Road Bandits

Originally published Monday, July 19, 2004

Tizzle sat on the stump and rubbed his foot through his mudcaked, hole-filled sock with his scabbed and scarred hands. Tizzle glanced up the road and saw Rigger striding quickly away. “Wait up, will you?” Tizzle shouted to Rigger getting no response. Tizzle picked up his beat up leather boot with a large hole that ran through the bottom and top of the shoe and poured out equally large pebbles.

Tizzle thrust his foot in the boot. The laces of the untied boot flapped about his ankle as he jogged to catch up to Rigger. In contrast to Tizzle’s raggedy clothes, Rigger wore a fine country suit made of durable cloth, though it had seen better days and was patched in several places. A bowler hat hid Rigger’s bald head and her swung a long stick as thick as a man’s forearm about nonchalantly, sometimes using it as a walking stick and sometimes using it as a club, knocking the heads off of dandelions.

Rigger looked over to the panting Tizzle and asked, “Why are you out of breathe?”

“I got some rocks in my boot that I needed to take care of,” Tizzle said in between breaths.

“If you are going to take shoes from a dead man, you should make sure the shoes are worthy of being worn.”

“They were good shoes, until you shot him in the foot. You knew I needed boots, I don’t know why you had to shoot his foot. Wouldn’t the shin or thigh have served your purpose? Why the foot?”

“Everything is about you, isn’t it? I wasn’t thinking you needed boots back there. I was only thinking that he was getting away. I guess I could have just shot him in the head, but then we wouldn’t know which way the carriage went, now would we?” Rigger addressed Tizzle in a patronizing fashion, using the large stick to punctuate his speech.

“Besides,” Rigger continued, “at least now, one of your feet has a shoe.”

“Always the optimist, aren’t you?” Tizzle mumbled to himself. The two men walked down the road for an hour in silence. The sun had fallen low enough that it was hidden behind a large copse of trees. The two men walked in the long shadows, as the air cooled around them.

“Should we build a fire tonight?” Tizzle asked.

“Guess we better. I was hoping we’d stumble across a cottage or some travelers and set by their fire this evening,” replied Rigger.

Tizzle wandered to the side of the road and began collecting bits and pieces of wood as Rigger continued to stride forward. Once Tizzle had a full load of wood in his arms, he hurried up the road. Night was quickly coming and Tizzle had lost sight of Rigger. Tizzle finally came to a turnout in the road, a site of many campfires from the look of the blackened earth. Rigger sat on a rotting log gazing up at the stars in the clear sky.

Tizzle took a rag from his coat pocket and unrolled it, revealing a small knife and a few stones. He took the knife in his hand and began widdling at a piece of wood, creating as small pile of tiny flecks of wood. Though he wielded the knife as if he had done this countless times before, every once in awhile the knife would slip and he’d knick his hand.

After one particularly painful slice, he yelped. Rigger turned his head to Tizzle and in an unconcerned voice said, “If you’d just get the thing sharpened, you wouldn’t cut yourself so much.”

“If it were sharper, I’d take my finger off when it slips.”

Rigger turned his head back to the sky. He’d attempted this argument too many times to try it again tonight.

Tizzle gathered his little pile of wood chips and then took one of the stones in his left hand. In a quick motion, he struck the knife blade against the stone, sending out a little array of sparks. Tizzle did this several times until a few sparks landed on his pile of woodchips. He bent over and gently blew on the spark. The spark burned the wood, creating an ember. From the ember a tiny flame grew. The flame took life. Tizzle carefully set twigs on the flame. Twigs became finger thick branches, until the flame was able to engulf the chunks of dead wood he had collected alongside the road.

“Good work,” Rigger said, looking at the warm fire Tizzle had crafted. Tizzle pressed his bleeding hand against his dirty trousers and beamed at the praise.

“It is a shame we don’t still have some of that quail from last night, isn’t it. I guess we can savor the memory of it though,” Rigger said, moving closer to the fire.

“Yeah, it sure would sit well with my empty stomach. When do you think someone will find the body of the guard back there?”

“By now, I’m sure the animals have had him for their dinner. My concern is why was the guard back there in the first place. I certainly hope Ardur isn’t aware we are behind him and left the guard there to do us in.”

Tizzle laughed. “One guard? For us? That would be a true underestimation of who we are and what we are capable of. I’d be insulted if that were the case.”

“You are right, chum. Most likely he was a straggler. Probably sent back with a message for someone. It doesn’t much matter. If Ardur is aware we are coming up behind him, there is very little he can do about it.”

Tizzle cackled as he tossed another chunk of wood on the fire.

Rigger laid down on the ground, still staring up at the stars. The fire warmed his face and gave everything about it an orange glow.

The morning was gray and damp. No rain had actually fallen yet, but the clouds were like children carrying full cups of water. They were going to spill, it was just a matter of when. Rigger awoke slowly, the chill of the morning air making his bones hurt in a most unnatural way. Tizzle awoke earlier and gathered berries from nearby bushes. One of Tizzle’s rags sat near Rigger, heaped with various types of berries. Rigger reached for the berries as Tizzle popped up from behind a rock. Tizzle’s face was splotched with redness and he seemed pained.

“Don’t eat the small reddish ones. They’ll give you the runs something awful,” Tizzle said before squatting behind the rock again and making some obscene noises.

Rigger flicked the berries from the rag and sampled the others. “Good thing you told me,” is all he had to say over Tizzle’s moans.

The clouds finally spilt their rain as the two men trudged up the road. Rigger had pulled out a short pistol and looked it over. “I’ve got two shots left and my powder is wet. It looks like Ardur might get an even chance today.”

Tizzle looked worse that before, as a rash had overtaken his entire body. A very nasty reaction to the red berries. All efforts to quell the itching had failed, but the evidence of the attempts was still noticeable. Tizzle smeared mud on his face and he had tried to scratch his back with a branch, leaving twigs and leaves poking out of his jacket. The rain only added to Tizzle’s misery. “I’m in no mood for fair fights today. If we don’t have the pistol, then I say we try to get ahead of the carriage and ambush Ardur and his guards.”

Rigger walked several steps in silence. “Often I question your intellect, Tizzle, but you surprise me. I should learn my lesson. You are right. We’ll cut through the brush when we spot them and take them by surprise. No reason to have a fight on fair ground if it can be avoided, eh chum?”

Tizzle wasn’t paying attention to Rigger as he battled an itch that couldn’t be itched. “Feels like ants crawling on the inside of my skin, Rigger. My empty belly is a traitor to my well being!”

Rigger chuckled at Tizzle.

The two walked through the dreary rain, following the muddy road. Eventually, they caught sight of the carriage. A large armored wagon pulled by four oxen. A teamster on each side of the oxen team and one on top of the carriage drove the vehicle forward. Two guards walked in front and three walked in back. The carriage itself was fifteen feet in height and twenty feet long. Six large spoked wheels carried it along the uneven road.

“We are lucky, chum,” Rigger said in an instinctive whisper in spite of the distance from the carriage and the amount of noise it was making. “The rain has slowed them down even further.”

Tizzle paused and sniffed the air. “Also smells like they need to get some fat on those axels. They won’t be able to move too fast or else the wheels will burn right off that behemoth.” Tizzle was giggling in delight as he bloodied his skin with his filthy fingernails.

The two men trudged through the trees and brush, moving as quickly as they could to get ahead of the slow but steady carriage. Rigger swung his stick haphazardly at bushes, frightening fowl at times. Tizzle scurried behind him, ducking under branches, and hopping over fallen logs. Rigger stopped once and took his bowler hat from his head, wiping sweat and rain from his face. Tizzle caught up to him and collapsed against the trunk of a tree.

“How much further?” Tizzle whined.

“Another hour should give us plenty of time to prepare ourselves and be rested enough to make it a good show.”

As Rigger had said, the two did. Another hour in the forest gave them plenty of time to set up their ambush. The carriage was still a long ways away and the rain had stopped. The mud would still slow the carriage and the lack of water on the axles would also be a factor in how fast the large wagon could go.

Rigger went off an embankment and started throwing stones up onto the road. Tizzle, now mostly over his itchiness, took the stones and started lining them up to form a wall along the road to block traffic. The road was in such bad condition that it didn’t take much to make it impassable.

Once done, Tizzle climbed a nearby tree and sat on a thick branch. Rigger tipped his hat over his eyes and dozed alongside the road.

The carriage made such a racket coming up the road, squeaking and grinding. The sounds of whips and men urging the beasts ever forward, and the good natured conversation between the guards all announced the arrival of the much awaited carriage.

Tizzle gave Rigger a nod indicating that he was prepared. Rigger took cover in the tall grass along the road and continued to wait.

As the carriage pulled forward, the leading guards came across the stones in the road. “Hold up!” one of them shouted. “There’s an obstruction in the road. Come on, men, let’s clear this quickly!”

The three guards following the carriage rushed to the front. The teamster who sat on top also climbed down to lend a hand at moving the rocks.

Tizzle jumped down on the roof of the carriage as Rigger leapt up from the side of the road to the carriage door. The two moved swiftly and in unison. The carriage door was opened and Tizzle swung inside. Rigger still on the ground swung his stick into the carriage and with his free hand pulled at the unconscious guard inside. Tizzle helped eject the second guard.

Those clearing the obstruction turned quickly to see Rigger climbing into the carriage using the bodies of two guards as a stepladder and closing the door behind him.

Tizzle crawled over the lap of a finely dressed man who had an intense look of fear plastered on his face. Rigger took the seat next to the door. “Hello, Ardur,” Rigger said.

“What in the name of storms do you ruffians want?” Ardur shouted in a panic stricken voice.

“Why Ardur, you should know. We only want what you took,” Rigger responded.

“Took from you? I’ve taken nothing from you.”

Tizzle laughed as he explored the immense compartment they were sitting. There were all sorts of little doors, chests, and drawers. One drawer was a larder and contained fresh fruits and smoked meats. Tizzle grabbed a thick slab of black jerky and tore a chunk off with his teeth.

The shouts from outside movement of the carriage indicated time was running out for Tizzle and Rigger. The guards and teamsters would soon pry open the door. “We’ve little time for games, Ardur. The gems. Two weeks ago you and your merry band trapsed through a village and demanded the gems from the church altar.”

“Those were taxes! Taxes owed to the crown!”

Tizzle swallowed his salty meat before speaking, “The church isn’t supposed to pay taxes.”

“Who are you two? You aren’t churchmen!” Ardur shouted. The door to the carriage was now being pried open. The tip of a pike poked into the compartment and pushed the door away from the frame. Rigger slammed his boot against the flat of the pikehead, tossing the guard holding it into the side of the carriage.

“Churchmen? Gods no. We are help for hire. That village was rather upset at your robbery and posted a reward. My chum and I aim to collect that reward, see.” Rigger said as he readied his large stick.

“So where are the gems?” Tizzle asked, drawing out his dull knife.

“Here! Here they are!” Ardur shouted, opening a small chest filled with gold and six perfect sapphires. Tizzle plucked the gems from the box and reached back for a handful of gold. Rigger rapped Tizzle’s hand with the stick. “Only the gems. Our reward will come from the village.”

The two of them got near the door, which was now cracking and creaking with the force of several pikes prying at it. “Are you ready, chum?” Rigger asked.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Tizzle responded.

Rigger lifted his booted foot and smashed it into the door of the carriage. His strong kick sent the door flying off its hinges. It also provided a shield for the two men as the followed it, tumbling to the ground.

Ardur was already shouting for them to be killed. Rigger pulled out his useless pistol and aimed it at Ardur’s head. “I can hit a fly at this distance, Ardur, and your head is much bigger than a fly.” The guards hesitated. Tizzle fled into the woods and Rigger backed away slowly before turning and diving into the brush after his partner.

The guards ran after them. Tizzle and Rigger sprinted but did not exert themselves too much. The forest was large and they knew all they had to do was get out of sight and lay still until the guards were called back. Ardur wouldn’t like to sit there without all his protection around him.

The two found their opportunity in the form of a giant tree that had fallen many years earlier. Rot had hollowed out most of the trunk. Tizzle uprooted several bushes and used them to hide the hollow Rigger and he could barely fit in. In as much silence as two men crammed in a tight space could maintain, they sat there, listening to the guards trudge to and fro in the forest. The sun had moved from morning to afternoon before the guards gave up and made their way back to the carriage.

“Well, chum,” Rigger said, “It looks as if you’ll be able to get a new pair of boots after all.”

Tizzle nodded enthusiastically as he checked on the six sapphires he had wrapped in one of his many rags.

Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.