Escape From Tregaron.

Sitting atop the tree, Aidan’s eyes were scouting the area beyond the clearing, searching for a crack in the Jackal’s defenses. They seemed to have surrounded the entrance to the tunnels leading out from Tregaron.

Even in the bright moonlight, he could just barely make out five archers on the small hills behind the entry, hidden in the trees. He assumed they had more men waiting in the tunnel, likely hoping they’d rush in, running from the ambush prepared outside. That is how he would do it, at least.

As he jumped down, his dark cloak spread gracefully around him, moved by the wind ever so slightly. He turned to his brother, Tomas, and whispered:

“They are waiting for us.”

Tomas tried to maintain his composure, but frustration was quickly furrowing his brow as he asked “How many did you see?”

“Five archers. I’d expect more inside the tunnel.”

“Was Aaron with them?”

“I couldn’t tell. But I don’t think so.”

“That’s not good. He hates us too much not to be a part of this. We did steal their last shipments, after all.” After a short and thoughtful pause, he continued “My guess would be that if he’s not with the archers, he’s hiding out here somewhere. And the tunnel sounds like his best bet.”

The three warriors following the brothers were waiting ten feet away, clad in leather armor and keeping their swords and axes at the ready. Trying to make as little noise as possible, Mydas, the oldest of them, stepped forward and asked “How’s it looking out there?”

Aidan leaned in close and whispered “We’ll be walking into an ambush. They may not be the brightest bunch, but I don’t like our chances.”

Mydas took in the news and looked over his shoulder, scouring the bright fires on the horizon. “Well, we need to do something. The army’s already burning down the Northern Quarter, in a few hours they’ll reach us and the Jackals will be the least of our problems.”

Tomas seemed to be lost in thought, pondering his words before saying “Perhaps, but right now, they are our biggest one. If we rush into this head-first, we’ll be dead long before the army burns its way to these outskirts.”

Mydas froze up. He raised a shaking hand and pointed towards the clearing, asking in fearful tone “W-what’s he doing?”

Tomas turned around just in time to see his brother step out from behind the tree line and into the clearing leading to the tunnel. He turned to his men and motioned for them to stand down, as he looked at Aidan, stupefied. His mind was rushing, a big part of him wanting to lunge after his brother and drag him back.

But it was already too late — the archers must have seen him by now. A seemingly interminable silence ensued before the horrifying realization hit him:

“Shit. I know what he’s doing.”

Aidan stepped out from behind the tree, holding his sword high above his head and letting his dark hood fall back. At the top of his lungs, he yelled “Aaron! Come out, you bastard! I know it’s me you want!”

There was no sound, save for the hot breeze of the summer night, rustling the leaves of the trees around the clearing. Seeing that no arrows were flying yet, Aidan went on.

“I discovered your plans. I led the attack. And I made you my bitch. Come out and face me, you sack of shit!”

Another long silence took over the clearing. The archers still hadn’t fired yet. A moment later, Aaron stepped forward from the darkness of the tunnel. He was wearing his chainmail armor with a large axe strapped across his back, with a dagger dandling on each side of his belt. His muscular figure looked imposing even from a distance, especially compared to Aidan, who was much smaller in comparison.

His deep voice echoed across the clearing “Aidan! My favourite thief! And I see you’re still as arrogant as the cursed day I met you. Good.” He slowly turned his back to him, heading back into the tunnel “Well then, don’t be a stranger, come on in!” He looked over his shoulder with a sly smile and added “It’s dangerous out here.”

Aidan nodded and approached the entry to the tunnel very slowly, with small and steady steps, all the while whispering to himself “So far, so good.”

Stepping in, his eyes were struggling to adjust to the darkness. Just as he started to make out the outline of the rock walls and three large silhouettes further down in the tunnel, a fist clipped his jaw, sending him flying into the nearby wall. Another hand grabbed his sword and yanked it away, throwing it out into the clearing.

His head was spinning from the hit and Aidan was overcome with adrenaline, as he struggled to parry the incoming flurry of blows that Aaron unleashed. But the darkness and his dizziness made it nearly impossible for him to see the attacks coming.

Before he realised it, he was on the floor, being kicked around by the four men. He could feel two of his ribs breaking and blood gushing into his mouth. Fighting hard to maintain consciousness during the sudden attack, he barely managed to say “W-wait.”

For a moment, the kicks stopped. Aaron’s voice echoed through the tunnel, mockingly “Oh? What’s that? Would you like some ale too, while we’re at it?” The massive man grabbed Aidan by the hair and lifted him clean off his feet. He then pulled him close and whispered into his ear:

“You cost me a year’s worth of work, you little shit. If you thought I’d grant you a swift death, you were dead wrong.”

Aidan’s mind was racing. He was hoping for Aaron to take his sweet time killing him, giving Tomas and the others time to deal with the archers. But he didn’t account for the army closing in. Aaron must have been in as much a hurry to make it out of Tregaron as they were. At this rate, he wouldn’t last long enough. He needed to improvise.

Regaining some of his senses and strength, Aidan grabbed onto Aaron’s shoulders for balance and twisted his head forcefully, biting down hard into his right cheek. As he yelled and struggled to push him away, Aidan grabbed the hilt of one of the daggers dangling at Aaron’s belt and planted his feet onto his knees, propelling himself backward.

Under normal circumstances, he would have landed gracefully — but between the pain of his broken ribs and the dizziness from the beating, he ended up slipping on the tunnel’s floor, landing on his back.

As he got up, the three men behind Aaron pulled out their swords, as their leader fell to his knees, clutching desperately at the deep wound on his face. They started rushing towards Aidan, who was considering his options as he was struggling to regain his balance.

In a desperate attempt, he threw the dagger at the closest assailant. It went through his leather armor, piercing his torso — while it was not a lethal would, it staggered him enough to slip and go down as he was trying to pull out the dagger from his own guts. The man behind him had to change his course and step around him, which bought Aidan a few precious seconds to deal with the third man, whose sword was currently swinging towards him.

Unarmed and faced with a man much larger than he was, Aidan fought every instinct that was telling him to move away from the sharp object aiming for his head and instead lunged forward, crashing into the man’s chest. The combined momentum sent both of them tumbling to the ground, caught in a hand-to-hand brawl than Aidan had no real hope of winning.

The man on top of him was beating him senseless, throwing forceful punches and elbows aimed at his head and neck. As he was getting pummelled down, the third man finally caught up with them and tried to look for an opening to stab him.

Aidan saw him coming and realising that death was imminent either way, he decided to go for a desperate play:

He shifted his body to the left, clearly exposing his shoulder from under the beast on top of him, giving the third man a clear shot.

He could feel his flesh tearing and bones being scratched, but the adrenaline shut most of the pain away, leaving him with the unnatural feeling of an object being lodged into his shoulder. With great effort and letting out a feral yell, he lifted his hand up and caught the blade, thrusting it into the neck of the man on top of him.

As the third warrior instinctively pulled the blade out, he unintentionally cut deep into the man’s throat, resulting in a rapid current of blood rushing out. Aidan felt the large man convulse and stop his relentless attack, instinctively grabbing his neck and rolling to his side.

The third man was frozen in horror, as he watched Aidan slowly rise from the ground, covered in blood from head to toe. Taking advantage of the momentary paralysis, Aidan turned tail and quickly ran the twenty feet corridor to the end of the tunnel, only to crash and fall onto the grass on his way out. He was bleeding on the grass, trying to reach for the sword a few feet away. Given his state, it might as well have been one hundred miles away.

Realising the futility of his attempt, and with the adrenaline slowly leaving his body, he accepted his defeat. He could hear the yells from the cave getting closer with every passing moment.

As his consciousness was leaving him, he heard the indistinguishable sounds of swords clashing, followed by blurred visions of Tomas and faint echoes of his voice, as he rushed to him from the hills being the tunnel.

As his brother lifted him in his arms, Aidan finally passed out.

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Excellent story. Gripping -- held my interest from beginning to end. I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.
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