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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Five - Additions)

Colin Frayn
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The busy streets of Tarnadon were as hectic as Tarok could ever remember. Compared to the solitude of the forest, this was uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Tarok held the purse tightly in his pocket, just to reassure himself. In the forest you had to worry about your very life, so money soon became of secondary importance. In Tarnadon, the chances of you being eaten alive on daily business were reassuringly rare, so other cares began to dominate. Whatever your situation, there was always something to worry about, no matter how petty it might have seemed to other folk. For Carek, this human preoccupation with material wealth seemed rather futile. For Tarok, the way in which the townsfolk worried about their jobs and their appearance seemed unnecessary and trite. It was all a question of relative worth.

Tarok went to an old sorcerer's shop that he knew. It was a fine old establishment, run by an enigmatic old man known as Inidar. Nobody knew if the wrinkled old figure was a true mage, or just a collector of junk. His knowledge was extensive, but he tended not to talk about himself if at all possible. He sat quietly, wrapped in a dark, concealing robe, while Tarok wandered around the aisles, not quite sure what to buy. There was a large selection of tomes on everything from Abjuration to Zombies, all meticulously sorted and filed on shelves stretching right up to the ceiling. Tarok spent a while browsing through the extensive collection, finally choosing three books - one entitled "Elementary Telekinesis," another called "The Complete Sorcerer's Guide," and finally "Healing and Conjuration - Fifty useful spells." All three titles seemed most interesting to the young wizard, and he was determined to learn some more exciting spells to add to his arsenal. He remembered his youthful days when he would browse through these books, unable to afford even the cheaper volumes on display. He also remembered when his tutor would tell him to concentrate on the simple spells and techniques that he was being taught and not to let his mind wander onto the more powerful incantations. Tarok grinned, and wandered out into the bustling streets once more, a warm feeling of accomplishment lifting his tired spirits.

Meanwhile, Carek was looking through all the weapon shops to find a bow that suited him. He found four shops that seemed from the outside to be what he wanted. One was unfortunately "Closed due to Demise of Proprietor". Another sold only swords and axes. One was out of stock, and the last was seemingly deserted.

Carek entered this last one, however, and had a look round. It seemed very quiet, and the odd cobweb spanned the dangling blades arranged on the walls. Carek approached the counter, and coughed loudly. There was no reply for a few moments so he coughed again. A rustling towards the back of the shop eventually produced the shop owner; a stout, dark haired man with a kindly smile. "Good afternoon, sir. Is there anything I can do to help?" This shopkeeper was forty years old, or thereabouts, with a well tanned complexion seemingly out of place on one with a life indoors. He was a strong figure, clearly having seen a fair number of battles in his time. He eyed Carek with no suspicion, which was a refreshing change after so many apprehensive glances on the streets.

Carek smiled. "May I see your selection of bows please, sir?"

He was met with a hearty laugh.

"Of course, son! Have a look around. I suggest you start over here."

The shopkeeper walked slowly over to one corner of the shop and opened a chest, which was full of all sorts of weaponry. He had a nasty limp in his left leg, presumably picked up in battle. Carek thought to inquire, but decided against it. A thin cloud of dust rose from the old box, and the shopkeeper coughed loudly. "Here we are, my finest selection. Help yourself, sir." "Many thanks" Carek replied in his soft, elven accent. The shopkeeper smiled politely, and limped back to behind the counter. Carek choked slightly in the dusty atmosphere. He was not at all used to this, having breathed the clean forest air all his life.

Carek searched through the selection in front of him. There was a good selection of longbows, but few short bows, and that was really what he was after. Carek turned back to the shopkeeper, "Is this your entire selection? Have you no other short bows?" The man pondered for a few seconds and then disappeared into the back of the shop, returning a few minutes later with a slightly better preserved box. He opened it up, and took out a beautiful new composite short bow. It looked as it had been recently crafted, cut from the finest wood that Carek had ever seen, and expertly finished. He could almost see his reflection in the highly polished surface. It was certainly an extraordinarily good quality weapon, and it was just what Carek wanted.

"How much?" he enquired.

"Seventy-five gold pieces" was the rather disappointing answer.

Carek frowned, and then remembered what Tarok had told him. One hundred gold pieces was an awful lot of money - more than Tarok had ever seen before. Bows were supposed to cost ten gold pieces at most. Carek frowned once more, and then looked over towards the shopkeeper. "I don't think I want to spend that much. Why is it so expensive?"

"Aha," began the shopkeeper, smiling contentedly, "There is a very good reason for this price, and I assure you that it is worth every penny. This weapon was made just over a month ago by a good friend of mine who has been acclaimed as one of the greatest weapon smiths in the kingdom. Every weapon he makes is then blessed in a special ceremony that he himself organises. Apparently, he saved the life of a wizard from one of the neighbouring towns a year or two ago, and since then this wizard has been casting spells for him in gratitude. His weapons are all different, but sometimes the ceremony produces some change in the weapon. This one, it is believed, is blessed with a strange aura." The shopkeeper began to change the tone of his voice to sound altogether more mystical. He leant towards Carek, seemingly checking for others spying on their conversation. He spoke again in a hushed voice, "no-one knows what this aura means, but it is visible to wizards, and is probably magical." His voice changed back to normal "... and therefore very valuable." He chuckled, "you're lucky it's so cheap, but few people in these parts will trust anything with an aura, and I've had a hard time selling it."

Carek pondered for a while, and then decided. "I think I'll buy it then. I have a wizard friend who would be more than pleased to check it out for me." Well, Carek presumed that Tarok would be able to do such a thing. "I hope for your sake, sir, that you are telling me the truth, for he is a powerful man." That seemed to be a grand enough statement, and Carek almost relished the influence that a wizard friend would bring.

Of course, Tarok could not possibly curse the shopkeeper, or anything like that; he just didn't know how to do it. However, the shopkeeper seemed suitably impressed, and swore that he was telling the truth. Carek also bought 24 of the shopkeeper's best hunting arrows, and a new quiver in which to hold them. That cost a further three gold pieces. Slinging his new purchases over his shoulder, he headed out towards the door. He was about to step outside when the shopkeeper spoke once more.

"Don't you want to know?" The voice called out from behind.

Carek turned round, and frowned. "I'm not sure I understand, sir."

The shopkeeper laughed. "No, I didn't think you would. You're not from Tarnadon are you?"

"Well no, sir. I'm from quite a different place."

"No need to tell me, son." The shopkeeper had a gentle smile once more. He knew.

Carek stepped back towards the counter. "What should I want to know?"

The shopkeeper paused for a moment, clearly expecting a different answer. He dropped his head slightly, then turned away.

"My bad leg, son. Everyone asks me. 'How did you get the limp?' they ask. 'Was it a battle?' Town people are nosy like that."

Carek shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure it's none of my business."

The shopkeeper laughed once more. "Quite right, son, but I'll tell you it was a battle. A terrible battle."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir." Carek wasn't really sure what the shopkeeper was trying to say.

"Never mind son, I'm sure we'll meet again. Good luck to you, and travel safely now!"

One heartier laugh marked the shopkeeper's exit back into the rear of the shop, shutting the door as he left. Carek frowned, and then turned back for the exit. "Goodbye then," he called out. There was no reply. Carek opened the door, and wandered out into the street, walking back to join up with Tarok at the inn. It was getting dark, and Carek did not know his way about very well, so he wanted to get back as quickly as possible. As he disappeared into the crowds, a pair of saddened eyes was watching from behind a dusty glass window.

The two friends joined up back at the inn, inside the noisy bar. Tarok was easy to find, rather predictably chatting to the barman and a small group of enthralled patrons. It appeared that the wizard had been telling stories about the forests and had managed to gain quite a crowd of admirers. Carek listened in, eager to hear his friend's rendition of their tales. Tarok seemed to be spinning some unbelievable anecdote about forest creatures. "It was certainly extremely fearsome, with long fangs and powerful claws which..." He stopped in mid-sentence as he saw his friend standing beside him. Carek grinned. Just then Tarok suddenly stood back and looked alarmingly at Carek's new bow. "Carek, my friend! What do you have there? A new bow? May I see it?"

Tarok examined it carefully, frowning every so often. Then he studied it some more. "It's glowing with magic!" he announced. Carek smiled. "Where did you find it?" asked the bemused wizard. Carek breathed a sigh of relief - it seemed that the shopkeeper had not been lying.

Carek told his friend of the expensive shopping trip. "I bought it in a little shop over the other side of town. I'm afraid it might have cost slightly more than I expected." So there really was an aura, which only wizards could see. The bow was magical - quite a purchase! The patrons of the pub were all impressed, none of them being able to see anything extraordinary with the bow at all. Wizards were trained to see such things.

Carek told Tarok all about the bow, and the strange story behind it. Tarok was amazed. He was also very distraught when Carek told him that he had spent a total of seventy-eight gold pieces at the shop. Combined with Tarok's comparatively small total of fourteen gold pieces, they could only afford to pay one person to join them. Tarok knew that he shouldn't have given so much money to his half-elf friend! They only had eight gold pieces left. Tarok quickly went to the board where they had left their notice, scribbled out the number "5" and wrote "4" above it! Four gold coins was still a good rate of pay for that town. They felt sure that they could hire someone even with reduced pay.

They could hardly believe that they had already spent all of their one hundred gold coins reward. How quickly it had all gone! Carek was yet to learn the true value of money, but it didn't really matter as they weren't planning to keep any of it for themselves. They hoped that they could find two new companions to help them in their project, and were beginning to get rather worried as no one had enquired yet. After all, finding help was the main object of their mission and, glorious though Carek's bow was, if they didn't find anyone to come back and help them build the fort then the journey would have been a failure.

According to the barman, who was a sturdy but elderly man who had been living in Tarnadon for his entire life, many adventurers passed through the town in search of work. He frequently had people put up advertisements on his board, and it was only going to be a matter of time before they had interested mercenaries turning up to offer their services. He did warn Tarok to be careful, however, for a great number of tricksters made their living by accepting such offers of work, taking the money and then leaving in the night without doing a single day's labour.

Tarok and Carek sat down in the bar and relaxed, talking about their shopping trips and their thoughts about town life. Tarok showed off his new books, with the help of which he hoped to learn a few more useful spells and skills. How his attitude had changed since he had first ventured into the forest. He had always wanted to learn, but never really had the enthusiasm. Now, however, his powers would help to keep both him and his friend alive, so he had a very great incentive to learn as quickly as he possibly could.

After about half an hour, the door swung open and into the bar walked a very short, rather peculiar looking man. Of course he was not a human at all, although in many ways he resembled one, but was only two-thirds the size. He was almost like a dwarf, but without the beard. This is actually a rather crude representation, for dwarfs were proud of their beards, and therefore a dwarf without a beard was either female, or not a dwarf at all! This was true of this particular character - for he was a halfling. That is to say, a distant relative of dwarves, though some time in the history of the lands, the halflings came to work out in the fields, whereas the dwarfs remained in the caves and mines. Dwarfs were therefore a great deal less nimble, and somewhat cruder. Halflings became far more polite and civilised, though still retained a certain amount of their common stubbornness. Halflings were not warriors, so stayed well clear of the conflicts with which their sturdier cousins became involved, consequently developing far fewer enemies, and an altogether more relaxed way of life.

This halfling walked over to the barman, and talked to him for a while. The barman smiled, and pointed at the table where Carek and Tarok were sitting. The newcomer walked over to the pair of adventurers and introduced himself proudly. "Sirs, I've been told that you are the ones looking for assistance in the eastern forests. My name is Doragon, and I saw your advertisement out in the hall. I would be very interested in joining you for your quest." He sat down, and Carek and Tarok looked at each other, bemused. This was the first interested adventurer, even if he appeared somewhat unsuitable for the task. They looked at him, dressed in fine robes and pointed boots, not at all the kind of character they imagined to be of any use to them against a group of bloodthirsty ogres.

Tarok and Carek looked at each other, rather bemused. "What do you do?" inquired Tarok, "Are you a warrior or a sorcerer?" Doragon gave a wry smile, and replied to Tarok calmly. "Although I could call myself a warrior, and I do have my own sword, my main profession is in exploration." Tarok frowned, and Doragon continued, "I have made significant maps of the local area, and I even ventured into the edge of the eastern forests once. I also specialise in reconnaissance, scouting and concealment. I've been working in this area now for a few years, checking out new arrivals to the town, making sure that they aren't up to no good. As a matter of fact, I've earned quite a lot of money from the mayor by working with the town guard to expose criminals."

Tarok looked a lot less weary of the newcomer now, beginning to understand what the halfling had to offer. Doragon continued, "If you want to defend your fort against the perils of the eastern forests then you'll need someone who has experience working for the other side, if you know what I mean." Doragon smiled a wry smile. "You'll need someone who knows what your weaknesses are, and how to defend against them." It was a fair point.

The halfling's proposition began to seem more reasonable. Tarok talked with Carek for a while, and they concluded that Doragon seemed genuine and that he would be a useful addition to the group. Tarok turned back to his new companion, and asked one last question, "You say you have scouted the eastern forests. Well how far did you travel?" Doragon shook his head, "Well not very far at all really. I must confess I have ventured in only a few times, but I was always worried about the stories that I have heard. They say that the forests have claimed the lives of many brave adventurers over the past years."

Tarok grinned, "Well we shall be leaving here and entering the forests tomorrow morning. We need to get back to the camp before the ogres return."

Doragon choked, "You plan to go into the eastern forests to kill ogres? Tomorrow? How big is your adventuring party?"

Tarok replied, "You are the third. We hope to recruit one more before we leave."

Doragon laughed. "You will not survive long enough to find them! Is that your entire plan?"

Carek, who had said little so far, decided to take over Tarok's position, trying to allay some of Doragon's fears. "Believe me, friend, I have lived in the Eastern forests for my entire life, the largest part of which I have been living alone. The dangers of the forest are only there to trap the foolish and the unprepared. We, as you will learn, are neither. You will be … reasonably safe with us. Well, you will be safe until we reach the ogres. After that, I can guarantee nothing." This was Carek's most reassuring tone. He was not very good at it. However, he was hiring people to accompany them into the forests and they would need only the fearless and daring. Neither he nor Tarok wanted to pay four gold pieces for a coward.

"Well," started Doragon, "I presume you know what you're doing. After all, I saw your message and thought that it would be a fine adventure. There's no use sitting in Tarnadon one's whole life, bored rigid. Who wants to die of old age?" Tarok shrugged his shoulders. He did!

Doragon had always wanted to go out on an expedition. Perhaps he would learn a few new skills out in the forest. He was, as Carek and Tarok were about to learn, a bit of a joker but he was nonetheless trustworthy. In fact, despite his claims to the contrary, he had not earned much money from exposing criminals, only six or seven gold pieces. His greatest achievement was discovering that one of the town's magicians was trying to sell fake magical potions, a discovery that left him less than popular with some townsfolk. Needless to say, he was therefore not too sorry to leave Tarnadon, and get away from the trouble that he had caused. The Eastern forests were perhaps not the ideal retreat, but at least he accepted that his newly acquired enemies would never think of following him there.

The three colleagues had been talking for about an hour, when the doors to the bar swung open again, and a young lady walked in. She was of about the same age as the rest of the group, carried a sword by her side, and wore a suit of leather armour studded with metal plates. She was tall, but not exceptionally so, and had long, flowing dark golden hair which was tied in a plait down her back. Tarok raised his eyebrows, secretly hoping that she was there to enquire about the adventuring, for she was certainly very attractive and he didn't remember seeing her around town before. He carefully brushed his hair back with his hands, and sat up as tall as possible. Carek grinned and shook his head. Doragon had his back to the bar, so remained oblivious.

To Tarok's immense delight, the barman pointed once more at the small group of adventurers sitting cosily in the far corner. The new arrival walked over to the group, introducing herself to them. "Good evening, friends. I hear that you are looking for warriors to join your group."

Tarok nodded. "Indeed."

The newcomer continued, "well my name is Athena and I have been training as a warrior for many years now. I would love to come and help you to defeat the evils of the eastern forest." She took a seat, and smiled at the three bemused companions.

"Are you good with your sword?" Carek asked. It did look like a fine weapon.

"I am not the best in Tarnadon, it is true. However, I have been trained well by my father and by my friends in the guard. I would like to improve my skills and this would be an ideal opportunity for me to do so. Believe me, you will find no one better for the price you are willing to pay."

"Have you had any previous experience?" asked Tarok.

"I once killed an orc that was raiding our fields at home," she replied. "That was over a year ago now. Orc raids are common here, and sadly the creatures have caused many deaths recently."

Carek spoke once more. "We were planning on leaving tomorrow, or at least as soon as possible, if that sounds reasonable."

Athena nodded.

"I have a few things to clear up here, but they will only take me a couple of hours."

Tarok raised an eyebrow. "Do you have any … family here?"

Carek knew exactly what the wizard meant, and smiled softly.

Athena shook her head, "No, I have lived on my own for several months now. I merely meant that I had to pack some belongings and pay my bills. How long will we be away for?"

It was something that Tarok and Carek had not really considered.

Tarok made a wild guess, "maybe a few months. I cannot tell. If all goes well you should return before the new year."

They all turned round to discuss what to do. Athena seemed tough, and they knew that the group would be weak without a fighter. They were lucky to find one with obvious skill so easily. All three voted 'yes', and they turned around again to face Athena, their potential new ally.

"We would be very grateful to accept you in our group," said Tarok in his diplomatic voice. "However, we must tell you before you accept that we shall be venturing into the eastern forests. My associate Carek has lived there for many years in safety, and we both know the forest well, so you will be in no danger." Carek coughed, and grinned as Tarok turned to look at him. Tarok had only been in the forests for a matter of days, and certainly had a lot still to learn.

Carek took over and addressed the young lady, "It is true, the danger of the forests is still very real, but we believe that you will be safest in a group with us." He paused, then smiled, "Especially with Tarok's magic to defend us." Tarok blushed. Carek was enjoying this. It was so long now since he had last spoken to others in a group, he was making up for lost time.

Athena smiled, and thanked him, "I, too am grateful. I hope that I will be of some use to you." They all knew that she would. Tarok went to take down the notice that he had written earlier, as they didn't have any money left to pay for anyone else. The chances of anyone wishing to journey into the eastern forests for free were very slim. As it was, they had difficulty convincing Doragon and Athena, who were being paid for their troubles. Admittedly it was not a handsome salary, but included food and lodgings. Whatever lodgings still remained that was.

The group decided to meet the next morning outside the town hall. Athena said that she could get another suit of armour for Carek in thanks. She had a spare suit of studded leather armour at home, and she reckoned that he could have it. Doragon said that he had a suit at home that he could get for himself, but could not offer to lend it out because it would be too small for anyone else. Tarok pointed out that he could not wear armour anyway, as it would impede his powers to cast spells, besides the fact that he was two feet taller than the halfling. They looked most comical together, and drew several bemused looks from townsfolk as they walked past. Tarok did not seem to mind, and Doragon was used to being stared at, a fact with which Carek could sympathise quite easily.

Carek and Tarok told their two new friends about the recent developments in the forest, the story about the ogres and the goblin caves. Athena and Doragon seemed very impressed, not surprisingly as Tarok's rendition of the story included a little more heroism than reality. Carek just left his friend alone, allowing him to revel in his own glory for a while. This was no doubt how those fantastic stories of the eastern forests were first started. One foolhardy adventurer would wander in, defeat a sleeping goblin, and then return with tales of giant snakes, hordes of orcish warriors, wolves and dragons. Carek stepped in. "I think we ought to get some sleep now!"

They would all leave at sunrise the following morning so as to get a good start for the journey back through the forest to the camp. Then they would be able to start properly on the building of the fort. The two newcomers seemed quite interested about the idea of building a fort deep in the forests, agreeing that it was a good idea in order to give them an advantage over their larger and more powerful foes. Tarok managed to make enough money in the bar by performing magic tricks to amuse the patrons that he could pay for this night's drinks and lodgings and still have a little left over for breakfast the following day. Athena and Doragon returned to their respective homes, and collected together all the possessions that they were likely to need for the journey ahead. All in all, it had been an eventful day! Each one savoured what they expected to be their last comfortable night of sleep for quite some time.

As the sun was beginning to pierce the early morning fog, the four adventurers met up outside the town hall of Tarnadon, as had been arranged. They each had a small packed lunch, consisting mainly of bread and cheese, which Tarok had prepared the previous night, along with a selection of fruit that he had bought at the market with his remaining change.

Once they were all together, they set off enthusiastically towards the forest, stepping through the town gates into the open countryside. Carek and Tarok were anxious to return home, and Athena and Doragon both wanted to see the huts that they would be helping to defend. Their minds were filled with thoughts of the tiny village about which they had already heard so much from their two new friends. They could hardly believe that they were embarking on such a dangerous journey with two complete strangers who had appeared into their lives just the previous day. Tarok knew exactly how they felt.

The newly formed group of adventurers walked across the open country, leaving Tarnadon behind. The border of the great forest stretched out before them as far as the eye could see. It seemed so friendly at the edges, but as soon as one ventured within, a sudden sensation of unease flooded you with fearful thoughts and an almost ceaseless paranoia. All was not as it seemed, and often the greatest dangers lurked in the most seemingly quiet, secluded groves.

They had been walking for an hour before they reached the forest, soon encountering the familiar woodland smell once more. For the two new members of the party, this would be their first proper journey into the trees beyond, and no amount of reassurances from Carek could entirely dispel the sense of fear that had crept into their hearts. Their minds were filled with anxiety thanks to a multitude of gruesome stories, which had been circulating through the legends of Tarnadon for so many years. The trees seemed different to those outside the forest, the shadows more menacing, and the sounds that emanated from within far more frightening.

Tarok, however, had a new sense of security about him. This was not only because he had two new friends to protect him, but also due to the fact that he now seemed accustomed to the dark, damp atmosphere to which he was returning. It was almost as if he felt more at home there than he did in Tarnadon. He was no longer venturing into the eastern forests as an intrepid explorer, but returning home as a proud resident. It was as if the forest was drawing him back. Perhaps enticing him, he couldn't quite discern the sensation, but he enjoyed it.

Carek guessed that they would still make it to the huts by nightfall the next day. After all, Doragon was fitter than he looked thanks to a number of years spent walking around the countryside surrounding Tarnadon. Even Tarok was beginning to improve in fitness now, and he knew that the next few months would be a great test for him. His legs were becoming accustomed to all this walking, and his shoulders no longer ached quite so badly despite the heavy books in his back pack.

They stopped off at the same stream to catch some fish. Though they had no proper fishing equipment, they each took one of Carek's old arrows, of which only six remained. With these primitive spears, they tried to catch as much food as they could. After a few minutes of practice, Carek actually became rather good, and finally caught a few dark scaled specimens. In fact, between them they managed to catch enough for a hearty meal. These were fish of the Eastern forests, not at all like those found further downstream near Tarnadon, but much darker, and more sinister looking. Carek had eaten these fish many times before, so was first to take a mouthful. The others watched him at first, hardly believing that anything living in the Eastern forests could possibly be edible. Still, the fish tasted quite good, and all four gladly ate their fill.

Just as the sun was beginning to reach its highest point, they set off again, weary but excited. Every so often, Carek stopped to get his bearings and to make sure that they didn't get lost. He wanted to follow the stream, but unfortunately that was not possible. He knew it to be flanked with marshes and swamps further upstream, and he did not particularly want to navigate them. This stream would only be a slight help anyway, as it veered off up to the north after a while. That left the group to find their own way onwards into the valley towards the river, which ran through the heart of the forest, past the fort.

Athena and Doragon were still amazed by the forest scenery. They could hardly believe that they were doing this - walking into the Eastern forest after hearing so many horror stories about it. They had known Carek and Tarok only one day, and already they were trusting them to navigate through these accursed trees. Somewhere deep in the heart of the forest, they were both assured, there was a safe home waiting for them. That seemed inviting, but for now they were most worried about the prospect of spending their first night under these menacing branches. Tarok remembered his first night in the forest. He had barely slept at all. Even now he was still wary of the darkness, though the initial terror had subsided.

At nightfall, they set up camp in a clearing of the forest, and lit three fires to scare off wild animals. They decided also to take turns to take watch in case any intelligent creatures were to come during the night. This was at the request of the two newcomers who were growing increasingly paranoid as the sun slipped further and further beneath the horizon.

Despite their fears, the night was relatively quiet. Doragon kept waking up convinced that he could hear noises. Halflings too have very good hearing, though not as good as elves. Carek was of course accustomed to the various peculiarities of their surroundings, so noticed very little unless it sounded particularly unusual or dangerous. In the Eastern forest, these two were often much the same thing.

As morning came, Doragon and Athena were more than relieved to see the sun's first rays breaking through to their makeshift camp. Their first night in the eastern forests had passed safely.

They finished off the cooked fish for breakfast, and set off early again that morning in order to make sure that they reached the huts before nightfall. Carek, as ever, lead the way with the rest of the group following closely behind. They were all aching slightly from the previous day, some more than others. None of them, not even Carek, were really accustomed to this sort of trek. It was lucky for them that they had no heavy backpacks to carry with them and they knew that they would be at the huts before nightfall.

As it was nearing lunch time, they were all ready to stop and rest their tired feet. Doragon lay down on a log to catch his breath and Tarok collapsed to the floor, his legs beginning to lose their strength completely. Carek reached into his bag and pulled out a wineskin, taking a mouthful of water first and then passing the remainder over to his exhausted companions. Suddenly, the half-elf stopped dead still, and gestured back to the rest of the group to keep quiet. He pointed upwards towards the canopy of leaves above. The rest of the group tried to determine the source of the alleged disturbance, but could see nothing. Carek added, "I'm sure of it. Keep still!"

Tarok had a great admiration for Carek's skills, so did as he was told. Doragon and Athena followed suit. Just then there was another rustle from the top branches of one of the trees. They all crouched down, and then turned to look up. There was something quite big up there, and it wasn't a bird! Athena drew her sword, and Doragon took his dagger. Tarok stepped back a few paces and stared intently at the source of the disturbance.

Carek got his bow ready, and took aim at the inferred location of the noise. Somehow, the bow seemed to be tugging at his hand to move to the left. It was a very strange sensation. Maybe the bow was trying to stop him from firing. Carek tried to resist it, and managed to get the bow under control. He stared at the weapon and turned back to Tarok. Now he realised - the weapon was cursed, that's why it had an aura! He called to his wizard friend who ran over and looked at his friend's bow. He frowned, then whispered "Let it pull you - I think that's how it works." It was trying to direct Carek's aim. Tarok could almost communicate with it in a strange sort of way - wizards could do that. It was one of their more bizarre abilities.

They all stood quietly and listened intently, but heard nothing. Suddenly a spear shot from the trees, and Doragon was saved only by his lightning reflexes. The crude weapon stuck firmly into the ground beside him as he dodged to one side. Carek let the bow direct his aim, still trying to figure out the location of the hidden assailant. All of a sudden, the weapon started shaking slightly. Carek let go of the arrow, and it whistled through the trees, hitting something with a thud. The group heard a yell, and ran over to investigate it. A large humanoid creature jumped out at them from one of the bushes with an arrow in its shoulder. It was a fierce forest orc, seven feet tall, clad in leather hunting gear and wearing a wooden shield over its left arm. The orc pulled the arrow from the wound, and drew a rusty sword from its belt.

Athena stepped forward, and took a swipe at the creature, but her attack was expertly parried. Doragon dived forward, and managed to stab the attacker on the leg. Athena took another swing and struck the creature's side, drawing blood. The creature yelled, and lashed out at Athena with its sword, striking her on the shoulder. Carek drew a dagger from his belt, and threw it at the creature, hitting it in the forehead. The powerful beast lumbered slowly backwards, finally falling dead on the forest floor with a thud.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and Tarok went over to check Athena's injury. She was bleeding slightly, but the damage was not serious. Fortunately her armour had greatly reduced the ferocity of the blow. Tarok tightly wound a scrap of clothing around the wound to stop the bleeding. Carek fetched a leaf, and wrapped it around Athena's arm. He seemed to know what he was doing, so she left him to finish the bandage. He tied the leaf on with a length of twine and then stood up, suggesting to the group that they had better get back as soon as possible. "She'll be fine, the wound isn't too bad. There might be a bit of bruising tomorrow. I reckon we should get back to the fort and then we'll be able to rest more safely." Everyone agreed.

After eating a few loaves from their packed lunches, they set off again and walked for a further six hours under the slowly diminishing sunlight, this time unhindered. All the time, Carek was talking to Tarok about his amazing new bow, and sometimes practising with it by firing at trees. It didn't seem to be working any more, and Carek was beginning to get rather disappointed. Tarok explained that the bow was obviously blessed to warn of danger, and to help the bearer to kill any hostile creatures that he or she might encounter. This meant that it would clearly not help Carek to hit harmless targets. It was a fine weapon with which Carek was certainly very impressed. He definitely considered it a good buy, and even Tarok tended to agree with him now.

It was growing dark and rather cold when they arrived at the huts. The last rays of the evening sun were already falling through the forest and strange noises were beginning to fill their ears from the surrounding trees. Carek and Tarok were half expecting to see a group of ogres finishing off the last remains of their home, and they were greatly relieved to find their huts all in one piece. This place seemed so welcoming now after such a long and tiring walk. Athena and Doragon wandered round the clearing, and began to explore their new home. They were both clearly impressed.

Carek quickly examined the traps that he had set before, but found nothing but a few rats and a frightened badger in them. The ogres had not been to visit. The two newcomers were shown to their rooms, which were at the end of Carek's and Tarok's huts. They all decided that they needed something more substantial to eat, so Carek went out hunting. He went on his own, because he was the only one who was sufficiently practised, and any novices could have reduced the chance of a successful hunt. Besides, it was so dark under the shadows of the trees that he was the only member of the group who would be able to see the prey at any considerable range. He didn't seem to mind the frightening noises that had worried the others so much, but he was used to them by now, and knew which creatures made them. Often they sounded more terrifying than they actually were. It was the more quiet, peaceful sounding noises that usually concealed the most dangerous of creatures. This was always the same in the eastern forest. Those creatures that were clever enough to make themselves difficult to find were also cunning enough to find you when you least expected it.

All were incredibly impressed to see Carek go out into the darkness alone, for they knew that they would not have braved it themselves. At least, they would not for a long time - until they knew a little more about the dangers which lurked within. They would need to learn to discern between those legends which contained no truth whatsoever and those started by adventurers who had actually survived the horrors of the Eastern forests. In a sense, the tales that had been told truthfully were probably less worrying as whoever told them had managed to survive!

They stayed up quite late that night, and talked about more or less anything that they could think of. All four were beginning to become quite good friends, and they were all looking forward to building the fort together. As night drew on, they decided that it would be wise to get some sleep soon so that they could start work the following morning. They disappeared to their rooms, and lay down. Tarok and Carek rested their tired legs after a double length journey. Carek, after so long in solitude, now had three companions to help him protect his home. Tarok's arrival had, in just two weeks, thoroughly changed Carek's life. Now he had a real chance against the ogres, and he knew that he would soon have a home to defend once more.


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 5 - Additions © Colin Frayn

Migrate Wizard: 
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