0.1.2 – Woodcraft

We left Gideon’s Hollow and headed up the hill, into the Forest. Our rogue Templar took the lead, moving along with hardly a snapped twig, cloak trailing just above the leaves. Eris and I walked side by side on the trail.  

“Fresh tracks,” the Templar said, from the front of our little trio. Eris jumped slightly when he broke the silence. “Not far now.” 

“What’s got you so jumpy?” I said to Eris, keeping my voice low.   

“Jumpy?” she laughed, hooking her thumbs into the straps of her pack. “No, it’s–we’re fine. Sir Valraven and I are very close.”   

“Aidan,” the knight said, in a monotone, from further ahead than I thought he would have been able to hear.   

“Aidan,” Eris corrected herself. “Aidan and I. We go way…back.” She looked down at the ground.   

“What happened to her hands?” the lass in my head whispered.   

Eris had the scars and scratches of strings on her fingertips.  

“You’re no sellsword, Eris.” I kept my voice low.  

“Sure and I’m not,” Eris said.  

“And, if you don’t mind me saying, surely no river trader. How is it you’re mixed up in this?”    

The Templar was striding on ahead of us with a continual, clockwork energy like a millwheel. Eris, meanwhile, paused in midstep to offer a little bow.  

“Eris Malarin, minstrel and teller of fine tales, very cordially at your service.”    

“You’re a fucking bard?” I shook my head. “Why, I was just thinking we’d be dangerously short on poetry when we tried to storm the most fucking fortified fortress in all of Frydain.”    

“What’s a bard?”  

Someone who makes music. Hush, lass.  

“She makes music? Can she sing?”  

“I’ve held my own in a scrap before. Split a few heads in my day.” Eris had on the expression that people tried to put on when they were imitating someone who had been in a fight before.  

“I imagine the fuck so. Do you play as well, then?”    

Her eyes lit up.    

“When I have the chance. My last guitar was broken back…well, when I met Sir Valraven, there–”    

“Eris,” Aidan said, his voice carrying. “I’ve told you before, family needs no title.”  

I listened to his tone. Something about it nettled me. He spoke about her like she was…me.   

“Family,” I repeated. “Funny, and why is it you two are family again?”  

“We’re conspiring to commit treason,” Aidan said, with a bit of a sharp tone, “If that doesn’t serve to make us family, I don’t know what does.”  

It wasn’t funny, but I laughed so hard that I had a coughing fit right there on the trail and had to spit snot on the ground before I could continue.    

I snorted.   

“No family of your own, then, Slate?” Aidan asked, as we plunged into the Forest.    

“None at all.”    

“Mmm,” Aidan made a very faint sound. “Surprising.” He gave me a very dry, flat look, with just enough of a twinkle in his eye to be clear he was taking the piss, as he knelt to inspect a scrape in the leaf litter. He looked up into the trees, nodded to himself, carried on down some unseen trail.    

“It was my sister who taught me how to follow a track,” he said, in a voice I almost didn’t hear over the sound of Eris’ footfalls. “And to ride a horse. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be the knight I am today.”    

“And yet, if it wasn’t for her, you’d still be the knight you are today,” I said. “Isn’t that fun?”    

He laughed, low and grim.    

“I suppose there’s a poetry to it,” he said, after a long pause. “Using what she taught me to undo everything I’ve done.”   

“Pretty shit poetry, you ask me,” I said. “See if we survive, Eris could write a hell of a song about it.”    

The lass made a wordless sound of enthusiasm right at the back of my neck, which was fucking distracting.   

“I could certainly try,” Eris said, musingly. “Have to change the names, of course.”   

“I suspect we’ll have changed ours long before you start composing,” Aidan said dryly. He sniffed the air. “Smoke on the wind. We’re close. Quiet now.”    

“So soon?” I shook my head. “Shit bandits, camping so close to the edge.”    

“Scared and superstitious, I’d bet,” Eris said quietly. “More afraid of the Forest than the farmers. Plenty of legends about this place.”    

“Why so scared? All the Forest can do is kill you.”    

“Some people are afraid of that sort of thing,” Eris said, which I found so funny that I had to stifle another coughing fit. I choked into the collar of my coat while Aidan glared at me.     

“Sorry,” I croaked. “Carry on.”    

He sighed, shook his head.    

Now we were so close that I could smell the smoke, and Aidan took us off the trail, circling round to the south, where a low hill shielded us from sight and sound of the camp ahead.    

I squinted up at the sky. Hard to spot the sun with so many clouds.    

“An hour to noon,” She murmured in my ear.   

I nodded, moving to Aidan’s side against a tree.    

“Whole day before us,” I said, barely audible. “See and if it were just me, I’d watch them an hour or two before I made a move. See if anyone’s about and hunting.”    

Aidan looked at me with an expression that was hard to read.   

“Prudent,” he said, at last. “Eris, wait here, keep an eye to the south. If you hear anything, signal us.”    

“How?” Eris said, as we started up the hill.    

“Loudly,” I said.    

Aidan and I crawled up the slope and stuck our heads over.    

A wide circle of smoldering fires marked the edge of the camp. A handful of poorly made tents and canopies littered the area, made from hides and pine branches. Six horses were tied to a tree on the far side of the camp. One bored-looking man was standing at the edge of camp with his back to us, staring northward.    

He had a musket strapped to his back.    

“Fuck,” I muttered.    

“I recognize that weapon,” Aidan said, in a voice just above a whisper. “One of Teague’s older designs.”    

“How’d he come by it, do you reckon?”    

“It’s possible he took it from one of our jailors. Or a convoy, if they were bold enough.” Aidan’s eyes narrowed. “I would wager the latter. He has a powder horn.”    

I hadn’t even seen a powder horn.  

“You don’t think he knows how to use it?”    

“All things are possible. Unless…”   

A sharp, distant crack broke the air. I jumped slightly, as did the bandit in the clearing. The Templar remained perfectly still. “Unfortunate.”    

“They’ve got another,” I muttered. “Lovely.”    

Aidan smiled tightly.    

“If they have enough shot to be using them to hunt, this might be difficult.”    

“Love a challenge.” I grinned, mostly for his benefit.  

“Nine tents,” Aidan said. “I see two men asleep. The others must be hunting.”    

“That’s why they’re not watching the village.” I glanced at the Templar. “Now or later?”    

“We wait for the hunters.” Aidan’s face was calm. “I don’t wish to leave any danger behind for Gideon’s Hollow.”   

I snorted.    

“Does that not sit well with you?” Aidan said coldly, glancing at me.    

“Might as well kill them all,” I said. “Once a Templar, always a Templar.”  

He received that with a chilly demeanor. Next he spoke, his voice was lower and colder still.  

“Don’t you find that a dangerous sentiment, heretic?”  

“Do me a favor, lad,” I didn’t take my eyes off the camp. No sign that they’d heard us. “Kill me, or don’t. These constant threats are embarrassing.”  

He said nothing.  

“These are the men who are taking women?” She asked, in my other ear. Her voice was hushed, even though there was no chance of being overheard.  

I shook my head, slowly, watching the camp. Don’t know that. We don’t know these men. They were scarred and rough, uglier than most.  

“Nine tents,” I muttered. “And fuck knows how many muskets, against the three of us.”  

“Is nine too many? How many men can you kill?”  

One at a time, usually, like anyone else.  

“What about Aidan?”  

“Choir boy,” I said. He made a quiet, irritable sound. “What’s in your head?”  

“The muskets,” Aidan sounded annoyed, but his stupid, handsome face was the same as ever. “If they had only crossbows, I might handle this alone. But as it stands…” 

I shook my head.

“Templar.” I looked back at the musket. A long, ugly piece of metal, a clever bit of evil in the clockwork, the wheel, the pan– 

I grinned. Lass. I have an idea.    

Her voice had a smile in it.  

“I know you do.”    

*

0.1.1 – Gideon’s Hollow

0.1.3 – Flash The Powder

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