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And Itza Danced coverNot only do the bandits slaughter their livestock, they also cause a herd of wild boars to stampede through the village. Itza’s little sister is almost hurt, but Crex, a former bandit, saves her at great peril to himself.

She left Bastia to tend to Crex and wait for the doctor to come, while she walked about the village, seeing the damage and helping where she could. Many of the buildings were uninhabitable and about a dozen people wounded, half that dead. Elveric might not move against them personally, but he was doing all he could to get even. There had to be a way to stop him.

One of the other ex-bandits approached her as she sat on a bench outside the tavern, a tankard of ale at her elbow, untouched. “Miss, if I may?”

She nodded and he sat.

“My name’s Vilfort, Miss. Crex is me cousin though we be closer than brothers. I hear he saved yer little sister.”

“Yes, he broke his arm, but I’ve seen to it.” She took an absent sip of her ale, making a face at the bittersweet flavor.

“Miss, Elveric won’t stop til he crushes this place. He’s a heartless bastard, pardon me saying. Like Crex told yer, he wants to make ye pay for making mockery of ‘im. He’ll not stop till he kills ya all one way or another. We was given the choice of watching ‘im kill our families or join up, we made the best we knew how to save em. Nothing’ll make us happier than to see him pay for that in spades.”

“We’re not an army, we can’t stand up against a man like him and the band he leads.”

“Ye do what ye should ha’ done before, Miss. Ye call him out to fight ye, only this time, you kill the sorry bastard.”

Itza cringed. It was one thing to kill a man in a battle, it was quite another to duel him and take his life. He’d kill her in a trice, he had no such compunction. It looked like her only way to solve their dilemma, they could not withstand a pitched battle.

“We could call on other villages to help us.”

Vilfort shook his head. “Ye’d have a right mess on your hands if ye did that. Then they all are targets too. He’ll be out rounding up those as run off and recruiting more as he did us. He’ll come back here stronger than he was and with blood in his eye. Nothing’ll stop him then, mark my words.”

Itza eyed him speculatively. It had occurred to her that this man could still be working for Elveric. They all could and they had taken them in like friends. Was he a wolf disguised as a lamb? He was pushing single combat and warning off calling for help. Although she admired Crex, she did not trust Vilfort. She gazed into his eyes and he would not meet her stare.

“Why do you really tell me this? Don’t tell me it’s for our good, because I don’t believe you. He wants you to do this, doesn’t he?”

His face crumbled in agony. “He’s got my son, and says he’ll kill him if I don’t help out!”

“Have you seen the boy? You know he’s alive?”

He nodded sadly. “Saw him last night and spoke with him. He’s a little ‘un, Miss, of an age with yer sister.”

Now she was hearing the truth. “Do you honestly think this is the best tactic? For me to fight him again?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know no more, Miss. Could be it’s best for all but ye’ve no guarantee he’ll keep his word even if you kill him. He could have his men attack soon as he goes down.

He’s a snake!”

She waited a few minutes, gazing into the distance, toward the hill where her parents were buried. This was the most difficult decision she had made in her life as head woman. It was not one she made lightly. If she could save the lives of her family by fighting Elveric again, she’d do it. What Vilfort said was true, she had no guarantee, but she might be able to weigh the odds in her favor.

“Tell him we’ve spoken and I’m thinking about it. I’ll consider doing as he wants.”

Vilfort looked hopeful.

“But, if you betray us, I’ll see to it that not only you die, but your son as well. If you think I can’t make that happen, you are quite wrong.”

Vilfort blanched. “I’ll see what I can do, Miss.”

“Before I agree, I want to see the boy well and whole. If any harm comes to him, the deal is off.”

“If I tell him that, he’ll know I’ve told you!”

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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