Dóin watched the river’s sunlit waters drift placidly past.
He knew well the danger of the peaceful scene, however. The rain-swollen river was deeper and its currents much, much more powerful than one would be given to suspect just by looking at it. And, since their haul was too heavy to carry over the river through the treetops, they had sent someone to look for a suitable ford.
“Your boar went south. South did not look prom—”
“Bain. Bain went south.”
“… Bain. South did not look promising; the bramble grows dense and the current slower.”
As he suspected, his hired hand, a mask-wearing man by the name of Cathaoir, knew enough about the wilds to know that a slower current meant a deeper, more formidable channel. And, like Dóin, he seemed to prefer to remain quiet and alert. But that didn’t mean Dóin had to enjoy the company.
“I trust Bain’s instincts with my life. Now is not the time to doubt them.”
“As you will.”
Half an hour later, as the golden rays of the setting sun slowly inclined through the leafy canopy above them, Bain greeted the dwarf and the man with a rustle and a grunt. Dóin smiled.
Bain gestured with his snout back over his shoulder, and then dropped something gently from his mouth onto the ground—a tattered green banner emblazoned with the sigil of a wicked black eye.
Cathaoir gestured at the crude map, drawn from Dóin’s memory, in the dirt.
“If they’re encamped directly at the ford, they’ll have a vantage on our outbound journey. I don’t like the risk that they might give chase if we slip by.”
Dóin considered carefully.
“They could have their sentries here, on this outcropping. It would offer better view of the ford.”
“… and a worse view of the trail. Possible. It’s just the two of us—”
“… Three of us. We can easily make plans for an ambush and call them off if we see an opportunity to get by without the fight.”
“Good. Find a line on the sentries if they can see the trail. Bain and I will deal with anyone else wearing gear first. The rest of them should be easy pickings in their camp, as long as they’re in for the night. I hope you’re as good a shot as I hear.”
“I’m very good. I’ll do my job. But you should know that I’m not going to die for your smuggling run.”
“I don’t expect you to. In fact, it’s good to know I’m not working with a fool.”
Dóin examined the arrows in the hide quiver while Bain stalked the perimeter of the camp.
“Rusty. Bent. Bad fletching jobs. It’s a wonder they even still try shooting these.”
Cathaoir, kneeling by a dead orc, replied without turning to look.
“They do often find their targets. They like to stay sharp by hunting game out here, especially off-season when they’re not competing with human hunters. I’m not looking forward to the day an orc marksman gets his hands on a real set of arrows.”
“I suspect he would find himself handicapped, unable to aim arrows that themselves fly straight. Nevertheless: I would plan on shooting first. Best not to find out.”
Dóin heard a sickening crunch, and he turned to see Cathaoir’s dagger hilt-deep in the dead Orc’s chest.
Cathaoir apparently felt Dóin’s eyes on him and replied to the question in his mind.
“They’re very good at playing dead.”