Big George finished the last bite of his garlic sausage and got up to make his soggy way through the underbrush to check the road for traffic; Bill leaned back against the tree that supported their canvas lean-to, and considered how lucky he was to have a partner that was happy to follow orders with minimal whining. George knew that thinking wasn't his strong suit, and trusted Bill; Bill could put up with the garlic, though he occasionally joked that the smell would be the death of him.
"Yo, Bill," George said as he ducked back into the shelter. "Somebody's coming. One guy, walking kind of funny."
Bill got up as quickly as his rain-creaky bones would allow and considered his options as he joined his partner. Their standard practice was to shoot travelers from ambush, but the rain made that impossible; still, it wouldn't hurt to look things over...
"He's a gnoll," Bill said, once he had had a look. "One of those hyena-men from down south. He walks funny because he's wearing boots." George gave him a puzzled look, and Bill considered trying to explain the difficulties of walking on your heels in boots with feet designed for walking on your toes, and decided that was a path of madness. "Gnolls wear boots, sometimes, when they have to walk a long way. But it means he won't be able to run worth a damn." George nodded. "Our guns won't work in the rain, but his won't either, if he's got one. He probably knows how to fight; I've never met a gnoll that didn't." George nodded again; thinking was Bill's job.
"Stay here, and stay out of sight," Bill said after a moment's thought. "I am going to go down a bit, and after he passes you, I will step out and stop him. I'll keep him busy while you sneak up behind him, and bash his head in. He shouldn't be able to hear you over the rain. Got it?" George nodded.
Bill turned away from the approaching gnoll and made his way through the underbrush at the road's edge for a couple of dozen yards, then took a not quite concealed seat and watched as the gnoll approached. The gnoll was wearing a hat that kept the rain out of his eyes, but his big, square ears stuck up well above the hat. He was carrying a bundle on a stick over his right shoulder; as he got closer, Bill realized that the stick was an iron-shod spear, held point forward. The gnoll's muzzle was grizzled with age, and there were finger-sized holes in the middle of each ear. His clothes looked well made if a bit threadbare, and, as Bill had predicted, he was wearing odd, long-toed boots.
Bill stepped into the path and said, "Hail, stranger. Bad day for traveling, no?"
The gnoll shrugged the pack off of his shoulder and let it carry the butt of his spear to the ground; he adjusted his grip on the spear. "Worse than most," he said.
"I've just been resting a bit," Bill said, moving closer. He saw George step into the road behind the gnoll and begin a stealthy approach, and continued. "I guess I'm ready to start walking again. Care for some company?"
The gnoll smiled toothily. "You don't have a pack."
"What?" Bill took another step; George took several.
"No what?" Another step; George was halfway to his goal, now.
"No, I don't want your company, and no, I don't want you to come any closer."
"But..." Bill took another step; George advanced more slowly, concentrating on stealth rather than speed.
The gnoll pulled a pistol out of his coat with his left hand. "Stop."
Bill blinked. "That's not very friendly. Or very practical, in this weather." He took another look, and came yet another half step closer; George was almost in position. "That gun isn't cocked or primed. I don't think it even has a flint." Bill took another half step; George started to raise his cudgel.
The gnoll turned the gun in his hand and looked at the lockwork. "Why, you're right. Silly of me..." He pivoted backwards on his right foot and shoved the pistol toward George's face, shouting something incomprehensible as he did so. The gun roared, George's surviving eye bulged explosively, and the gnoll dropped the pistol, then pivoted back. Bill fumbled for the hilt of his sword as he watched George fall; the gnoll made three quick hand movements, and the point of his spear slammed into Bill's throat. The blade caught, and Bill felt a jerk as the gnoll tried once to free the weapon, and then let Bill and spear fall.
Bill had trouble following the gnoll's next movements as his nerveless body fell; once he was on the ground, his dimming vision could make out that the gnoll had drawn a knife and a shortsword, and was turning in a slow circle. He saw the gnoll relax and sheath his blades before the blackness closed in. The last thing that registered on Bill's failing senses was the gnoll's voice, saying, "Filch, my old jack, you are so VERY lucky the big one liked garlic..."
Filch recovered his weapons, dragged his pack and the bodies to the side of the road, and then went looking for the bandits' camp. Once he had found it, he moved bodies and luggage there, and set out to explore his windfall.
The camp wasn't much, just a large piece of green canvas tied to a tree and staked down. Still, it blocked the rain and some of the wind, and there was firewood, and food, and even a skin of beer. By Filch's standards, on a rainy day, it was positively luxurious.
The bandits had been fairly well off, for bandits. They had a smattering of coins, two muskets, three pistols, and a supply of powder and shot, plus two shortswords and a collection of lesser cutlery. They also had clothing and boots and the canvas shelter. All told, it was a very nice haul, if Filch could find a way to transport it to a town; he supposed he could rig a travois, if he wanted to. But in the meantime...
In the meantime, it was raining, and he had shelter, and beer, more water than he wanted, and several hundred pounds of fresh meat.
"Filch, my old jack," he said aloud, "I think you deserve a day off."