Halfling Part 5
“Are you ready to go?”
Uncle Rand was by the carriage, sitting up on the seat with the horses’ reins laying limp in his hands. Caden nodded as he swung up on his dappled mare.
“Yes, I’m all set,” Caden said, glancing back at the family estate. The pair were soon trotting off down the road without any other delays. “It’s strange to just have the two of us going. What will the servants do without us?”
“Indeed,” his uncle said with a chuckle. “They’ll most likely be dreadfully bored. However, it wouldn’t have made sense to bring any servants along. We won’t be traveling for more than a day or two, with plans already made for the night at inns along the way.”
The two traveled onward for most of the day, making small talk and discussing the latest business contract that Uncle Rand was attempting to set up with a yeoman at the edge of Akyna. The yeoman owed Uncle Rand money and, after giving the yeoman several chances to pay him back, the two were going to speak to him personally about the debt.
“I still don’t like the idea of just us going,” Caden said. He watched Pepper roam the small clearing where they had paused to take a short break. The young mare’s ears were pricked and alert as she grazed. “Perhaps we should have hired a mercenary or two in case things get ugly.”
“I am a man of peace, my boy,” Uncle Rand said. “I may be a moneylender, but I am not going to be the kind who enforces his debt with hired muscle. You get more respect that way and your clients are less apt to dodge their payments. Besides, I don’t want to waste any resources on some sellswords. You never know which of those are actually trustworthy.”
“We could trust Dahlia,” Caden said, thinking back to her recent letter. After joining a mercenary guild about six months ago, she was finally considered a full member rather than just an apprentice.
“Speaking of Dahlia, are you going to pop the question?” Uncle Rand said, making Caden nearly choke on his water. “I want to be a great-uncle one day.”
“Uncle, I haven’t seen her since graduation almost a year ago,” Caden said. “There was nothing between us.”
“Perhaps this yeoman has a daughter that we can set you up with.” Uncle Rand busied himself with hitching the caravan horses back up, and Caden shook his head to himself as he caught up with Pepper. The mare, still young, nickered and nudged Caden’s shoulder, wanting to play chase rather than get her bridle back on. Caden smiled and tugged on the wind around her, gently guiding the horse back toward him. Once they were all settled, the small group continued toward the village where they were going to spend the night.
“Welcome to Dorgate,” the innkeeper said. His eyes were half closed and his mouth was in a tight line. “How many and for how long?”
“Um, one room, two beds, for one night,” Caden said, fishing his wallet out of his pocket.
“Ten silver for the room, five copper for the second bed.”
Caden paid the man, and as the coins were about to exchange hands, the innkeeper said quite quickly, “The Reed Inn is not responsible for stolen property, money, or lives.”
“…What?” Caden’s fingers closed on the money before the innkeeper could take the coins. “Do you mind clarifying that?”
The innkeeper sighed, his eyes shifting to Uncle Rand as the older man caught up with Caden at the desk. “Dorgate has been havin’ some… bandit issues lately,” the innkeeper admitted. “We haven’t had an attack in almost a fortnight, so we figure we’re overdue. Thought I should warn ya.”
“Have you any guards?” Uncle Rand asked.
With a shake of his head, the innkeeper said, “We used to, sir. Hired some after the third attack, but then the bandits stopped comin’. The guards were getting expensive for our little village, so we had to let them go. After the guards left, the attacks sporadically returned.”
“What about the king?” Caden asked. “Have you petitioned for some help to get rid of the bandits? Or gone through any training yourselves?”
“The kind don’t care about a village like us,” was the response. “As for training, you really think we got the money for someone to come an’ teach us how to swing a sword?”
Caden glanced at Uncle Rand, whose eyes were narrowed. After a moment, Uncle Rand said, “We’ll still stay the night. Perhaps, after our business is finished, I’ll see what I can do to help you.”
“It’s none of your concern, sir,” the innkeeper said, “but… any help would be appreciated.”
Caden trudged behind Uncle Rand up the inn stairs to their assigned room. “Uncle, what are we going to do if bandits do attack?”
His uncle paused, mulling over his answer as he claimed a bed. “I doubt they will, Caden,” Rand said. “The innkeeper said they hadn’t paid this place a visit in a while. Perhaps they got all they can out of it.”
“But if they do attack?” Caden repeated.
Rand sighed and shrugged. “We’ll figure that out if it happens,” was all he said. “Try not to worry and go to sleep. We leave early in the morning.”
Caden obeyed, flopping down onto his bed after just taking off his boots and cloak. Being a warm night, he coaxed some of the winds to breeze through the room from the window as Uncle Rand and he fell asleep.
It felt as if he had just shut his eyes when a crash had jolted Caden awake. He sat up, noticing Uncle Rand already looking out the window. “What’s going on?”
“Bandits,” Rand said gruffly. He took rapid steps across the room and shoved one of the nightstands and chairs against the door. “Keep a look-out at the window.”
Caden did as he was told, his eyes wide as he watched about half a dozen masked people dart through the small village’s streets, many breaking formation regularly to breach houses and businesses. “They’re coming closer to the inn–”
Glass shattered as one of the bandits broke a first-floor window, and Caden watched as they dragged a screaming woman into the street. Caden’s anxiety and senses were heightened, and it took him a moment to hear his uncle’s voice.
“Caden, are you listening to me?”
Caden glanced back and noticed with a start that the bed sheets, loose papers, Uncle’s and his clothes were thrashing and fluttering from the winds. With effort, Caden calmed down enough so the winds died down.
Uncle Rand watched as everything settled down, then turned his eyes to Caden. “…Can you do that again?”
Caden swallowed hard, but understood what his uncle meant. The woman screamed again, and Caden whirled around to look out the window, allowing his emotions to whip up the winds once more. With his guidance, the drafts took a sharp turn downward to the ground, enveloping the bandit trying to drag the woman away. Caden heard the bandit curse as the winds cut in between himself and his intended victim, but Caden did not let up. The woman darted away while the gusts continuously swirled around the bandit, catching him in the middle of a tornado. Caden stopped only when the bandit fell limp to the ground, unconscious from the lack of air.
Stomps and shouts were heard outside of the room, and Caden glanced at his uncle. Wordlessly, Rand moved away from the door, allowing his nephew to make his own decision. After a heartbeat or two, Caden moved away the nightstand and chair to go out into the hallway.
Caden saw three bandits on the second floor, one in the process of breaking down another room’s door. Caden locked gazes with all three only momentarily before sending a gale towards them to knock them off their feet. One crashed into the far wall, crumpling to the ground with a bloody head. The conscious two got up but, while one fled back down the stairs, the other charged at Caden with a curved sword. Caden grabbed at the surrounding wind, concentrating to make it solid for just a moment in front of him to deflect the bandit’s swing. The hit against his force field made Caden falter, but before the bandit could swing again, a book smacked the bandit in the face.
Uncle Rand was by the doorway, glaring at the bandit and, when the bandit looked as if he were about to get back up, slammed the book on the bandit’s head once more to knock him unconscious.
Caden cautiously crept down the stairs to be sure there were no other bandits and looked out the broken front door to see the remaining three bandits heading out of the village. Other villagers were slowly emerging from their houses and hiding places, many staring at the unconscious bandit in the road before turning their eyes to Caden. The stares made Caden bashful enough to have the breezes ruffle his hair momentarily before he got them under control and turned back to find his uncle.
Uncle Rand was at the top of the inn’s stairs with the innkeeper inspecting the bandit with the bloody head. Both looked up at Caden as he caught up to the pair, Uncle Rand’s gaze serious while the innkeeper’s eyes widened.
“Th’ bandit’s dead,” the innkeeper whispered.
Caden’s stomach dropped. “I… I didn’t mean to–”
“Why didn’t ya say you’re a mage?” the innkeeper asked. “Ya weren’t wearing your mage cloak.”
“I, uh… It didn’t seem–”
“That was amazing!” the innkeeper continued. “How’d ya do it? I wish I trained to be a mage… Didn’t have the knack for it, though.”
Caden was dumbstruck and looked at Uncle Rand for answers. Rand, however, was inspecting the other bandit that had been left behind in the corridor.
“This one’s still alive,” Rand said, and looked to the innkeeper. “Does Dorgate have a jail? Perhaps you could get answers from him once he wakes and hire those guards one last time to get rid of these bandits once and for all.”
“Sir, after seeing what this mage did,” the innkeeper said with a full grin, “I imagine they won’t be coming ‘round here anymore.”
The bandit in the street had been still alive as well, much to Caden’s relief, and the two bandits were dragged by some of the villagers over to their makeshift jail. Others took the dead bandit to the woods, dumping his body somewhere for the wild animals to find. The innkeeper gave Caden the credit for getting rid of the bandits, and many of the villagers thanked the young mage with words of gratitude and, in one particular woman’s case, a kiss and a promise for a good time should he return to the village again. He flushed bright red at the offer and politely declined while making his escape back to his room at the inn with Uncle Rand.
“I just killed someone,” Caden blurted out as soon as the two were alone.
“I know,” Uncle Rand said, annoyingly calm.
“I didn’t mean to,” Caden said.
“I know.” Rand’s words were gentle.
“How did I do that?” Caden asked. “The gust wasn’t supposed to be that strong.”
For the third time, Rand said, “I know.” His uncle sat down on his bed and gestured for Caden to do the same. “Caden, my boy, you always were a very strong mage. Remember those practice battles at your school? You always won. Sure, some of them were difficult, but you always pulled through. Watching how you used your magic just now wasn’t very surprising, despite you not using your magic very often.”
Caden nodded. “Shouldn’t my magic’s strength have weakened with the lack of practice?”
“That’s what happens with normal mages,” Rand said. Caden waited for more, but his uncle looked out at the still dark sky. “We will talk more in the morning. For now, however, just try to go back to sleep.”
“What?” Caden gaped at his uncle. “How do you expect me to sleep after all that?”
“By closing your eyes and being quiet,” was Rand’s response as he got comfortable in his own bed. “You saved a village today, Caden. Be proud and relax in knowing that you helped people. Sleep well, my boy.”
Caden watched as his uncle rolled over in bed and stayed up long after Rand began to snore softly.