Rain began to spit down again from a slate coloured sky. Leaves rustled and then bracken snapped.
They appeared quickly, in two pairs, from either side of the dense woodland that the road ran through. All four of the young men had their bows drawn. Oppius briefly thought to himself if the youths had camouflaged themselves, or it they were naturally grimy and feral. Both Oppius and Teucer knew that they were at a disadvantage and resisted reaching for their weapons.
The apparent leader of the brigands stepped forward and occupied the middle of the road. The youth had a sinewy body, harelip and sadistic aspect, which shone as brightly as the dagger he held up, after slinging his bow back over his shoulder.
"This here is our road - and you need to pay a toll."
Teucer fancied that he would gladly have paid the toll if he thought that it would have gone to the upkeep of the road.
Oppius assessed the situation. The youths would be easy to best, just as soon as they lowered their bows. With three of them still training their bows on the two of them it was likely that at least one of them would not escape falling to the brigands. Already the centurion noticed how their arms were tiring though, whilst also grinning inanely as they thought about what they would spend their booty on. They would also soon switch to holding their daggers too as greed overtook them and they searched their victims for any valuables they possessed. The two brigands to his right, nearest to him, looked strong but unskilled. He would allow Teucer to deal with their leader in front of him and the pock-marked barbarian to his left.
"Let's not fuck about. What have you got on you?"
Both soldiers, thinking the same thing, merely raised their arms - willing to be searched - rather than retrieved their valuables themselves. The lead brigand paused however, just as he was about to search Teucer.
"Do I know you?" he asked, squinting suspiciously at the archer.
"Doubtful. I probably would have killed you if we had met before."
"No, I do know you. You're Adiminus. This, lads, is the brother of our chieftain. Caradog should reward us if we bring him back with us," the youth remarked, his harelip curling even more, in a smirk.
"How is my brother?"
"He's doing a lot better than you, by the looks of it," he replied, with a snigger. His companions grinned at his joke too. Two of them slung their bows over their shoulders and removed their hunting knives.
"And how is my mother?"
"She's dead. She crossed over a year ago."
"Give her my regards, when you see her."
"What? You should be worried about the kind of regards your brother is going to show you. He'll welcome you with a campfire - and then cook you on it," the brigand replied, letting out a laugh.
They all now looked at each other and laughed. It was the distraction that the professional soldiers had been waiting for. In one swift, smooth movement Teucer gripped the brigand by the throat in one hand and plucked an arrow from the quiver on his back with the other - and plunged it into his enemy's right eye. The blood curdling scream cut through the air, as all matter of creatures retreated further into the woods, frightened by the unnatural noise. Reacting at the same time - and with the same swiftness - Oppius pulled out his dagger and threw it into the barrel-chest of the youth who still had an arrow nooked upon his bow. Shortly afterwards he was attacked by the other brigand to his right. Oppius caught his knife-hand though as he was about to slash - and slammed his forearm into his opponent's face, crunching and crushing the cartilage in his nose. Oppius then twisted his hand back so the brigand relinquished his dagger to him. The blood gushing from his face soon ran into that coming from his throat, as the centurion sliced open his neck. Oppius looked up to check where the remaining brigand was, readying himself to fend him off - but all he could see was a figure racing through the forest. The wood was too dense for Teucer to take him down with a shot from his bow.
"How far is the nearest village?" Oppius asked, concerned that the remaining brigand could quickly raise a larger force.
"Far enough, but we should get moving," the Briton replied, seemingly unmoved by the news about his mother and older brother.