Tragedy of the Raven Part 2, Chapter 3

By Prince Nightmare

“What do you mean barbarians have been raiding Guardia?” Krischtiahn looked at Rennard with a raised brow. “What barbarians? You don’t mean from up north on that Light forsaken continent?”

Rennard, now a young man of twenty years nodded. He sported a goatee and his golden hair fell to his shoulders in curly waves. Everyone agreed that he was charming, dashing, and easy to get along with. All the young girls of the village agreed he was the best looking of all the Hunters. Now his blue eyes were troubled as he talked his leader. “That’s what the outlook who came from there told me, sir. Barbarians with the mark of the northern tribes have been attacking and raiding the farms there. They take the food and the clothing, and in some cases, they take captives.”

Krischtiahn snorted. “ And the King’s Army can do nothing to stop them? That I find rather unbelievable.”

Rennard shrugged. “It is said that the northmen strike without warning and hide so well in the forests not even the best hounds can track them. That is why they are calling for us, since we have been specially trained to track villains that are not of the... uh... normal kind.”

Krischtiahn scowled. Time had taken its toll on him. He seemed to have aged fifteen years instead of only five. His bald head was dotted with pale brown age spots. His ears no longer heard as well and lately he’d been having aches he didn’t want to think about. His once firm muscles were growing flabby with old age. His dark brown eyes had not changed at all however, and were just as stern as ever. They narrowed at the news of the raids. “The Ein’deresch are not trained to stop barbarian hordes from raiding!! That is the duty of the knights of Guardia! We Hunters are trained to combat the dark arts and the evil beings who use them. Tell the outlook our answer is ‘NO!’.”

Rennard widened his eyes. Surely the High Priest didn’t mean to turn his back on the kingdom when it was in this dire time of need!! And yet Rennard had seen that hard, stern look enough times to know that Krischtiahn meant business, and no amount of pleading would change his mind. The young Hunter slowly nodded and bowed. “As you command, sir.”

Krischtiahn nodded stiffly and turned back to the large tome he had been studying. Malleus Malificarum... the Hammer of Witches. His bony finger traced the title reverently. Krischtiahn suddenly looked up at the young Hunter who was just opening the chamber door to make his exit. “Rennard!” he barked.

The latter turned. “Yes sir?” He rubbed his chin a little, wondering if perhaps by some miracle Krischtiahn had changed his mind.

“Take Leigh with you to Guardia to deliver our message. He has just now broken that half crazed horse he is so fond of and I want you to report to me how well Leigh handles the animal.”

All of the old man’s hopes still rested on the young shoulders of Leigh, his eleven year old niece whom he had raised as a boy so she might enter the ranks of the Ender’eisch. Rennard nodded and bowed as he muttered that Krischtiahn’s wishes would be obeyed. The Priest waved him off and returned to the musty old book.

Rennard was moody as he walked out of the Temple into the bright sunshine of day. It was warm out for October, and the crisp, colorful leaves that adorned the trees and littered the ground filled the air with a pleasant smell of fall. And yet Rennard was too troubled to enjoy any of the beauty that surrounded him. His thoughts were turned inward as he thought of how the Priest had gotten stranger and stranger over the years. The Ein’deresch continued to dwindle and lose the respect of the whole kingdom, and now the Priest had just turned down their one chance to prove that they were still worth something! Rennard kicked a rock angrily. How long had he trained with his sword and his bow and arrows until he was one of the finest warriors in the Kingdom? But his sword’s edge had never been wet with blood and his arrows only brought down deer for meat. It was disgraceful.

Rennard didn’t even hear Leigh sneak up behind him and tap him on the shoulder. He jumped and spun around to see the laughing face of the “boy” he had helped train. “Leigh!! I didn’t even hear you! What is it, lad?”

Leigh sighed and shrugged. “Just bored. I finished fencing today and all my chores are done. Can we go hunting?”

Rennard studied the child a moment. It seemed to him that Leigh was very small for his age, but he was nimble and quick to learn. There was no boy better at fencing in the whole village, and Leigh could ride with the best of the Hunters and never fall off his horse. When they went hunting, more than once Leigh’s arrow had found its mark while that of an older Hunter had missed. The boy could track any animal in the forest and had learned the white magic of healing easily.

Rennard smirked despite his moodiness. Leigh would be one of the best Hunters that had served the Ender’eisch... providing the Order didn’t die out all together from uselessness. “I don’t see why not. I need to talk to you anyway, Leigh. Your uncle has ordered that you accompany me to Guardia to help deliver a message.”

Leigh’s gray eyes went wide. “Really!! All the way to Guardia!” She was so excited! She’d never even been out of Lenstahn before, but she knew all about Guardia since she made Rennard tell her every detail. It was three times the size of Lenstahn, and the market place had everything you could ever want to find! The King lived there and they had festivals twice a year! Leigh grinned so widely that Rennard laughed.

“We’ll be leaving first thing tomorrow so maybe instead of hunting you’d like to go pack and make sure your steed is ready.”

Leigh nodded and ran off to make sure all her riding gear was polished and none of the leather was dirty. Rennard watched her go, and wondered how such a cheerful child could be the blood kin of such a sour man. He shrugged and walked off towards where several other Hunters were practicing their bow skills.

Inside the stable Alheid nickered at Leigh. She remembered when she got him three years ago, he had just been a helpless colt. Krischtiahn had ordered that she hand raise the animal, since it was one of the trials the hunters must pass. Many of the Hunters raised a brow and wondered at the wisdom of giving such a young boy a huge responsibility. All Ein’deresch had to hand raise their horses, but most didn’t take on the task until they were eleven or twelve. And then there was the fact that none of the Hunters rode a stallion. They were too wild and unpredictable, mares or geldings served better when a horse had to be counted on. It had taken Leigh three years and countless hours to tame the horse enough for her to mount, which she had done for the first time only two weeks ago.

Leigh knew that many of Hunters were jealous, for Alheid was the finest horse in Lenstahn. Branahn had tried to ride the horse one day to show off, but Alheid had him on the ground even before Branahn had a foot in the stirrup. Leigh smiled to herself as she polished her saddle. No one could get near Alheid but her, and many times Leigh thought the horse was her one true friend. Alheid didn’t care if Leigh was a girl, or that she was the only child in the Temple and had no friends her own age. Many of the children in Lenstahn hated her because they thought she was stuck up since she never played with them. The truth was she just didn’t have time to play. Being the youngest member of the Ender’eisch was sometimes more a burden than Leigh could stand. It was all work, practice, and hunting, more work... but now she was going to Guardia! It made all the work seem worth it.

Baluf looked round at his warriors as they huddled in their concealed cave shelter deep in the Guardia forests. The captives were tied up and gagged in the back. They would make good slaves and could even one day be adopted into the Clan. He had to admit he was glad they had come to this southern continent where it seemed always summer. They had taken much food and gold, clothing and weapons. Soon they would go back to their homeland and be hailed as heroes, for they would save their people from the cold breath of winter. And his name would no longer be Baluf the Bloodbather, but Baluf the Great. His tribe would become strong as the other tribes continued to starve. The tribes would come to Baluf for salvation, and he would take them in and feed them. There would be one great tribe then, and he would be the King of them all... and perhaps one day they would come back to this southern continent where the warriors where soft and weak like old women, and they would drive out the fat king and make this place their new providence.

Baluf stood now before them, his gallant barbarian warriors who were painted with the symbols of the God of Storms and the God of Ice. They had feasted well that night and knew they would be going home soon. It was a hard trip across the ocean, but they knew they’d see their families again soon... but not before the final raid. It was this reason that they had all gathered around Baluf that night.

“Two days from now...” Baluf announced, his deep voice booming in the cave, “we make our final raid... and then that night we set sail for our homeland! It will be a hard fight, but think of your mates and your children at home, and how they will smile when they see the food we have!” The men cheered and Baluf waited for them to quiet. After a few moments he looked round at each of them and nodded stiffly to every warrior. “The gods know our names, for we are the first to come to the Land of Summer. Two days from now, we start south of the Big Town of the King and we sweep north. Every house in the forests we see, we raid. Kill any man who is capable of riding off and alerting his neighbors or the townspeople. That way when we strike town that day, they will not be expecting us. Their warriors with the shining armor are weak creatures who cannot fight. Do not fear them! If you should fall in combat, remember the gods know your name and you shall go to the sacred land of our forefathers! Your family will be honored if you die, and a feast be held in your honor! Be not afraid, my warriors, for we shall not fail!”

Raven woke with a start. He clambered out of his bed and down the loft ladder towards the front door. He opened it silently, so as not to wake Glenn and Lucca, who were still sleeping and had not heard the strange noise he had.

He stared out into the night, the slight breeze blowing his long hair and carrying the scent of fire from the south.

From the distance, he swore he could hear voices. Singing or cheering all together... the harder he tried to listen the harder it was to hear it... until he decided he must have imagined the whole thing. Raven shivered and was about the close the door when he heard a wolf howl. He listened to the sorrowful song for a moment and then climbed back into the loft. Pulling the covers around himself, he thought the sound he had heard must have come from a dream...

Raven was thinking of the wolf howl and drifting back to sleep when he felt his skin grow cold and his heart pound... There were no wolves left in Guardia. Glenn said they had all died long ago... and Raven knew every animal in the whole forest and he had never once seen any sign of a wolf.

Raven reached beneath his pillow and fingered the little wolf carving, trembling.


Go To Part 2, Chapter 4

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