It was a near moonless night as four thieves approached the wagon parked to the side of the road. There was a gusting breeze that covered the sound of footsteps through the underbrush.
The man at the front of the pack was named Dorn Houker. He was born in Restov and had only recently come to visit Ingerland. The robbery was his idea. It was an idea given to him by his brother who had worked the mine for a month before getting fired, then arrested, for some past horse-thievery that had caught up to him. Dorn promised to bring his brother, imprisoned in Restov, a share of the take. Dorn had never kept a promise in his life.
The wagon was filled with unrefined gold ore. It wasn’t as valuable as the ingots and dust that travelled via better protected caravans, but it would net a good sum from the right metal smiths in Restov.
The two men directly behind Dorn were named Jek and Herren. Dorn had met and hired them in Restov. He’d overheard them talking about moving to Ingerland for new opportunities. They were clearly amateurs to this sort of work, but it was a relatively simple task for Dorn to convince them of a short cut to some coin.
Behind all of them was a man Dorn found in Ingerton, a local named Jesse Cook. He knew the roads and the workings of the constabulary in the area, even recommended the time and place for the ambush that was eventually agreed upon by everyone.
In the wagon, Nathan Irons was awakened not by footsteps, but by the needs of his own body. He’d always had a weak bladder. It was a bad trait for a wagon driver, but this was not Nathan’s first calling. Back in Ingervale, his family extracted iron from the iron ore pulled from the iron mine there. In Ingerland, there was no iron being pulled from the ground yet, just gold. So, Nathan took a job with the Miner family, taking ore to Ingerton and Restov for trade. He hoped to learn something of gold refining from the buyers, perhaps build himself a new trade someday soon.
He climbed from his wagon and moved to the side of the wagon opposite the road. A land still newly tamed, few travelled the roads that late at night this far from Ingerton, but he remained modest nonetheless. Nathan smiled at the relief before a blow struck the back of his head, and consciousness left him.
Dorn stood over the body, having just struck with the pommel of his heavy shortsword. Jesse cursed to himself. The driver exiting the wagon was a wrinkle he hadn’t planned on, and one that hopefully wouldn’t cost the driver his life. Dorn reached down to slit the driver’s throat.
“That’s enough,” Jesse said loudly. “Let’s take the wagon and go.”
“Are you nuts?!” Dorn swore, running to the rear of the wagon to check for another occupant. “You’re lucking no one else was in here. They’d be riding off.”
“He didn’t see us,” Jesse pressed. “There’s no need to kill him.”
“He’s right,” Jek said to Dorn. “I signed on as a thief, but I’m not a murderer.”
Dorn looked toward Herren, who looked at Jek and nodded.
“None of you would even be here if…” Dorn began.
Dorn’s complaint was cut short by a yelp from Jek, who fell to his knees as an arrow appeared in his shoulder. Jesse also then shrieked, clutched his belly and fell forward onto his chest. Herren, unharmed, curled into a ball on the ground, clutching the top of his head. Dorn ran for the tree line. An arrow struck the back of his thigh and he went down yelling.
“Surrender!” A deep voice called from the direction of the tree line, and a silhouetted figure approached Dorn from the front.
Dorn threw down his weapon. Herren had helped Jek to stand and they both threw down their weapons. Jesse Cook was motionless on the ground.
Eric Bowman stepped out from behind some large shrubs. With the point of his scimitar, he led Jek and Herren to the opposite side of the wagon from Jesse. David Forester stepped out of the darkness and walked to Dorn, axe in hand, and helped him to his feet.
“Other side of the wagon!” Dave barked. “Same as your friends.”
All three were sat down in a row, backs against the wagon. While David lectured the three of them about their charges, conviction and sentence; Eric went around the wagon to check on Nathan Irons. Jesse had already woken Irons and was giving him water.
“You could take the stage with a performance like that,” Eric said to Jesse quietly.
“Can’t do that,” Jesse replied. “What would you and Dave do without me? By the way, you could have saved this kid a headache if you’d shot a little sooner.”
“Until you all started arguing, I didn’t know which silhouette you were,” Eric explained. “Next time, I’ll just chance it.”
Nathan was alert again, and Jesse helped him to his feet. Eric went back around to where David was with the prisoners.
“What happened?” Nathan asked Jesse.
“Someone tried to rob you,” Jesse answered. “They didn’t take anything. The Marshall has them on the other side of the wagon.”
Dave walked round the wagon, nodded to Jesse, eyed Nathan Irons carefully.
“You okay?” He asked Nathan.
“I think so,” Nathan replied, “just a little embarrassed.”
“The man that hit you,” Dave said, walking toward Nathan with a heavy bullwhip in one hand, “he’s been sentenced to thirty lashes. He’s right on the other side of the wagon. It’s your option if you want to do it yourself.”
Jesse Cook looked at Dave with an arched eyebrow.
“We have to do things a little different out here on the frontier,” Dave explained. “Justice is a little more immediate…and just.”
Nathan nodded slowly, took the bullwhip from Dave, and let it unravel to the ground as he walked to the other side of the wagon.
Two weeks later, the Ingerland Council sat around a large table. David Forester had just finished relaying the story of the foiled heist attempt.
“Thanks for saving Nathan,” Doug said. “He and I go way back. But what happened to the bandits after they got their licks from Nathan?”
“Well, for the fellow that hit him, Nathan only got through about twenty before his arms got tired,” Dave explained. “I finished the rest.”
“I suspect he preferred the first twenty,” Doug said.
“I’d hate to think I’m losing my touch,” Dave replied. “Anyway, Eric’s deputy then rode him up to Restov, where he was from, to see if he was wanted for anything up there.”
“Why not just throw him into stocks in town?” Svetlana asked.
“I didn’t want him seeing me walking around town,” Jesse answered.
“And what happened to the other two?” Doug asked.
“Since they didn’t hurt anyone, and with Dave and Eric’s agreement, I made them a deal,” Jesse replied. “They just have to stay on the straight and narrow and let me know if anyone approaches them with an offer to do otherwise.”
“Can they be trusted?” Svetlana asked.
“Of course not,” Jesse answered. “That’s why people might approach them with criminal offers. But do they fear the ramifications of getting into trouble again or accepting one of those offers without telling me? Definitely.”
“Dare I ask those ramifications?” Jhod asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
“I lash them down to the spine,” Dave said quickly.
“And I toss them in stocks until their knees grow roots,” Eric added.
Doug scratched his beard, still looking doubtful.
“Look,” Jesse said to him, “we’re Ingers, right? Well, those men still have a use to be had in securing this land, even if it’s against their will.”
“Next item,” Doug said loudly, “the smell at the north end of town.”