t even carry a shield. Yet he ducks and dodges so much it looks more like a man playing with children. The Irishman made it to the carriage, inside he found the Earl sitting far too comfortably for a man being robbed.
“Afternoon, sir. Dreadfully sorry to inform you but you’re being robbed. Let’s avoid any unpleasantness and simply hand over your possessions so we can all be on our way.“
The Earl smiled, like a man seeing an exotic animal for the first time.
“An Irishman! How fascinating.”
Unable to resist, the Irishman took a ceremonial bow. The Earl continued.
“Do you consider yourself a superstitious man?”
“No less than anybody else.”
“Would you say there are things in this world that perhaps you don’t understand?”
With that he reached inside his pocket, The Irishman brought his blade a little bit closer and smiled at him. A career criminal like the Irishman wouldn’t be distracted by this charming preamble.
“I’d say it would be foolish of any man, irrespective of his station to assume he understands everything.”
“What an excellent perspective.”
He opened the hand that had been in his pocket and blew lightly into it. The carriage quickly filled with smoke and when the Irishman reached for the Earl he was no longer there. He choked and clambered for the door handle but none could be found.
A huge hand clasped his collar and pulled him out into the mud. He lay there staring at a raging fire where he had been. Another thing he couldn’t quite explain. Like all lonely men, he suppressed any emotions and changed the subject. Seeing Mingati cleaning his sword he decided to make conversation.
“You’re handy with the sword my brown brother.”
The rat featured man chimed in.
“Don’t bother talking to him, he doesn’t understand. Watch this HEY COAL FACE I FUCK YOUR MUM, YES? See, nothing?”
Undeterred by the man’s ignorance the Irishman extended a hand to Mingati and was accepted.
“The name’s Sheamus.”
“My birth name is Akin, it means warrior. The people in my village named me Mingati, means he who moves fast. Because I move behind a lion and kill it.”
He pointed to his easily 8 feet long lion pelt. Their jaws collectively dropped. The rat featured man spoke up once again.
“How come you understood him and not me?”
“Because we’re the same. An Irishman is simply an exceptionally light skinned black man, a black man in disguise if you will.“
Mingati shook his head.
“No. I understand you, but I don’t talk to you. He is the first one to ask. He has manners. You are idiot. You say stupid things, you call me darky. I don’t waste time talking to stupid people. “
“If I’m so stupid why do you still want to work with me then?
“Because where you go, the big one go too. Big one is very useful, brave warrior. Strong like bull, smell like bull too but hard worker so is ok.”
That part the big man understood. He got upset until he smelled himself.
Like good bandits, they decided not to let a good one get away. Mingati tracked the Earl to his castle.
The distressing thing was when he noticed carriages full of children going in, and not coming back out. They spent the night in the next town over, stopping somewhere quiet where they could rest without fearing the law. Once the mead began to flow, some members of the group began to voice their apprehension about the upcoming mission and an argument broke out.
“I don’t know these children, the hell do I care?”
“They’re children! They can’t turn their backs on us! It is not right!”
Maeve spoke up next, reminded of the family she had secretly longed for.
“I’m with him. Most of us met in prisons. We’ve never had any reason to expect anything from people except judgement. And we deserve it. But do they? I believe everybody deserves a chance.“
The big man looked indifferent at the prospect of certain death, ignorance is bliss after all.
When his best friend agreed, the rat featured man had no choice but to go too.
“Fine! Fine, ok I’ll go. I always wondered how I was going to die; I may as well die at least trying to redeem myself. It was going to be a Paupers grave for us all anyway. Let’s go fight the devil.”
The bartender sensed the tone and filled everyone’s glasses. Agnar gestured to him with a bag of coins to bring a couple of bottles.
Sheamus was staring thoughtfully into the glass in front of him, and then he smiled.
“Ah well, maybe they’ll write a song about us.“
They got to the main hall of the castle too easily. Sheamus and Mingati struck first, getting to free the children.
Maeve took aim for the Earl on his alter, and missed. She tried again; this time when she missed he turned around.
He waved a condescending finger at her, sending a chandelier hurtling towards her. She got out of the way but unfortunately it was much too late.
A deafening sound like that of a battle horn and a foul smell of burning took each of them.
As a great light began to emanate from the chest of the Earl they rallied the children and ran for the gates. Sheamus and Maeve rushed the kids out the door with the instruction not to turn back for anything as Agnar, Mingati and the big man barricaded the door and threw as much furniture in front of it as they could find.
They turned towards their fate, standing together. Each one was ready to die with this group of strangers. The gate continued to crack, the smell grew stronger and the sound more deafening. When finally it gave out each heart filled with terror, not one foot retreated.
“I looked, and behold, an ashen horse, and he who sat on it had the name Death.”