Kroll spread a map over the large rock.
“Tell me where you have seen this man over the past month. I understand there have been some attacks?”
The bandit marked each attack on the canvas in date order. The two men spent some time discussing the swordsman’s movements, but his appearances were random. In terms of dates and locations, no pattern emerged. It was impossible to predict how many or if any of the King’s troops would accompany merchants, so the timing of the swordsman’s appearances were sporadic. Kroll did not like his time being wasted.
“The swordsman has a wife and children,” Kroll said. He turned to the outlaw. “Do you know where they are?”
“Word is they live somewhere in the Foijen but, if that’s true, no one knows where.”
“Maybe it’s a ruse and he lives in the village? I could send for more men and attack there…”
“Only if you can muster an army,” the bandit interrupted, “there are upwards of a thousand men of the King’s army camped outside the village just now.”
Kroll exhaled heavily. “It seems we can’t get at the swordsman, whichever way we turn.”
“Unless…” the outlaw began. “There could be a way. Word in the village is one of the swordsman’s three sons is missing.”
“Missing or dead?”
“Perhaps you can answer your own question, Sir.”
Kroll grabbed the outlaw’s throat, “What… do… you… mean?” He said with a deathly sneer.
“W… well,” the bandit spluttered, “I heard a boy had been seized by Malaxians and taken away.”
Kroll leant in. “When was this boy taken?” He stood and lifted the man in the air. “When??!”
“N… n… not more than a year ago. Rumour has it you captured him.”
The man was dropped to the ground. “I knew there was something about that boy!” Kroll roared.
His murderous eyes bored into the bandit. “Go about your plundering and keep a lookout for the swordsman. You will report back if you see anything. You hear me?”
The outlaw nodded and left, well aware more Malaxians were lurking in the shadows. Kroll ordered his troops into the clearing. A few emerged from the undergrowth, while others dropped from trees. As they gathered, Kroll rued the day he did not just kill the boy when he had the chance. The boy’s days were numbered.
Time was running out for Ned and he never even knew it.