Surian rolls his eyes and as he
opens his mouth to spout off another wisecrack a loud voice interrupts him
telling everyone to mount up and that they were ready to head out. One by one
men pull themselves up onto their mounts, the young jumping up sprightly and
grumbling about the weather, while the older men haul themselves up and grumble
about the younger men. Once everyone is mounted up the men form themselves into
a ragged column and head out of the courtyard, their torches fluttering in the
light wind. Sounds fill the quiet night, the clopping of hooves, the jingle of
tack, and the light banter of friends goading each other about the upcoming
Winding its way through, at times broad throughways and other times crooked
alleys, the group takes the quickest way to the Western Gates. Buildings loom
through the fog and appear to travel with them marching ever onward, as the mist
makes them but indefinite shapes. Every so often one of the many famous towers
of Vermoth come into view with its top lost in the thick clouds. Even these
normally impressive displays of architecture are subdued in the shrouded
Nearing the impressive stone gateway the talk amongst the group picks up as they
are almost out of the main city and into the nearby forests. Thick, carved
wooden doors are thrown open in anticipation of the king’s hunt; guards stand at
the ready though as always. After making their way out through the gates the
group can hear the groaning of the gates shutting behind them, and the solid
thump of the crossbar being returned. From there they cross the Western bridge
spanning this branch of the Liben River. Only the gurgling sound of the water
gives away its presence underneath them. Soon the first of the riders cross over
the bridge and start making their way along the Western Road, a large roadway
that cuts through the center of this village that has cropped up outside the
gates of Vermoth.
Once free of the village and heading northwest to the edges of the nearby Burin
Forest the chatter of the hunters increases, as they get
closer to beginning their chase. Catching their riders’ excitement, the horses
move from a trot to a light canter, they are seemingly just as eager for the
chance to stretch out their legs in the pursuit of their master’s quarry. As if
in response to the lightening spirits the morning fog rolls away, the gray
clouds though, show no signs of breaking, and the drizzle no signs of
slackening. The first of the trees come into sight and in no time all are
gathered underneath their dripping boughs.
Motioning to circle up, the lead rider stops several fores into the forest.
Following the instructions, the lines of people turns itself into a circle and
sits waiting upon the leader’s words. Throwing back his pointed hood, he reveals
a weathered face framed by long graying hair and a short salt and pepper beard.
“Some of ya may be knowin’ me, others of ya not. I’m the royal huntsman,
Torigen.” Gesturing to a nearby figure he continues, “King Ored has arranged
this little hunt for the twenty or so of ya. Today we’ll be a huntin’ boar.
We’ll be in small groups of two or three.”
Moving his horse forward the king raises a small leather bag in front of the
gathering. “A bag of gold to the finest trophy, I want to be eating boar
tonight,” he exclaims to the approving cheer of the gathered hunters. “Now let
us be off.”
With that said the men begin to group themselves and start heading into the
depths of the forest. Surian sidles his horse up next to Wyland’s, grinning as
he does so. Wyland pretends to ignore him for a moment or two but as always
Surian is infectious and Wyland begins smiling himself.
“What, do you think I want my little cousin hunting with me? In the frontier
land only men hunt, not children.”
“Is that so, then why is it that they let you hunt?”
quips Surian. Laughing at his cousin’s scowl he continues, “Besides I have to be
around to make sure you don’t try to claim something you didn’t kill. I know how
devious you are.”
“What, why that is ridiculous. You are the scoundrel here,” blusters Wyland.
“True, true,” laughs Surian. “I do have a lot more fun than you do, that is for
sure.” Motioning to the departing hunters he sweetly says, “Unless you want to
go with our fathers, only them and old Torigen are left, then you only have me
for a choice.”
Giving a mock despairing sigh Wyland responds, “I see I don’t have another
option. I swear you are no better than my little brother is. You are simply too
smart for me, come on then. Let’s go.” Turning his mount’s head towards the
forest he begins to continue the conversation with Surian, “You know at least my
brother is only twel...” Just then Surian comes flying by stopping Wyland in
mid-word. “You’ll scare the game,” Wyland yells after Surian. With a frustrated
sound he hurries his steed after his reckless cousin.
Kicking his horse, he speeds faster and faster through the forest. Green flashes
by as he passes tree after tree, branches rake and whip at him. Ducking, he
turns to look behind him for the branch that nearly took off his head, all that
meets his eyes is a blur of bark. Focusing forward again he struggles with
the reins. The horse pulls to the left, and Wyland forces the reins to right and
in the process nearly runs into a tree that has popped up out of nowhere. The
sound of Surian’s heedless gallop in front of him can still be heard over the
pounding of the hooves beneath him. Gripping the reins tight he holds steady the
course he is heading, trying to catch up to his cousin.
Hearing a whoop from nearby, Wyland just has time to think, “That
crazy…” before he is lifted off the ground as his mount jumps over a fallen log.
With a hard thump they are on solid ground again. Flying ever forward he
continues racing after his cousin. A sound catches his ear and he starts trying
to figure it out, but just as the sound is recognized, he loses his train of
thought while avoiding yet another tree branch. That sound now takes shape as he
notes the stream in front of him just as the horse goes splashing through it,
completely soaking his pants.
“Well, that was refreshing,” Wyland laughs to himself. Tired of fighting for
control, and figuring that the horse knows the way just as well as he does,
Wyland slackens his grip on the reins and gives the horse its head. A quick
boost of speed accompanies the horse’s snort of pleasure as it rushes forward to
race along with its stable mate. Several minutes later Wyland catches sight of
Surian for the first time since Surian dashed off earlier.
“Surian, for the love of the Creator, hold up!” he yells.
Noting the beginnings of foam flecking his mount’s mouth he adds, “The horses
need a rest.”
That last statement seems to get through to Surian, as he begins to slow down to
a trot and then a walk. Turning to look behind him Surian responds, “All right,
we’ll need them strong enough to chase down some boar.” A sparkle comes to his
eye as he says, “Glad you could finally join me, I was beginning to wonder if
you would ever catch up.”
Wyland just shakes his head. “Do you happen to have any idea where we are after
that reckless gallop of yours?” Seeing his cousin’s rueful grin and shrug of his
shoulders, Wyland says, “Well, while we try to find out where you and your romp
have gotten us, let’s go back to that stream that drenched us so the horses can
drink and rest up. Well, at least that drizzle has let up for a while.”
Both of the young men dismount their horses, Wyland sliding off of his saddle
casually; while Surian throws himself off with a bit of flair. Though different
in age, look, and manner, they are the same in spirit, and this is made apparent
as they fall into friendly conversation when leading their mounts back to the
stream. Stories of times together and of times apart are traded back and forth,
many of which are followed by laughter. Some of these tales are accompanied by
dramatic gestures, others by a comradely slap on the shoulder.
Upon reaching the small stream the reins to the horses
are let loose, and they begin to greedily drink the slow moving water. While the
horses slurp away Surian paces up and down the bank regaling Wyland with a story
of a botched late night prank on one of the more snobbish nobles. Wyland slaps
his knee in mirth as Surian mentions an episode where he managed to get feathers
stuck to him and had to spend two days in his suite pretending to be sick while
he did everything he could to get the feathers off.
"Why am I not surprised," Wyland
responds dryly. That reminds me of when you, your father, and a few of the more
adventurous nobles came out to the frontier lands to see how we were doing in
settling it all."
"Oh no," Surian laughs. "I remember."
"It was my brother's birthday and the three of us went out for a ride into the
marshes. Though as I recall I suggested we stay near Tormac, but you just had to
encourage my brother to go romping off. Then again, maybe he started it. I swear
that you two should have been brothers. Next thing I knew the two of you were
exploring something when I heard some shouts and came running over to where you
were halfway up to your armpits in quicksand."
"Yea, that was pretty bad. One wrong step and I sunk down, but then it slowed
down and seemed like it was going to swallow me down." Giving Wyland a mocking
smile he continues, "And you just had to make a crack about it not being quick
enough to suck me down so you had to get dirty pulling me out."
"Well, it was funny to me," grins Wyland. "I got you out though, didn't I?"
"True, I swear you took longer then you needed too though."
A sly smile creases Wylands lips as he responds, "Hey
I thought it might teach you a lesson."
"Like that would happen, you should know better," smirks Surian. "The best part
though was when it was all over I gave you a huge hug of gratitude, and got wet
sand all over you."
After the story is finished up and there is laughter all around, the two settle
into comfortable positions to try to determine their location.
Wyland still sits on the rock he had been sitting on, his hand across his mouth
and his brow furrowed. Surian lounges with his back against a large tree, his
hands making gestures while he whispers quietly to himself.
Several minutes have passed when Surian grabs the reins
of his mount, who looks up at him with reproach as it stops nibbling the grass
of the bank. Giving the horse a quick pat on the flank he hops up on the saddle
saying, “I’m pretty sure we need to go back this way.” Pointing generally to the
left, he kicks his mount to start heading back across the stream.
Just steps later, in the middle of the stream, a snapping sound occurs. Wyland,
who had been gathering his own mount, looks towards the sound and sees Surian
along with his saddle falling into the water. The sight of Surian sputtering in
the shallow water with the saddle straps twisted about him is enough to break
Wyland’s reserved nature and causes him to guffaw. Surian’s indignant look and
absurd attempts to unravel himself from the straps while yanking his hunting
spear out of the mud makes Wyland nearly fall off his own horse from laughter.
A braying horn sounds throughout the forest, echoing amongst the trees.
Instantly Wyland’s smile drains away and his laughter is silenced. A sharp jerk
of the reins turns his horse in the direction of the horn. “Get out of the water
and get on your horse now!” he shouts.
Sensing the seriousness of the situation, Surian quickly untangles himself from
the saddle and vaults himself up behind his cousin, leaving his spear behind.
“It seems you’re in a hurry, this is faster.” As Surian is finishing the
sentence Wyland is already kicking his heels to the steed’s flanks and charging
towards the direction of the horn. “What’s the hurry, what is it?”
Surian asks while holding on tightly to Wyland.
“It is my father’s horn. He only uses it in emergencies. We have to get to him!”
Again the horn sounds, stronger this time as they close in on it. Hearing this
only makes Wyland kick his mount all the harder, urging it on to his destination
more rapidly. Like earlier the two young men are galloping through the forest,
branches and scrub whipping them as they pass. This time though, there is no joy
in their mad dash, only a dread at what might be found.
A roar rips through the forest making the horse whinny and try to pull away.
Fiercely, Wyland forces the horse back towards the sound. They enter a clearing
and the scene that is before them seems frozen, for it is almost to horrifying
to be real. Sioned sits mounted atop his horse, hunting spear in hand, his face
grim and determined. Behind him is the king’s horse lying on the ground, its
belly rent open, blood pooling next to it. Near the downed creature is the king
himself, crumpled and unmoving. His spear lies broken,
and pieces of it appear to protrude from his side. Across the way of the small
clearing an impressive beast is readied to strike. Unsheathed claws have broken
the earth, heavy paws are covered in blood, and thick muscles are bunched and
coiled. Yellow, angry eyes stare at its prey, and it whiskers twitch with
A single thought sears into both of the young men’s brains at the sight of the
animal, a “Voran Tiger”. The tiger takes advantage of the
group’s hesitation to pounce. Surian first notes the tiger, and only then sees
his father. “No, father,” he leaps off the horse and unsheathes his sword as the
tiger flies through the air towards King Ored and his horse. Just as the
creature is about to land on the unmoving form of the king, Sioned and his mount
slam into the side of it. The weight of the beast and its velocity throw off
Sioned’s spear thrust, and it catches the beast high in the shoulder rather than
the side, breaking as it connects with bone. This causes the
beast to let out a horrific scream and land on the ground, nailsbreadths from
Eyes screwed up in pain, blood pouring from the wound, the animal turns on its
attacker. Claws rake Sioned’s mount, causing it to rear, the horse gets attacked
again and falls to the ground, rolling over its rider. As this is happening
Surian is running to the nearby men, yelling the whole of the time, hoping to
get the great cat’s attention. Wyland flies by his cousin, stabbing downward
with his spear as he passes the beast. Another scream rewards his charge, and
the animal turns to attack the now gone Wyland. Surian has now reached his
father’s body and stands protectively over it, his eyes steely, his lips pulled
apart in a grimace of rage.
Brandishing his weapon in a cross hatch movement, does not deter the creature.
Rather the movement catches its eye and gathering itself the tiger pounces on
this new target, ready to take out the pain it feels on something.
Surian throws himself out of the way rolling to his left, next to his father.
Bringing up his sword, he makes a quick slash down opening a slice in the
tiger’s side. Reacting with amazing speed, the beast
throws its paw out at Surian, catching him in the arm, making him drop his
sword. Three lines of blood rapidly appear on his arm through the torn cloth.
Just as the animal is about to finish off Surian it lets out a yelp as a broken
spear shaft is driven into it. Sioned’s grim face appears above the tiger’s
side. Throwing off Sioned the tiger backs away, roaring as it does so. Beginning
to roar again, it turns into a coughing sound and blood now flecks its furred
chin as well as covers its side and shoulder. With its senses dulled the
creature doesn’t notice Wyland come galloping up from behind. Neither does the
beast feel the sharp point of Wyland’s spear as it punctures ribs and penetrates
vital organs. Letting out a pathetic mew the once proud beast falls to its side
and exhales a final breath, the gold eyes now dim.
Wyland jumps off his horse and runs over to where his father is bending over the
king. “What happened?” he asks, still out of breath from
Looking up from where he is crouched Sioned replies, “I don’t know, his saddle
just fell off and his spear broke beneath him. I sent Torigen to get some help.
After he left that Voran Tiger must have smelled the
blood and come after us. I blew the horn as soon as I spotted it prowling around
the edge of the clearing,” says Sioned as he checks the improvised bandage he
has wrapped tight across Ored’s side.
During the telling of the incident Surian is ripping off the bottom of his tunic
and binding up his arm, staring at his father as he does so. “Do you think he
will be all right?” he asks, his voice tinged with worry
“I don’t know, Surian, he’s not responding.”
Suddenly the sound of hooves comes into earshot, Sioned stands up with a grimace
of pain on his face, grabbing his side. Torigen along
with several other riders come into view and quickly dismount, surrounding those
already there. Using two spears and several cloaks an impromptu litter is made.
Carefully Ored is put on the litter and the men ready everything to head back.
Three of the men drag the body of the tiger over to one of the horses and drape
it over it, the horse grunts under the weight. Wyland goes over to the king’s
saddle to get Ored’s personal items before they leave. As he does so, he thinks
of how both the king’s saddle and his son’s seemed to just fall off. While
gathering the items, he looks over the saddle. Spotting where the strap snapped
he fingers the tear in the leather. A sharp line runs along most of snapped
part, only the final edge is ragged where it was ripped.
Musing to himself, he says, “It looks like it was cut. I’m going to have to talk
to my father and Surian about this.” One of the men calls to him saying that
they are leaving. Grabbing the whole saddle he lugs it over to where his horse
is waiting and tosses it on top of his pack. Mounting up he goes over to where
Surian is standing next to his father’s litter with his hand on his father’s
brow. Reaching down, he claps him on the shoulder. “He’ll be all right, you’ll
see. Why don’t you ride with me?”
“No, thanks, I’ll just walk here next to my father,” he responds. “It is what my
mother would do if she were here. I need to look after him.”
Surian goes back to tucking a blanket around the king.
“I understand. I will be right here if you need anything.” Seeing Surian’s quiet
nod, Wyland turns to look for his father. Surprisingly Sioned is right next to
him, looking in on the king’s traveling arrangement.
“Father, I need to talk to you.” Wyland begins telling his father about
everything that transpired the previous night along with his suspicions
concerning the saddles being tampered with. By the time all of this is done they
are nearing the gates of the city. Several of the hunters had already been sent
ahead and are now returning with plenty of help to get the king aid. In the
swirl of people Sioned bids his son farewell for now and tells him to look out
for Surian and that they will talk more later.
Nodding, Wyland goes over to Surian, who is arguing with a priest over being
allowed to accompany his father. “Come on Surian, it is best if you let them do
what they need to and see your father afterward,” he offers him an arm up.
Grabbing it, Surian pulls himself up.
“All right, they say he should be okay,” he says with a doubtful tone. “It might
just take some time. I’m sure my mother will have me sent for when I can see
Cocking his head back Wyland asks, “Where is that secret place again, the one
where we went last night? I have some stuff to tell you.”
Surian gestures away and they slip off in the midst of the chaos swirling around