"So overall, ten dead and five injured."

"Ten? Are you sure?"Kennison’s surprise was evident.

Jak was indeed sure. Absolutely sure ten sounded a lot more than nine, the spurious amount he'd originally come up with.

"Absolutely sure," he answered truthfully. Well, half-truthfully. Besides he was really only a lie of omission, essentially lying to himself, so where was the harm? Oh, no, hang on, on second thoughts, he was clearly lying to everyone... Lying through his teeth...

"They're down to a skeleton squad... A skinny skeleton at that."

Kennison's eyes narrowed. "You're saying you killed ten armed men all by yourself?"

Oops, he'd gone too far. "Err, no, not only me... "

Gar! He'd plumb forgot Kuruk was supposedly a prisoner. He finally began to feel a bit guilty...

"Er, Fang killed three... Or four. No, it was three because Star stomped on three as well. And Stomp… Stomped on two… Making eight. So I killed two. No, now I remember better, I killed four. Two initially in the first engagement... An arrow-based attack if I recall correctly... Then I fought and killed two more... Of the smaller ones...

That's not ten." Karn smirked from his perch on the guard wagon. "It's eleven."

"It's twelve, thickwit." Kennison corrected.

"Yes, twelve ."Jak glared at Karn. "Because... Several of the ones... that... Star and Stomp stampeded on... recovered... Not fully of course, as they now make up a few of the five injured."

Kennison shook his head, disbelief etched on every feature.

"Those two bloody warhorses are well worth their weight in gold in a battle," he chuckled.

Whoah. That was too close for comfort. Stupid maths would be his undoing...

"Yeah, it’s so hard to get it all ordered in my mind…Such a whirl... No time for counting who did what or whatnot."

"Aye verily, by the time Ox, Erek and myself arrived the whole place was in an unholy uproar with slavers scouring the forest. We barely managed to sneak away before they discovered us. We didn't get time to count either."

Phew. Jak was dodging arrows left, right and centre here, however he'd wrested the initiative back now.

When Jak first returned, he’d assumed he’d be in hot water for deserting but Kennison just said “a man’s got to follow his heart”. It seems he'd been wavering on the verge of coming to their rescue. He just needed a subtle push. Or just a push. Subtle was not Jak's strong suit. Maybe a shove...

"The one thing I do remember is their beady little evil-eyes... And the fact none of them can fight worth a tinker's damn."

“Reavers are cowards by nature. Thieves in the night they are..." Ox spat at ground at his feet. Whoah again. The gentle giant must be all kinds of riled up to act out like that. He rarely even spoke... Good. Jak could count the big man in.

Where is Stomp by the way?” Kennison asked.

Still with Kuruk. “Sulking in the woods somewhere. No doubt he’ll come back when he’s good and ready.”

The captain nodded sagely. “Temperamental beasts warhorses… Loyal to a fault though...”

“We’d best make a plan then,” Jak suggested.

“No, we need to put it to a vote first – It’s not caravan business so I can’t order these men to fight.”

A vote. That was a truly terrible idea. Democracy was a terrible idea. Any idiot got a vote. Absolutely anything could happen...

“Of course,” Jak said. “We need to be fair, let's call for a meeting. I’ll round up the others.”

But not before one of his special motivating speeches.

"The one I killed was loaded, look?" Jak held his, Kuruk’s and the five slavers’ coins out in two jiggling hands. The silvers and coppers jingled and glistened as they caught the late afternoon sun - and the guards’ eyes.

“How much altogether?”Karn asked eyes alight. Thickwit. Even Jak could count coins.

“Nine silvers, six,” Jak wildly exaggerated, snapping his fist closed over the coins. He quickly poured the contents back into his purse before anyone could get a rough count.

“Oh, by the bye, captain wants everyone over at the guard cart.”

Ten minutes later, after much toing and froing the nine remaining guards had been fully apprised of the supposed situation. Tensely they circled up around their captain for the official vote.

Kennison, Erek and Ox immediately voted "aye". So far so good Jak thought. Then Rocko let him down. Rocko c'mon man... Damn, he'd been counting on him. Grant shook his head and muttered "nay"as well, staring at the same patch of earth Rocko did, refusing to meet Jak's glare. Karn smirked as he quickly added his "nay". Ellis as per usual followed Karn's lead. All too soon it was four-all, and that was counting Jak. Kuruk's apparent fate swung on a hung jury... Two left. Fabrice was too soft, he'd be a nay for sure. And Snake hated them both. It was all about to head south,

Do something Jak. So far the order of voting had gone around the circle clockwise. Jak, on Kennison's left, was last in line and hadn't yet cast his vote. Needing to reverse the momentum, Jak leapfrogged ahead of Fabrice. And jumped into the middle of the circle.

"I vote for my friend! I vote for life!” he exclaimed. “I'm not afraid of a few bandy-legged, beady-eyed foreigners..."

Um...What else could he add? Jak recalled his ill-fated trip to Rothswell. He'd heard a man railing against the Sandclans in the market square. His views appeared to be pretty popular amongst the old men lounging about. Even Jak was shocked at some of the despicable stuff the desert folk had been up to. No wonder he hadn't seen any around... How did it go again?

"They come to our country... Steal our women... Take our jobs... Then they have the gall to look down their hooked noses at us!"

Didn't work. Fabrice folded like a linen shirt. Four-Five and only Snake left. No wait. Jak jumped in the middle again.

"You know who hasn't voted yet?" He asked.

"Snake?" Rocko replied. Thick as an anvil that one.

'And... Kuruk!" Jak said. "I think I speak for my imprisoned friend, indeed I must...”

“If young Bear were here, he'd implore you, his treasured friends, to all together come save him! He's bravely facing a dreary eternity of slavery... A fate far worse than death!

Nope. Turn it around.

"...Until, that is, his untimely yet entirely imminent demise in the dismal fighting pits..." Jak added. "A death far worse than... fate?"

Jak risked a glance at Snake who just snorted. Not working. New tack.

"Kuruk doesn't even care for his share of the spoils of victory," Jak said, slyly shaking his leg to jingle the purse in his pocket. "For what use are gold... silver... precious jewels... Or ancient artefacts and other priceless treasure... If you're not free?"

"So what say you Snake? Shall the ten of us, withal the two warhorses and our wolf, risk the five of them to free not only our friend but relieve our pathetic enemies of their fortune?"

Snake's eyes skittered around the circle, calculating odds and counting imaginary coins.

He gave a tiny nod. "Aye..."

Greedy bastard. "Good man Snake!" Jak said clapping him on the back, a lot harder than he had to. Smarmy little git.

A note from Mullayo

Again any feedback or suggestions welcome.

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