The smell of blood filled Montez’s nostrils, the sight of bodies so recently living and breathing filled his eyes with tears. He kicked at the corpse of the dog he slew. So weak now, these dogs, the squire with his fancy helmet, the smiling blacksmith. All dead. Only he survived. They hadn’t been strong enough. Montez wiped his eyes with the black of a dirty, blood-spattered hand. He’d been lucky, he had to admit. Alive, he could claim his luck as a boon, unlike the squire, or the gypsy halfling. Montez stood and went to each of his dead companions and took what he needed from them: battered steel cap and longsword, thieves tools, large sack, the halfling’s sling and a pile of silver coins from each man’s purse. He’d eat well if he lived long enough to spend it.
Montez held aloft the squire’s sword, swung it about experimentally. He wiped dog blood from the long, slender blade on the squire’s tunic. He would be a stable boy no longer, today he’d felt his boyhood close like a door, and now he stood in the chamber of men. Montez decided then that he would live to spend his coin. Henry, at least, would have wanted that.
He heard voices coming from direction the squire had led his doomed party. He whirled to his feet and drew his blade, stood clasping it among the scattered corpses. The Reeve of the village, Mark, appeared, followed by three others, a shepherd with a dog, a farmer, baring his pitchfork, and a young girl clutching both a rag doll and a club.
“Oy!” Mark called, “Ain’t you the stable boy?”
“I am Montez, Animal Friend.”
“Right,” Mark said. “These are the reinforcements the squire hollered for. All I could muster on short notice.” Mark looked around at the bodies. “I guess we could have marched a little faster, eh?”
The Reeve made a show of searching bodies, and Montez said nothing. Mark moved to the dead horse, pulled the broken haft of the spear from its ribs and handed it to the girl.
“Here, Molly. This will serve a bit better than that club.” Molly tucked the doll into the piece of rope that served as belt for her tattered dress and took the shortened spear in both hands. The saddlebags had near a week of rations and good stout rope, all of which the farmer put in his large sack.
“You know what’s up ahead?” Mark asked, nodding where two other trails led off in opposite directions. “Tracks lead right, I reckon.”
Of a sudden, Montez felt the need to be contrary. “Left,” he said, “always go to the left.” The two stared at each other for a long moment, but Mark chose not to press the issue.
“Lead on, big man,” he said, and waved graciously at the leftward path.