Chapter 5: It's Only Filler If It's Bad
Merlinus, Matthew and Rath followed on their horses at a respectful distance, trying in vain not to listen to the heated conversation that was taking place in front of them. It was hard not too though; it was morbidly entertaining, and none of them could look away.
"Please Erk, it's not healthy to bottle up your emotions like this!"
"Serra, this is not the time!"
"Oh but Erk, there is so much we left unsaid. I just think we should put everything out in the open."
"Honestly… look Serra, I don't know what you're talking about."
"Let's be honest now Erk, I think it's obvious you still have feelings for me, even if I've moved on."
"I still have feelings for you! That would require having ever had feelings for you in the first place!"
"You shouldn't say such hurtful things Erk. Even though I am over us, that still doesn't mean I don't consider you a close friend," said Serra, wiping away a faux tear.
"Over us? We were never together!"
"Oh Erky, why must you insist on denying us? Why can't you just accept the obvious?"
"Look Serra, I thought all these years would-"
"Heal the scars left from our ugly split?"
"What! No! I was going to say-"
"It's ok Erk, I thought so too. But I'm starting to realize that we were never truly apart."
"No, you don't understand," said Erk becoming more and more exasperated, "we were never even together!"
"Why do you keep saying that? Oh, can't you just accept that we were meant to be as one?"
Erk sighed, and looked back at his trailing companions, but the three had suddenly become interested in a passing cloud formation that bore a striking resemblance to a duck.
"Look, I apologize Serra… I was…"
"Yes?" asked Serra expectantly.
"I was wrong… I was wrong to say that there was- was nothing between us," Erk managed, teeth gritted.
"Oh, Erky poo, I knew you felt the same way! All those years ago, we were naught but children, what did we know of love?"
Rath suddenly spoke up.
"Lord Erk, there is trouble ahead," he said calmly.
Merlinus peered into the distance. His eyes weren't nearly as good as the trained hunter, and all he could make out was a large mass of people off in the distance.
"What do you see Rath?" asked Erk, gladly forgetting about his previous conversation.
"Bandits. A good number of them. They look ill organized and untrained. We should have little trouble."
"Being overconfident will get us no where Rath."
"Oh, must we fight them? Combat is so odious…," said Serra.
"Let's give them the benefit of the doubt, eh guys," said a wry Matthew. "Maybe they just want to chat?"
Erk didn't smile. "Come, we will meet them head on. Prepare yourselves."
Merlinus moaned silently. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this. The merchant withdrew a short sword that he had received back at the castle. It was silly really, Merlinus barely knew how to swing the thing. What was he going to do in a real battle?
"Er…Lord Erk…?" asked Merlinus plaintively.
Erk looked back, almost annoyed.
"Oh, Merlinus. That's right… Stay back a bit, and you'll be fine."
"Don't worry Merlinus, I will stay back and keep you safe!" volunteered Serra cheerily.
"Well, glad that's settled," said Matthew surging forward, "don't have too much fun now!" he said with a wink.
"Oh please, Matthew."
Erk, Matthew and Rath rode forward, leaving Merlinus and Serra at a safe distance. They approached the armed gang, about fifteen of them milling about the road, looking restless. As they got closer, one of the bigger ones stepped forward.
"Is yer name Erk?" he growled.
"That is me," said Erk, confused but unfazed.
"It's 'bout time. We been waitin' 'ere fer ages."
"Lookee here, this's the story. Some feller paid me an' me mates a king's ransom in gold to kill you an' yer friends. So, afore we get started, I jus' wanted to make clear tha' this ain't personal or nuthin'," he smiled a broken smile.
"Well, I'm glad we got that out in the open," laughed Matthew. "One of the keys to a good relationship is honesty, you know."
"Er, well, I'm glad yer takin' this well. Most folks get a liddle scared afore we go to work," said the bandit, taking his turn at being confused.
"Scum," said Rath, running the tip of his index finger over the blade of his sword, "do we look like most folks?"
"Hey, there ain't no reason t' resort t' name callin'. I jus' thought you folks would like to know where things stand is all."
"Tell me bandit," said Erk, taking his turn, "did the man who paid you tell you what to expect?"
"Er, he didn't say much actually. Jus' tha' you were probly carryin' a lot o' gold wiv you and tha' we wouldn't 'ave much… trouble wiv… you," he smiled weakly, realising that this was likely not the case.
Erk hopped down from his horse.
"So you're telling me, he didn't bother to tell you that I was a master sage?"
"You…you are?" asked the bandit, starting to get nervous.
Erk pulled a small tome from with in his cloak and started reading from it.
A nearby tree burst into green flames. The bandits looked up in awe. The flames quickly went out, leaving the tree unscarred.
"I don't think this fight is really necessary, is it?" asked Erk.
The lead bandit looked back at his comrades for support.
"Err… look. We have a reputation to 'old up, ye know? It wouldn't be right, takin' the feller's money, an' not doin' the job proper…" said the bandit, lacking conviction.
"He has a point you know," chipped in Matthew. "What kind of bandits would they be if they didn't keep their word?"
"This is pointless," said a restless Rath. "Do we fight or not?"
From a distance, Merlinus and Serra couldn't hear conversation that was taking place.
"I'm confused Dame Serra, why aren't they fighting?"
"Oh, who knows? I'm sure Erk will sort it all out."
"He's changed a lot since I last saw him, you know? He has more, I don't know, confidence now. He stands straighter, he doesn't mumble, and he even looks people in the eye now," gushed Serra, cutting off Merlinus.
"Well, Lord Erk has-"
"Lord? Erk is a lord?"
"Why yes. In fact-"
"Oh, this is so perfect! You know, I wasn't going to say anything to Erk, I didn't want to break his poor heart, but it would never have worked between us before. Me, a lady in the court of Lord Hector, and he just a common mage? But now…!" she trailed off into a dreamy reverie.
"Erm… yes, well…"
The both looked up sharply as a tree burst into green flames, and then promptly put itself out.
"Look at Erk showing off," smiled Serra fondly. "He must be quite the sage by now. You know, I'm not too shabby at magic either."
"I'm a full fledged bishop, actually. I hate using it to hurt people mind you. Only when I have to."
"That's very commendable Dame Serra. I myself am a non-violent-"
" Oh, I can't stand this anymore! This is taking too long. I think I will go join them, and see if my natural charm can help solve this." She urged her horse forward. Merlinus sighed, and followed her.
Just then, the lead bandit withdrew his sword and raised it high in the air, poised to strike an indifferent Erk, who simply stood there.
Serra gasped, and quickly pulled her long stave from her back. She urged her horse into a gallop and raised her staff high.
"So it's settled then?" asked Erk with a sigh. "You will let us pass, and we will not kill you and your comrades."
"We really din't mean no disrespect y'know. We was jus' doin' our jobs."
"Of course you were," said a bored Erk.
"Really mate, we appreciate it. If'n he 'ad told us the kind o' fellows we'd be up against, we'd never 'ave accepted. We specialize in robbing ol' ladies an junk, not fightin' master magicians."
"There is still time to change your mind Lord Erk," said a displeased Rath. "These bandits do not deserve to leave here alive."
"Come on Rath, don't be like that," laughed Matthew. "No one here wants to fight."
"If we leave them, they will continue to prey on the weak and defenceless."
"I agree Rath, I do. However, we don't have time for this. We have wasted enough time already," said Erk.
"Hey, we really ain't as bad as you make us out t'be, y'know. We're actually-"
"Enough. Lay down your weapon, we shall pass, and forget that we ever saw you."
"Yer good people, ye know that? We din't mean no 'arm." He looked back at his men, withdrew his sword, and raised it high into the air. "On yer way, noble sirs," he said with a false smile.
The bolt of white energy sent the rogue flying into his fellow bandits. He lay on the ground, motionless, smoking slightly.
"Oh Erk, that was so close!" said Serra, as her horse came to a halt. "You should really be more careful you know, you won't always have such a beautiful woman around to save you."
Erk looked at Serra, and then at the lifeless body and then back at Serra again.
"I don't believe it…" he trailed off.
Matthew whistled appreciatively.
The bandits stood in a semi-circle around their leader's body, unsure of what to do next.
"What's the problem?" asked Serra, confused.
Erk sighed, trying to regain his composure.
"I thought you said you were waiting back with the merchant."
Merlinus, who was now standing right next to Erk, cleared his throat. Erk failed to notice.
"You know, when a ravishing beauty saves you from certain death, it is customary to say 'Thank you'," sniffed Serra.
"I was not in any danger," said Erk, doing his level best not to raise his voice.
"He was surrendering!"
"Well, that's a funny way of surrendering."
"Look Serra, just because-"
"Er, s'cuse me," said a bandit who had stepped forward, interrupting Erk.
They all turned in unison to look at the offending thief.
"I – I don' mean to inerrup' you folks, but me an' my mates 'ave decided tha' our only choice is t' kill the lot of ye, what wiv you killin' our leader an all."
"Sounds reasonable, I think," said Matthew.
"Gentlemen, I would recommend finding a different recourse for your anger. This is not a fight you will win," he said, pulling out a familiar blue tome.
"No, I really think we'd be better off killin' you."
Erk shook his head.
"Lord Erk, it is not your responsibility to counsel these thieves on how to extend their lives," said Rath.
"I really think we've done enough talkin'," grumbled the bandit. He withdrew his sword. "It's time t'start the fightin'!"
"Then, if I may have one last word?" asked Erk flipping open his book.
"Er, I really don't know…"
"It will be quick," said Erk, not looking up from the pages.
"Hey, tha' was like four words!"
"One more then," said Erk, finally raising his gaze. "EXCALIBUR!"
The wind picked up and began swirling around the confused bandits, a small twister of broken branches and loose leaves clustering them together. Then came the broad blades of green energy that swept through the unsuspecting thieves. Just as soon as it had started, it was over, and every one of them collapsed, lifeless.
Erk wasted no time.
"Come, we have dallied to long here already. We can't be late for the rendezvous."
"Oh dear," said Merlinus weakly, as he urged his small steed forward. He tried not to look down as his horse picked its way through the bodies. "Elimine preserve me!"
"Merlinus!" barked Erk, and the merchant looked up to see that he was quickly being left behind. "Keep up! We have much ground to cover before we meet up with Vaida."