Pheadra |The sun was still high by the time the trio had arrived to the area they had wished to scout. Most of the area was open plain dotted with small farms and villages. Those injured in the attack were taken further south to Faldring, but the tracks clearly had led toward where they currently found themselves. Standing at the edge of the camp, Pheadra shielded her eyes and peered over the wide expanse of rolling hills, looking for a distant marker they might follow to help in their search.
Agamaran knelt down at the tracks. He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes as he did. He remained still, listening to the wind. He opened his eyes and picked up a clump of dirt, rubbing it between his gloved hand and letting it fall to the ground.
Pheadra |The scent in the air was mostly of spring grass, far off smoke from a fire, horse manure. The wind is gusty, and carries these scents to the nose, and the ground has been recently disturbed, trampled by both hoof and feet. Distantly, cart wheel tracks can be seen.
Agamaran followed the scent to trace the path with his eyes until he found subtle marks in the ground beyond--cart wheel tracks. "That way," he pointed.
Haeneth kept behind Agamaran, her eyes up and out across the grass, keeping watch in case they'd find themselves not alone.
Pheadra heard Agamaran and turned back to walk a few paces back into the camp with a nod of agreement. "There are tracks which lead in that direction," she pointed toward the south-east, "Beyond that, would require a closer look."
Agamaran bent low again to observe the scene that unfolded days before. He read the disturbed dirt, the grass that still remained bent low. He noticed something on a blade of grass as he ran his hand through it--a small splash of red. He tracked the ground until he found the same pattern that led to the south--in a direction that was neither where the caravan arrived from nor where the attacks left to. "They might have missed something," he said, now following the trail of blood drops left on the blades of grass.
Haeneth followed, her arrow-bag hanging from her belt, strung bow in hand. She kept her gaze out, trusting him to find the details in the grass as she stood guard. "They might have split up, or scattered in the fray."
Pheadra strode up a bit and looked over Agamaran's shoulder, "Then we go on foot and pick up the pieces as we may." Her eyes lifted to Haneth, "Possibly. Those who survived the attack said they were heading north and attempting to escape. Let us see what else the trail offers."
Haeneth nodded, quelling the question of splitting up. It wasn't wise to be on foot alone in such open ground. The tracks would stay, the blood might not. "Lead on."
Agamaran followed the trail, picking up speed as he could see the disturbings more clearly as they left the busy fray behind.
Pheadra looked over to Haneth with a arched brow, then nodded and turned toward the southeast. Alternately, she scanned the horizon a few paces, and would stoop to search for things she saw on the ground. After they had walked a mile or two, at the same steady pace, she stooped to pick up something from the ground, then look further off into the distance. The trail of blood led them toward the edge of the tree line, where various pieces of broken crates and remnants of the cart's cargo had fallen and shattered along the grass. Suddenly, Pheadra halted and winced as a gust of wind wafted a terrible smell to their noses. Death, decay, and the burnt flesh.
Agamaran frowned as he caught the scent of death. "This is careless," he said, motioning to the strewn cargo. "Its contents were not what they were after, it seems."
Pheadra nodded to Agamaran and furrowed her brow, "They pursued these people for some other purpose." She nudged the toe of her boot over the sharp edges of a broken chest, then stooped to look at the ground, "It is difficult to see how many. I see foot and hoof alike."
Haeneth followed silently, thoughts and suspicions simmering inside. She glanced at the ground, but her gaze kept hold of the horizon. There wasn't smoke to be seen that was near or large enough for a pyre. It wasn't a funeral that sent its stench prowling towards the crofts.
Agamaran crossed his arms. "But no paw prints. No warg tracks. This was not the work of an orc band. Raiders or looters, perhaps." He looked across to the tree line. "Perhaps a closer look would determine the truth of it."
Pheadra quickened her pace as the signs grew more plentiful. Instead of individual blades of grass which were trampled or stained with blood, it became large blots, spent arrow heads mingled in with the debris. "Not all orc-kind are carried by wargs. I wonder what would cause some to report that they had seen such things, if not the sheer terror of the event." She turned to look at Haneth over her shoulder and beckoned to her, "The Rohirrim would have burned any they found of the dead, yes?"
Haeneth pulled her mask higher over her nose, breathing in the herbs she'd soaked it with instead of the tarnished smoke. "Depends on which dead. Their own, they would take home for burial. The enemies they would char, but they wouldn't hide them." She turned to the treeline. "They'd burn them in the open...make it known they were dead."
Agamaran peered into the distance. He spotted things amiss in the trees out of sight from sunlight. "Someone or something left something behind underneath the trees."
Haeneth crept closer to her companions, searching the spaces between the trees. "They will see us approach if we do not circle around."
Pheadra |As they rose to the top of hillock, some of what they sought would become much more apparent. Near the line of trees, there was a wide swath of trampled grass, with a large burnt area in the center of it, though it smoldered no longer. "There. Left behind, indeed." She went at a slow trot, no longer stopping in careful survey of the trail, but heading toward the 'something' they had sighted in the distance. Some ways from it, she slowed and stopped to observe a bit more. They were still some ways away, but the wide open gave them enough view of the scene that they would be spotted miles away, were there someone there to spot them. There was not, though, and though the wind blew through the tall grass, there was little other sound. The only visible movement from the distance was that of the wind picking up lighter pieces of debris and carrying it away.
Agamaran scanned the horizon around them. "If anyone is watching for us, they would have seen us long ago. These rolling fields have always been kind to watchful eyes in the daylight." He looked at Haeneth for half a moment. "It's always easy to find what you are looking for in Rohan."
Pheadra looked at Haeneth, and then turned to head toward the place they had seen. More and more debris was found, and finally what remained, or what had been left of the cart. What could be salvaged from it was stripped away, leaving a damaged husk. The grass was flattened in several places around it, and Pheadra stooped to examine one of them. She plucked something small from within the grass as her fingers moved over it. She held up a small, carved horse between her fingers, "This is where they were overcome, and where some finally lay." Blood had soaked into the ground around some of the flattened areas, and some further distance away was the burnt pile, though what was burned was still a mystery.
Haeneth 's gaze snapped to him before she could help it, then tore again away. She swallowed behind her mask, moving her arrow against the string, just in case. Her gaze took in the toy for a moment before she moved towards the pile—a sight growing as familiar to the landscape as flower-crowned barrows.
Agamaran drew his sword and used it to pick apart the burnt pile.
Pheadra |The burned pile held many carcasses and bits of armor. Some were of men of varying builds, with the thick skulls of the Dunlending folk being among them. As Agamaran picked through the pile, within it, where the fire had burned hotter and only skeletons remained, were several mishapen heads which did not resemble those of men or women. Pheadra circled the pile, and to the side was another smaller pile. The outline of this figure could be seen quite clearly, and was a huddled mass, suggesting that the victim, whoever it was, had been alive when it was burned. She crouched beside it, but did not disturb it as she looked it over.
Agamaran carefully studies the skulls of those that do not resemble men nor women. "I have seen many an orc skull and this does not bear the characteristics of one." He left the pile and walked over to Pheadra, standing behind her, awaiting her observation.
Haeneth stared at the corpse huddled away from the rest. Her voice, when it sounded again, was barely above a whisper. "Not a full orc. I have seen the like in Annunlos and Harloeg...half-orcs from Naerost who wandered too far from their fortress. But here?"
Pheadra looked up at Haneth briefly. It was a grisly scene, to be sure, but not one unfamiliar in these lands. "Could it be one of these half-orc men the survivors spoke of?" She asked the question of Agamaran without looking over her shoulder at him. Looking down again, and then out along the edges of the trampled and blood stained grass, she shook her head in answer to Haneth "I have not long traveled through the places you speak of..." The woman trailed off as she saw something, though it was closer to where Agamaran stood than where she crouched. Impaled on a long pike which had broken and cast it nearly to the dirt was the head of a grotesque looking being, its eyes gouged.
Haeneth stepped carefully where she could find bare dirt to the body that didn't resemble the others in form. She crouched, breathing slowly through her mask as she tried to discern if it was Man or beast.
Agamaran followed Pheadra's glance and walked over to the impaled head. He frowned down at it. "Half man, half orc. It is rare, but it is known to happen."
Pheadra looked up at Haeneth, "Then it is true. What...haven would such a creature have?" She stood, part of the ashen corpse crumbling as the breeze blew over it. It revealed something shiny within it, causing Pheadra to frown deeply, "And for what purpose but to do just this?" She looked around the grim scene, but didn't stoop to pick up what was within the ash. Her stomach churned a bit and she stepped away from it to look elsewhere.
Haeneth lay her bow across her lap, reaching with her gloved hand to brush away black flakes and dust. She held her breath as she picked the unburnt metal out from the melted flesh.
Agamaran did not answer Pheadra's inquiry. Instead he walked over to Haeneth and stood behind her, watching her.
Pheadra |A few minutes later, after pacing the outskirts of the scene and gathering herself once more, she plucked a spent arrow from the grass, its black feathered shaft cracked down the center. She came to stand next to Agamaran and looked also down at Haneth.
Haeneth brushed her gloved thumb over the trinket, revealing nothing more than a belt buckle, the leather melted away with its wearer's cloth and flesh. "This is human work..." She held it out to Agamaran, trusting his keener eyes. The figure was a bird-head of some kind, common in both Dunlending and Rohirric iconography. Her other hand lay over her stomach where she felt her insides harden. "They kill half-orcs, but torture the Men? Who..." She couldn't finish the question. This wasn't banditry. This was something else.
Agamaran carefully took the buckle in hand. He pulled a knife free from his belt and pried the buckle free from its charred bindings. He looked it over in his hand then, trying to find any metalworking marks to give a clue to who crafted it. "We should show this to the survivors. They might be able to shed some light on this."
Pheadra peered at the buckle as Haneth handed it over and frowned. Her eyes fell on the woman, "There is something else a work here, some scheme, perhaps. I wonder what other things were burned away." Her gaze moved to the long burnt out remains of those who had raided the caravan party.
Haeneth stood up, stepping away from the body for a moment to turn her face into fresh wind. She pulled down her mask and took a deep breath of the scent of cornflower and peonies drifting in from far afield. "I found another camp," she muttered, closing her eyes so the scene before her wouldn't corrupt the carnage in her memory. "Bandits, seven of them, all slaughtered. It wasn't orc-work..." She turned back to Pheadra and Agamaran. "Nor was it the work of Rohir or Ranger."
Agamaran frowned. "There's a foulness to this happening, and it lingers in the air." He gently kicked over a dented helmet. "I believe we have found all the answers that we shall find from this alone. The rest of the puzzle pieces are with those that managed to escape."
Pheadra extended her hand so that she might take the buckle from Agamaran, "We will return it to them. Surely there is something to be unraveled with further questions." She looked up at the sky, and the sun was beginning to sink, casting long shadows over their tall forms that fell about the flattened grass, "We should head back soon."
Haeneth nodded, setting her mind to the next step. "We're almost out of time. There's no one else to blame, but we can't let the boy die."
Chat Log: General 04/18