The Rogue Knight Page 35

“Which would lead them to our caravan,” Cole realized. That was just what they needed—a squad of Enforcers on their trail while they crawled forward in a wagon train. They would be easy prey!

“Not immediately,” Skye said. “I paid Monroe extra to register under a false name. I told him I didn’t want Verilan to know where I’d gone. There is no paperwork tying Madeline to this caravan. Only a couple trusted members of the Unseen knew my plans.”

“What if Verilan spills his guts?” Cole asked.

“He knew I was leaving town,” Skye said. “I didn’t specify how, and I did my best to muddy his idea of where I was going. I always try to cover my tracks. Still, in spite of the fudged paperwork, everyone in this caravan knows me as Madeline. Witnesses could have recognized me leaving. It’s possible we’ll be found.”

“The messenger found you,” Cole pointed out.

“The messenger had help from the Unseen,” Skye said. “They would have used somebody sympathetic to our cause.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll withstand torture,” Mira said.

Skye nodded. “It should take him a couple of days to get back to Carthage.”

“Is this why people shoot the messenger?” Cole asked.

“Sometimes,” Skye said. “It would take some very impressive investigating for anyone to connect the messenger to us.”

“Doesn’t this Hunter guy have a pretty scary reputation?” Cole asked.

“The Hunter is one of the best,” Skye said, sighing venomously. “We definitely don’t want to tangle with him. I hope he’s not who took Verilan.”

“Do we take off on our own?” Cole wondered.

Skye furrowed her brow. “That would look very suspicious to Monroe, Konley, and the others. It would introduce many new dangers. I’ll talk it over with Joe when we stop.”

“What do we do for now?” Cole asked, suddenly feeling confined by the coach.

Skye patted Mira’s shoulder. “Hope for those miracles.”

Chapter 14

THE ROGUE KNIGHT

After a lengthy discussion, Joe and Skye decided to take their chances with the caravan rather than make a scene by leaving. Mira approved the verdict, and so the journey continued much as it had started, but with an increase of backward glances.

Cole spent a lot of time watching the empty road behind the caravan. He wasn’t sure if he would see legionnaires, or city guardsmen, or Enforcers on strange mounts, but he didn’t want enemies to sneak up on the caravan unnoticed.

As Cole’s group directed their attention to the rear, day by day, Konley and his men became more alert about the road ahead. Seven nights into their journey, while gathering firewood, Cole noticed Konley addressing his men. Keeping his eyes averted, Cole moved within earshot of their campfire.

“These next two days will be the most vital,” Konley said, pounding a fist into his palm for emphasis. “The robberies have all happened close to Merriston, so we’ll either meet the Rogue Knight tonight, tomorrow, or the day after. After that we’ll be in the capital. I want no less than three men on patrol at all hours.”

“Think he’ll show?” one of the guardsmen asked.

“Honestly?” Konley said, rocking back on his heels. “I expect he’ll see not just Monroe with his five mercenaries, but also a knight and seven uniformed guardsmen, and he’ll hang back to await easier prey. But if the scoundrel makes an appearance, I want to be ready.”

Cole moved out of hearing as Konley began making specific assignments for the guardsmen. If they were two days out from Merriston, that meant he and his friends were two days from a clean getaway. Once they left the caravan, their trail would become much colder for anyone in pursuit.

The next morning, less than an hour after the caravan started rolling, ten riders cantered down the road toward them, all wearing suits of armor. While four riders stayed on the road to force the wagon train to stop, the other six trotted into the field beside the road and came about to address the travelers. One of the knights was the size of a child and rode a sturdy pony rather than a horse. The rest were imposing forms on powerful steeds. Even the mounts wore armor.

The knight at the front was the biggest of the group and rode an enormous horse. His elaborate armor gleamed in the sunlight. A sheathed broadsword was strapped across his back. A pair of antlers sprouted from his polished helmet.

Cole’s stomach twisted into knots. No way could their luck be this bad with everything else they had to deal with. But this had to be him—the man everyone had been so afraid they’d meet on the road to Merriston.

The Rogue Knight.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” Cole asked, fear shooting through him. “That’s the Rogue Knight.”

“Has to be,” Jace said, a slight tremor in his voice. “What other bandits are going to ambush a caravan wearing full armor?”

Cole got chills just looking at the group. “How can they move weighed down by all that metal? They look bulletproof. Not an inch of skin is showing.”

“They must be strong,” Twitch said. “The horses too.”

“Why antlers?” Cole asked.

“A guy like that can wear whatever he wants,” Jace replied.

Along the front half of the caravan, Monroe and his mercenaries lined up on their horses, blocking access to the wagons. Konley and his five mounted guardsmen took up positions between the knights and Lucinda’s stately coach, with two more driving her vehicle.

“Greetings, good travelers,” the knight called out in a booming voice, somewhat muffled by his helmet.

“Why have you halted my caravan?” Monroe asked.

“A fair question,” the knight replied. “I am the champion known across the land as the Rogue Knight.”

Even though the confirmation was no surprise to Cole, he still felt a jolt hearing the words aloud. Champions of mighty cities were plotting against this man. People for miles around spoke about him in fear, and now here he was, roughly a hundred feet away.

“According to the established order,” the Rogue Knight continued, “I have issued a challenge to Rustin Sage, champion of Merriston, which the coward refuses to acknowledge. To pressure the craven into doing his duty, I am relieving those who travel to and from Merriston of their riches. On the day that Rustin faces me as prescribed by law, all the goods will be returned.”

“You mean to rob us?” Monroe verified.

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