A farmer who supplies the Isen outpost has not been seen in a week, and The Oathsworn ride out to investigate. They find a troubling scene.
Adriwyn headed toward their small stable to start seeing to her horse.
Thorvall fussed with the saddle upon Valarome's back. The horse, shorter than the warsteeds favoured by the Rohir by a good number of hands, happily nuzzled into a feed box. "There's been some talk of a farmer a way up the river." He spoke across his mount's back. "Rides here in a cart, regular as april rain to sell to the guards." He waved a gloved hand back toward fire. "Hasn't been by this week."
Adriwyn blinked as she checked her horse's hooves, then coat. 'Don't suppose they know if he has family? I mean, a man can get sick, but... well, that's reason to look in on him, too, I suppose.'
Thorvall furrowed his brow, recalling the conversation he'd had that morning. "He has a family, sometimes brings his little ones and wife along on the cart." Now he secured saddlebags and a scabbard, looking around for something to fasten to those. "Where in the name of..." Clicking his teeth he found the large waterskin, peering at it as if it may have changed while upon the straw of the stable. Apparently satisfied, he began to fasten that too. "Sometimes she comes in his place, or even their eldest, seems odd none of them would."
Adriwyn nodded as she saddled Rika, frowning some. 'That's more than just odd, I think. I'm going with ... "concerned", I think. As in, checking my bow-strings, even.'
Thorvall |Rubbing the beast's nose with a gloved hand, the mailled horselord came about to his comrade's side of the stable. "I imagine if anything has happened, it may be too late but..." He shrugged. "We may well find something, or even better their cart may have thrown a wheel and they're fixing it up as we speak."
Adriwyn nodded. 'Aye. It isn't a hopeful thing, but just in case, we should look into it. If it's nothing but "how are you doing?", great. If it's revenge, that's awful, but better than nothing. In between... well, we'll see what there is.' She gets the girth properly tightened and, true to her earlier comment, checks her bow-strings.
Thorvall walks to the entrance to the thatched shelter, frowning across to the north. "Speaking of which, have you seen anything across the river these last few days?" A few steps closer and he was leaning on the solid oak beam. "I've not seen anything since all their fires went out after their new year, but my eyes are old."
Adriwyn shook her head. 'I've not. But then, some of them do know how to sneak. I'd guess the few left watching us just haven't lit any fires. I hope they like the cold.' She finishes situating her horse, and gives her an apple to mollify her for the fact they're about to ride.
Dytha rode in through the break in the west wall, waving her hand this time instead of a banner, better known to the guards now after three weeks of rides to the outpost. ”I know someone who will have seen something.” She plucked her helmet off her head and pulled her hair out from being crushed inside the collar of her maille. She looked at Thorvall, somehow struggling to adjust the straps of his saddle in the cold. “You alright there, old man?” She caught Adri’s eye and gave her a wink.
Adriwyn chuckled, nodding to Dytha with a warm smile.
Dytha smirked at the sour expression her father gave her and slid her helmet over her cloud of white-gold hair. "You can catch up." She glanced at the stranger who'd she'd not noticed long in the camp, but she was already gone before Dytha had the chance to wave.
Adriwyn started Rika moving before she got too complacent after the apple, even if it was, so far, only about the camp. But she was ready to ride off if given the direction.
Dytha waited for the go-ahead from her father before she pressed her heel into her horse's ribs, and they rode east to find the road north to the homestead.
Adriwyn followed after, keeping an alert watch to their sides.
Dytha |The road itself was peaceful, the flowers' barren branches on either side of the packed slush sticking out of fresher snow. As they neared the homestead, though, the ground was not so clean. Footprints littered the fields and paths, twisted up in mud. She dismounted and continued on foot, a hand on her hilt though she kept the sword sheathed.
Adriwyn held back some, stringing her bow and nocking an arrow to be ready, just in case. Further muddying the ground wouldn't help as much, she guessed, as keeping watch.
Dytha approached the farmstead, which was quiet even for a winter's evening. There was no glow from the other side of the animal-skin windows, no smoke coming through the hole in the thatch. She motioned for Adriwyn to check the perimeter around the farm for workers while she approached the house itself.
Adriwyn rode around, keeping her eyes peeled both ways, looking for any signs of life larger than, well, the inevitable field mice.
Dytha froze when she noticed the door hanging ajar. The winter wind rushed inside, moaning through the gap. No family with children would waste such precious heat. She pulled her sword out and stepped inside.
Adriwyn saw the sword motion, and kept her ears open as well as her eyes. Too many directions to have to watch, but she did her best.
Dytha |No sound came from the house for several moments. The air was deathly still. Then the door to the house flew open fully to belch out an enraged Dytha, her eyes shining under the gold brow of her helmet. "Bastards," she growled, then caught sight of Adriwyn and waved her over.
Adriwyn hopped off her mount, dropping the reins in front of her as a signal to stay, and trotted over, trying not to mess up any possible tracking more than they already had.
Dytha didn't wait for Adriwyn to reach her before she barked out. "Dead. Wife and husband both. No sign of the children, except a struggle." She glared out at the hills as if those responsible could still be seen on them.
Adriwyn pulled herself up with a sharp breath in through her nose as she absorbed that. 'Taken, then. Narrows the list a little, but not enough.' Her words were barely not hissed. This hit her at a level where she couldn't hide being mad. She started looking even harder along the ground for prints that weren't either of theirs.
Dytha let Adriwyn to her own craft. She'd not the skill to tell a lambskin slipper from a leather boot. "I'll search the stables, see the state of the horses, check if anything was taken in the house." Her tone was as cold as the frozen corpses inside. "We'll have to build a cairn. The ground won't break to bury them."
Adriwyn nodded her understanding, and pulled up short a little, though she kept her eyes to the ground anyway, so she could see what signs there were. 'How long has it been, do you think? Is pursuit or burial the more pressing problem?'
Dytha sheathed her sword, though she kept her helmet on. "I can't say. The snow hasn't drifted inside, and the prints are muddied, so a few days? I'm surprised the wolves haven't gotten to them. No, we bury them, then we ride to the outpost and send a man out to every homestead nearby. This is happening too often, and too frequently, now."
Adriwyn shook a little with the effort of reining herself in, but nodded, and heaved a long, slow sigh. 'Right. Much though I'd rather give chase and try to recover the children... you're right.' Adriwyn shrugged as she turned, now looking for bits of wood as well as stones, intending to fix up a torch for the task. 'Wolves may just have found other meals more to their liking, too. It's early enough in the season, still, that they're not so desperate yet as to eat our kind much.'
Dytha gave Adriwyn a look, steady as thunder. "We will recover them. If you can find a trail, follow it, but there's no sense running off in one direction if they've gone in another."
Adriwyn nodded. 'I'll keep my eyes working, then. And no, without a trail... I may be crazy. Some would say loudly I am. But I try not to be stupid.'
Dytha pressed her hand against Adriwyn's shoulder strong enough for comfort. "If we hurry, we can reach other homesteads to warn them. They'll be safe inside Fréasburg's walls." Her voice lowered. "I think it might be time to meet with our neighbors across the river."
Adriwyn nodded, not quite trusting herself for immediate comment, and focussed on finding suitable wood pieces, anyway - which she finally did. She headed to her horse with that, to get the fixings to make a torch. 'Gonna get us some light.'
Dytha watched Adri stalk off a moment before she turned to gather stones from the farm's field walls to gather enough stones to weigh down the bodies in the earth until spring.
Adriwyn came back with a torch going, which she stuffed into a crevice, then turned to helping with the stones, but she definitely was looking around them, too, trying to find tracks.
Dytha worked in furious silence. She picked the heaviest stones, wanting to feel the full weight of the lives they'd let go. Even when her father joined them and offered to send her back to the outpost with the news, she refused. In the end they scrounged up enough dirt from the pasture to pile atop the bodies, which they lay by the mounds of their parents and grandparents who'd farmed these fields before them. At last they lay the last stone on the cairn, and Dytha looked at Adriwyn, not tired but burning with the work, sweat pooling under her moon-washed mane. "We'll come back tomorrow. Maybe we can see more in the morning. At least find what direction they came from, and where they headed."
Adriwyn heaved a deep breath again, arms quivering, maybe from the strain, but maybe from suppressed rage over what had happened. 'Aye. Light will help.' Her look outward said how little she liked it, but she turned away, back to the horses.
Dytha watched Adriwyn for as long a moment as it took to determine she was ok. It wasn't safe to spend the night, or she'd have set up camp for them so they could begin searching at first light. "We'll find them," she promised again, to both of them, then turned to reclaim her horse. "We'll ride out the way we came in, and we'll mark it for our return."
Adriwyn nodded as she led Rika along the path to be sure. 'Yes'm.' It didn't matter how much she didn't like it, it was the wiser course of action, and she knew it.