The two men turned separate ways, Yosef back towards the cottages and Vrabin south along the river. The brisk morning air nipped at Vrabin’s cheeks and seeped pleasantly through his tan linen tunic. The river was swollen with runoff from the mountains reaching thirty feet across at its widest. If Vrabin followed the river long enough it would turn west traveling across a great deal of southern Ascalon before disappearing into a canyon in the southern Shiverpeaks. Vrabin crossed several makeshift bridges where the riverside path intersected tributary creeks and irrigation canals. They were made of wood planks and wide enough for an ox and wagon.
Vrabin turned around as the first rays of sun teased the top of the trees. A mile or so from the Alarik green Vrabin’s walk was disturbed by the sound of thrashing from a thicket off to his right. He paused, his weight shifted and a purple haze built up around his right hand. A moment later a hound burst from woods followed shortly by Bertram. Vrabin let the magic around his hand bleed back into the mists.
Bertram carried a doused torch in one hand and a dead raccoon in his other. A bow and quiver were slung across his back. He wore a long coat and leggings of matching black leather. The two men exchanged tight smiles.
“I didn’t know you hunted uncle,” Vrabin said offhandedly as he offered the back of his hand to the dog.
“I grew up on these lands just as you did, nephew.” Bertram said with a hint of scorn, “Besides why else would I be in the woods at night?”
Vrabin smiled, “I can think of several reasons you might have for skulking about the woods.”
“Skulking?” Bertram’s voice carried the high tones of offense, “You wound my pride nephew. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get this animal skinned before the carcass spoils.”
With that Bertram turned on his heels and marched down the path towards the green his dog loping at his side. It was unusual for Bertram to be out in the woods. Most of Yosef’s stories about Bertram were about how Yosef and his siblings would have to trick Bertram into going into the woods. Even as an adult Bertram rarely ventured far from either Rin or Ascalon City, preferring civilization to his back water relative’s land. That knowledge coupled with the smugness Vrabin had detected the night before convinced the mesmer that he would have to investigate. Vrabin waited for Bertram to disappear around a bend in the path before plunging into the forest.
Tracking was not one of Vrabin’s strong suites and he soon found himself wishing that Terran and pet tiger Bebicah were with him. His one advantage was he knew the woods well and if his uncle were plotting something there were only a few places where he would likely set up. An hour into his search Vrabin had found nothing but birds and squirrels. Not wanting to miss his sister’s dance he decided to return to the green and festival which would have already begun.
The fastest way back required Vrabin leave the forest and jog across the fields along the eastern edge of the Alarik farm. Vrabin moved quickly through the forest beads of sweat collecting on his brow in the late morning heat. A brisk walk through the forest was pleasant made all the more so by the burbling of a nearby stream and the occasional bird call. Vrabin paused for a moment listening to the birds. There was something odd about the call, but he couldn’t remember what. Vrabin continued on quickly cautiously scanning the surrounding forest.
Vrabin cleared the forest and several things struck him at once. The first was the realization of his uncle’s plan which involved a large number of soldiers wearing the colors of royalists. The second was that the bird sounds were odd because they were emulating birds that had not yet migrated into the area. Finally he was struck by a heavy blow across he back of his head. Bright light exploded across Vrabin’s vision, he was unconscious before he hit the ground.