Chapter 17: Welcome to the Ross Wood

woods in Fall          Hexla was at least able to rid herself of the negative side effects of alcohol, and we were on the road early the next morning. If I had thought, we were nearly across the plains, I was wrong.

“Rain,” Luke spoke absently when we had stopped riding at midday to eat and give our horses a chance to breath.

Hexla nodded in agreement.

They were proven correct as the weather turned poor. It would rain torrentially and consistently for several days. For the sake of not losing too much time, we road through most of it, and took cover in local farmer houses at night if we were lucky. But, the weather would improve.

After over three weeks of hard riding we reached the Ross Wood. The forest stretched from the edge of the plains to Eliar Lake then Along the Orlo’s. Our destination was the city Ross that sat on the edge of Eliar Lake and the Ross Wood. We had ceased wearing anything that marked us as members of the Church and it seemed that it would stay that way for the rest of the Hunt.

The city was still a bit of a ride through the Ross Wood and up along the Lake road. The Ross Wood was a thick forest filled with oak, maple and pine trees that started abruptly and densely at the edge of the plains. The road we were on turned south and followed the tree line. We took a smaller road that turned north for a while then dipped into the forest. The road was old and must have been burned out years ago when the place became more thickly settled and trade needed access. After just a few hours ride on this rode, we came across a caravan of two carriages traveling in the same direction as us.

“Hoy,” A burly man called from the front of the lead carriage as we rode past them.

“Hello?” Hexla responded turning in her saddle to face the man.

“Hey, you in a hurry?” He asked.

“Why?” Hexla asked.

“Just going to say, if you aren’t trying to get nowhere fast, you should travel with us, there bandits in these woods. And worse hemomancers I hear. Should travel together, the more swords in one place the better, and it looks to me you a have a few.”

“What’s in it for me? These are my escort and mine is larger than yours,” Helxa said. That was true. I only counted two among the caravan who carried weapons. But I was wondering what Hexla was doing. Traveling with the caravan would be quite a bit slower.

“I got food in excess, you sleep warm every night… got a goodly bit of wine left to. Though I got nothing in terms of spare coin to offer you,” The man said.

“You feed and provide warm space to sleep, and we’ll travel with you. I’ll take you up on the wine too,” Hexla said stating her terms. “And what is your name?”

“It’s a Deal. My names Brevin James, trader of fine clothes and dyes, your name mam?” Brevin asked.

“Brenda Moraine, my brother is a successful merchant in Ross, you may know him,” She said.

“Moraine…” Brevin thought on the name for a moment. “Ah, Brandon Moraine, the lumber merchant.”

“That’s him,” Hexla answered. I figured this wasn’t the first time she’d used this alias. It was convincing at least, though I wondered if it was truly worth using false names just for random folk.

“Ah, I’ve never actually met the man but he’s a name,” Brevin said. “You know…”

Luke dropped back next to me and motioned with me to drop back even further with him. “I’m Uke Ryan, a mercenary, and your Dem Windsor, my under. It’ll explain why we spar. You will have to act like a squire around me at all times.” I nodded but it felt slightly unfair, suddenly being degraded to Squire or under as Luke put it. “Abalyn will be Abigail Fetor, and Orion will be Orin Sill. You got that?” I ran through their names and nodded again. “Good, you and I are going to talk to the mercenaries this caravan already has.”

We separated from the others and dropped back to where the two mercenaries walked side by side in between the caravans. Both were clad in leather and had bows and long swords.

“Hello,” Luke spoke. “Looks like we’ll be traveling together.”

Both men gave us thorough looks. They were both lean and bearded. One had light orange hair the other Black. “Aye, I won’t complain.” Black beard said. “Names Martin, this guy’s Pete.”

“Hey,” Pete said in a deep gravelly voice. He was nearly a head taller than Martin, and had half a head on me. Despite this, his arms were wiry and no thicker than mine. They probably had no problem using the large bow on his back.

“Hey, I’m Uke, and the kids Dem,” Luke replied. “You two look more like archers than swords men, why don’t you go sit with the drivers. We’ll place two in the middle and have a rider out in front and one in back.”

“Harder to aim on a carriage,” Pete mumbled.

“Beats walking though,” Martin said. “Let’s listen to this guy, seems to know what he’s talking about.”

“I guess,” Pete said. The two of them Split and sat with separate drivers, resting their bows in their lap’s ready if needed. Martin was on the front carriage Pete on the back.

“Dem,” I almost didn’t react to the name. “You and Abigail will take the middle. Orin and I are more experienced, so we’ll take the front and rear.”

I nodded and simply continued to ride between the carriages while Luke rode off to inform Orion and Abalyn of the plan.

Not that much later Abalyn rode up on my right. “I don’t like this traveling with merchants.”

“Free food, something to sleep under,” I responded listing the positives.

“Yeah, but I didn’t mind how we were traveling before, this is slower and has more risks.” She said.

“It’s a trade caravan heading towards the capitol of the eastern dominance. How poor could the roads be?”

“We’re not too far away from the Orlo’s or even Jahzn, raiders hide in the mountains and raid the local roads around these parts. The roads might be patrolled, but their long and surrounded by forest. A Prime place to get ambushed…”

I shrugged. “We’re a large group, and it’s not like we’re your average mercenary…”

“A raider can’t tell that, and six can be easily overwhelmed if caught off guard.”

Contrary to Abalyn’s fears the day passed free of raiders. When the sun set the caravan pulled over to the side of the road and we set up camp. Brevin’s Wife Carissa, who had been riding in the carriage Brevin drove, set to preparing a meal. The smell of which led to me finishing tending to our horses as swiftly as I could. Brevin’s son Lenny was the final member of his family. The last member of the Caravan was Cain, some hired man who drove the second carriage.

“Can you use that?” Lenny asked as I sat by the fire that his mother was cooking over.

“Here ya go,” Clarissa said passing a wooden plate with a slab of boiled lamb, and I side of carrots. They were boiled too, but not to the point of tastlessness.

“Thank you,” I then responded to Lenny, “Of course, I wouldn’t be out here if I couldn’t.”

Lenny looked to be about my age if not a little older. “My dad’s shown me a bit. I got Martin to show me a bit too. Uke teach you how to use your sword?”

“For a bit,” I answered.

“Think he would be willing to teach me some?”

I shrugged. “I was waiting for him to get back from whatever he’s doing to do some sparring.”

“Oh…” He paused, looking as if he was searching out what to say.

“Orin told me to me to tell you not to wait around for Uke,” Abalyn said sitting next to me.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Searching the surrounding woods,” Abalyn explained.

“Did he say when he would be back?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Abalyn answered.

Cain plopped down next to the fire and received a plate with lamb and carrots from Carissa. He looked at us nervously then became engrossed with his food.

“Can you use your sword too?” Lenny asked Abalyn.

“What? Oh course,” Abalyn answered.

“Can you two teach me some since Uke’s busy?” Lenny asked.

Abalyn looked at me confused. “He’s been trying to learn how to use a sword,” I explained.

“Well, you don’t want Dem to teach you then?” Abalyn said smiling.

“What?” I said disbelieving. “By Ruah I’m good with it.”

She looked at me sympathetically. “You’ve gotten better, but come on, you can’t tell me you’re qualified to actually teach?”

“I’m better than a lot of people.” I said.

“Because most people aren’t…. Lenny, I’ll teach you a bit, do you have a sword?” Abalyn said addressing Lenny.

Lenny nodded and jumped to his feet, returning a moment later with an old worn sword. Together Abalyn and Lenny stepped into the road and she began her instruction. I watched them for a while. Lenny looked awkward with a sword in his hand. He never seemed able to shake his awkwardness despite seeming to grasp most of what Abalyn was teaching him.

“Dem,” Abalyn called to me after a while. “Come help me I need a partner to demonstrate with.” I shrugged and joined her. She mostly had me standing still in varies positions as she demonstrated how certain things worked. A good portion of the time was spent also pointing out the supposed errors I was making. Lenny took it all in, the example of a perfect student.

“Can I see you two spar? You both seem good, Dem said he spares with Uke.” Lenny said at the end of the lesson.

I gave Abalyn a quizzical look. “I’ll do it if you’re alright with it?”

Abalyn spoke very serious, “We’ll start, very slow.”

And so we did. Slow at first, but the pace quickened as we got more comfortable. I thought my sparring with Luke was paying off, I felt calm and I was able to stay that way even at a higher tempo. I had begun to understand Luke’s point, everything felt smother when I didn’t let my body tense. Abalyn stopped us before the tempo got too high.

“Hey Pete, bet they can’t shoot a bow like we can!” Martin said sitting near the fire. I hadn’t known they were watching.

“Martin, I have no idea, I haven’t seen them shoot.” Pete responded to Martin.

“I bet I could shoot an apple off that stump way down there.” Martin bragged.

“No you can’t, no way your little bow shots that far.” Pete said incredulously.

Martin scowled. “It’s not a little bow, its normal sized.”

“It’s not as big as mine, I could shoot an apple off that stump, but I doubt you could. Though that’s no offense to you Martin, you’re a very good shot. You just have a small bow.” Pete and Martin continued their argument as Abalyn in I found Orion running a whetstone along his sword away from the others.

“What is the guard pattern for tonight?” Abalyn asked.

“You and… Dem first, we’re doing two-man watches. It’s big camp. I’m taking Martin for the second watch and Lu… Uke will have Pete for the third.” Orion said this without ever looking at us.

“Where’s… Brenda?” I’d almost forgotten Hexla’s fake name.

Orion motioned with his head. Hexla and Brevin were walking to the fire. Brevin was carrying a small barrel, both carrying cups of wine.

“Is that wise right now?” I meant to say that more to myself and Abalyn.

“She doesn’t have any duties tonight.” Orion answered, “I would too if I was in her position. Best way to travel the Ross Wood is drunk, keeps your nerves down.” It still seemed like a bad idea but I kept it to myself.

After leaving Orion I found the place I was given the privilege of setting up my bed roll. Underneath the Rear cart.

I heard Abalyn‘s voice behind me. “Martin and Pete volunteered to sleep under the other cart, so I got space in the carriage.”

“At least it’ll be warmer with the fire right there.” I said turning to face her while I gestured at the fire.

“Uke’s back seems everything’s fine.”

“Good,” I said as I pulled a heavy cloak out of my pack. It was getting cooler and it was for the best to stay comfortable during watches. “I’ll start up the road, you start down?”

“Sounds good.”

And our watch began. A routine of standing watch for a few moments at various predetermined points of the camp. If we were perfect then we’d always be on opposite sides. However there were plenty of detours to the fire to keep it going or to get warm. Also, we would get a good look at the camp, and perhaps socialize for a few moments.

During one of my trips back from the fire I heard movement and what sounded like a short scuffle along the opposite side of the lead carriage which I was walking by. I drew my sword to be cautious and approached. I crept around the side of the carriage and peered around the corner. It was just Cain. I strolled around the corner.

“What are you doing up?” I said this before the fire sprayed up from Abalyn throwing wood on it. He was holding a dagger, and blood was dripping from it. Then I noticed a slumped figure next him. “You…”

The word escaped me right before Cain lounged at me. I side stepped and swiped at him with my sword. I caught flesh, but I didn’t get a good look at what. Cain sprinted into the trees before I could react. I went to follow but then I remembered the slumped man.

I ran over and knelt down next to him, it was Martin. He was clutching his stomach but he was still breathing.

“Abalyn!” I shouted.

She ran around the corner. “Was that Cain who just… Ruah’s name… what did he do to Martin?”

“Stabbed him in stomach, help me lay him down.” By now the commotion had begun to wake the camp. Luke was first up, dropping out of the carriage sword in hand. It only took him a moment to take in the scene.

“What happened?” Luke asked. Orion was out as well.

I heard scrambling underneath the carriage next to me then heard Pete’s voice. “No, Martin…”

I ignored everyone as I undid the buttons on Martin’s Leather Jerkin and pulled away his blood soaked shirt. The wound was small but deep in the upper stomach. It was a close call as to whether it had hit his liver. If it had he would die before I could heal it.

Abalyn tried to answer Luke’s question. “I’m not sure, I heard commotion and then saw Cain running into the woods, Dmitry called for me, and… that’s all I know…”

“Dmitry?” Luke asked, but I didn’t respond. I began speaking in the Quatane, first I needed Martin to stop bleeding.

“What is he doing?” Pete asked. “That‘s not a tongue I‘ve heard…”

“He’s trying to save your friend,” Luke answered.

“Revealing what he shouldn’t…” Orion snorted. “Where is she, she should be the one speaking not this child.”

The wound had stopped bleeding, and I’d managed to get Martin to sleep. Healing a wound this deep would take time with so much different tissue effected. That was if he didn’t die right here and now.

“We need to get him onto a bed and I’ll need water and linens.” I wouldn’t need most of that except the water for some time, however it was better for them to do something other than watch me.

About an hour later I was set up in the back of one of the carriages that had been cleared out. Martin rested on a bed and had blankets covering the parts of him I wasn’t trying to heal. Carissa brought me a mug of tea and set it next to me. She was the only one still up with me. Except for Luke and Pete who were now on watch, Hexla hadn’t even shown her face. Abalyn had tried to stay up but she was curled up in the corner of the carriage with a blanket sound asleep.

“Drink, It’ll keep your energy up,” Carissa urged me. “Looks like you’ll need it.”

“Thank you,” I stopped speaking for a moment and took a sip. It also felt good on the throat. Spending an extended period of time speaking can really wear on you.

“You’re a Speaker aren’t you?” Carissa asked.

I nodded as I continued Speaking the Quatane again.

“A blood hunter too I guess, they are the only speakers you see out here other than in Ross.” Carissa said.

I nodded in response to that. I didn’t mind her talking to me, it kept me more with it.

“Brenda Moraine, I would say is also a Speaker then? And Abigail, Orin and Uke, they are your Glren?” she asked.

I nodded again.

“Do you know why Cain did this?” She asked.

I shook my head no.

“Did you know anything about him?”

I shook my head again.

“Do we have anything to do with your Blood Hunt?”

Taking a break from the Quatane, I spoke. “I’m not sure exactly why she even agreed to travel with you, we were traveling at such I high pace.”

“So it was just random then?”

“Unless… Brenda didn’t tell us something then yes I think so…” I looked tiredly at Martin’s wound. I had a night of this to go before I risked sleep. But Martin was still alive. I was starting to believe I could actually save him.

Tyler W. Golec

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