They were lucky to be free. A fact Amnor Sen was constantly reminded of every morning and night. The paladin really didn't care at this point. Five days out of Finderplain and a day out of Bug Harbor, Amnor Sen was done with the whole thing. The elf had never seen such utter disregard for life, at least before starting the journey north from Anuli.
They had spent two days looking for the prisoners. Finally, even the other caravaners were complaining to Niss that they needed to continue traveling. Now they were plodding slowly through a gulch, the Elemion River sending echoes through a canyon nearby.
The elf couldn't shake the sensation of being watched, his eyes constantly scanning the walls of the ravine they were in. He knew gnolls were around here, and this would be the best place for an ambush.
A sudden scream startled the elf, a cloaked man dropping from his horse. Blood poured from his head, Amnor Sen growling as he dismounted himself. Their druid was down now, most of their magic gone with him. The paladin hurried toward him, praying to Shelyn that he could get the man back on his feet. A quick bandage took care of most of the bleeding, holding the worst of the injury back for Jeremy to try to heal later. Amnor Sen didn’t have much hope for that; Jeremy always said head injuries were the worst to heal.
A spear flew through a woman, the sorcerer dropping with a gurgling cry, as Amnor Sen looked up at the ravine walls again. The paladin froze at the sight of nearly a hundred gnolls lining the walls, jeering and yelling down at them. There was no way they could fight this many foes at full strength, and with guards dropping all around the caravan...
A large hand grabbed at his mail, Niss' face glaring less than an inch away from his.
"You will answer to them!" she snarled. "It is your fault we are in this position!"
Amnor Sen knocked her hand away, moving to set up at least a token defense. There was no way they could hold out, but he was not going to let the people under his watch die without a fight.
"We aren't coming out of this alive, are we?" Jeremy breathed, staring up at the gnolls.
"Can you see their dicks from down here?"
The cleric blinked, staring at the elf. He burst into laughter, shaking his head.
"Good. We don't need our only caster to be too busy staring up their pants," Amnor Sen said, patting the man's shoulder. "Pull everyone to the center of the caravan. We're dropping the outer carts. With luck, they'll just take those."
"I doubt it," Jeremy sighed.
Still, the cleric moved out, gathering everyone he could. Most of the guards were already dead, slain by sniping attacks, and it made Jeremy wonder why he and Amnor Sen were still alive. Something made him think the reason was likely not going to be good news for either of them.
A gnoll slid down the side of the ravine, a heavy looking morningstar held in his… her? hand like a simple club. Jeremy gulped as he stared at the spiked head. No matter how good their armour was, getting hit by that weapon was going to hurt.
The gnoll bellowed something in their yapping tongue, the sound more like a bloodhound baying. Their eyes scanned the caravan, centering on the half-orc cowering behind a wagon.
“Niss! Aro agathi yathor!”
Stalking toward the woman, the gnoll was intercepted by Amnor Sen.
“Hello there. I understand we owe you bodies… or, at least that’s what I am assuming? Do you speak Taldane?” the paladin asked, holding his glaive in a nonthreatening manner.
“My business is with the flea.”
“Yes, but she is not in a position to speak for the caravan any longer,” Amnor Sen said. “I might have a proposition for you. I consider myself one of the best fighters left in the caravan. Why don’t we have a contest to see who is a better fighter between me and your tribe’s finest?”
The paladin held up a hand to stave off Jeremy’s protests. The gnoll looked him over with a derisive snort, muscles rippling.
“Or my tribe can take you all as slaves right now.”
“The problem is, my husband has no interest in being a slave. He would fight you with every breath left in him, and I would be obligated to fight with him. You would lose the best slaves in the caravan, and several of your warriors,” Amnor Sen pointed out. “But he is a duellist himself, and he understands that a duel is to be respected, the result honoured. If I lose, we would become your slaves with heads held high, knowing we did our best to avoid our fates.”
The gnoll scoffed, shaking her head.
“So be it. We fight to the death then-”
“How about to unconsciousness? O would hate for the tribe to lose their best hunter,” Amnor Sen suggested.
The gnoll thought for a moment, before nodding.
“No magic, only steel. You use your stick, I use my mace.”
Turning, she bellowed at the raiding party, the cackling of the gnolls following as they prepared to watch their finest beat Amnor Sen into a fine paste. The paladin turned to his husband, Jeremy glaring at him.
“You put our fate in a duel? You don’t fight! Why didn’t you have me fight her? I could beat her with my eyes closed!”
“Because you would kill her,” Amnor Sen said flatly, checking his armour. “Do not try to help me. If I fall, we will find a way north regardless. It will just take a bit longer.”
The elf took a deep breath, before moving to the head of the caravan, where several gnolls stood ready to watch the proceedings. Amnor Sen wasn’t sure they would honour the duel’s terms, but seeing him take out their strongest warrior should at least give them pause. If he could actually do it. Given the fact that the elf could barely swing his glaive in this area, Amnor Sen wasn’t sure he could pull this off.
The paladin fumbled with his glaive as he approached the waiting gnoll, showing a deceptive ineptitude with the weapon. Better to put her off guard as opposed to intimidating her. Taking a breath as the caravaners brought up his rear, locking the two combatants into a box, Amnor Sen looked around at the ring, trying to figure out the best plan of attack.
Too late, the gnoll was attacking already, a vicious sneer on her maw. Amnor Sen swung his weapon, the tip circling slightly as he held her off. The gulch was too narrow to use the glaive normally. He could not allow her to turn his flank.
The mace slammed into the glaive, knocking it down as the gnoll rushed forward. A simple twist of his wrist sent Amnor Sen’s blade down her leg, leaving an angry slice in the gnoll’s flesh. Flipping the haft of his weapon around, the elf slammed it into her chest, slipping past her to put some distance back between them. His glaive raised once more, the paladin waited for his foe.
Howling in rage, the gnoll seemed to grow, her anger pushing her to greater heights of abandon. She lunged forward, Amnor Sen letting her push his glaive until the weapon was stuck between the walls of the gulch. Pulling the haft up to her throat, the elf stepped behind the gnoll, pinning her, choking her.
An elbow slammed into his gut, Amnor Sen not giving an inch as he held his weapon. The blow hurt, but he figured her elbow did too, slamming into mail armour. As he fought her down to the ground, freeing his glaive from the walls, the elf knelt on the gnoll’s legs, his weight adding to her imprisonment.
Two minutes later, it was over, the gnoll unconscious on the ground.
The cleric sprinted to his husband, checking the elf over for injuries. Amnor Sen pointed him toward the gnoll.
“Heal her. I cut her leg up pretty badly,” he said, before turning to the gnolls. “She is unconscious! Leave us alone, and let us pass peacefully!”
Several gnolls were already scrambling away, yelps and yips echoing as the large force left, abandoning their fallen.
“We are not taking her with us. The last thing we need is for Niss to try to sell her as a slave,” Amnor Sen added.
He moved back into the wagons, grabbing his money belt and waterskin. Returning to where the gnoll was still being treated, the elf set some gold beside her weapon caravan started up. His full waterskin followed, and a pack of rations, enough to see her to safety when she came around.
“Next time, leave the dueling to me,” Jeremy sighed, the last of his healing magic cutting off.
Amnor Sen shook his head, starting after the caravan that was hurrying out of the gulch.