Lee-Lack looked up at the sky.
“Only a few hours of daylight left,” he said. He turned to the Mukthar. “Lie flat on the ground.” He started to take off his right boot.
“Why? What are you going to do?” Yllyesh asked, lifting only his head.
“I’m going to fix your shoulder.”
“Oh, oh, oh. Not so fast. Isn’t that something for a trained medic?”
Lee-Lack raised an eyebrow.
“You see any around, perhaps?”
Yllyesh was visibly worried.
“No. Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Bershwinn?”
“Fairly sure. I used to travel these plains on horseback with my, ah, friends. Accidents happened. We all knew how to take care of minor injuries. Even setting and splinting a broken leg wasn’t all that rare. Though I have to admit some legs were not set straight. Surely, Mukthars know all about emergency aid for wounded fellow warriors.”
“Um, yeah… doesn’t mean I like it. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Lie down. You have no choice. Unless you want me to put you completely out of your misery.”
Yllyesh let out a deep sigh, lay down and closed his eyes.
Lee-Lack positioned himself next to the young man’s dislocated left shoulder.
“Listen carefully. I’m going to put my foot against the inside of your shoulder, where your arm got out of its socket. Then I’m going to pull your arm. The pain should immediately subside.”
The Mukthar opened his eyes.
“Please, don’t pull too—”
“Shut up, cry-baby,” Lee-Lack said, as he put his foot in position and started pulling on the Mukthar’s arm.
“Hey… the worst of the pain is gone,” Yllyesh said almost immediately.
Lee-Lack gradually lessened the pull on the Mukthar’s arm. When he heard a sucking noise, he put the arm on the young warrior’s chest.
Yllyesh let out a long sigh and gave his impromptu caretaker a lopsided grin.
“You’re good at this stuff,” he said.
“Yeah, well, we’re not done yet. I’m going to bandage your shoulder. You should rest it as much as possible and avoid lifting anything with that arm for a while. No brusque movements either. You’ll have to be careful with your left arm for the rest of your life. It will be prone to get out of its socket again. You have a spare shirt I can tear up to use as dressing?”
“There should be one in my saddlebag. Did you find my horse?”
“Your horse is why I’m here,” Lee-Lack replied as he got up and walked the few yards to where he had leashed the horses to some bushes.
He found some stuff most travelers carried, and a few spare items of clothing. The shirt looked dirty and reeked of sweat, both of man and horse.
“It’s none too clean,” he said when he had returned and cut the Mukthar’s shirt to ribbons. “In fact, it stinks. Then again, it’s not as if you have an open wound. The dressing should support your ligaments. Nothing more.”
Lee-Lack had shared some bread, nuts and hard cheese with the young Mukthar, who was sitting against a rock. The robber was sitting upon another one.
“Sorry,” he said. “There is more than enough left, but I’m counting the hours until we’re back in Mirkadesh where we can buy a nice warm—”
“Why?” Yllyesh interrupted him.
“Why? Why did you help me instead of killing me? You’re a Mirkadeshi. My people killed your people and destroyed your villages.”
“The head village burned down, the others were relatively unharmed. Besides, didn’t you tell me you were not there when it happened?”
“I wasn’t, but that was just a coincidence. If I and my band had been ordered to ride with Khrunosh, we would have.”
“I understand a warrior has to follow orders. What I don’t understand is why Shigurtish ordered Mirkadesh burned down. I and my men had done everything he required of us.”
“I wasn’t one of Shigurtish’s confidants. Quite the contrary. If anything, he distrusted me.”
“Yeah… The devious swine. When we talked he acted all friendly. He made me believe it was us against the Ximerionians. He swore he wouldn’t touch Mirkadesh and—”
“Wait. You spoke with Shigurtish? When?”
“I probably shouldn’t have told you this.”
He let out a very deep sigh. The young man was right. He had gotten rid of the remnants of his own robber gang, and here he was taking care of an enemy.
“Maybe I’m tired of all the violence and killing. Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe we have a common enemy now.”
Yllyesh was gazing intently at him, as if trying to listen in to his thoughts and willing him to answer.
“I was the chief of a robber gang that operated on the Plains,” Lee-Lack said. “Shigurtish had asked us for… intelligence. To keep an eye on what the little warlord was doing. When you lot came through the Queneq Pass I met with him, and—”
“No, no, no. That can’t be right. I was there. I heard Shigurtish in passing mention to one of his generals that he was going to meet the chief of the Renuvian Plains Robbers. His name wasn’t Berwinn. Later still I heard him being described. Black hair, a beard, a limp…”
“Lies and deceptions. The hair was dyed, so was the beard. Beards can be shaved, you realize that, don’t you? My clothes were padded. About the only thing real was the limp, but I’ve got medicine that kills the pain, so I can hide it. Somewhat, anyway.”
“No. I lied. It’s just a common Mirkadeshi name I used a few days ago when I met some soldiers of the warlord’s friend, General Demaxos. Yell ‘Berwinn’ in any Mirkadeshi tavern and at least three men will look up. I usually go by the name Mirry-Nonn, but my real name is Lee-Lack. Lee-Lack Scarminckle.”
“I recognize the name,” Yllyesh said, “but it’s hard to believe you are the leader of the Plains Robbers. You’re too young. Too handsome to look the part.”
“That is exactly why I needed that cumbersome disguise,” the former robber chief said. “How is your shoulder doing?”
“Oh, fine. It’s still throbbing a little, but all in all it’s bearable. What happened to… your men?”
“Most of them fell fighting your warriors. We came as soon as we understood Shigurtish had betrayed us, and that, contrary to his promises, Mirkadesh was under attack. We were outnumbered. In the end, when more and more of my men fell, there was nothing for it but to withdraw. Those who remained and I rode to our hideout in a cave in the mountains. A corridor collapsed, and most of the few survivors died there.”
“I? I was deeper inside the mountain, in a secret chamber. That’s why I escaped.”
Lee-Lack fell silent, staring at the ground between his knees. Out of respect Yllyesh said nothing for a few minutes.
“That must have been hard, first seeing your friends fall in battle, only to have the survivors die in a freak accident. I’m sorry…”
Lee-Lack looked at the Mukthar’s face. He seemed sincere.
“It was one of those things that happen in war,” he said. “A few, who were absent for all kinds of reasons, survived.”
“You still haven’t answered me.” The Mukthar shifted his weight from one buttock to the other.
“Let me help you up,” Lee-Lack said, standing up himself. He grinned. “You’re getting a sore butt. You should stretch your legs a bit while I get the horses.”
“Isn’t it too late in the day to travel much farther?”
“Yes, it is. I just want to get us on higher ground. There’s a path about one-third up—”
Lee-Lack stopped abruptly.
“Be quiet,” he said in a low voice, perking up his ears. Both men held their breath, and then looked at each other. “Someone’s coming,” Lee-Lack said. “At least two men. You stay here. I’ll go see who they are.”
He would have liked to remain behind the rocks, where he couldn’t be seen from the plains. The horses that were still tied to bushes made that impractical. They needed the animals to get to Mirkadesh, and, more importantly, they needed the supplies in Lee-Lack’s saddlebags.
He cursed under his breath. He should have hidden both horses, somewhere uphill on the mountain. But it was too late for that.
He drew his sword as he left the relative security of the mountains and entered the plain.
Three men. Not two. And they were approaching fast.
“Throw your weapon to the ground,” one of them said. “We don’t mean to kill you. We’re only interested in your horses and valuables.”
“Who are you?” Lee-Lack asked, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword.
“Don’t resist us, my good sir,” the same man replied. “You’re no match for us.” He smirked. “Blame the Gods and Goddesses for having the misfortune of falling into the hands of the Renuvian Plains Robbers.”