Painful spasms coursed through Ravel’s buttocks and down his legs. He rolled his shoulders for about the fifth time in that minute, and lifted one hand to pull the hood further over his head. Constant rain fell, tingling on his face and hands almost as if they had begun to fall asleep. They pushed on through the rainstorm, even though their clothes were soaked and earlier bravado somewhat dampened.
“Your back is aching because your posture and seat on the horse is completely incorrect,” Prynda spoke, her horse trotting quietly up beside Ravel’s
“Fascinating,” Ravel responded, not changing his slouched position. “It’s not because I haven’t ridden a horse since I was little and never for this long?”
“It may have a little something to do with it, but it wouldn’t be quite as bad. I could teach you if you like,” Prynda answered smiling.
“I’ll be fine,” Ravel said.
“Try saying that in a couple of days’ time,” Dervon spoke up, “when your legs are numb and your shoulder feel like heavy weights on an already tortured back.”
They entered the forest a short time later, yet the rain got heavier, falling from the leaves in heavy droplets. A cool breeze whistled through the leaves, otherwise the forest was silent. Ravel and Dervon remained quiet while the girls started a quiet conversation about people Ravel didn’t know. Ravel preferred silence, but Prynda suddenly decided to be a good travel companion and get to know him.
“Do you have any family, Ravel?” Prynda spoke up quietly.
Ravel sighed quietly and straightened in his saddle.
“My family consists of my dad, my mum, myself and a younger brother,” Ravel answered.
“Where are they all situated?” Prynda asked.
“Last time I saw them they were living on a farm outside Varian.”
“So your family are farmers?”
“How did you become an adventurer then? Didn’t want to become a farmer?”
“I was rebellious. I wanted more to life than early mornings, ploughing and boring farm life.”
“I guess your parents weren’t understanding. Most families are pretty set with the family work continuation.”
“My parents weren’t supportive but they didn’t force me to stay. After all, my brother loved work on the farm. When I left he had just asked his sweetheart to marry him.”
“Really, when are they planning the wedding for?”
“That was four years ago, I’m pretty sure they’re married with kids by now.”
“You haven’t visited since.”
“We move in different circles,” Ravel replied quietly. “I doubt I’ll ever be suited to have a family. I prefer being alone, socialising is painful.”
“Perhaps you just haven’t met the right people yet?”
“Anything that can talk, have motives or worries, should be avoided by myself.”
Prynda fell quiet, a frown furrowed across her brow. Ravel was quite certain that he had offended her. Prynda tended to bite the inside of her lip when she was distressed or didn’t agree with what was being said. She glanced across at Ravel several times during the rest of the day, but didn’t voice any of her thoughts. Dervon and Marcy had a silent conversation with glances, and Ravel knew it wasn’t in favour of him.
They made camp when evening came, which was at the foot of the mountain range the owl bears had travelled from. The ground was wet and puddles made it hard to find a place to pitch the tents, without them sinking into mud. All kindling and wood that could be found was severely dampened by the constant rain and the group resorted to Marcy’s magic to start a fire. Animals were all in hiding and Ravel returned to camp with a few fresh forest berries instead. Beef jerky and berries made for an interesting cold meal but a warm pot of coffee had the group warmed up quickly.
Prynda and Marcy retired to their tent early and Ravel left Dervon on first watch and crawled into their own tent. Ravel slept undisturbed till one in the morning, when Dervon kicked him in the side. A large muddy boot print was left behind and Ravel glared through the darkness.
“Your watch,” Dervon whispered bluntly, crawling in the blankets.
Ravel emerged from the tent, stretching his muscles in an attempt to help wake himself up. He hadn’t slept so well in a while, and it was hard to rid himself of the grogginess of the rest. Ravel was happy to find that the rain had stopped and a pot of coffee was simmering on the fire.
“Perhaps Dervon isn’t so inconsiderate after all,” Ravel thought, rubbing his side gently.
Ravel poured a large mug of black coffee and sipped on it as he skirted around the camp. The darkness of the forest seemed to swallow everything except for the small camp with its blazing fire. Ravel yawned and his eyes watered and he wiped them with the end of his scarf.
A sudden smell drifted into the air, catching Ravel’s attention. He crinkled his nose from the stench and turned to the direction the wind was blowing from. Ravel glanced back towards the tents but then stepped into the darkness. He had been through forests enough times to manoeuvre quietly and he was alert to the sounds around him as he walked. There was a crash of branches to slightly to his right and Ravel dashed forward, picking up his pace into a run. He ducked under branches and jumped fallen logs, until he came across the obvious trail of broken branches left by the fleeing creature. Ravel paused, listening with alerted senses, but the forest had faded into silence once again. Even without any moon light, Ravel still had great night vision but that didn’t mean tracking was easy. Ravel followed the broken trail but the creature had stopped it crashing path shortly after it had begun. Ravel decided to return to camp after a couple minutes of silent listening.
Ravel stopped where the creature had begun its rampage and scanned the area. A patch of thick brown hair was caught on the trunk of one tree and Ravel picked it up. The fur stunk badly and was clumped together with a mixture of mud and dried blood.
“Well, whatever it was, it’s run away,” Ravel thought. “At least for now.”
Ravel wandered back to the camp and saw that someone was awake and walking around the campfire. He prepared for a telling of and wasn’t surprised when Marcy spun to look at him when he walked back into the light.
“Where have you been?” Marcy asked sternly.
“On patrol,” Ravel replied shortly.
“For ten minutes or more?” Marcy asked. “I was about to alert Prynda and Dervon that you had run off.”
“I’d be a smart man to run away without my stuff,” Ravel said, waving a hand towards his pack.
Ravel squatted next to the fire and poured another cup of coffee. Marcy crossed her arms and frowned deeply at him. She obviously expected an apology or at least an explanation. Ravel wasn’t in the mood to give her either.
“Protecting camp requires you to be actually at the camp,” Marcy spoke after a moment’s silence.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” Ravel answered.
“I’ll be informing Dervon and Prynda of your absence in the morning.”
“Do as you wish. Are you taking over watch? Because I’m quite happy to remain on watch for the rest of the morning.”
“If you mean you’ll be happy to wander outside of our camping area, then I best stay up.”
“I swear on the tiny bit of honour I earned at my duel with Dervon, that I’ll stay within the light of this campfire till you are all awake.”
“You had better,” Marcy whispered, pointing a finger warningly at him.
Ravel responded with a raise of his mug and reached the other hand towards the fire.
Little stirred till morning, when patches of sunlight rays began shining between the thick canopy of leaves. A chorus of birds called from the trees, welcoming the morning. Dervon emerged from his sleeping quarters first and stretched with a groan.
“I think I’ve come too used to sleeping on a mattress, even the ground softened with rain felt like a rock,” Dervon whispered, taking a coffee mug.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get used to it,” Ravel replied. “Though your neck and back may hurt for a bit today.”
Dervon punched him on the shoulder and raised an eyebrow.
“What about yourself? Sore from all that riding yesterday?” Dervon asked with a smirk.
“Hardly feel even the least bit stiff,” Ravel countered, with a shrug.
Ravel casually lifted from his squatting position, where he had been stoking the fire. He gritted his teeth as he did so and as soon as he had crawled into the tent, he began massaging his legs with a wince.
After another cold breakfast and yet another cup of coffee, the group packed up the tents. The horses were saddled and packs tied down, and then the group set out for the mountain ascent.
The weather was ten times better, yet the earth was still soft and soaked from the previous day. The horses hooves slipped on the steep slopes and the group had to dismount at times due to severe erosion. Ravel almost began to think it would be quicker on foot, but they soon came to a mountain path which was less affected.
The afternoon passed quickly, Prynda, Marcy and Dervon sharing a lively conversation. They didn’t even try to include Ravel in the conversation, as penance for his view the previous day. Ravel however was unaffected by their punishment, apart from the fact he now had a pounding headache from the constant noise.
Ravel was first to notice a smoky presence in the fresh breeze and quietly informed the group.
“Perhaps there’s a hut around here, I’d be glad for some shelter for the night,” Prynda answered.
It became evident that there had been a much larger fire than that of a cooking oven. The strong smell enveloped the air and the group continued forward cautiously.
The forest cleared revealing a flatter area of the mountain, a steam trickling through it cheerfully. The sight that met them was less cheery however, and they dismounted to survey the damage.
There was indeed a hut, but it was so totally burnt out that only a mere blackened shell remained. Luckily the area around the house had been clear from trees and the fire didn’t seem to have spread any further. A small garden was trampled and remnants of plants were bent over sadly.
Prynda bent to pick up the singed remains of a toy wooden horse and rider. She ran a finger over it gently and looked around her sadly. Marcy stood beside her, shaking her head.
“This is terrible,” Marcy spoke quietly.
“If you’re here to deal with those monsters, I sure hope you’ve brought a bigger party,” a gruff voice called suddenly from the edge of the clearing. “An entire army is what’s needed.”