The light storm from the night prior had left enough element in the ground to cause fog to roll over the field when the sun began to rise the next morning. Some coughing around camp, signifying a few coming out of slumber, and the feint smell of tired campfires filled the air. Some of the men had already begun packing up items onto their horses. Though they had made good time yesterday, they had further to go yet. As Relman woke, he saw Sigi standing in the same place as the night prior. Slightly bewildered, he also began to gather himself and get out of his makeshift bed.
Thom came up to Sigi, who turned to him slightly before looking back over the horizon.
“Morning, Sigi,” Thom greeted him. “Sleep well?”
Sigi nodded. “For what I could, yes. Yourself?”
Thom looked up at him for a moment before standing alongside him and looking out the same direction. “Eh, I slept. I would be lying if I said well. Going after the Goron in any sense is unsettling. I wouldn’t even want to try to learn to read to learn about them.”
Sigi looked at Thom. “You can’t read?”
“Well, I can,” Thom replied. “I just wouldn’t want to learn if that was something I’d learn about.”
A silence took over them as they took in the day ahead of them. The fog was low-lying, allowing for a view of the forest lines beyond and the rolling hills that ensued. The day would be clear, with slight winds on them. Some coughing and movement behind them indicated the camp was also preparing for their departure.
“How long do you think we have until we find a spot?” Thom asked. Sigi stood there for a few moments considering.
“We should be there by tomorrow during the daytime. We’re already nearing clan territory, but we are still a bit out from finding an encampment. I want to start sending scouts ahead to look for signs of recent activity; I don’t want to walk into something laid out for any sniffing around up there.” Sigi turned fully towards Thom. “Who would you send?”
Thom frowned at Sigi for a moment before turning around to face the camp. Thom’s eyes wandered around from person to person a bit. “Our selection is limited. We’re not quite fit for this type of thing.” He waited for Sigi to respond, but found nothing. He finally drew one final look over the camp.
“Skelder and Hroth, I’d think. Skelder is as light-footed as they come, and Hroth can spot things a ways off. But that was just around our keep. We don’t have anyone experienced with scouting in the field.” Thom paused a moment. “If they find something, I am unsure if they’ll come back.”
Sigi nodded a moment, appraising the situation. He crossed his arms, looking at Thom. “Send them, but tell them to stay within an half hour’s ride of our position at all times. Send one that way,” Sigi gestured towards the northwest, “and the other there.” He then gestured towards the northeast.
“Split them?” Thom seemed to warn. “They might survive better if they were together.”
“Yes,” Sigi reaffirmed. “Never keep all of your hen’s eggs in one basket. While I would much rather keep them both, I’d also rather lose one than two. And if they both do not come back, then the range of influence that the Goron have is greater than I anticipated.”
Thom looked at Sigi. Despite his cold calculation, he couldn’t argue with the logic that he had been presented. “All right,” Thom finished. “Want me to send them along?”
Sigi nodded once. Thom grunted his acknowledgement, his breastplate slightly clinking from the chain linked the pauldron he wore on his left shoulder. He turned to wander back down to camp, and within moments of telling Hroth and Skelder, they were packed and off on their horses at a moderate pace.
Sigi ran the entire situation over in his mind again. He had to remember that, while the men were loyal, they were not fighters at heart. They weren’t linesmen that knew how to combat things easily. He had to keep the reins in check on how he issued orders to them, and what he ordered of them. He knew that in the heat of a quick assault, many of them would fall to the enemy simply from panic and inexperience.
Sigi finally turned from where he had been looking over the field. He came through the camp once to make sure everything had been packed. Once he had checked through, he headed back to his own horse, tightening the straps before mounting and trodding off. The rest of the camp loosely fell in behind him, starting their trod through the morning mist.
Thom caught up to Relman, looking him over. “Morning, twig. How was your sleep?”
“Hm?” Relman looked up at Thom. It was clear he wasn’t coherent. “Oh, fine. Just a little uneasy. Probably because I am not in my own bed.”
Thom nodded once. “Yeah, the ground does you good every once in a while. You get to hear the earth breathe, and sometimes it even talks to you.” Thom seemed somewhat satisfied.
Relman nodded once, groggily. He looked up ahead to Sigi, nodding his head towards him. “I didn’t see him sleep though. I went to sleep seeing him standing, and I woke up the same way.”
Thom looked up towards Sigi as well. “I am not doubtful at all that he’s a bit…” Thom wiggled his fingers, “..sorcerous. But he has said all of the right things to me so far. I don’t have any qualms with him. Until he gives me reason to really be suspicious, I don’t care if he’s from the gods or just born of dirt and poo. A man’s honor is only what should be considered.”
Relman thought about that for a second. “Yes. But history shows that anyone will treat someone well when they need that person. He needs us right now. What will happen when he has what he needs from Rothgard?”
Thom looked at Relman again, squinting an eye. “You’re a bit more cautious than usual. What’s buggin’ ya?”
Relman shook his head. “I think I am just not awake yet. Our Lord sent us with him. That should be enough word for me. I just hope, as always, our Lord is right.”
“Ech,” Thom returned. “When has Rothgard not done right by us? I’d much rather be in his service than some of the others outside– or inside, the council.”
Relman nodded once, yawning. Thom heeled his horse a bit, moving on. “Wake up, twig.” He chuckled once.
Relman couldn’t help but think of the dream from the night prior. He shook it as he looked up ahead, watching as some of the thirteen men wandered in silence, others talking with each other quietly. He looked around a bit more, and didn’t see Sigi, until he rode right up alongside Relman.
Relman looked at Sigi, suddenly more awake.
“You have questions,” Sigi started. He could see some of the men looking back between the two. He was unsure he wanted to show the association between them, but he had little choice. He looked up at Sigi, whose black hair was being blown back a bit by the breeze, his black eyes looking ahead casually.
Relman looked back ahead. “Sure. Did you sleep?”
He could hear Sigi’s grin. “Yes, I slept. I slept about as much as you did.”
Relman raised his eyebrows. “You watched me sleep? Only my mum did that.” He could hear Sigi chuckle a bit as Relman continued to look forward.
“I am leading everyone here. I want to ensure my men are getting enough rest. And I couldn’t help but hear you tossing against that bush you’d taken a liking to.”
An audible “oh” escaped from Relman before he caught it at his lips. Inside, he cursed himself for it, but he didn’t know why. “I was telling Thom, it’d been a while since I slept on dirt. Didn’t make for easy sleeping.”
“What’d you dream about?” Sigi inquired. Relman couldn’t tell what Sigi’s play was, but he was doing his best to act casual about it, and keep a straight face.
“It was a battle between two big forces, that I had never seen before. It was weird. I don’t know how to really describe it.” Relman hoped this would be enough to deflect him, and still maintain enough truth to keep his own face stoic.
Sigi nodded once. “If you’ve seen little combat, or have seen it from afar, it can cause you to really anticipate it in any sense of the word. Dreams often express ourselves, or our feelings.”
Relman turned the tide a bit. “What did you dream about last night?” he asked, looking over to Sigi.
“I can’t say I did. I don’t sleep much these days.” Sigi trailed off for a moment, before looking off casually to the west as they rode. He spoke as he turned his attention forward again. “I don’t feel like I have much of myself to express in dreams. It’s consumed by how other people express themselves.”
Relman nodded. “Well, I hope rest comes more easily for you when this is all done and over.” Sigi acknowledged the wish quietly, and then rode on ahead. Relman was left to his thoughts as they rode up further north, catching another tree line. The wood here was a bit heavier, but offered some shelter from the cold wind that had been whipping around in the open spots. The trees gave off their own warmth, despite the surrounding cold.
When the path widened enough, Thom rode up to Telmar, trodding alongside him. Thom assessed him fairly quickly: moody and tired. In a lowered voice, Thom spoke to Telmar. “How was watch?”
Telmar glared at Thom slowly before returning his gaze forward. “The second watch that you assigned me to?”
“Well now, I was just the messenger.” Thom put his hands up semi-defensively while holding the reins, though the air of his response had a smirk beneath it. “What do you have against the old man anyhow?”
Telmar snapped his head to Thom, gritting his teeth. “The ‘old man’ looks younger than me, Thom.” He looked around for Sigi, and saw him further ahead. He kept his tone low. “He killed his brother. He is obviously not born from a woman. And he’s a piss-ant that is commanding troops because our Lord owes him.”
Thom squinted his eyes as he turned around to see those with him, and then back to Telmar. “Sorry, but this isn’t ‘troops.'” He gestured around him. “And if Rothgard owed him, he certainly wouldn’t send us out with someone he didn’t trust.” Thom leaned in closer, his smile dissipating. “And you’re the only one that has been turning over any cow dung to renew the scent of shit here, Telmar. What’s your problem?”
Telmar glared at Thom a moment before looking forward. “I’ve fought witches before. He’s no different. They’ll resort to anything supernatural to achieve their victory, and will deliver hollow rewards to those that support them. Witches aren’t to be trusted.”
Thom nodded, leaning out. “Ahhh, I see,” Thom retorted. “So now he’s a witch. Keep up with it, Telmar. I still want to see what I looked like a few days ago.” He laughed a bit, riding forward.
By this time, Sigi had made his way to the front, and was idly looking through the woods, watching the path and casting a gaze upwards to see where the sun was sitting. His eyes came back down, and fixed on a particular tree.
On the bark, was fresh blood.
He put up his hand, and the person behind him stopped. Soon the entire group had stopped and all chatter had ceased, as he pointed towards the tree. The spatter from it was rather huge. It had some type of matter on it too. He dismounted, drawing his sword from his leather sheath and looping the reins on a nearby branch. The others dismounted as well, and as they saw what the dismount was for, they caught the first glimpse at the entirety of Sigi’s sword. The center of it was lined in more runes, and the blade was well forged. It appeared to be forged out of a greater type of metal. Relman looked at the sword for a bit before looking around him again, as did the rest. Tension set in on the group.
Quietly, Sigi began pointing at certain men and directing them towards different spots off the path. They split evenly, looking for signs of what had happened while Sigi came up closer to the tree to examine the blood, which was still slightly dripping. This had happened shortly before they arrived. He backed off, and began looking around himself.
Soon, he heard a bird whistle. He looked, and saw one of the men waving Sigi over. He made his way through the foliage to where the man was standing. At his feet, he saw a barely clothed man, with some markings on him. He looked very uncomposed, and his face had been bludgeoned open. That was from the tree, Sigi could easily guess. And by the marks and clothes, he determined the dead man to be a tribesman.
He pointed to his eyes, and then gestured around, silently telling the man to keep an eye out. Sigi looked back towards the other side, seeing all of the men still accounted for. Relman made his way over to Sigi, and saw the corpse on the ground. Sigi eyed Relman for a second, seeing his unease about being near a corpse. Sigi got Relman’s attention, and pointed further north ahead of where they were, and Relman nodded, walking in that direction.
After a few minutes of looking around, the men weren’t able to find anything else to piece it together. Sigi came back to his horse, sheathing his sword and undoing the reins. The other men came to circle around Sigi. He spoke up.
“I didn’t anticipate the tribesmen being this far south. And the bigger question is, why was he alone?” Sigi posed to the group.
“He wasn’t alone,” one of the men stated in a gruff voice. “Someone had to have been chasing him and catch him against that tree.” He pointed to the bloodied spot. Sigi considered it for a moment while the others spoke up, looking at the tree.
“Do you think one of the Gorons got a hold of him?” another proposed.
“No…” Relman interjected, seemingly trying to come back to reality. “If what Sigi said is right, they aren’t leaving anything behind. Not even bodies. And they never leave bodies behind.” Some murmur from the gathered men. Sigi thought for another moment, and then went back to the tree. The men began following, but he held up his hand for them to stop. He stopped short of the tree, looking at the blood, and then off towards the corpse. Sigi then looked at the ground, and off towards the corpse again. The men watched, trying to discern what he was thinking.
“Relman, I have another puzzle for you to solve,” Sigi called, motioning him over. Relman came over, and stopped behind Sigi. Sigi pointed down at the base of the tree, on the same side as the blood spot. Relman looked, and saw some shuffled footprints at the base.
“Now, here,” Sigi pointed at the prints leading to the tree. As Relman’s eyes followed, they widened.
“There’s only one set of tracks,” Relman discovered. As Relman’s gears continued to grind in his mind, he began piecing it together. He saw the tracks leading away from the base, down a slight incline towards the corpse. He followed them, Sigi close behind and the men further, but still within earshot. He stopped down at the corpse, Relman maintaining his composure.
“His hands are a scratched as well,” Relman remarked. He slowly stood up, turning to Sigi with grave concern. Sigi looked back at him.
“What does this puzzle tell you, Relman?”
“…that he did all of this to himself.”
A hush fell over the men as realization set in. Thom finally spoke up. “What would… what would cause a man to do that to himself? A tribesman, no less?”
Telmar stepped forward, his own concern present. “Nothing… nothing I can think of.”
“Witchcraft,” another murmured. Relman came back to the group.
“He did it to himself, willingly almost,” Relman remarked, unable to believe what he was saying. “Maybe he had been driven mad.”
“By what, though?” one of the other men replied. Sigi turned slowly towards his horse, getting on it.
“There are some things the mind cannot fathom, that will drive a man to insanity. Perhaps this is what happened,” Sigi suggested. “Either way, we cannot lose time.”
“Do we follow the tracks leading here?” Relman asked. Sigi shook his head.
“No, we need to continue north. If one of the scouts finds anything,” he pointed in the direction of the tracks, “they’ll find what this man saw. I only hope his stomach is stronger than his.” He mounted up onto his horse, most of the men standing in disbelief.
“Let’s go,” Sigi snapped to them, dragging them back to the present. Some of them blinked a moment, and they all returned to their horses, mounting up and continuing forth, further into the forest line. The weight of the situation had increased in Sigi’s mind.