The heavy cavalry kept a lookout and some of them ignited a barn. Peasants ran from the doomed buildings and the banditti largely ignored them.
To the west of the village a loose line of horsearchers faced the long range shot of Ah'kreemh and Mot'Hrah, who began to empty saddles. The Kavar ran out of arrows. Having braved the deadly shooting, the bulk of the banditti gained the relative shelter of the buildings and rode through alleys to arrive at the main street.
Serj, Crohsyus the Simple and Balen had led their horses over the pits and mounted up. Moving this way and that through alleys and the open spaces between buildings and fenced yards, they had endeavored to be ready to defend themselves by keeping to cover and yet attack any careless burners. The mill and barn destroyers moved to the south and lit several dwellings and a long storehouse on fire. But it was Shtenchy who scored. Leaping around the corner of a house he cut down a bandit handily. Then, as the vanquished bandit's two nearest comrades saw this execution and hastened down off the hill and through the street to avenge him, the Drulath turned about and dispatched the pair of them, in less time than it took to write this description. He then beat a hasty retreat back to the village square, which was filling up with peasants wailing in terror and milling about.
Word got out that the western side of the village had been penetrated. The trio of mounted heroes trotted swiftly northward and rounded the end of the last house, turned into the main street and charged into the banditti who had just a moment before entered the village. Though outnumbered, the heavier armor and greater fighting ability of the defenders quickly turned the trick. There was a mad scramble of the banditti to escape the narrow street which was now a deathtrap. Arrows came from over the temporary fence where the street entered the square: the Kavar and Elf scored another couple of kills (Ah'kreemh had found one of the bows and quivers that had been taken from their foes in the ambush the day before). In all, of their enemies who had entered the street, fewer than half made their escape, to join the elite heavy cavalry and the rest of the light cavalry now formed up on the hilltop.
The banditti watched as the half dozen buildings they had lit on fire burned to the ground. They all had arrows on bow strings, ready to shoot down anyone rash enough to try and put the flames out. No one tried to do that!
As dusk came, the depleted banditti withdrew again to a camping place at a safe distance. There they determined to raise up some of their feudal minions. The infantry would approach up the streets to the square and fill in the pits. The horse would then charge the openings with lances and arrows. This reinforcement would be gathered and on hand in a day.
Something very close to this eventuality was suspected by the Seven. Serj decided that the outcome was a foregone event: they would all be worn down slowly by superior numbers, and as their supplies failed they would weaken until overcome in battle. The villagers had no choice but to stay, because a break for freedom would be hubris: too many oldsters and children, not enough food, and everyone on foot, would made them easy prey for the banditti. They would probably not even get a day away before being caught in the open.
So the palaver by the Seven in their quarters resulted in a united decision to mount up in the darkness and make for the Hynblend forest. Nomad horses would be very unsuited to such terrain. That was their best chance to quit this hopeless battle. And so it was done. Nobody felt good about it. But they also held no illusions about sacrificing themselves for naught.
Just shy of the trees they ran into a small gang of horsearchers combing the area for them. But with Mot'Hrah and Ah'kreemh shooting back, there was very little effort made by the banditti to stop them. And they entered the shelter of the trees.
It was assumed that the warlords would wipe out the village, thus ending any eyewitnesses to their failed quest to liberate the villagers from their oppressors.
When they got back to Librohn's camp, the Liberator said, "Back already? How did it go, then?"
That was when the story started to morph into less than the unadulterated truth: and when each man began to realize that they had screwed up, if living with honor was what he wanted. Nobody in the camp would say anything to their faces. But a lot of backtalk went on ...
(possibly to be continued?)