Hello Friends! Benjamin from Brother’s Campfire here!
Ashon’s adventure contains graphic violence today. Let the reader be forwarned.
Ashton and his mother estimated the money would easily carry them through the winter, especially if he foraged and assisted the woodcutter.
Between the two of them, they could not ascertain the reasoning behind Randolf’s apology or his gift for that matter; genuine sincerity was scarce when it came to women and coin.
They decided to take great care in who had knowledge of this, lest the Alderman and Bishop take their portion.There was bread that could be purchased from the baker, but the more of the money they saved, the better off they would be.
Asthton had never met Randolf prior to the cook fire. Many longboatmen came and went and they weren’t typically the friendliest to inlanders and would fight for the smallest insult.
Time was of the essence to forage and it was time to push all the relationship thoughts aside and work.
He considered setting snares, yet the thought of squirrels repulsed him. He imagined Randolf and Yara picnicking on the beach dining on his catch. It made him angry. So much for putting all aside.
He would go to the woodcutter’s house instead. Bringing his gathering bags just in case, He told his mother his intentions and closed the door behind him.
Ashton had the long striding gait of a woodsman that covered ground efficiently.
His eyes darted back and forth scoping about for trouble. The forest could be full of trickery. A childhood of being outside alone had honed sharp his intuition of danger.
Well, with the exception of Hallr and Yara, but those were people.
There is no telling with the actions of men. It seemed animals had a little more predictability in some ways.
The murmur of voices made Ashton stop, for it is movement that catches the eye.
It was Randolf, accompanied by another Longboatman just a little further along the trail.
“It was the work of a vargr I tell you.” Proclaimed the longboatman.
Randolf’s voice shook. “His mother is a witch. He is vargr. I will have no fight with him.”
The longboatman was contemptuous.
“Women tremble, Randolph. Will you give him your boat and be his thrall as well?”
Randolf measured his companion.
“Your words do not match your skill, gobermouch. I have battled a vargr on another coast and bear the scars. I fear no scrawny inlander, but I know when gifts are well given.”
The two diverged to another path. Keen of hearing, but short on interpretation, Ashton continued.
A crisp chill hung in the autumn air, causing Ashton to shiver. He picked up the pace to stay warm.
With an eye for sentiment, he looked about, admiring the beautiful landscape.The maple leaves were a beautiful red, and the tall grasses shades of yellow and brown.
The raspberries…they were sweet from the frost and ripe for picking.
After eating his absolute fill, he picked handfuls and put them in a small bag.
He reminisced the many times he had gathered with Yara…
He shook his head. Forage he would while he was able, despite the thoughts.
It was practical and the raspberries could be made into a variety of products that could be eaten or sold at a market.
Mallow was also in abundance, and Ashton procured a digging stick. His mother would use the roots, leaves, and the little “cheese wheels” for cooking and medicine.
It was frustrating being the son of a woman who practiced medicine. Every conversation he had led to whether his mom was a witch or just crazy.
All was not right. Keen on tracks from walking the trails and avoiding the Alderman’s gamekeepers, he did not see the sign, but perceived he was not alone. A bent piece of grass, or perhaps a rustle caught his attention making him wary, yet he could not place it. Hard experience told him to listen to his senses, even if he could not make a conclusive interpretation.
Making himself small, he moved little, looking from the corners of his eyes for movement. He was relatively skilled in avoiding detection when alone and prided himself in seeing first. It was the name of survival in the forest.
Looking up, about a stone’s throw away was a crow, picking at something in a low lying branch.
Crows have excellent memories and are quite intelligent. You never know when you may need one to cover your backtrail or sound an alarm.
Ashton was keen to feed them for this reason, but it appeared this one was faring well.
He spoke to the bird in a low tone. “I mean you no harm little guy, I am going over that away.”
Ashton reached into his bag and tossed a few raspberries it’s way.
The crow immediately responded and flew towards Ashton. He had fed this one before.
The bird picked up the raspberries and cawed. It canted an eye head towards Ashton and then turned his head left and behind.
He was being followed.
There was no time like the present and Ashton bolted straight ahead, leaving his foraging bag. Light, nimble and fast, Ashton had grown up in these woods and knew them like the back of his hand.
He had tried to run like this when Hallr’s boys roughed him up.
A few paces into his sprint, he froze, recoiling in disgust and scattering a murder of crows.
Strewn all over the ground were the mutilated remains of men.
The site was an indescribable dispersal of humanity far beyond fathoming. The crows had come to feast here.
He spun around to face his imagined pursuer. There was no one.
Heart pounding in fear, the stench of death and rottenness filled his lungs causing Ashton to vomit.
He did not know whether to watch his back trail, view the slaughter or flee so he stood in place and waited, wiping his mouth.
As he stood there, a small tribe of sparrows landed on Ashton’s bag where he had left it and began eating his collection. He was not being followed or they would not have felt so secure in helping themselves.
Carefully, he scanned what was no less than a massacre. Bits of armour and shield lay broken and scattered. What was left of the men appeared smeared in the ground. Shaking and overwhelmed, he crumpled to his knees and clung to a tree. The scene burned into his vision when he closed his eyes.
Resolving not to look again, he faced away and opened his eyes. Standing up, he hit his head on something hard, maybe a branch.
Looking, Ashton screamed in terror.
He was looking squarely at the severed head of Hallr Agnar.