Tragedy of the Raven Part 3, Chapter 4
By Prince Nightmare
Liegh was up before dawn the next day, hastily pulling her clothes on and grabbing up her bag. She knew the bounty hunters were not yet awake, but they would be soon, and she had no intentions of letting them force her into staying at the Griffon. Shed rather die alone and cold than be a serving wench in an Inn.
She hurried to the stables where Alheid greeted her with a whinny. The stable boy had somehow managed to get all the muck off her tack and it was hanging neatly on a peg next to her saddle. Thankful for the clean gear, Liegh quickly saddled Alheid and led him out of the stable. The moon was just setting and a faint glow in the East promised the return of the sun very soon. Liegh swung up on the big horse and put him into a quick canter. She had no time to waste if she was going to double up on the bounty hunters later. She guessed she had about an hour before they hit the trail.
As Liegh neared the forest she slowed Alheid. Her thoughts wandered to the tale of the murderer that was supposedly hiding out in these woods. She bit her lip and took a deep breath as they entered the dark canopy of trees. I can outsmart any man on the trail she told herself, hoping it was true.
Even with all her special training, could she really be as good as four men who had been doing it for years? She knew what she was doing was not only foolish, it could be potentially lethal. Her grip tightened on the reins for an instant as she imagined her own death at the hands of the murderer, but the image faded quickly, replaced by a look of hard determination on her face. There were no signs of anyone else nearby, save for a few deer and other woodland creatures. Liegh began to relax. Perhaps the murderer had already fled the area. The thought made her less nervous, though if it were true it would ruin her plans. She began to think the whole idea was just stupid anyway. What were the chances of her finding the criminal before four trained bounty hunters did ?
The morning mists faded and the birds chirped, assuring all who were nearby that nothing was amiss on such this fine day. A little bored and disappointed that her plan hadnt seemed to work, Liegh sighed and patted the horse as he stopped to graze on a small patch of grass that the shade hadnt killed. Nothing stirred, save for the slight rustle of leaves in the breeze. Liegh dismounted and let Alheid wander a few paces, looking for more grass. She took out her water skin for a drink, wondering what she should do next.
All of a sudden it got very quiet too quiet. The birds stopped their noisy singing and flew away. Liegh, slowly twisting the cap back on the skin, looked up at the sky. A white, fluffy cloud sailed in front of the sun, darkening the forest for a moment. Alheid stood alert, his nostrils flaring nervously as he smelled an unfamiliar scent. He stomped his front hooves anxiously and laid his ears back flat against his head. Liegh looked at him, wondering what had spooked him. Slowly, she grabbed his halter and swung up to the saddle, feeling the nervous tension of her mount as he shook slightly beneath her. A twig snapped not far away.
Fearing the worst, the young girl slowly unsheathed her sword and urged the horse down the path that led deeper into the woods. Her senses were on alert, and she knew something wasnt right. Someone was following her, hiding in the shadows just beyond her sight.
Liegh smirked to herself, deciding to go for an old Einderesch trick. If the murderer was following her she had been act fast. Suddenly, she reined Alheid off the main path onto a very dense, brushy one. Alheid trotted quickly ahead, and they disappeared behind several clumps of small bushes. Liegh drove the stallion on, not letting him break his brisk pace. After she was confident they had out distanced their stalker by about ten minutes, Liegh jumped off Alheid and hastily gathered several bundles of good sized sticks. She quickly tied these together using the leather strap of her tunic and belt. Over the sticks she placed her breast plate, hooded cloak, and water skin. She strapped the dummy to the saddle and tied Alheid securely to a nearby sapling. From a short distance away, it appeared like the horse and rider were having a rest on the trail. Satisfied with her work, Liegh found a secure hiding spot underneath the roots of a huge, fallen oak. She covered what little of her body that could be seen with leaves and ferns and waited.
It wasnt long that she could hear the snapping of twigs as the stalker came close. Liegh couldnt see him yet, but from the direction Alheid was looking and focusing his attention, he was just to the left of her, perhaps a hundred yards. She held her breath. After a moment more, a figure wrapped in a dark cloak snuck into view. He was carrying a sword and had a quiver of arrows on his back. The stranger studied the horse and its rider for a long moment, and then began creeping towards them. Alheid snorted angrily and nickered. Liegh hoped he didnt panic and throw the dummy and ruin the surprise attack.
Luckily, Alheid didnt throw the bundle of sticks. About a dozen feet from the horse, the figure stopped, as if considering how to approach the animal. He had probably thought the rider was either asleep or petrified with terror. Once again, in a cautious stance, he inched towards the horse. Now was Lieghs time to move. Very quietly she crept from her hiding place, her leather boots making no sound as she tip toed her way behind the figure. It had taken months of practice to become skilled and agile enough to walk on crisp, dry leaves without making any noise, but her hard work paid off.
The figure had reached the dummy and horse. Alheid was close to rearing, his eyes were full of fire and his ears were pressed flat against his head. The gray horse snorted angrily and pawed the air with his forelegs, warning the stranger his presence was not welcome. The stranger paid the horse no heed and slowly reached out to touch the rider with the tip of his sword as the metal tip poked the dry, brittle branches, a few fell to the ground. Perplexed, the cloaked figure stood dumbfounded. It was the moment Liegh had waited for.
With a loud shout she jumped onto the broad back of the stranger, hanging by one arm and pressing her blade to his throat with the other. Hold! Or I will be forced to subdue you! For a moment it seemed like her plan had worked perfectly, the stranger slowly put his hands into the air. Now, tell me your name and your business or
With lightning speed, the cloaked figure twisted his body violently and Liegh was thrown to the ground. Before she could recover from the fall, a strong, hairy arm was lifting her into the air while the other forced her sword from her hand. Blinking, Liegh looked into the shadowed face of the figure, sure this was the end. Why was I so stupid? she thought to herself as she struggled to get free. Her efforts were in vain.
Liegh watched with fear as the figure began to push back his hood. She was sure she was going to see the twisted, distorted face of a terrible murderer. She squeezed her eyes closed and kicked out with all her might. Her foot connected with soft flesh and the stranger dropped her instantly, swearing in a voice that she had heard only a day before Liegh opened her eyes as she fell to her knees, staring up at the red , pained face of none other than Petyr. He was doubled over in agony.
You little he huffed.
Im sorry! I didnt know it was you ! I thought it was the
I should tan your hide for coming out here! I thought I told you to stay in Porre! Petyr gasped, straightening himself. He took a few deep breaths and glared at the contrite young girl, who was standing with her head down. What do you think youre doing? Trying to get yourself killed? That criminal he already got Culler his eyes were filled with grief. Snuck up on him and cut his throat, and Culler was one of the best bounty hunters the Brotherhood had.
Liegh felt her throat go dry. It had been absolutely idiotic to come out here, she knew that now. But something inside her would not bow down to the fate of being a serving girl in an Inn. She looked up at Petyr, her face pale. Im sorry but I just cant stay in Porre. Im sorry about your friend too. She looked around for the others. Where is everyone else?
Dont know. Gref wanted to take the path by the little stream and Jon is searching the fields near the woods but I havent seen them since early this morning. I didnt want to split up, but everyone thought it would be easier to find the bounty that way, so he shook his head. I wish now we hadnt. I heard Culler yelling from a few hundred yards away, but by the time I got there, it was too late. Havent seen the bastard that killed him.
Well find him! Hes got to be close! I thought it was him that was following me on the trail, thats why I hurried ahead so I could ambush him turns out it was only you, though.
Petyrs eyes grew alarmed. He knelt down to the small girl and put his large, strong hands on her shoulders, shaking her a little. Liegh, I wasnt following you on the path earlier. I cut through the woods and kept clear of the path all together. It wasnt me you heard earlier, girl.
Wasnt you? Then it was ?! Liegh bit her lip to keep from trembling. She had been closer to death than she had realized. This was no game to sharpen her skills, no Einderesch trial she had to do well on. She could have very well died not more than half an hour ago, and she had been too ignorant to even know it. Liegh made a silent vow to herself to never, never be so foolish again.
Im taking you back to Porre. Right now! If this man can kill Culler, youd be easier to slay than a newborn pup.
NO! Liegh said in a harsh whisper, I will not go back to be a serving girl or a bakers girl or anything like that! I was born to be a Hunter, and no matter what, I will be one. Her gray eyes snapped with defiance. Im going with you. And if you wont take me, then Ill go with someone who will teach me to fight and ride better. Liegh turned away from him and began to untangle her leather belt from the pile of sticks that had served as the dummy.
Petyr watched her for a few moments, the look on his face a strange one. Finally, in a tired voice, he said Aye, but you do remind me of my daughter. She always wanted to come with me too. He began to help her untie the dummy.
You have a daughter? How old is she? Whats her name? Liegh asked with interest. Another girl like her might be a potential friend, and shed never really had a friend near her own age. Her whole life had been spent with men of the Einderesch, all years older than she. Liegh hoped that Petyr would take her to meet his daughter.
Lass, my daughter is dead, gone now for nearly a decade. She was just a little older than you when it happened. He went on before Liegh could say anything, She wanted to be a bounty hunter from the day she could speak her mind, always wanting a sword of her own things like that. And I spoiled my Darcy since she had no other family to spoil her took her with me and taught her to shoot a bow and arrow. She was too small for a sword, she was just a mite of a thing like her mother had been. Smaller than you, even. But she was all fire and iron, she got that from me. I wish to Light now I never would have taught her to fight and ride he sighed and put his head in his hands. Took her with me one day, a simple bounty it was. Just a thief who had been stealing pocket change from the local merchants. He werent hardly a man yet, just a boy really. Darcy saw him and lit out after him like a hound on the scent of a fox. I rode after her, but her horse was faster. Wasnt really too worried, she could always handle herself in a tight spot. But the Light saw fit that day to take my daughter from me. Didnt know the thief was working for a known killer who Id been hunting for months. Darcy caught up to the thief. The boy signaled to his master, who had hired over twenty men to kill me but they got my daughter instead. Carried her off to an old shack and thats where I found her, two days later. He looked up at Liegh, his eyes grim and cold. They did things to my poor daughter than turned my blood to ice water. And here you are, wanting to go riding off the same way, trying to be the hero! Asking me if Ill take you along! Go home to your parents Liegh, or go somewhere safe. Dont end up like my Darcy. This world was not meant for the innocent, the good, or pure. Let the sinners like me take care of the dirty work.
Liegh sniffled a bit, and held back her tears. How terrible his story had been! Petyr had told it in such a flat, emotionless voice that Liegh knew the death of his beloved daughter was something he would never totally recover from. But she too had suffered a loss. Petyr, I am truly sorry for what happened. It must have been terrible she waited for a moment before she went on. You tell me to go home to my parents, or go somewhere safe but I have no parents. They are dead, Magus army killed my father and my mother got sick and died soon after. The Einderesch was the only family Ive had since I was very small, and now they have turned me out. I know Im young, I just turned eleven, but the Hunters trained me since I was very small to ride and fight. But more than that, its in my blood. If your daughter was like me, she wouldnt have been happy doing anything else either. Its a tragedy she died so young, but wasnt she happy while she was alive? Isnt that what really counts?
Petyr stood slowly and looked down at the small girl who spoke words that many adults hadnt the wisdom to speak. He saw the truth in what she said. Darcy had been happy while she lived, always smiling and laughing. Yes, the big man nodded that is what counts. But if I take you with me, and you die too, that would be such a waste of life.
Liegh snorted. It would also be a waste of my life to be cooped up in a kitchen washing dishes and serving beer. Id go crazy! For a moment, Petyr said nothing. He looked at Liegh quizzically, a small smirk on his lips. Aye, I think you would go crazy at that. Ill make you a deal. You can be my apprentice on one condition. Liegh nodded. Anything. What is it you ask me to do?
I want you to promise not to mention Darcy to anyone else. Ive never told anyone and I dont want gossip all over the place. I hate tale spreaders.
Liegh smiled. Is that all? Well, I will never mention it again as long as you dont mention to anyone that I am more afraid of working in an Inn than I am of fighting a bear! Petyr laughed and clasped her small hand, shaking it vigorously. Its a deal then, young Liegh Blackskull.
Liegh grinned widely. Finally she had found a purpose again. No more aimless wandering and wondering what she would eat. Liegh Blackskull she thought of that title. Petyr had said it more like a name than like a thing to be ashamed of. Liegh laughed to herself. She would turn her shame into a title of honor, something evil would tremble at when the words were spoken aloud. Liegh Blackskull would be to the Dark what Magus the Savior of Demons had been to Light!
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