Vogir could just make out the setting sun in between the trees. He was looking down over the small forest camp. It had been two days ago when Little Jen had guided them to this small settlement. Vogir couldn't help but be impressed about what he had seen so far. There were about 40 people living here as far as he could tell. It was difficult to know since most people were out to hunt or to buy or sell goods in the surrounding villages. Only a small group always stayed back to look over the children and to tend to the camp.
But it wasn't only the way they'd managed to live here hidden away from the Dragon's view, the design of the camp itself was impressive. As far as he could tell, it could be taken down within half a day and relocated. The treehouse he was standing in was held up only by ropes and could be lowered and taken apart easily. But although being so mobile, the camp was arranged in a way to be able to defend it with a few good archers.
And there was the problem! There were only some good bows and even less good archers. Crossbows would be much better for the untrained shooter, but they were too expensive and difficult to get without drawing attention.
They had offered to help while waiting for Ghanash and the two youngsters who had left yesterday morning to scout out the Dragon's outpost. Vogir and Dokan had mostly trained the group of women and youngsters to fight with longswords and bows. Rudha-an had spend the last two days travelling around with the two men who tried to grow crops in fields hidden in clearings. From what Vogir could tell, the shaman was convinced they could improve on crop yield by relocating or fertilising some fields and had done his best to teach them. Vogir looked down when he could hear the children running after Orestes again. Although the half-orc didn't really know what to do with them, they hadn't left his side while he had gone around camp with Jen to provide muscle where needed. He had tried to teach them how to fight, which was fun to watch but yielded mixed success.
Although Vogir felt satisfaction for being able to help these people, he also felt unrest building up. He was hoping that Ghanash would be back soon with the information they would need to plan the raid. The youngsters who had left with him to guide him had said it was less than a day's brisk walk away so they might be back later. Also Fry had left this morning to ask his contact in the castle of Rottingham about the possibility of another tax cart and said he would be back before nightfall. Since Rottingham was more than a days walk away, Vogir had wondered how he could get the information so quickly since a contact surely would have to inquire in the castle first. But Fry had just smiled and answered that he had a 'good' contact.
Dokan shouting up to him got him out of his thoughts "Hey! Vogir! Ghanash is back and the hunters brought a good piece of deer! Come down before the meat's gone!"
They sat around the main fireplace and most of the others had gone to bed when Ghanash started to tell what he had seen. "Fry was not joking when he had said it would be impossible for them with the resources they have to get into the fort. I'm not even sure whether our swords will be enough to get in and out alive. It's a well built rectangular fort surrounded by a 10 foot patrolled palisade. The palisade has two gates on opposite sides of the fort which are fortified with small guard towers on either side. From a tree I could count 8 houses inside of which one near the north gate seems to be the troop's quarters. They are in two lines along the road in between the gates." Orestes grunted "That's all interesting, but not important! How many guards to kill?" Ghanash looked at him for a second and then continued "I could count at least 10 regular guards including a commander and a black cloak. With those defenses, a frontal attack would be suicide!" He looked up to Jen who was sitting opposite the fire "I don't think you are hiding an army that you didn't show us yet?" Jen shook her head "You've seen most of them! We have about 15 men and and women who know which end to hold a sword with. Only five or six were ever involved in a fight. Most of our raids were nightly thefts or ended with a merchants surrendering when we promised to spare his life. That's why we've asked you in the first place!"
"But it will be worth your time!" Fry had just come down the path through the dark. "From people that have been inside those forts, we know that they always have a reasonable amount of money and weapons stored. We would mostly need the food and some weapons, like crossbows. Of course we could also use some money, but if that's your price we are happy to pay that in order to get the food." He sat down next to Vogir and urged Ghanash to continue with his report.
"I didn't tell you the best part, yet. Since the attacks on merchants have started, there seems to be a kind of quick response group stationed there to protect the roads near the fort. I counted 10 mounted fighters who control the roads and pass the fort on a regular schedule throughout the day and stay there over night. If we want to take the fort by force, we would have to do it in between those passes and be gone before they return. I don't think we would stand a chance to take the fort in the night while they are there. And from what the boys told me who also know about the nearby forts, this one is the least protected!"
Ghanash looked at the others "What are your thoughts? I wouldn't recommend a full-on attack. Maybe a more stealthy approach or trying to trick them to get in?"
Fry had gotten up again when Ghanash asked his question and was about to leave towards the huts when Dokan quickly addressed him "Before you leave, any news on the tax cart?"
"Yes, sorry, I didn't want to disturb your planning! My contact told me that it would be difficult to explain another tax cart from Rottingham so soon after the last, but the nearby village of Deadwood has to send theirs soon and my contact will inquire when exactly it is due to leave and will recommend you as guards. She, I mean my contact, guesses the cart might be due in about a week but will let me know by tomorrow evening what the exact day is and whether they would accept you as guardians. Of course you can stay here and we are happy to share our food until then! But excuse me know, I'm tired. I will speak to you tomorrow again! Good night!"
When he left, Dokan turned towards the group and Jen who was still sitting there.
"Ok, so what are our plans?"