Abanar found that a few uneventful days seated on the hard leather of a saddle put considerable strain on the perfect image he had conjured of adventuring. Ach’Nuld had never complained of a sore posterior, not once, in any of his adventures. Somehow the barbarian’s journeys from one fight to another seemed to happen quickly and with little excitement unless there was another fight along the way. Most of the time they barely even seemed to occur, with the beefy barbarian just kind of appearing at the most exciting places.
After only a few hours of the boy and his dire rat riding with him, Arin had decided that Abanar could learn to ride or “bloody well fuck off to whatever weird place you and the rat came from”. A few close calls and bruised ribs later, Abanar was getting fairly good at staying upright in a saddle. This did nothing to assuage his feeling about sore asses, however, and he took a nibble of dried jerky to take his mind from it. Gonarfin pawed at his hand, begging for a morsel.
“You had plenty to eat when we passed that dead bird,” Abanar chastised, glancing down at the rat. “Oh, don’t give me those big red eyes. You’ll be just fine.”
Amandana made a choking sound, having lingered a bit too close to the boy and her least favorite travelling companion, the rat. She spurred her horse back to the front of the line to be close to Arin. Abanar watched her go wistfully. He admired her silver hair and the way her armor parted in the back just so her leather breeches could be seen above the saddle. Zela trotted past him, giving him a look that almost seemed to chastise him for his thoughts.
Abanar stuck out his tongue at the wolf and scrunched his face before turning his attention back to the road ahead. He was last in line now, his horse clopping along behind everyone else’s down the hard beaten road to Brastirest. The sun was falling, and soon Arin would find a place to declare camp for the night, just as he had the previous two nights.
“No fall behind back there, little strange one.” Bolduf glanced back, never breaking from his light jog.
Abanar nodded, wishing not for the first time that the giant would put on a tunic of some sort. He didn’t really know what the tribal designs tattooed on Bolduf’s chest and back meant, but they were poorly done. Abanar considered himself somewhat of an expert in the field, having helped his father cure several skins marked in the same manner, some quite intricate and beautiful. Xarranod would never have bothered to preserve Bolduf’s shoddy designs. The shaman of the giant’s tribe must clearly have been a drunk to provide such lackluster artisanship.
Forcing himself to look away from the poorly tattooed giant, Abanar noticed a slight rustling in the underbrush to the left of the path. Gonarfin squealed in excitement and leapt from the saddle, his little rat legs flailing in the air until the ground caught him. He bounced, then dashed into the weeds without noticing the impact.
“Gonarfin!” Abanar reigned in his horse as carefully as he could, his eyes ground shut in preparation for the inevitable toss he would receive. Mercifully, it did not come. The horse stopped as intended, this time only using an annoyed whinny to express its displeasure.
Abanar dismounted as carefully as he could, then he rushed after his pet. He followed the small trampled trail that was left by his rat, which pretty quickly turned into a bigger trail, trampled by something much larger. Abanar rushed through with little regard for obstacles in his surroundings, be it thorn bushes or crossbows.
The boy barely had time to register the thought before a white hot lance of pain bit his shoulder. He cried out in surprise, matched by his fierce little familiar Gonarfin. Abanar ducked instinctively, fearing another bolt, but as he finally gathered his wits he saw that another would not be coming.
A man lay in the tall grass, struggling to maintain a position leaning against a thick bush. A large feathered bolt protruded from his chest, and his breath came in short, wet gasps. A small crossbow slipped from his fingers, caught gently by the thick grass. It was a small, close-range weapon, poor for hunting but fantastic for killing a man in his own house or at an ambush point.
“Used the last… of my strength to load that one. Didn’t even kill… one of you bastards.”
Abanar was a bit speechless, which was not at all surprising considering the bolt buried in his shoulder and the presence of a dying man hidden in a field. Gonarfin, however, had no qualms about taking actions. He sprang onto the man, chewing voraciously at his fingers.
The man cried out, spitting blood. He batted weakly at the rat.
“Call off your rat, boy.” Arin appeared next to them, staring down with concern at the man.
“Down, Gonarfin.” The rat’s red eyes flashed and it took one more defiant nibble, but ultimately it did as the boy said.
“Why in the hells were you waiting in behind a bush with a loaded crossbow?” Arin stood over the man, his hammer drawn.
“Bleeding the fuck out, asshole. Take a tour… of all the hells!”
Arin knelt beside the man and put a hand on the buried crossbow bolt. He squeezed it and flexed his wrist, giving the man a cold look. “I didn’t put this here, but I can help speed it along the way if you wish.”
The man looked at Arin for a second, wringing his bitten fingers and gasping short, labored breaths. “Fine, fine. I…. I was trying to sneak a message past your scouts. To help Brastirest.”
“I have no scouts. What has befallen Brastirest?” Arin looked to Amandana, who had just stepped onto the scene. Concern shone in her amber eyes.
“Then you… you take it. Save them.” The man struggled to reach inside his coat pocket, but it was held in place by the bolt. He did not have the strength to remain upright any longer. With a few bloody, weak coughs, the man slumped the rest of the way to the ground.
The three adventurers looked on in respect as the man took his final breath. Well, two of them did. Abanar watched the man with practiced eyes, only wondering what would become of a body left in a field. At home, in the Ruins of Londolas, the deceased would always be treated quite properly after being removed from his father’s altar, but this poor man would not be afforded such honors. No one, or no creatures even, save carrion buzzards, would harvest his brain. A waste.
Arin whispered a few words of prayer, then gingerly reached inside the man’s coat. He withdrew a small scroll. He handed it over to Amandana and use the grass to wipe his hands free of the man’s blood.
“Apparently the Duke of Onchester feels as if has been slighted by the Mayor of Brantirest, and wishes to sack the city if his demands cannot be met. He is en route to the city with an army of his own Honor Guard and whatever men he could muster from his personal lands, so as ‘not to involve the crown.’ Impressive.” Amandana rolled the scrolls back up. “Must have been one hell of a slight, to risk a duchy by attacking a city.”
Arin nodded his assent, standing up himself. He turned to head back to the road, but stopped.
A fat dwarf finger was pointed straight at Gonarfin, who had resumed chewing hungrily at the dead man’s fingers. The rat looked up for a second, then he returned to his work, the rat equivalent of a shoulder shrug.
Abanar shrugged, then winced in pain and grabbed at his shoulder. “At least he can’t feel his arrow now.”
Arin only stared harder.
“Gonarfin! Cut it out!” The rat hung its head and slunk away from the dead man at Abanar’s request, a few drops of blood trailing behind him. The beast scampered off in the direction of the road, presumably heading back to the horses.
“Now he’s mad at me. See what you did?” Abanar snapped at Arin, shooting him a dirty look before stomping off back to the rest of the party and screaming for Burhar’s aid.
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