Through sign language, Halmar expressed his fear to Coot. Coot finally understood, but smiled and indicated the distance was not too far, but a slight insult to be so close; Halmar was not mollified.
This was only the bragging of one too young to see the true danger, forgetting for the moment that he was only seventeen, himself.
However, it was too late.
The Poltori had finished their meal and were now proceeding in single file through the woods precisely where Sy had guessed. Both Coot and Halmar notched arrows.
Coot carefully positioned himself.
The four drovers were not to be bothered in the first attack; the accompanying guards were the main concern.
Halmar heard the caw of a magpie.
Coot quickly drew his bow to full reach and held it for a split second.
Halmar saw his bulging arm muscles as he aimed the powerful weapon and released the arrow.
It held a true course and found its mark in the side of a Poltori guard. At the same time, other arrows were flying, but not all found their target.
Three warriors fell from their horses, dead or wounded.
The remaining four Poltori guards drew their long swords and charged their horses into the brush on either side of the trail in a frantic attempt to flush out the attacking bowmen.
Halmar now understood the reason for putting such a distance between themselves and the trail.
The confused Poltori believed that such accurate arrows must have been fired from close quarters.
They were wheeling their horses about in a senseless charge, yards away from their enemies. A Poltori guard rode between the two boys and the trail.
Coot notched another arrow, took aim, and shot at the enemy.
Because of the Poltori’s quick movements, the arrow missed, to plunge into the horse’s shoulder.
The large stallion took several steps, stumbled and fell to the ground.
Coot made a clicking sound with his tongue and drew another arrow from his quiver.
The Poltori warrior scrambled to his feet and retrieved his shield and sword, but then hesitated in confusion, not knowing whether to continue after his unseen enemy or return to the pack animals on the trail.
Such a motionless target was too easy for Coot.
His next arrow buried itself in the Poltori’s chest, dropping him like a stone. The frightened drovers dropped the lead ropes to their pack animals and dismounted.
Then, when they saw their guards being picked off, they scrambled back on their horses and made a dash for safety.
Coot and Halmar left their hiding place and made their way to the trail where the other Endi warriors gathered.
Some of the enemy moaned as they struggled with their wounds.
The Endi drew their knives; there would be no prisoners.
Six Endi, fighting in their own style, killed seven heavily armed Poltori, four drovers, and captured twelve pack animals.
Halmar was learning. Riding into the village with the Endi raiding party, Halmar noticed heightened activity all around as the villagers loaded household items and provisions onto pack animals.
The raiding party disbanded, the warriors hurrying to their own huts to help with the move.
Sy and Halmar dismounted before Sy’s hut where Tu Lei and Nan Tu were busy packing. What’s going on?” he asked Sy. We’ve committed ourselves and now must move our families to a safe place.
Undoubtedly, the Animal Shields will send a force to punish us and we must be ready. Sy, I can’t go with you.
I must return to the valley. Sy nodded. I know, I expected as much.
The horse you rode today is a gift.
I’ll escort you to the foothills. I must ask another favor, Sy.
I want to return with as much information about the enemy as possible.
I need to paint a map on a skin showing the location and number of the enemy.
Will you help me prepare the map? Sy knew the strange habit of the young Clansman to make marks on skins instead of committing information to memory, but he agreed to help.
Halmar selected one of Tu Lei’s skins and prepared his dyes.
With Sy’s aid, he drew on the mountains and foothills.
Sy pointed out the locations of the Poltori encampment and the Endi village. How many soldiers are at the enemy camp?” asked Halmar. Sy thought a minute. Over a thousand men, maybe twelve-hundred. Halmar was surprised. So many, I don’t think we can put that many in the field. I have more bad news for you,” continued Sy. Word has come from our villages in the East that another large party of the Animal Shields are moving through the mountains to join the encampment. How many, did they say? Many more than the first encampment, but most are women and children.
It appears the Animal Shields are intent on making the valley their home. How many warriors? I’m not sure, maybe a thousand.
Altogether, the enemy must have an army of over two-thousand warriors. Halmar sat and stared at the map.
How many Clansmen can be assembled to fight, one thousand, fifteen hundred? How many of the enemy are cavalry?” he asked. Sy knitted his brows. I’m not sure.
Not all at the encampment are mounted.
I personally counted over six-hundred. Their cavalry must be eight-hundred to a thousand. Sy, from what I saw at the battle I was in, these Poltori are well trained, fierce warriors.
They could be more than a match for my Clansmen.
I’m not sure we can stop them.
It may have been a mistake for your people to make them your enemy, too. Sy smiled. It makes no difference.
If they take the Valley, then we will simply steal their cattle instead of yours.
You can come live with us and help.” He laughed at the idea and slapped Halmar on the shoulder. But enough of that! You’ll defeat them with our help.
We’ll keep snapping at their heels while you run them back to wherever they came from.
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