Six hours later they were on the road once more. Azoloth and Trinsic were young and fit young men, doing without some sleep wouldn’t kill them. It was a good thing too, Azoloth insisted they push on during the evening hours and all through the day. They covered another 30 miles in the next day and a half in relative peace. They slept once and passed another village. Azoloth’s plan would take them another 30 miles down the road and past two more villages, at which point the road would turn south. Trinsic still complained each time they passed a village, saying they should at least get a pint of mead before pushing on. 

Azoloth was not surprised at how much Trinsic complained. While they were fast friends, Trinsic never quite fit into the knight’s way of life. Truth be told, he was more of a rogue. Some commented at the Keep they would expect him to be found picking a lock or sneaking through a window than facing someone in honorable combat. Where Azoloth loved to camp outside under the stars, as did most of the Knights, Trinsic would rather be at an inn with a warm bed. However, despite these differences, Azoloth and he had bonded almost instantly. They both came to the Keep and under Sir Gregory’s care at about the same time. While Trinsic was a year older than Azoloth, he treated the younger boy as an equal. Often they found their different approaches to situations complimented the others. 

Contemplating all of this as the miles faded behind them, he could only conclude he was glad Trinsic had joined him. Lost so deep in thought, he did not notice the men ahead until the low bass growl rumble from Crimson’s chest filled the air. Piercing blue eyes snapped into focus and landed upon the three men leaning against a fence post ahead.

The men wore the armor of the Royal Guard, yet they did not look like Royal Guardsmen. They might have the armor and the weapons, yet they did not have the bearing or the hygiene. In fact, all three men wore scraggly beards. Bandits, Azoloth thought to himself as his hand lowered to his sword.

“Good morning Sers, how are you doing this fine day? Roads closed ahead… but we could be persuaded to let ya pass for a fee,” the dark-haired leader said, pushing himself from his leaning position and walking forward. Azoloth scoffed at his words. The man was trying far too hard to sound formal and official while still using the low born common. Azoloth had heard tales of such scams before. Bandits in stolen or looted armor pretending to be part of the Kings Guard. While he had never seen it before. Most of these groups had lookouts who whistled back if any Knights headed their way. With no insignia marking either of them as part of the Knighthood, it seemed these cowards viewed them as fair game.

Drawing his sword in a single smooth motion, Azoloth presented himself bodly before the bandits. A single Knight, even a squire, was more than a match for three bandits. Behind him and to the side, the sound of Trinsic drawing his sword reached him. As they did so, the three men laughed and stepped out to block the road completely.

“Oh, come on, can’t you count, there are three of us and only two of you. Best just pay up,” the man tried to sound confident, yet his eyes were darting back and forth between the two men armed with swords and the large war hound.

“Hold!” Shouted Azoloth. The commanding tone caused everyone on the field to halt for a split second. It was a trick Sir Gregory had taught him, using his voice as part of his arsenal on the battlefield. As he yelled he spurred Stravos ahead, the mighty warhorse surged forward riding down the leader. There was a short cut off scream, and the sound of flesh ripping as razor sharp steel shod hooves tore flesh apart. Azoloth brought his heavy sword out to the side and swung his arm. The heavy bladed Falchion caught the man to his right at the throat level and the weight of the blow cut through flesh and bone in a clean motion. There was a massive spurt of blood nearly 6 feet in the air before the headless corpse fell to the ground. 

Trinsic never had time to join the battle as crimson lunged atop the third man. The weight of the 160 pound Shepard knocked the man to the ground. He attempted to bring his knife to bear, but Crimsons latched onto the man’s arm with sharp teeth and began to shake his head from side to side. The powerful canine shook the man like a rag doll, and he dropped the knife. Once the knife hit the ground Crimson stopped shaking him but held him securely growling.

Azoloth slipped off his steed and cleaned his blade on the clothing of the man he had beheaded. He did not even bother looking back to see the mess Stravos had made of the first man. Sheathing his sword, he drew his dagger and approached the man Crimson held. 

“No, please don’t. I have children,” The ruffian pleaded as Azoloth approached. The man saw the grim set of Azoloth’s face, his death promised in those now cold blue eyes.

Azoloth grabbed the man’s free arm and forced it to the ground, then knelt upon it to it pinning it. He looked down at the man, and no pity filled his heart. How many men he wondered had this man preyed upon. How many had he killed for a few coins? He shook his head before speaking in a low but firm voice. “There is little choice in the matter for you, or I. As a Knight sworn to the Kingdom it is my job to pass sentence on you in this. I have found you guilty of highway robbery and attempted murder. The sentence for such is death.”

“No! Please No!” The man pleaded as Azoloth brought his dagger up and placed it against the man’s throat. The sharp blade sliced his throat open in one practiced motion. The sounds of gurgling filled the air as Azoloth and Crimson held the man down until his struggle died away. 

Standing, Azoloth motioned to Trinsic, and they gathered up the bodies to burn. They did not need more undead wandering the land.

“Well damn, I must have missed the day they taught us to execute prisoners,” Trinsic quipped. 

“Well the punishment for banditry is death,” Azoloth replied. “Did you want us to just prance into the headman’s hut at the next village and turn them in, then hope they don’t have a garrison of Royal Guardsmen there looking for us?”

“Just saying, we could have let him go. He probably would have died in the woods anyway.”

“No, the code is very clear about the punishment for banditry. With the darkness descending on the Kingdom, the code is all we have to hold on to. It is all that separates us from the Demons and those who serve them.”

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