The Disappearing Bandits

“This is the third convoy this week” Peter repeated to Arthur what he heard a few moments earlier.
“I know, but it doesn’t seem right” Arthur exclaimed.
“They all describe the same thing, an attack in broad day and then…” Peter continued excited.
“How can a group of riders disappear into thin air?” Arthur tried to reason with him.

The two were waiting tables in the large main hall of the inn, which was packed to the last chair. The snow storm that stopped a week ago allowed a few convoys to get underway, all passing through their small village on their way to or from London.
At a fair distance from the big city the village was a good resting place for the convoys, the main and only attraction was the biggest building in the village which was the inn, while the word of the great food and warm beds brought the result they were in.

“I heard it to” Cathy said from behind the boys who stopped to talk outside the kitchen swing door. She was helping Merry the inn owner in the kitchen, while John Merry’s husband took the orders and greeted the customers. “Merry is looking for the two of you” She said when they turned.
Running between the tables with a tray full of plates, Gwen was the only one missing. Although her small and slender physic, the twelve years old brunette was the best waitress of the four, always making the customers love her.

“We’ll be right in” Arthur said. “You have to agree this doesn’t seem plausible.”
“I heard it from five different customers this week” Peter said while Cathy nodded her agreement with him.
“Let’s talk about it after dinner, we’ve got only a short while until we finish for the day” Arthur suggested when he saw Gwen heading their way.
Nodding her approval, Cathy turned into the kitchen passing into the steamy room. Their small cabin was just through the door on the other side of the kitchen, located in a small courtyard between the inn and stable.

It took them more than they thought to sit down for their dinner, but finally most of the tables emptied and headed towards their room while the last few were about to finish and follow their lead. The four were finishing a hefty dinner, when Arthur decided to approach the subject again.

“So what do you think?” Arthur asked. Seeing Peter still eating he smirked, knowing the outcome.
“We….Sho…..sssss…..” the excited Peter tried to answer with his mouth full of food, as skinny and tall as he was he never passed on a meal. Cathy finally stopped him.
“We heard it from a few different convoys” Cathy answered instead.
“I even heard that a small garrison is making his way from the fort on the west” Gwen added.
Peter nodded pointing at Gwen with the hand that held a piece of bread, clearly indicating he heard it as well.
“So shouldn’t we let them handle it?” Arthur asked, only to spite Peter.
“Ohhhhh….Ohhhhh…..” Peter exclaimed, his mouth still full.
“I’m only kidding” patting on his back, Arthur calmed him.
“From what I heard they only stole coins and jewelry, leaving all the rest” Gwen shared the customers stories.
“Did anyone say how many they were?” Arthur asked, trying to gather all the information.
“Twenty” Peter said.
“A dozen” Cathy said.
“A few dozens” Gwen said.
Arthur smiled. “Probably closer to half a dozen, after a fight people tend to exaggerate.”
“Especially if they lost” Cathy added.
“We’ll try and locate the place tomorrow” Arthur said, and they all seemed happy with this decision.

After helping John and Merry to prepare the inn’s main hall for a new day, they told the two their decision for the next day.
The two who treated the group as their own children needed a lot of reassuring they will be fine and stay away from danger. Although they all knew that wasn’t entirely true.
John assured them they will manage fine in the inn as two of the convoys are leaving at first light and Arthur promised them they will return as fast as they could.

Retiring to their small cabin, the four quickly fell asleep exhausted from a long day and in anticipation of a new adventure.
This time it was Arthur’s turn to be the first one up. He went over to the girls room and woke them after waking Peter who was up and about a moment later.
“I’ll meet you inside” Arthur said to Peter and left through the door to the inn’s kitchen.

Remembering John said two convoys were leaving at day break he woke up very early and already talked with more than half a dozen travelers from both convoys, asking them to point out the place they were attacked on the map. Although most of them looked at him with a look of contempt, he managed to pinpoint the two attack sites. Now he was looking for travelers from the third convoy.

“If you just can point it on the map” Arthur requested from a convoy guard who finally agreed to help Arthur.
Appearing from the kitchen door the three friends joined Arthur around the map.
“Here” The guard pointed to a small bend in the road.
“Can you tell us what happened?” Cathy asked when she saw he was hurrying away.
“We were attacked from the forest. They took the coins and jewelry and when we tried to chase them they just disappeared.
“Into the air?” Peter asked amazed.
“We didn’t see it, but when we got to a small closed ravine they were gone, but there was nowhere to go” the guard explained and left their table. “Don’t do anything stupid” he said over his shoulder.

“So now you believe?” Peter asked Arthur when they were on their way to grab their swords and bows from the cabin, all of it were presents from Glen and memories from their last summer big adventure.
“I believe, but I don’t think we believe the same thing” Arthur answered as they concealed their weapons under a few layers of cloth, the main storm was over but a soft layer of snow still covered the countryside.
“You’ll see” Peter smiled, and the two headed to the stable. On their way Merry handed them food for a couple days kissing each one on the forehead swearing them they will come back safe.

“Are we joining this convoy?” Gwen asked when they climbed their horses, also a present from the last summer, but these were from the queen.
“No” Arthur shook his head. “We’ll be our own convoy” He giggled.
The three knew by now they should trust his instincts.
The sun made her way through the clear sky, after a short lunch they were approaching the place one of the convoys was attacked.
“Whatever you do, do not attack them. We probably can’t take them head on.”
“Do you want us to get robbed?” Peter exclaimed.
Only nodding his head, Arthur signaled on his mouth for him to stay quiet.

The road bent to north a little and there in the middle of the road sat a man on a horse, whistling to himself a soft tune. He was covered with heavy wool cloak concealing his figure but a sword was resting on his back and a large dagger in his boot.
“Hello there” he said to the four who halted their horses at the sight.
“What do you want?” Cathy snapped.
“Not much” he laughed, “Your money and jewelry, will be enough”
“And if we don’t want to give it to you?” Cathy continued.
“Well….” he whistled again and five men came out of the woods with swords at the ready in their hands.
“Just don’t hurt us” Arthur said, playing the role he intended from the start, grabbing a small pouch from inside his robes, throwing to the man on the horse who caught it in midair.
“Come on, I know there’s more” he said with a smile.
Reluctantly Gwen took out a small pouch which Arthur gave her beforehand. She threw it as well. Although there was not much inside the man seemed satisfied. He turned away and before they could react the man rode into the woods. Looking for the rest they understood that the other bandits have gone when they were concentrated on the rider.

“Now we go after them” Arthur smiled, and the four shot into the forest at a fast gallop.
“There he is” Peter called to the others, he was by far the best rider in the group and one of the best in the area.
The noise of horses galloping in front lead them towards a narrowing ravine. Cathy was the first to reach Peter at the entrance of the ravine.
“Where did they go?” She asked.
“I don’t know. They entered this ravine and disappeared,” he said. “There is no place to go from here” he Pointed to a frozen pond and a frozen waterfall at the far side of the ravine.
“This is the only entrance?” Arthur asked when he and Gwen finally reached them.
“Just like the guard said, they disappeared” Peter said.
“Let’s look around,” Arthur whispered. “Try to do it quietly.”

The ravine seemed completely empty. Arthur suddenly saw Gwen signaling him on far side of the pond below the waterfall. He rode around the pond as the ice seemed too thin to walk on.
“Look at this” She said, pointing to the ground. She already dismounted and Arthur joined her on the ground.
When on the ground he could now see what Gwen saw, horse shoes marks in the snow. Following the marks led them behind the frozen water in the waterfall. ”The perfect hiding place” Arthur whispered.
The path behind the frozen waterfall was big enough for a rider on a horse to pass through with ease.

The two slowly edged their way inside finding an entrance to a cave. Arthur glimpsed, seeing a large long path. He was startled from a noise and took a step back, but after a second he realized it was only a horse. Another glimpse revealed all the horses tied to a large log at the far end of the path.
After taking a few steps onside he saw that Gwen was following him very close behind. He took a few more steps before he heard the voices of cheers and drinking, apparently the bandits started celebrating early in the day.

The two edged closer getting to the horses, the path took a left turn. Arthur hesitated to look but Gwen didn’t. She glimpsed inside quickly, returning to Arthur. The two made their way back quietly.
“There you are” Peter called from the other side of the pond when they reappeared in the ravine.
Arthur waved his hands. “Shhhh…” he hushed him while climbing back on his horse. A sudden crack made him turn towards Peter. “Go back” he called to Peter as quietly as he could. He understood the ice will brake under the horse weight.
Peter stopped his horse and started backing out slowly, to their relief managing to make it safely out of the pond, waiting there for the rest of his friends

While making their way back to the road while discussing what they saw, they had spotted a small convoy of about six wagons and five guards making their way towards them.
Arthur signaled them and the convoy stopped a short distance from them. After a short discussion two guards came forward. “What do you want?” the one who seemed in charge asked.
“We need your help” Arthur explained. “We’ve found the hide out of the disappearing bandits.
“Lad, we don’t have the time or enough men for that” the guard said. “Now move out of the way.”
“We can stop them together” Cathy said.
The guard looked the thirteen years old blond up and down and smirked, “With your help?” he and his friend laughed. The guard raised his hand and the convoy continued its movement. “Let the soldiers take care of it”

“What did we expect from some poor guards?” Cathy snorted.
“Should we wait for the soldiers?” Gwen asked?
“We can try it by ourselves” Arthur said.
“I like that” Peter smiled “Do you have a plan?” he continued.
“A little risky one, but yes” he said.

It didn’t take them long to return to the ravine and settle into their positions. From the far end of the pond they could see Peter edging his way behind the frozen waterfall.
Peter was walking slowly through the path, volunteering, as he was the best rider. He got to the horses still unnoticed and was cutting through the rope with his dagger.
A moment later he was on one of the horses holding the rest of the ropes in his left hand.
“He’s stealing our horses!” came a shout followed by a big commotion.
Peter’s horse started galloping towards the exit. Looking over his shoulder he could see six men running after him with a fury. He was almost at the entrance when a sharp pain went through his left hand making him instantly release the ropes in his hand.
Peter looked back and saw one of the bandits getting ready to throw a dagger. He crouched on the horse and galloped through the path, the horses following him outside running on the edge of the pond.
Looking back Peter managed to see the bandit throwing his dagger, missing him but scraping his horse on the back making him stand on two legs, dropping him to the ice and running towards his friends.

Peter was almost fifty feet away from them and ten feet from the entrance. The bandits spotted him and were starting towards him.
The three released their arrows at the same time aiming bellow their feet. This allowed Peter enough time to get up and run leaving a trail of blood on the ground. The bandits started after him again.
“Aim for the edges” Arthur called.
Each arrow flew in making the bandits group together. “Come on” Arthur mumbled.
The first bandit caught Peter’s cloak when the ice broke under him and the whole group fell into the ice cold water. Peter was still on the edge of the ice but it was starting to crack under him. He made a few steps forward and the ice broke under him.
The three sprinted towards him seeing he was drowning, managing to catch his hand before Peter went down.
It took them some effort to help him out of the ice. He was shivering and bleeding but the group managed to get him away from the ice, meanwhile hearing the anger cries of the bandits.
They all gave him their cloaks, rapping him up like a baby, heading to their horses and back to the road.

Peter was warming himself by the fire place now inside the inn. Merry was running around him from the moment they got back, bandaging his arm and keeping him warm.
The four ran into a group of soldiers who retrieved the bandits a short while after.
“To the hero who caught the disappearing bandits” Arthur called, raising his tea cup.
“They weren’t really disappearing” Cathy whispered.
“To our Hero” Arthur repeated.
“To our Hero!” They all cheered.


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