By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 2 - Lost and Found
Somewhere in the north-western part of the High Forest, 12th Tarsakh 1372 DR, evening
Slowly the snow is falling on the small make-shift camp. A tall man, hunched in his cloak is keeping himself occupied with whittling a piece of wood. The girl he’d pulled from under the dead orc seems to be string only slightly. Nothing much he can do for her now. She was fortunate to survive so long, the dead body of the orc and the thin layer of snow protected her from most of the cold. If she’s lucky, there will be only slight hypothermia.
The girl lying in the lean to is stirring a bit more now, almost like someone having a bad dream. Tiny snowflakes drift in with the occasional gust of wind. A good sign, they melt after a few moment on her skin, she must be getting on top her condition, though probably will carry a fever. Blinking against the falling light, she tries to sit up and look around. Despite the pain and the lingering headache, she can make out that she is no longer in a familiar place. Looking up, she finds herself under a small lean-to, the wind occasionally stirring the flakes under the cover of the simple construction. Across from her lean-to is another one, in front which, a lone figure is whittling a piece of wood and regarding her from under the hood of his cloak.
Instinctively the young woman reaches for where her swords should be and is obviously reassured by the hilts’ cold touch. Although she relaxes a bit, her expression is wary and her eyes are narrowed but she leaves her swords un-drawn. The cold wind kicks up a bit of snow as she takes measure of the situation. The tall man continues whittling away at the wood almost unconcerned at her waking state. Bouts of shivers rack her body and she fumbles for her pack, withdrawing a fur-lined blanket and curling up within it. Her eyes watch him like a cat as she keeps silent.
The massive stranger pauses in his whittling when the woman moves, watching her with hooded golden eyes. Even after she settles into her blanket, he waits a long moment before reaching out a long arm to poke at the fire in the lee of his shelter, and the meat roasting on a spit above it. The smell floats in the air, and the man raises his face, sniffing. He grunts at the woman questioningly, raising the spit slightly.
“No, thank you.” Her tone is cool yet polite, taking the stranger’s gesture as an attempt at friendliness; along with the remaining headache, the though of food makes her feel a bit sick. “Instead, why don’t you tell me who you are and how you found me?”
The stranger seems to consider this as he lifts the spit towards him. “I do not know.” He muses as he takes a bite, wolfing it down quickly. His voice is deep, almost growling, but not hostile. Something in the woman’s expression must have clued him in, for after a moment he speaks again. “I understand. I am Grey, and I found you very cold; under an orc.” He ads helpfully, “A good kill, I will witness it if you like. The spoils are all there, beside you.” He points to one side of her shelter as he took another bite of the swiftly disappearing meat.
The girl looks quickly to the side indicated and refocuses her attention on Grey. ‘A bit odd, but then again, I’m not exactly ‘normal’ either.’ She thinks. “Well met Grey. I am Kitira Gildragon and I was hunting orcs in the area. It seems that I lost that fight and nearly my life. The only thing of value I could truly offer you is the spoils from the orcs. Take it.” She sighs. “I know this seems an odd request, but would you be willing to show me where you found me? As the last person alive in our group, it is my duty to avenge the others or die trying.” Although she still shakes, it is obvious she is determined to finish the job.
Grey stares at her for a long moment, then rises and retrieves the orc’s ‘valuables’. Dumping them on his side of the fire, he immediately strides off into the snow, pausing after a moment to wait for Kitira to follow. He seems very at home in the woods, and his long legs make the snow less of a barrier; his odd, loping stride quickly brings them to where Kitira had encountered the orc. Only the blood and scuffed snow remain to indicate where they had been.
Kitira, eyes burning with vengeance, starts looking for traces of possible survivors of the encounter where she was knocked out. Under the slightly bemused gaze of Grey she carefully examines the snow-covered space. No signs of anyone – orc or human – moving after the snowfall can be seen. The only traces of movement she can find is a vague, oddly spaced trail of footsteps which seems to have arrived when there was already a small covering of snow over the ambush site. The odd spacing somehow brings a picture of Grey’s long strides in mind.
In the quietness of the wintry forest sounds seem to travel far, Grey’s attention is suddenly drawn to a vague hint of voices drifting through the slow falling snow. The dampening effect of the white flakes must mean that they’re not too far of. No longer feeling the other’s gaze on her activities, Kitira looks up at the man and after realizing he’s listening, she does the same. However the man’s ears must be more sensitive, Kitira can only make out the occasional sound of a load of snow falling from overburdened branches, the rest of the forest remains quiet.
Grey tilts his head back, to the side, to the other side, listening for whatever alerted him. He turns to look at Kitira, staring for a long moment before rumbling, “I will see if it is your… group… or others.” He volunteers. “Remain here, and cower behind something.” In several long strides he fades back into the forest.
“Amada…” Kitira growls in a voice dripping with venom. Although she wonders whether it would be better to let him find a monster and get killed, her decision is to follow and watch at the least. Not one to be left out of anything, she takes off after Grey at a fast pace wondering who the hell he thinks he is. Her green-gold flecked eyes glitter with anger as she draws her swords, ready to pounce at the slightest indication of a threat. Her eyes scan the woods and light snow crunches beneath her booted feet as she tries to find the arrogant Grey.
Kitira follows Grey as fast as she can while trying to be silent. Fortunately the snow dampens most of the sound she’s making. The gangly man seems to have no difficulty in remaining silent at the pace he is setting with his long strides. Never before has she seen such a tall man. Not that she has seen much humans in her life… As the odd pair gets closer to where Grey heard some sounds, both of them can hear two feminine voices. The lilting melodic sound is familiar to Kitira; elvish. To Grey the voices sound melodic as well, almost unearthly beautiful, yet he can’t make heads or tails from what’s being said.
Though he must have heard Kitira following at such close range, Grey didn’t look back until they’d found a spot where he could catch a glimpse of the newcomers. “Elves…” He whispers, his breath curling in the quiet cold, and when he does turn he doesn’t seem too happy. He hunkers down to the ground, seeming ill at ease. “They are heading for a camp of men – Orostin’s Hollld.” He adds, his heavy accent fumbling the name and drawing it out long. “They will pass here if they keep moving. If we cower here, they will not see us. Or they are your grroup?” The thought seems to surprise him, and he stares at Kitira, motionless but for his golden-green eyes.
“Spineless as well as arrogant.” Her scornful voice is low, heard only by the human.” You insult me and then suggest that we cower here.” Flattening to the ground, she blends in with the snow. “It is true, they are elves on their way to the hold, but why stay here? For me, they know something about orcs in the area. What have you done that you fear them so, coward?” Kitira faces him, her eyes now a very light shade of green and glittering, perhaps with danger or anticipation.” If you are a tree-killer, I swear by Mielikki, I will rip your heart out and leave it to the wolves.”
If the elves have heard them or not, the conversation has stopped, Grey and Kitira peer through the copse of birches in the direction of where the voices came from, but nothing can be seen. Momentarily a gap in the clouds allows Selûne’s light to illuminate a small glen. As the silvery light plays its enchanted dance across the open space for a couple of heartbeats it becomes clear that whoever was in that glen has left, or has gone in hiding. Given the elvish voices, the latter is probably the more appropriate. Suddenly the situation has become awkward. The prospect of elven arrows hurling through the air doesn’t seem appealing to the two.
Grey’s face curls into an impressive snarl, then goes blank as though it were a slate wiped clean. “I offer no insult. I have taken you to the orc and the party. The insult is yours.” Rising from his crouch, he turns and retraces his tracks through the trees, swift and silent as he came. <Hmmm… Prickly…> Kitira smiles a secret furtive smile at this little ‘experiment’. <I wonder how many humans are so quick to take the bait…> She whispers to the wind. <What other traits do you hide, my Lord Golden eyes?> Without a sound she starts walking back along the trail the human has taken. Then Kitira hears the twang of a bowstring and the soft crushing of footsteps in the snow, it’s almost inaudible.
Then less then a heartbeat after the twanging sound of a bowstring being released, an arrow hisses through the copse mere inches from Kitira’s face and the deadly projectile hurtles on in the darkness towards Grey’s retreating form. Just before Grey steps in front of a tree an arrow slams into its trunk stopping the man dead in his tracks. Having no intention of waiting around to be shot by apparently hostile elves, Grey doesn’t stop when the arrow hits the tree but rather increases his speed, now running flat out, continuing his course.
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