The week the challenge was to take five characters from a list of FIFTY! I used a random number generator to pick some lists, then mixed & matched those until I ended up with something I liked. I don't know how much it matters, but the five I ended up using are; The friendly musician, the silent wanderer, the unpredictable hunter who is considered the worst at their job, the aggravated thief in need of a friend, and the mysterious and heroic outlaw.
While I was writing this the first draft was much blander than the final result, I wrote the main structure but then went back in and played with the narrative voice. I also started thinking about how different tenses can affect the genre. Anyway, enough rambling. Here's the story.
Band of Five
A calm stillness filled the forest, broken by the quiet strumming of lute strings. Tristan let his horse set a steady pace as he tuned the instrument.
“So tell me friend,” he asked his companion, “where are we headed?”
His fellow traveler shrugged, a gloved hand tugging their hood tighter, the dark material of the cloak shrouding their figure and blending with the black stallion.
“Ah, where so ever the road takes us, an excellent way to travel.”
Plucking a few more strings Tristan decided his lute was as tuned as he’d be able to make it for now. Noting that one of the strings would need replacing soon, he began to strum a casual melody.
“I’m Tristan, by the way, might I at least learn your name, if not the name of our destination?”
His companion kept their silence.
“Perhaps a song then, to pass the time?”
He switched to a jauntier tune.
‘Oh, I once met a girl, she was so sweet.
I met a girl, she swept me off my feet.’
It was a common song, used at many village festivals.
‘I met a girl, she was so fair.
I met a girl, with golden hair.’
Tristan paused, silently prompting his companion for the next verse.
‘We kissed without a care.” A voice floated through the trees.
Tristan stopped playing as they rounded a turn in the path, seeing the source of the voice. The man in a simple green tunic and tan breeches wasn’t out of the ordinary.
What was unexpected was that he was hanging upside-down, swinging gently in the breeze.
“Hello there. I don’t suppose you could help me down?” He turned in a slow circle, facing away from them. “Or at least keep playing? It’s rather boring up here.”
“Well met friend,” Tristan pulled his horse alongside the hanging man.
He took hold and turned the fellow around putting them, somewhat, eye-to-eye. The leather strip with the sigil of the Hunter’s Guild not currently necessary to keep the man’s long brown hair out of his eyes.
“Tell me,” Tristan asked, “how does a Hunter fall prey to his own snare?”
“Funny you should ask. I wasn’t catching much in the woods, so when my friend suggested I try the road I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
“Your friend… told you to put a trap in the road?” Tristan arched a brow.
“Yes,” the man pointed, setting himself turning again, “she’s right behind those bushes.”
Tristan turned to see a small figure stumble from the bushes, her short cloak getting caught in the brambles. As she pulled free her hood fell back revealing dark hair framing a young face.
"Hello there friend,” Tristan waved. “My name is Tristan, travelling musician and performer." With a short bow he gestured to the other rider, "My friend in the cloak prefers to keep their own counsel. May I ask who you are?"
"I'm the one robbing you." She said, drawing a hand crossbow.
She took aim at Tristan as Gibson spoke, "She's Sera."
"God dammit Gibson!"
Sera raised the crossbow a bit higher and fired a bolt into the trees, severing the snare and dropping Gibson, who let out a sharp yelp of surprise. Tristan tried to support the hunter but the man's flailing dragged them both to the ground.
Standing up Tristan dusted himself off and tried to help Gibson to his feet, but the man had somehow become tangled in his own rope.
"Now then," Sera said as she nocked another bolt. "I believe I was robbing you all."
"My dear lady," Tristan said with a flourish of his cloak that hid the palming of a throwing knife, "I am all I said, a humble musician. I have nothing worth taking."
"And what about your friend there?" Sera asked, taking aim at the silent rider. "Don't think I can't see your jewels under that hood."
Tristan glanced back at his companion, still sitting unmoving on their horse, and gave a start when the figure spoke.
"Sera the Wayfarer?" They asked in a cultured voice.
Sera smirked, "So you've heard of me."
If derision could cut, Tristan wouldn’t need his knife. "Your reputation is by association only. I seek your master."
Sera's smirk turned to a snarl and her grip tightened on the crossbow, "I don't-" she was interrupted as Gibson finally stumbled to his feet.
"Oh you mean Flynt." He said, still shaking himself free of the ropes.
Sera pinched her eyes closed with a grimace, "God. Dammit. Gibson!" She ground through clenched teeth.
Taking the opportunity, Tristan let fly the knife. The blade drove into the body of the crossbow and knocked it from the hand of the distracted thief.
Pleased with himself, Tristan turned to his no longer silent companion. But his grin slid off his face when Sera pulled out a second crossbow, nocked and ready to fire.
"I don't have a 'master'." She snarled.
"Indeed!" a deep voice boomed out from the forest canopy.
From the trees a man swung down, letting go of his rope well before the ground he flipped through the air and landed in a kneeling crouch in front of the cloaked rider, his arms spread wide kept his cape flaring dramatically.
"Master is such an ordinary title, I like to think of myself as the brave and heroic leader." He rose only long enough to perform a swooping bow. "Flynt of the Forest Steel, at your service."
"Sir Francis of Stonewall," she said, "your Queen requires your services as a knight once more."
Flynt, or Francis, chuckled softly. "So, the rumors are true. The royal family has been usurped."
"Indeed," said Queen Valentina. "Although reports of my death are somewhat premature."
Flynt stood straighter, his flamboyancy dropping away as his shoulders settled with responsibility. It suited him, like a favorite cloak being worn again after a long time.
"Sera, Gibson," Francis called over his shoulder, "go alert the others. We have ourselves a new patron."
Sera lowered her crossbow in stunned awe while Gibson tripped over the ropes and fell again.
Tristan's fingers twitched for his lute, 'This is going to make an epic ballad.'