Friday 5 December 2014

Scent: Part 23

Reven made his way east from Vardenfell. His instructions told him to follow the road to the city of Hrune until he came to an inn called The Red Griffon. Once at the inn he was to take a branch off the road that would take him deeper into the heart of the Freemarch Forest. The road he was on was much the same as the one he travelled into Vardenfell on. Travellers and merchants made their way to and from the city and many offered a cheery hello to the boy and his hound. Fang loved the open space and occupied himself by tearing through the leaves that covered the forest floor. He barely stayed on the path always seeming to find something more interesting under the canopy of the trees but he never strayed far enough from Reven that he lost sight of him. Since Hannibal's attack on Reven the war hound had been very protective, accompanying the boy everywhere.

As the day wore on the sun started to droop in the sky and Reven new it would soon be time to make camp. He didn't relish the idea of spending a night alone in the forest but Master Powel had said it would be a good test of his mettle and Reven wanted to prove himself to the man. Powel was fearsome to behold and rarely had a kind word to say to anyone but Reven had grown to like the man, even admire him. He was a scarred veteran of many battles and during his time at The Deep, Reven had decided that he too wanted to be a warrior and follow the Path of Iron. Reven came to a crossroads and decided to camp away from the road but close enough that if any danger did present itself he would have four routes of escape and potentially a greater chance of finding an ally against the peril.

Reven found a small clearing and collected firewood and heaped it in the hollow bole of an old tree. He looked through his pack and pulled loose the flint he needed to start a fire and also set aside some of the dried meat and bread that would make up his evening meal. Fang was busy digging a hole in the forest floor. Reven spoke, 'Fang, hunt!' and with that Fang's head shot up and he started running off, pausing to have one more look at Reven before departing. It took an age for Reven to get his fire going. Despite Master Hultz's instruction it wasn't as easy as his diagrams had indicated. At last he got it burning and with sore hands from the effort Reven had a small fire going in the hollow. He sat down pulling his cloak around him and taking a swig of water from a stoppered flask, wondered how long it would be before Fang returned with his kill. He started tucking into his meat and staring into the flames of the fire listening out all the while for his friends return. As the evening wore on and Reven heaped more wood on his fire, the warmth of the flames and his full stomach started to take it's toll. Reven stretched out in front of the fire and before long his head started to nod as he struggled to keep sleep at bay.

Reven woke with start. Night had crept on and it was pitch black in the forest. His fire was little more than dying embers and as he wiped the sleep from his eyes he discovered that Fang hadn't returned. Reven panicked, what had happened to the hound to keep him out in the forest so long, was he hurt, lost or worse. Reven gathered up his things stuffing them into his backpack. The moon offered little in the way of light but weighing the options, waiting in the dark of the camp for Fangs return wouldn't help him if he was in trouble. He shouldered his pack, pulled the hood of his cloak up and headed off into the woods in the same direction Fang had taken off in earlier.

It was tough going. Reven's eyes quickly grew accustomed to the gloom but it didn't make his journey any easier as he struggled through the thick undergrowth. His journey took him away from the roads and the further he travelled the denser the forest became. He tried to find signs of Fang's passing by looking for broken branches or recently disturbed ground but he was no tracker and the information imparted by Hultz hadn't covered stalking through woods in great detail. He pressed on regardless, thorny bushes tore at his face and clothes and many times he was thankful that he was only a boy and not fully grown as an adult would have struggled squeezing through some of the gap's in the closely knit bushes and trees.

Reven slipped as he tried to negotiate a muddy slope and slid down a steep incline stopping only when a tree caught his arm, almost wrenching it from the socket, but his descent had been halted. He took a moment to catch his breath and try and understand the lay of the land better. The slope carried on below him ending at some rocks. Reven counted his lucky stars that he had stopped. From where he was he could see that to his left and right there was very little in the way of anything else to hold onto. He would have crashed into the rocks below if it hadn't been for this tree. His arm ached but as the tree had caught through his sleeve it had done him any lasting damage. He righted himself, leaning against the trees trunk which stuck out of the ground at an odd angle due to the slope. He looked beyond the rocks and thought he could make out a light moving away from him in the night. He concentrated, yes, he was certain. The light from a torch was flickering through the trees of the forest. Reven lowered himself to the ground and managed to control the short slide from the tree to the rocks well enough that he didn't crack his head on them.

The light bobbed along in front of him growing feint as it moved away. Reven didn't know what compelled him but he scrambled over the rocks and into the trees beyond desperately trying to keep the light in sight. He raced through the trees with reckless abandon, crunching leaves and twigs as he went. Tripping, slipping and falling over tree roots and rotten branches, something in him willing him on to catch the light at all costs. As he got closer he was aware of how much noise he had been making and slowed his pace trying to tread lighter and muffle the noise he was creating. Whoever the torch bearer was they were in no hurry and as such could now be followed with ease.

Drawing closer still Reven could see that it wasn't only one person he pursued, but three. They were all men, one of them out in front held the torch whilst the two behind him carried a pole between them that rested on their shoulders. Reven looked more closely as he neared and his heart sank as he saw a net suspended from the pole and within the net a very angry, frustrated looking Fang. The hounds legs were sticking through the net at odd angles and he thrashed in the net jerking it, and the men carrying it, from side to side. Reven's eyes met with the hounds and in that brief moment he could almost feel the hounds panic and rage. Fang renewed his efforts seeing that Reven had arrived and writhed ever harder against the net that held him.

One of the men dropped his end of the pole, 'Bollocks to this, I'm trying again' he said as the other two halted. 'It's no use Franc, this dogs got the thickest skull I've ever seen. You'll never knock the sense out of him', the man with the torch shook his head as he spoke. 'I don't care, I'm trying. Knew I should've bought a bigger bloody blade than this skinning knife' replied Franc speaking more to himself than to his companions. He unhooked a cudgel from his belt and moved towards Fang. Reven knew what he was planning even before he struck. The way Fang had been thrashing it must have been slow going for the men and now he could see them up close he noticed how drawn and thin they were. They wore normal clothes but they were covered in filth and muck. They all sported shaggy beards and their dirty clothes were ripped in dozens of places. Fangs struggles must have been exhausting for these wiry looking men. If they had a blade that would of kept their hands out of reach of Fang's jaws Reven had no doubt they would of already killed his beloved companion. As these thoughts spun through Reven's mind Franc brought his cudgel down on Fang's head with a crack that sounded like a lumberjack chopping at a brittle tree. Then he brought it down again a second, third and forth time. Fang whelped and snarled in response but was powerless to fight back as he was so tangled in the net. Blood spurted from the hounds head as Franc continued to bludgeon him. 'Leave it, you're wasting your time' said the torch bearer but a madness seemed to have taken Franc. Reven could watch no more. He ran from his hiding place sprinting toward the men. Bursting through bushes and snapping branches as he ploughed through the forest. The men all moved toward the sound, readying themselves with their cudgels as Fang still struggled against the tangled net. Reven ran straight at them and they readied their weapons to meet his charge. He drew his practice blade and ducked straight under Francs swing, barrelling into the man and knocking him from his feet. Franc landed hard and threw his arms out to steady himself. His right hand hit the muddy ground, his left met Fangs waiting jaws. The hound bit down with such force that his razor sharp teeth bit through the net and Franc's flailing hand in one go. The man screamed in pain and clutched at the bloody stump with his remaining hand. Reven was already rising to his feet, trying to parry blows from the torchbearer as his companion came at Reven from the side. The man who had thrown his torch to the ground swung wildly at Reven who turned the blow aside and smashed his wooden blade into the mans face, smashing his teeth down his throat. The other man lunged in and hit Reven across the forearm, numbing it so much that he had to drop his weapon. He back tracked as the men came on, one spitting the remnants of his teeth out in bloody gobbets. Franc was back on his feet and was turning his full attention to Fang, beating him mercilessly with his cudgel. Reven looked around desperately for a weapon. Anything would do and then he spied the pole the men had been carrying Fang with. He bent down and scooped up the end of it, dragging it toward him. It was too heavy, he couldn't lift it and as he backed away one of them men stamped on the other end sending it crashing from Reven's grip. 'You're dead' sputtered the toothless man through broken, bloody lips. As they rounded on him a scream went up from Franc that the men couldn't help but turn to investigate. Reven saw his opportunity and took it. The toothless fairy in front of him was holding his cudgel ready to strike even though his attention was elsewhere. Reven jumped up and grabbed the cudgel from his hand, bringing it back down with a gratifying crunch as it met with the mans nose. At the same time Fang was separating Franc's head from his shoulders freed when Reven had pulled the pole free of the net.  The hounds thrashing had finally paid off, setting him free to take his revenge.

Toothless was motionless on the ground bleeding heavily from his face. Franc was pumping blood in to already sticky mud and their companion was left to face Reven and Fang alone. As if he could sense his fate he turned to run but too late. Fang darted after him and brought him down with a bite to the leg. Reven pounced on the mans back and put a crack the width of a thumb through the mans skull sending the life from him. Reven turned and threw his arms around Fang once the hound had released the dead mans leg. Fang also showed his relief at the reunion in his customary way of licking Reven's face, in the process cleaning off the blood that had splattered all over it.

As Reven was inspecting the wounds on Fang's head with the assistance of the dropped torch, a murmuring brought both of their heads round. The toothless man was coming round groaning through his shattered mouth. Reven walked over to him with Fang at his side and stood on the man's chest pinning him to the floor. The man tried to push his foot off but was weakened by the pounding he had taken and his feeble shoves had little effect. 'What were you doing with my hound?' Reven demanded, glaring at the pathetic man. 'Please...'the man said, holding up his hands as if he was trying to ward off Reven's gaze. 'Please....young sir....we was only going to eat the thing. We found him in one of our nets...he...he's meat.' Reven glanced at Fang and removed his foot from the mans chest. At the same time Fang stalked forward and with one gigantic bite of the mans throat ensured that he would never go hungry again.

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