"Hey, that’s our donkey," shouted Egil at no-one in particular. The entire caravan seemed to crane their necks to watch the rapidly approaching donkey.
"Impressive," said Xanc, one of the drivers," Never seen a donkey that knows where its masters are."
Egil jumped down and secured Stove to the back of the wagon, kissing his ears and petting him.
"I see you haven't gelded him," said Xanc," My old grandad always said donkeys were happier gelded. Think I have my gelding tools in my travelling bag if you want me to do it. It'll only cost a stoop of ale at the next watering hole."
Egil declined Xanc’s offer. It wasn’t from any sentimentality that he declined, it was more that he momentarily had a twitch in his own crown jewels and felt he couldn’t sanction that happening to anyone else, even a donkey. Stove, on the other hand, made up his mind immediately and resolved that he would take his chances with the Wolves at the first opportunity.
It was only later that night that Darkon, Graphen and Egil had a chance to talk privately. Could they have asked for anything better? Being appointed guards of the caravan they needed to rob seemed like a dream come true. The only issue was the other guards, particularly Scarface and two of the others; Jace and Skelton. Scarface was tough, mean and likely to kill all three of them in a fair fight. They had to make sure it wasn't fair. Jace was a monster and stood at almost 2m tall but unlike many big men, he moved with precision and poise. Skelton was a killer. At least that’s what Egil reckoned.
"It’s his eyes," said Egil," Killer's eyes. Mark my words. Seen it too many times and I don't want those eyes to be the last thing I see before I go to the afterlife."
They concluded they needed to use surprise and make sure none of the guards (a) had weapons (b) had a chance to attack them (c) could be safely neutralised without too much personal risk.
"We have to do it at night," said Darkon, "when we are on guard. I'm not that keen to kill them while they sleep. That just wouldn't be fair. They've done nothing to us and in fact they have all been rather nice.”
"So, what do we do with them, then?" asked Graphen, "If l was them and they were us, as soon as I was released, I'd come looking for the people that betrayed me. I think we have to kill them or else we'll be looking over our shoulders for the rest of our lives."
"Can't we just join them and forget the Fatman?" asked Egil, " Being a smuggler seems quite a good job"
“Absolutely not,” said Darkon, “We signed a contract, we’ve got to keep it.”
Such are the moral implications and ethical dilemmas of adventurers. They all liked the idea of being ruthless desperados on the Road to Destruction but then still baulked at the actual thought of killing relatively innocent bystanders. Truth be told, all three probably still came home at a time agreed by their mummies, and not a minute later, and Egil still went to sleep with an old baby blanket if no-one was looking.
It took several nights before they formulated a plan. It wasn't that they seldom had a chance to speak on their own but quite the opposite, they had much too much time to plan. They just couldn't agree on the way to do it. It is a well-researched fact that adventurer’s plans become increasingly and unnecessarily complex the more straightforward the action is. Finally, having discarded various increasingly intricate ideas involving trip wires, mice gnawing through cheese impregnated string, fire arrows, exploding wagon axels, burning brandy barrel distractions, they agreed that a simple and direct plan was the best.
Whoever was on guard duty would wake the other two. While the other guards slept they would take their weapons and then wake each person singly, tie them up and move on to the next one until all six guards and drivers had been dealt with. They would then take the Boss without much trouble.
There was still differences of opinion what to do with the captives when they were subdued but they agreed that could wait until it was actually a problem. Egil still entertained thoughts on a mechanism for a slow release of the prisoners using pecking pigeons, counterweights and brandy impregnated raisons. He even went so far as to sketch out designs for a possible patent that he could submit to the Artificer’s Guild.
It had to be tonight. Darkon reckoned they had two more nights before they got to Santos. He felt leaving it another night could risk failure. Graphen was the sneakiest of the trio and he was assigned to stealing the sleeping guards’ weapons. Darkon forced Egil to stand still as Graphen moved between the sleeping men and brought them back to a central point. This was no mean feat as the only time Egil didn’t move was that time when he had been knocked unconscious by Brast the Beast at the Spring Fair Bareknuckle and All-In Wrestling competition.
The next step was to wake each guard singly starting with the most dangerous. Egil held a knife to each of the startled men’s throats to coax them into compliance. By common consent they reckoned Egil looked the most vicious and it was hoped that their victims would believe he would slit their throats if there was any deviance from the whispered instructions.
In this way, surprisingly, they were able to neutralise Scarface, Skelton and the other three guards. The Wagon drivers quickly followed and were gagged and trussed. Scarface, as was to be expected by an experienced campaigner once he had assessed the situation as hopeless, was compliant with the instructions. Only his eyes would have betrayed the thoughts in his head looking for the least opening to turn the tables. Skelton was less content, he hissed revenge and threats until silenced by strips torn from his cloak.
The big question was where was Jace? How could a 2m man disappear?