The sound was coming from the track not far from where he had been sitting. The trees had a dampening effect on the noise and Eamonn had heard it as muffled yelling from what appeared to be a man. Eamonn quickly scanned around the area, just in case someone heard it as well, but remembered there was no one nearby.
He crept through the screen of branches, making sure to ease them back into their resting position and not swing back on their own out of fear of them snapping or causing excess noise.
Expecting to come across some form of resistance, Eamonn slowly made his way through the undergrowth of the forest, avoiding the lightened and more travelled paths of the forest. He was an efficient mover through this type of forest, having grown up playing games with the other kids in his home town he had learnt some of the fundamentals of moving unseen and silently along a forest floor. Not to mention his years hunting and avoiding predators with Sam back home.
In nearly ten minutes he had covered perhaps two-hundred meters. There was something telling him in the back of his mind that it was only going to get more difficult as he went. He found a large trunk of a tree to hide behind to gain his composure again, and to check his surroundings again. This sort of movement set his pulse running and had made him tense in every joint, half expecting for something or someone to dash out of the trees to attack him. In the safety of the tree, he took the time to take a few deep breaths to slow his heart rate to a more normal pace.
He looked for some form of movement that would give him an indication as to who he was approaching. As he cast his eyes around the area, he sighed to himself, the sounds from before were becoming more pronounced as he went, however he still hadn’t pinpointed where they were coming from.
He had no idea what he would do once he got within striking distance, he decided he’d come to a decision when he was there, for all he knew, it could’ve been a few travelers calling to a group of friends up ahead. Unaccustomed to area as he was, he had to assume that it was trouble, so he proceeded like there was a pack of wolves, baying for his blood and in constant search of him.
There was another call out, this time matched by the echoing of rough laughter. Eamonn sighted his next course, went to the floor again, and made his way further onwards.
As he got closer, the line of trees began to thin. Eamonn stepped clear of the last line of large trees and into the small underbrush of shrubbery and bushes. The tree line opened up into a clearing, perhaps forty meters wide and long. In the middle, Eamonn could just make out the figures of three men standing beside what looked to be a carriage.
He inched his way forward for a better look and slowly bent down to his knees, dragging his feet lightly on the earthen ground, nudging away any fallen leaves that had dried and started to decay. Sure enough the three men were in position, with another on his knees and hands bound behind his head, cringing as one of the men held out a dirk, aiming it towards the helpless man’s face.
A woman appeared at the door of the carriage, pleading for help before a hand cuffed her and pulled her back into the carriage, cutting off her cries to barely more than a whimper.
“Bandits.” Eamonn muttered to himself.
Eamonn took all of this in in less than ten seconds. He slid he left leg along the floor, careful not to disturb any fallen matter. His muscles seized on him and he grimaced as a man shuffled his way through the trees barely a meter to his right, calling out to what now Eamonn determined, were his cohorts.
“Where the hell have you been, Beckett?”
The question was directed to the new man, who responded with a few obscenities, of which there were more than a few prized terms of language that was new to Eamonn’s ears.
“These people swear more than the town drunk does in a week,” Eamonn said in a low whisper.
As the man entered the clearing, Eamonn slowly sidled himself around the small bank he was on.
Eamonn looked darkly at the men, laughing as they remarked and took joy in taking advantage of less than capable wealthy folk who were foolish enough to travel through lonely and dark places such as this.
The boy was near the edge of the tree line, crouching and surveying the area. He knew that he had to find a way to get the people away from here. But how? It was the question he’d asked himself a few times now.
He had no skills with the dagger he carried, and if he took three paces towards the criminals he’d be spotted and out in the open. It might take the focus off the man currently taken hostage, but there were more men here than he could handle, even more so as he noticed another four men appear from the northern side of the clearing, bring with them another prisoner, this time the form of a small girl could be seen slumped unconsciously over the third man’s shoulder.
Seething with anger, Eamonn knew he had to do something though. Again he looked at the scene before him, the carriage, only one guard on the far side there that he could see, he could slip up behind him and take him down or at the very least, survey that side of the clearing and hope for an opening to take advantage of.
The passengers were still in the carriage, he thought they’d be out of harm’s way at least and while he wouldn’t be able to save their possessions, no one would be harmed, it was something at least he himself with some misgivings.
Silently, Eamonn moved further back into the forest. Running lightly, he worked his way around to the blind side of the carriage. He’d have to be efficient with his movements he knew. One of the men carrying the girl was armed with a small hunting bow, at this sort of range, it didn’t matter that it was a low powered weapon, they aim to cripple him with the intention of questioning him thoroughly. The other men all seemed to be carrying short swords or dirks on their person, definitely more than he could handle if caught.
There was a spot some ten meters from the carriage. It was the thinnest part in the screen of trees. He positioned himself three meters from it, close enough to the carriage, but with enough coverage so they wouldn’t be able to see him until he reached the carriage. At least he hoped. The only problem he found, when crouched, was the shrub he was next to had more that’s its fair share of prickles, grudgingly he was forced to give the shrub another meter or so clearance, if he were caught in the spikes he’d probably hurt himself and he’d definitely make some form of noise. If he was to collect several prickles on his way through, another possibility would be for him to become entangled which could prove his downfall, making him out as an easy target.
Ready now, Eamonn could feel his heart hammering inside his ribcage, his adrenaline was pumping and his body trembled all over. Making sure that he had a firm grasp on the dagger, he’d cut through several of the closest branches of the prickling tree before resheathing it.
Now he ensured the dagger was within easy drawing distance, he was wary of unsheathing the weapon itself just yet. If a stray ray of sun caught the metal of the blade, it would provide a reflection and reveal his position. He took a deep breath, silence was paramount now.
He bided his time, one of the men reared his head in raucous laughter. The men turned their attention again towards the man bound on the ground before the carriage. Eamonn decided now was the time, he put his thoughts aside and took the first step out of the tree line high over the shrubs to make sure he foot was clear of it.
Every muscle in his body told him to turn and run, but his mind wouldn’t let him, he had to do something. He inched his way closer to the carriage now, the bandit’s back was turned away from him, giving him ample time for the moment to prepare for what he was doing next.
Eamonn stayed low, as he moved up behind the man and waited for the right moment. With infinite care, he drew the dagger from its scabbard, covering its blade from the rays of the sun with his hand and raised it pommel first, ready to stun the bandit with the dagger. He checked the other bandits, there were none that seemed interested in his movements.
A strange sensation overcame him, something was missing and he stopped, arm raised as he noticed the birds had become silent around him. He couldn’t tell if it were simply from his zoning them out or a coincidence that the sound diminished, nevertheless he couldn’t chance a false move now. He’d have preferred to have the coverage from the birds to help mask his movements, he was never lucky enough to have everything his way.
The bandit was still oblivious to his presence up until the moment he raised his arm behind his head, the man seemed to sense a shape behind him turning as he did so, that only offered Eamonn an easier target to hit. The man fell into the light grass, making next to no noise as he landed Eamonn catching the short-sword in his hand before it could hit the ground.
Eamonn shifted the man’s back up against the back of the carriage to check through his things. There were a few bits and pieces in his pockets including a small pot of oil for his dagger which Eamonn thought rather peculiar, though nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.
Eamonn checked the remaining bandits, still busy with questioning the wealthy man, while Eamonn could hear the low sobs of the woman in the carriage. That would be his next target.
Eamonn was still confident his presence had gone unnoticed, there was something though that he hadn’t accounted for, he went to stand and checked around the side of the carriage, the doubled doors were both open, though the one closest to him was only half so. That would help him get in without being seen as the others wouldn’t see the door swing close slightly. Eamonn could see the woman gagged, tears in her eyes as the man across from her in the carriage sneered and joked at her as he searched the compartments for valuables.
Eamonn stopped momentarily, holding the dagger pommel first, knowing he’d have to be quick. Unfortunately, the mysterious arm of a man dressed in a dark cloak came up and brought his own weapon down on Eamonn before he got the chance, striking the boy just below the right ear.
Eamonn was out cold before he hit the ground, unconscious and down for the count. The figure had come out of nowhere and was now pulling him back, his feet barely making a sound on the ground as his boots were dragged on the forest floor.
The laughter of the bandit in the carriage was cut short as he heard the noise of Eamonn hitting the ground. The bandit quickly swiveled out of his seat to turn and looked at the spot. There was nothing there. All he could see was the disturbance of the grass there. All the while, he failed to notice his fallen comrade just a meter or so away. Just some animal he thought.