Having driven the newlywed king almost to violent rage, and his queen to a rather enlivened state of argument, the travelers withdrew after breakfast to their chambers.
"Everything's set here," said Benjamin, rolling up some odd instruments in a leather pouch and tucking them into his shirt, "is the signal up?"
"Yep!" Belian withdrew his head from the window, "I think we're ready."
"Gentlemen!" Grizzly Bear held his lute straight out like a sword, "take up your weapons. We go to...uh..."
"To war!" rumbled Enoch mildly.
"War!" mimicked Belian.
"Or something," laughed Benjamin.
"Warrior!" the soft voice of Queen Chastagne froze Enoch and Benjamin in their tracks as they walked surreptitiously down a side passage.
"Lady?" Enoch's voice sounded almost weak.
"I'm so glad I found you. Lokely speaks well on my behalf, but perhaps even he cannot entirely exonerate me. Your words lodged close to my conscience. Lokely assures me that the good I do well merits the advantages that the spice affords to me. Yet I hold a somewhat less exalted view of myself."
"Oh, well!" Enoch seemed torn. "Tell you what, let's get together sometime and...no, uh, let's say that maybe you should share the spice a little more, or just be nicer to the peasants." Benjamin had been edging down the passage away from the princess. Now Enoch began walking backwards as he spoke, still facing Chastagne but moving directly away from her.
"Done! It worked!" Belian burst into the passage by Benjamin, some sort of wrench in one hand, a fistful of mud in the other. "Oh," he said, seeing the queen.
"Ta-da!" Grizzly Bear danced his way into the passage, holding the spice in both hands, singing along with his rhythm. "I got the spice (oh yeah!) I got the spice..."
Then he saw the queen.
"What are you doing?" she asked harshly. Enoch glared at them.
"Sorry, miss Queen, but you'll have to wait until you catch us to share the spice!" In the time it took Chastagne to fill her lungs for a scream, Enoch had caught up to her and clamped a huge hand over her mouth.
A yard of wood appeared in the tree in front of Belian with a sizzle and a smack, so close in front of him that his chest snapped it in two as his mount rode under. The horse of the man next to him let out a terrific scream and bolted, struck by another arrow. Shouting out in surprise and command, the party turned their horses and galloped to the center of the cluster of trees they were passing. Grizzly Bear was the last to enter the relative safety, on foot, yelling madly, holding his lute behind him as some sort of shield. Two arrows narrowly missed him.
"How many? How many?" Enoch's voice drowned out the others.
"Five, I'll say," murmured slender Tomas, tying his bowstring with total disregard for the falling shafts.
"Naaoow," replied Chester Burley, shaking his head and his fat lips, "jus' four or I'll give me week's pay -- little though it be." He drew his bow taut, let out a "humph" and drew a shaft from his quiver.
"No time to talk about pay!" piped Belian from behind a tree, tightening his hat down "I need a weapon!"
"Why didn't you bring your own!?" Grizzly Bear shouted, jostling with a horse for cover beneath an oak.
Another horse screamed, struck by an arrow. After a few moments of thrashing, his rider let him go. They watched the horse thunder out through the cool evening air. Benjamin shivered.
"We've got to get out of here before they hit any more horses," he said, "we can still make a run for it right now, doubling up on a few, but if we wait any longer we'll have to leave our gear if we want to get very far."
"Just four. we can take'em." said Belian. Enoch's men murmured grim but rowdy agreement.
"They want us to run for it," said Enoch. "That's just what they want. If we bolt in the other direction we'll run straight into the other four. The scouts saw eight. These jokers could have hit us in the open, not right next to these trees. It's the perfect shield for a geta..."
This time it was a human scream, as one of Enoch's men rolled over, an arrow in his leg.
"Boss?" asked Tomas, peeking around his tree, "I've spotted one. Up in some branches in yonder oak, no less. Poor pigeon. Nasty place to be when the arrows fly!"
"Get him then!" Enoch urged. Tomas and his fellow bowman Chester leaned out and sighted.
"'ere. I'll test it. Two branches a'bow 'im, the big'un. See if we can hi'it."
The two bows twanged.
"That what I said!"
"Fine. Let's get'im."
Again the bows twanged. Benjamin, peeking around his tree, had spotted the bowman they were sighting, a good ways off in a tree, clothing barely distinct because of the gray tree branches against the backdrop of the orange sunset. He saw no change.
"Did you get him?"
Tomas stared at him blankly. "We sighted it first."
"But he didn't fall."
"Aye, what did you expect?" droned Charley. "for'im to throw i'self outta the tree after 'e was already dead? Don't see how you can expect so much out of him in that state!"
More bolts thwacked their way through the branches around them, burying themselves unnervingly close to their hiding spots.
"All right," Enoch said, and he pulled off his shirt.
"Here we go!" yelled Belian.
"Think I'll take my horse," said Enoch, "and go for them. Trisha here has enough armor, I think. And I," he heaved something out of his sack, "have a shield." It was a huge cauldron lid, with metal handles bolted to the inside. "Multi-purpose," he laughed. "Who's comin' with me?"
"I'll go if somebody gives me a weapon!" Belian was practically dancing, while still trying to stay protected behind a tree. One of Enoch's men handed him a light spear. "I'd better come behind you; I don't have a big enough pot."
"We'll keep them busy, boss!" said another of Enoch's men, stringing his shortbow.
"I'll stay in case the other four show up," Benjamin smirked, "and because I stink at riding."
"I'll stay back here and scare the living daylights out of them with my battle cry," said Grizzly Bear.
"Someday, Grizzly Bear," said Enoch as he mounted again, "I'll put you in front of me on my horse, put a battleaxe in your hands, gallop into the middle of a battle, and you will own!"
"Someday. Just not today!" replied Grizzly.
"Ha!" Enoch galloped out of the clearing. Four arrows zipped out from his men to keep the attacker's heads down. Belian sat astride his dancing horse.
"Come on, come on, come on..." he too galloped out of the clearing as Enoch neared the tree where they had seen one of the archers.
Grizzly, true to his word, walked out of the cover of the trees, played a strangely aggressive series of chords on his lute, and then leaned back with his arms stretched wide, screaming a weird, wild battle cry. Benjamin watched Enoch. The warrior was bent low over his mount, then suddenly rolled off and somehow landed on his feet running, dropping the wrappings from his great spiked mace. A human figure separated itself from a rock, bow in hand, and walked backwards, until Enoch caught up with it and struck it down. Another figure had jumped up behind Enoch and clearly loosed an arrow at him. Whether it struck or no, Enoch turned now to the second foe and charged him, his bellow audible to all in the grove. The archer pulled out a short blade, ducked the first swing of Enoch's mace, and rushed into the red warriors arms.
"Bad call!" yelled Grizzly Bear, shaking his head.
"Epic fail," laughed Benjamin.
Indeed, whatever transpired inside of Enoch's burly grasp, it was he and not the archer who turned away. A last man had popped up from the rocks, bow ready to shoot Enoch if he bested his man. But even as they watched the bow grow taught, Belian's mount eclipsed their view, and they saw Belian twirl his shaft in his hands before lofting it towards its target, who fell out of view, struck solidly by the spear.
"That was short," said Benjamin.
"What can you say?" Grizzly Bear turned back towards them, shrugging, palms up. "Don't mess with Enoch and Belian."
"How's the queen?" asked Benjamin of Enoch's men.
"She's fine," came the reply.
Benjamin and Grizzly re-entered the grove to see the queen lying against a tree, her court gowns muddied, her arms tied and mouth gagged.
"Good. Let's see about the other hurt, then, and keep a look out for the rest of those bandits!"