At least a dozen people, including Synne, had been taken to the second wagon where there was more space for those needing help. Jonas and Ulric stayed with her, ever protective and keen to ensure she recovered quickly. Thrax on the other hand was at the front of the train, stood atop one of the fighting platforms above the engine where he had the best view of the distant, smouldering ruin of the town they had left behind them. By his estimate, they would take at least an hour to reach the top of the valley and then another couple of hours from there until they reached the outpost. The train was going much more slowly than he had hoped.
“Can’t you go any faster?” he shouted down.
Tom, one of the engineers was busy loading fuel into the furnace that heated the boiler. He leaned back to shout back to Thrax.
“It takes time to heat up, plus this engine is heavy, real heavy. We’ll speed up soon enough,” he said before turning back to the fuel.
Satisfied that they were in no immediate danger he climbed down and worked his way along the train until he reached the wagon with the wounded. In the corner was Cainon, he was now awake and tied securely to the side by three separate ropes. Thrax walked up closely to the man, looking at his eyes but saying nothing. Cainon was gagged, and could do little other than struggle and scowl. He moved over to where Synne was sitting up and talking with Jonas and Ulric.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m okay, Thrax, looks like we have you to thank for our rescue.”
“Next time don’t sneak off, understand?” he said before turning to Ulric.
“What do you know about the Brotherhood’s plans in these parts? It seems to me that they are building up their forces in this region and have strong support with the Raiders.”
Jonas turned his head in disagreement before moving closer to Thrax.
“You couldn’t be more wrong, Thrax, they aren’t supported by the Raiders. That isn’t the issue at all, the problem is that they are the Raiders!” he said loudly.
Thrax moved to Cainon and in one swift movement ripped off the gag tied around his mouth. The prisoner coughed and spluttered but said nothing.
“What is your relationship with the bandits and Raiders along the border?” demanded Thrax.
Cainon was silent, the only visible expression being a slight sneer every time Thrax raised his voice.
“It is true, I heard it from Cainon’s own mouth,” said Jonas.
Thrax turned back to Cainon, examining him in detail. He was going to turn away when he spotted the malice and grin on the man’s face. With a simple jab, he struck him in the temple and once again, he passed out.
“Thrax!” called out Synne.
“What? You telling me you wouldn’t do the same. Right now we have bigger concerns and do you want him listening in?”
Jonas and Synne looked at each other, both knowing they agreed.
“If this is true and even one clan from the Brotherhood could muster the Raiders into a fighting force, the League would never stand against them. They are better equipped, better trained and have been fighting for years,” said Synne.
“True. I guarantee the Guild will look to concessions or give ground in some way to avoid a fight,” said Jonas much contempt.
The whistle on the train screeched, drowning out all sounds and drawing everybody’s attention to the engineers at the front of the train. Jac was waving a cloth and trying to get the attention of Thrax and Synne.
“Come on, let’s see what they want!” said Thrax as he helped Synne up.
“You okay to walk?” asked Jonas.
“I’ll live, the wounds weren’t deep.”
“Are you sure?” asked Ulric with a tone that suggested he was less than convinced.
She nodded and with a little effort pulled herself over the side of the wagon and onto the fuel tender being pulled directly behind the heavy metal engine. In total, there were four main parts to their mechanical monstrosity. The first part was the engine itself. It was armoured and some of the escapees were already on the fighting positions and carrying the looted weapons from the camp. Behind this was the tender, a small wagon that was loaded with coal with which to burn. Behind this section were two large passenger wagons, each modified with armour and filled with those they had rescued. The train carried about seventy people, though few were warriors.
Thrax climbed onto the back of the engine and started talking to Jac. Synne followed closely behind. Ulric stayed back and started checking the weapons in case they were needed for a fight.
“Climb up and look behind us!” said Jac.
Thrax climbed the ladder on the side of the train, being ever careful to avoid the hot metal of the water bearing parts of the machine. Once he reached the top, he came across Eric who was busy examining the horizon behind them.
“Thrax, we’ve got a problem, look!” he said as he pointed north.
Thrax followed the direction of his arm and instantly spotted the problem. A line of dust indicted an unknown number of pursuers and based on the clouds of dust, they were moving fast. Thrax leaned over the side and shouted down to Jac.
“Can you get this thing to go any faster? They are gaining on us!”
“No way, we’re on the limit. If we push any harder we could blow the boiler.”
“If we lose the boiler we lose the entire train!” added Tom, who was still busy fiddling with the controls and loading in more coal.
Synne was halfway up the ladder and holding out something, it was Thrax’s binoculars. Thrax grabbed them and helped her up to the platform on top of the engine. Her clothing was still damaged but other than a few bandages, she looked in pretty good shape. Her robe had gone but she still wore her Raider gear that she had taken from Thrax’s home.
“I see you helped yourself to some of my gear?” he said with a grin.
“What were you doing with this?” she asked, placing her hand on the corset.
“Another time,” he said.
Lifting the binoculars he pointed them in the direction of the gathering dust cloud, already it appeared the shapes were getting closer. With the magnified view, he could now make out the numbers, also their method of transportation.
“How is that possible?” he said, with grave concern.
“What is it?”
Thrax ignored her for a moment and leaned over the side, shouting down to the two engineers.
“Tom, I need you up here, now!” he barked.
Tom at first ignored him but it was clear there was a big problem going on.
He started to climb the ladder though he was far less sure of himself as he balanced precariously on the shaking engine.
“What is it?”
“They have a train!”
Synne reached for his binoculars and checked for herself whilst Thrax helped Tom to the platform. She looked carefully at the vehicle on the track about a mile behind them and then at the dust off to the right of the track near the approaching train.
“You’re right, they have another train, look to the right,” she said as she handed the binoculars back to Thrax.
He lifted them and examined the approaching enemy. His expression changes from surprise to irritation.
“We’ve got some problems on our way. It looks like a group of about thirty mounted fighters plus the train. We could be talking fifty warriors and they are not looking to chat,” he said to Synne.
“We’re not going back, we’ll fight, don’t you worry about that,” said Eric.
“I know you will, go and pass the word to everybody on the train, they need to be ready for battle and fast,” asked Synne.
Eric nodded and moved to the ladder.
“What about me?” asked Tom.
“Just keep us heading south as fast as you can. Keep those side doors closed. I know it’s hot but we can’t afford to lose you. Stay safe and don’t stop!” he said firmly.
Tom nodded and moved to the ladder to follow Eric down the ladder.
After helping the man onto the ladder, Synne moved back to Thrax who stood motionless, just watching the closing dust clouds.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking it’s time we got a little payback,” answered Ulric before Thrax could respond.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“Who put me in charge?” he replied.
“Well, age before beauty, plus, you have the combat experience. Thrax, we need your help on this one,” she said.
“This one?” he replied with a laugh.
“Synne’s is right Thrax. You’ve got years of experience with these kind of situations. We will defer to your judgement in this fight,” said a considerate Ulric.
Thrax loomed about the train, checking for weaknesses in their position before turning back to them.
“I need you to check on the fighters, make sure everybody is armed and they know what to do. The priority is the engine, if we lose it or the engineers we’re done. The train behind will have to board us on the last wagon. I will command the defence from there with Ulric. I reckon that is where the fighting will be the hardest.”
Ulric nodded as he examined the rear of the train. Thrax then moved to Synne.
“Your job will be to hold the engine. Stay up here where you have a good view. You can expect them to send a small number of people here but they have plenty of parts to hold on to. Just keep them from the cab.”
He then moved to Jonas who looked concerned about the role he would be playing.
“You’re reliable and I’ve already seen you fight. I need you to take charge of the middle wagon and provide help and reinforcement if we need it.”
Synne looked about the train and a flicker of doubt entered her mind. The last time she had faced these people had been when they, or people like them, had stormed Haven. Back then, even well trained and equipped warriors had found it difficult and ultimately they had failed. This time they were a motley band of civilians with little to no experience and limited weapons. Looking further to the north the train was getting ever closer, it was clear that the following train was faster, presumably because it wasn’t modified for battle like theirs and also possibly because it wasn’t hauling wagons and people. She could only hope.
“Synne!” shouted Jonas from the first wagon.
The noise this high on the train made it almost impossible to hear him. She grabbed the ladder and slid down. In just a few bounds, she was on top of the tender and just a few feet away from him.
“Thrax just told me the plan. I have forty people in this wagon and about the same as that in the rear section. Thrax has taken the best weapons to defend the rear. How many have you got for the engine?”
Synne looked back, checking on the status of the armoured front of their train.
“I’ve got five up there on the platforms. They all have crossbows and spears,” she answered.
“That’s not many, take some of mine,” he offered.
“No, we don’t have much space and it’s a lot harder to reach us than you, just look at this thing,” she said as she pointed to the sides of the wagon.
From where they stood, the wagon was essentially an open topped transport with thin metal armoured walls on the sides. Every foot a small gap had been cut, so that a projectile weapon or spear could be pushed out. Synne noticed a large gap on the one side of the wagon where no armour had been fitted and the gap ran almost to the base of the wagon.
“What happened there?” she asked.
Jonas shrugged as he looked at the opening.
“There are a few sections like that, looks to me like they didn’t finish building this train.”
“Oh great, that is perfect. You need to watch those breaches, if we know about them so do they!” she exclaimed.
A loud screech, just like the one before came from the train’s whistle. Synne looked back at the rear of the train and could see Thrax ordering the people about. Ulric was getting a line of spearmen in a rough position to defend the last part of the train. Back at the front, Jac was waving frantically to get her attention. Synne signalled, to be met with Jac pointing off to the side. Synne turned her head to see a dozen mounted warriors galloping as fast as the train and only a hundred feet away of the side of the wagon.
“Here they are, good luck!” she shouted and jumped up to the tender and towards the engine.
As she landed on the metal platform at the rear of the engine, she noticed Tom had pulled a metal bar from a hatch on the side and had placed it on a shelf.
“What’s that?” she asked as she leaned out to the ladder.
“This? Oh, just my little friend in case anybody gets too close!”
“Nice!” replied Synne, and with a few tugs lifted herself onto the top of the engine.
Resting on the platform were several weapons including a heavy wooden crossbow, short spear and one of the curved swords she had taken from the Raiders. She bent down and picked up the crossbow. It was one of the Raider’s weapons and the underside was equipped with an irritating metal blade that pushed out almost a foot out in front of the end of the weapon. The rest of the defenders on the engine did the same and loaded their weapons, readying themselves for the action. Another blast from the whistle indicated the enemy were near. Synne turned to check the rear of the train and was horrified to see a huge cloud of black smoke covered the rear.
“The train!” she shouted.
Her mind told her to grab onto something but her body wasn’t quick enough. The impact forced the entire train to shunt forward several feet and it propelled Synne from the platform and onto her front. The back of the platform was open and just a few more inches would have thrown her from the train and onto the track. She shook her head and lifted herself up. The crossbow was on the base of the platform and she grabbed it as she stood. From her spot, high on the engine she had the perfect view of the battle that was about to begin.
The smoke and steam at the rear of the train had obliterated her view, she could only assume those at the back of the train were okay. She didn’t have time to worry about it though as a dozen riders were moving in to try and board the engine from the left.
“The left!” she shouted to the others onboard.
The riders were all wearing armour and two of them carried short powder weapons, much like the one her father had shown her. A volley of yellow flashes erupted from their muzzles and she heard the whistle of lead balls fly overhead. One struck the armour plating just a few feet from her.
“Stop them!” she cried as she took aim.
The sights on the crossbow were rudimentary, just a small metal spike sticking up. Lowering the weapon, she took aim at the closest rider who was only twenty feet away. She pulled the lever and released a deadly bolt. It flew off and passed clean over the man’s head by at least two feet.
“Damn!” she muttered as she pulled another bolt from the pouch on her waist and loaded it.
The rest of the fighters on the train were having similar problems, though two of them managed to strike one of the riders almost simultaneously. One bolt struck the man in the arm, the second hit him square in the chest. The second shot hit with such an impact that it flung the rider from his horse to the ground.
“One down, one army to go!” said Synne as she lifted her reloaded crossbow.
Aiming much lower this time she aimed at the centre of the same target as before. The bolt flew off and this time struck the man square in the throat. The impact was hard and though he wasn’t thrown from the horse, he did slow down and disappeared to the rear behind the smoke and steam.
“That’s more like it!” she said with a grim smile.
* * *
Thrax was in his element. Though the impact had shattered part of the rear armour of the train, they were still on the track and they were doing well, so far. He had kept his unit pushed well back inside the wagon so that he had the space to deal with the first wave. Sensing an easy victory the first six men had leapt in with barely a care, only to find half the wagon clear and the hulk of Thrax stood in the middle. On his shoulder, he carried the deadly two-handed sword. For this battle, he had strapped on any armour he could find including a tight fitting helm that looked like a rusted bronze helmet from an ancient warrior. The tallest of the Raiders stepped forward, he was a good six feet tall and well built. He carried a flail in his right hand and a small metal buckler on his left. He lifted the flail and started to swing it over his head. The rest of the group assembled behind him, each with a different but savage looking weapon.
“Put down your sword, old man, we’re here for Cainon!” he said.
“Come and get him!” said Thrax with a roar and in a quick motion he dropped the tip of the sword down and at the last moment redirected it so that he cut for the opposite side. The Raider, being as cocky and arrogant as he was, didn’t suspect for a moment that the man was in range. In the end it didn’t matter though, the blade slashed downwards and struck the man in the neck. The blade kept moving and in a single swift movement, the Raider’s head flew out of the train. Thrax continued moving the weapon and then brought it down in another sweeping arc. The group split up and moved towards him but the reach and power of the weapon was too much for them. The second cut badly wounded two men and the other three started to back off, their doubt taking precedence over their hunger for victory. Thrax was having none of it.
“I’ve got something else for you!” he boomed and stepping forward he delivered a flurry of cuts and thrusts that made it almost impossible for the Raiders to reach him. Two more bodies fell to the ground. The rest of the defenders, now psyched up about his personal victory, moved forward and easily finished off the wounded Raiders. Ulric commanded this line and ensured they stayed together and disciplined. They made to push ahead and deal with the last few until Ulric spotted many more Raiders coming through the smoke. It looked like a second wave and this time there were far more of them. He turned and shouted to them to reform and to take a few steps back. Three crossbow bolts flew down, one hit a woman in the leg and she was carried back by two men as she cried out in pain. Another man with a spear pushed in to take her place.
“Back, stay close together!” ordered Ulric as the little group gave ground.
“Give them a little room, it will make it easier for us, trust me!” shouted Thrax.
Thankfully, they recognised his ability and did exactly as they were told. Thrax nodded in satisfaction as they took a few steps back in good order. He had seen well-trained units in the past that would have failed here and the training and experience of Ulric was already showing in this fight. By having a trusted lieutenant at his back, he could concentrate on cutting a bloody path through the enemy’s front ranks.
A few more bolts whistled overhead but it seemed the Raiders were far keener to secure the wagon quickly than to engage in a ranged fight with bows and crossbows. Thrax stood in the centre of the wagon and flanked by the dozen most experienced men and women Ulric had been unable to find. They were mainly armed with spears and a few with crossbows. The train following had used grapples to hook the rear wagon and though they had beaten off the first wave, they were unable to reach the ropes and chains that would release the enemy. It would require them to actually board the front of the enemy engine to successfully separate the two moving sections. Three of the defenders lifted wooden shields and held them out in front of the group. They were too cumbersome to use in combat but perfectly suited to create a section of cover from which to shelter until the Raiders were close enough to fight.
“Steady now, let them come to us!” shouted Thrax over the din of the battle.
The rest of the defenders in the two wagons were busy firing their crossbows at the riders on their flanks, desperately trying to keep them away from being able to board the train where the battle would inevitably favour the better-equipped and more experienced Raiders. From the attacking train a dozen men climbed along the sides, each one carrying an evil looking sword, axe or mace. They struck the first man with several bolts in the torso and he fell down to the tracks. From the sound he made as he disappeared, they knew he had gone directly under the wheels. The first of the second wave jumped onto the damaged wagon and directly in front of Thrax who gave the signal to Ulric.
“Now!” shouted Ulric.
Though they maintained their position, they all pushed ahead and stabbed repeatedly on the command of Ulric. This fast and fluid movement created a wall of fast moving spear points that made it almost impossible to breach. One Raider rushed forward only to take a point to the face and another to the stomach. As he fell down the next Raider took similar hits from the spears. With enough space in the wagon for the entire wave, the surviving nine jumped aboard and advanced more cautiously. One man, obviously experienced at fighting spears, cut sideways and managed to push four of the tips to the side. With a small breach now open, the Raiders hacked past the points and managed to reach close enough to drive the tips of their weapons into the spearmen. It was almost enough to break the wall, apart from Thrax being there. With his massive two-handed sword now lowered and handled like a spear, he delivered multiple fast stabs that struck the men that had broken though the breach and stopped the attack. With a small gap between the two groups, Thrax’s blood was up and he wanted them off the wagon.
“Push them back!” he cried.
With great effort the defenders pushed forward, just one small step at a time but it was enough. The last seven men tried to hold them back but they just couldn’t stop being pushed back to the rear of the train and the crushed metal where the two trains were now joined. Three of them fell from the sides. The other four turned and tried to jump onto the front of their engine. One was struck in the back by a spear, three managed to make it.
“You!” shouted Ulric as he pointed to the three men with their crossbows.
“Hold them back!” he ordered.
The spearmen reformed their defensive position whilst the other three kept reloading and shooting their deadly bolts at the retreating men. They weren’t the best shots but they did succeed in wounding two of them before they were far enough away to avoid being hit. The second wave had been held off and for a moment, brief that it might be, Thrax allowed himself to get his breath back. Looking behind him, he checked on the state of the battle. At least half a dozen men were climbing onto the engine, about the same number were climbing over the armoured side sections of the middle wagon. He was about to turn back to help, when two of the spearmen next to him were blasted backwards. He turned to see the third and deadliest wave of attackers. This group included the survivors from the previous attacks but this time they carried a weapon for which they had no counter, the terrifying powder weapons. Only two of the enemy carried them and both looked improvised and crude. As they fired their weapons, they were surrounded in smoke as the weapons blasted heavy lead balls that could penetrate armour and wood.
“Take cover!” he shouted.
The defenders did their best to crouch behind the bodies of the enemy or the wooden sections that formed parts of the bulkhead of the wagon. It was no good though, the powder weapons blasted through the cover every time. The only saving grace was that it took over half a minute to reload the weapon with the black powder and lead ball.
“Fall back!” shouted one of the men, as he threw down his wooden shield and clambered towards the front of the wagon and away from the battle at the rear of the train. At this part of the train, two dozen people were busy shooting from the sides at the galloping enemies nearby. The rest of Thrax’s group started to move backwards as the fire from the approaching Raiders pushed them back. The two gunners had climbed down from the engine. They were now crouched at the end of the wagon, taking it in turns to reload and fire. In this way, they could fire a shot every fifteen seconds or so. Whilst this continued, more of the Raiders jumped from their horses and onto their own engine so that they could climb over and onto the rear of the escaping train. Another man with a powder weapon dropped down onto the wagon and prepared his weapon. It wouldn’t be long before they had enough warriors to keep up an almost continuous rain of lead down the length of the train.
“We have to stop them. If they take this wagon we’ll lose the train!” shouted Ulric.
One of the spearmen who had already taken a few steps back shouted over to him.
“How can we fight against those weapons?” he cried hysterically.
“They are no different to crossbows. Come on, charge and clear them. We’ve done it before, we’ll keep doing it till they stop!” replied Ulric.
As Thrax made to move forward, Ulric followed and a small number of the spearmen moved with him. At least the same amount stayed back, their fear of the weapons proving too much. It didn’t seem to affect Thrax though and the last thing they saw of this part of the battle was Thrax, Ulric and a few spearmen disappearing into the white smoke of the weapons with their weapons drawn and ready.
* * *
Synne had ditched her crossbow and moved to the faster and easier to use curved blade. Though the defenders on the first wagon had managed to hold off the attackers, the engine was now where the most effort was being directed. Rather than trying to board it, the Raiders had peppered those on the platforms, until only Synne and two others were left. With their numbers whittled down, and the return fire down to firing sporadic shots, they were moving in for the kill. A dozen men were riding on both sides and two were already climbing along the sides of the train. Synne knew that any other part of the train was expendable, if they lost the engine they would stop and that meant slavery or death. She gave a hand signal to the other two defenders and they moved quickly to her position at the rear of the engine, just above where the engineers were. As they worked their way back, she shouted over to Jonas who was busy handling the defence of his own wagon. He looked over to her, noting the precarious position the engineers were in.
“Jonas! I need fighters on the left!” she shouted.
Jonas couldn’t catch every word but it was clear to him that she needed help to secure the engine. He signalled he understood and then grabbed two of this men and starting directing them whilst pointing at the engine. The two defenders reach Synne at the rear of the engine. Both were well armed and motivated, the possibility of returned to slavery was proving a strong factor in their decision to fight.
“Stay here, attack anybody that gets too close. There are a few coming from the wagon to help, tell them to take the left running boards and to keep the Raiders away from the cab,” she said.
“Where are you going?” asked Anna, the daughter of a blacksmith from Haven.
Synne was already lowering herself down the ladder and to the running boards that ran the entire length of the train. She looked up at the woman who stood atop the train with her curved sword on her belt and a loaded crossbow in her hands.
“I’ll clear the Raiders from down here, watch the top and get the extra fighters down on the left, I’ll deal with this one first!” she said and then disappeared from view.
At the lower part of the train Synne had to be careful to avoid the moving piston and gears that moved at a wickedly fast pace. Four Raiders were clinging to the side and inching towards the cab. Synne was now blocking their way though she was well aware that the left side of the train was in the same position. Five men had already tried to work their way along the top of the engine from the front, but Synne and the others had easily stopped them with a deadly crossfire from their crossbows. She could only hope that the two she had left there were able to keep them busy if they tried it again, at the very least long enough for her to get back.
The first Raider was now only four or five feet away. He wore a mixture of leather and metal armour with animal skins and furs on his head and shoulders. His face was painted with bright colours and he carried a weird kind of mace in his left hand. Grabbing a handle with his right he swung himself forward and right in front of Synne. She leaned back a few inches and stabbed quickly with her sword. The strike was slightly off target and passed between his arm and chest. He squeezed his arm tightly against the weapon and stopped it moving.
“You’re dead, little girl!” he laughed.
With his left arm now busy keeping the weapon trapped, he pushed forward another step and delivered a snap kick to the front. His foot caught Synne in the thigh and dropped her to the running board. By some miracle, she avoided getting caught in the gearing. He stepped a little closer and made to kick again. As he lifted his foot, Synne moved fast and grabbed at his other leg. With a quick tug, she yanked his leg from beneath him and he stumbled forward. She kept low and he tumbled over her and over the running board behind her. With a terrifying scream he caught his right hand in the gearing and in an instant, it was torn off to leave a bloody stump. Synne didn’t hesitate, and lifted herself up with one of the grab handles and kicked him hard. With his left hand holding his mace, and his right now bouncing off the ground, he had no grip and flew from the train. Synne didn’t see where he landed. She didn’t care, another three men were approaching and they had all seen what she’d done.
The next man screamed at her though most of the sound was obliterated by the sound of the engine and the wind rushing past the train. Having seen his comrade torn apart in front of his eyes, he was being far more cautious. Keeping a step away from her, he swung out his blade, only for it to be snared inside the engine’s gearing. It clattered away leaving him to jump forward to attack Synne with his bare fists. Synne was ready though. She lifted her blade high and brought it down in a fast vertical strike. The Raider didn’t quite reach her and instinctively raised his right arm to deflect the attack. Synne’s blade cut cleanly through the arm and an inch into the top of the man’s head. It was quick, bloody and in seconds, the man joined the first to the dusty plains.
Only two Raiders remained and they were being much more careful. The nearest was shouting to the man behind him and Synne was getting worried. They were planning something but what it was she couldn’t tell. Taking a few steps back, she reached the side door of the cab. Through the gaps in the hatch she could see the two engineers, both of them working away to keep the engine moving at its maximum speed. Synne banged on the hatch. At first they didn’t hear the sound, then Jac spotted her and split the small metal hatch open.
“Yes?” she asked.
“How far till we reach the Trading Post?” she shouted.
“Three hours once we get out of the valley.”
Synne wiped her head in frustration. From memory, the valley and the mountains where she had found Thrax would take anything up to an hour to pass through.
“Once we’re in the valley the horses won’t be able to follow, the track is narrow, they’ll have to take the high road and it’ll slow them down. How long till the valley?” asked Synne.
She turned to face the direction the train was travelling in and noticed that the two Raiders had started moving towards her, though this time they were brandishing crossbows.
“Crap!” she cried and grabbed the ladder so she could swing herself behind the cab. It was in the nick of time as one bolt whistled past and embedded in the wooden frame of the tender being pulled behind the engine.
As she clung on precariously the sliding hatch to the rear of the cab opened and Tom shouted out to her.
“Ten minutes to the mountains, then we’re clear all the way to the Trading Post!”
Before she could reply, he had slid the cab hatch shut and Synne was stuck on her own. Popping her head to the side of the engine, she saw one of the Raiders pulling back the string on the crossbow. Whatever she did, exposing herself to fire wasn’t going to be one of them. She looked up and spotted the other defenders still loading and shooting from their position high on the top fighting platform of the engine. Anna saw Synne and stopped whatever she was doing to lean back and shout down to her.
“We’re okay so far. Jim took a hit to the leg, we’ve bandaged it for now. There is one on the top and three on the side. I think we can hold them off though.”
Synne nodded in satisfaction and slowed herself for a brief moment to check behind. The battle was now raging, as a number of Raiders had managed to board Jonas’ wagon. From what she could see the defenders outnumbered them and were making short work of the attackers.
“Hey, bitch!” came a voice from the engine.
Synne spun around to see the Raider holding onto the ladder and pointing his wicked looking crossbow at her chest. Right behind him was the second man who also carried the same kind of weapon. She was dumbstruck, they were too far to reach without taking a step and the bolt from the weapon would hit her easily before she could do anything.
“Raider!” shouted Anna from the top fighting platform.
The distraction was enough to give Synne an opening and she went for it with everything she had. Jumping from the low platform at the rear of the engine she landed near the first Raider and punched him in the face with the knucklebow of the sword. He staggered back but still managed to raise his crossbow. With a crunch and a squeak from the rusty hinges, the door to the cab swung open and in one heavy movement knocked both men off the engine and in an instant they were gone. The head of Jac popped out.
“You okay?” she asked with a cheeky grin.
“You bet!” answered a much happier looking Synne.
A flash and several loud bangs reverberated along the train, the noise coming from the rear of the train. Both Synne and Jac looked back to try and identity for the cause of the trouble.
“What was that?” shouted Synne
Jac disappeared inside the cab and then reappeared.
“Thought so, they must have taken control of the last wagon.”
“How do you know that?”
“We’re slowing down!” she answered before helping put in more fuel into the fire.
“I thought we were too heavy to slow down?” asked Synne.
“They can slow us down, but only so far. They must have locked the brakes on the end wagon, we’ll be down to walking speed in a couple of minutes at this rate,” she said before turning back.
Synne looked carefully at the engine and then back to the raging battle behind her.
“Anna, can you hold for five minutes?”
“No problem!” came back the reply.
Synne leaned over to the gap at the rear of the cab.
“I’ll take care of it!” she barked and then turned to the tender.
Due to the high sides on the tender, it was clear of the enemy but as she climbed down to the first wagon, she found things very different. As the train started to slow, it was becoming easier for the Raiders to jump onto the sides. Dozens of small fights were raging and as she moved along the narrow section, she was forced to defend herself. The first attack was actually an accident by one of the defenders. An old man had spotted her arrive and brought his axe down. She only just avoided it and grabbed the old man around the arm.
“I’m on your side fool!” she shouted and then ran off, ducking around weapons as she went.
Jonas was busy pushing a Raider back over the edge and off the wagon with a broken spear. She ran up to the edge and helped push the man over before turning to Jonas.
“Good to see you, come to help?”
“No,” she replied as she glanced around.
“Where is Cainon?” she demanded.
“He’s gone. Two of their men got in here and cut him loose. I managed to get that one,” he pointed to a dead Raider on the ground.
“Damn!” swore Synne.
She didn’t have long to worry about it though as another jumped inside. Whipping her sword from its sheath, she stabbed it into his chest and smashed him down to the floor. She stood up and delivered another stab to his heart, finishing him in a single efficient movement.
“I need to burn the last wagon, have you got fuel?” she asked.
Jonas was stunned by the brutality she had exhibited, more so by the fact that she hardly seemed to even notice what she had just done. Her black corset was cut and marked, and dripping with blood down the front and side. Her left leg was bleeding from two parallel cuts just below the thigh.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Me, yeah, come on, fuel?” she asked impatiently.
“Uh, we’ve got lamp oil, why?”
“Get two people to come with me. I need as much oil as they can carry.”
Without waiting for a reply, she turned to the end of the wagon and prepared to climb over to the next one. As she moved, she could see how the two wagons were joined together. It was a simple set of iron joints that were sprung. Where they joined was a large metal pin and chains running parallel to it. She made a mental note as her plan took form in her head and then pulled herself up into the next wagon. It couldn’t have been more different to the first, there were bodies everywhere and at the end a vicious battle was taking place between about the same number of warriors. She rushed forward, finding Thrax leaning against the side, pulling a chunk of metal from his ribs.
“What’s happening?” she asked whilst examining his wound.
“We pushed them back three times, but the last group have been trying to stop us getting to their engine. Before we got there they did something to the wheels down there,” he said as he pointed to where the axles would be under the wagon.
“We tried to board their engine and disable it somehow, but they still have twenty or so fighters at the rear.”
Synne grabbed the metal shard and tugged it out. Thrax groaned as it withdrew but the relief afterwards was almost instant.
“They’ve got some kind of weapon that fire these serrated metal shapes. We lost two men to them, before we fell back to our wagon. Now we’re mainly fighting with projectile weapons. It’s a real stalemate.”
As if to emphasise the point a volley of bolts flew close by and embedded into the frame of the wagon. Synne grabbed his chin and turned him to face her.
Ulric appeared from behind the cover of several bodies. He was holding a small crossbow in each hand. Taking careful aim, he used the first one, dropped it and then used the second before ducking back.
“They’ve jammed the brakes, we’ll be stationary in minutes. Have you tried to free them?” asked Synne.
“No good, the gear is smashed. We’d need an hour to fix them. Pass me that,” he replied as he pointed.
Synne followed his gaze to a small crossbow on the ground. She tossed it over to him. The weapon was already loaded, presumably dropped by somebody earlier in the battle. Synne noticed a shadow looming from the engine as one of the Raiders managed to leap onto the wagon. Ulric aimed the weapon carefully and pulled the trigger. It hit the man neatly in the forehead and he was immediately out of the fight.
“Nice!” she shouted.
A hand appeared, tapping on her shoulder. She turned to Thrax and Ulric, pointing at the arrival of the reinforcements.
“Look,” she said as she pointed to Jonas and the two defenders that were carrying a small barrel of oil each.
“We can burn the wagon, get everybody back into the first and knock out the pins.”
“The pins?” asked Ulric.
“Ah, yes, I see!” said Thrax as he pulled himself up from the ground.
“Everybody back to the first wagon, now!” he roared.
The small number left needed little encouragement. As they moved back, they continued putting down crossbow fire into the engine behind them and the silhouettes of the Raiders as they continued trying to get access to their train. Synne cracked the lid of one of the barrels and started to pour the oil all over the floor of the wagon. She nodded to the other two men to do the same. In less than thirty seconds, the oil was drippings all over the middle section of the wagon.
“Come on!” she said and ran to the front of the wagon, where the remainder of the defenders were retreating to the next wagon. Thrax helped them across until it was just Jonas left on the last wagon.
“Get across!” shouted Synne.
With everybody clear, Jonas checked one last time and then jumped. As he moved two bolts thudded against the woodwork and another hit him hard in the shoulder blades. He hit the end of the wagon and would have been dragged underneath if it hadn’t been for several of the defenders grabbing him and dragging the wounded man inside.
Synne watched him go and started to jump across to check him before remembering the danger of their situation. Thrax was now back on the first wagon, being handed loaded crossbows from the others, he leaned down and handed her a heavy looking hammer. A woman was busy loading in fuel to a thick wooden bucket nearby whilst another waited with a burning torch. Synne looked down to the pin and then swung the tool. It struck the pin with a groan and moved a few inches. She lifted it and struck again. With a clunk sound, the pin dropped out. The gap started to widen before the chains took up the slack. Synne was about to strike one when it snapped under the strain and was quickly followed by the other.
“Now!” shouted Ulric who was still loading and firing the crossbows.
One of the women threw the wooden bucket with its burning fuel across the gap and into the rear wagon. As soon as it struck the woodwork, it found the fuel and in a violent flash the entire structure vanished in flames. It was still intact but the flames spread fast, quickly obliterating the view they had of it or the engine behind. Either the engine was damaged or they were slowing down to trying to escape the burning wreckage. Either way they were clear.
The remnants of the train hurtled south and into the craggy rocks of the valley. With their pursuing train slowed the cavalry turned back to aid their comrades.
“Good work, Synne, we’re safe,” said a pale but happy Jonas.
“Cainon escaped,” she said quietly.
“He’ll be back and soon,” said Ulric who then turned back to the flames and smoke of the distance train.
“We have to be ready for him,” said Thrax menacingly.