“No offence, but you guys hardly look like you’re up to the task,” the gruff voice said bluntly.
The group turned to see who had spoken, Ravel did as well but a little slower. The gruff voice belonged to an equally gruff looking, bearded man. He was wearing a green, plaid shirt and dirty pair of brown overalls. A string of pheasants hung from his shoulders and a bow was held at the ready in his hand. He slowly released the tension on the string and began to stride into the clearing.
“Who did this?” Prynda asked, waving a hand towards the burnt hut.
“Who?” the man asked with a sarcastic laugh. “What you should be asking is ‘What did this?’.”
Prynda waited for the man to continue but he didn’t oblige her. She glanced at the rest of the group and Ravel just shrugged at her.
“Alright, what did this?” Prynda asked.
“Have you ever seen bones come to life, missy?” the man asked, coming to a stop in front of her.
“Can’t say I have. They’re usually pretty dead when I see them,” Prynda said, furrowing her brow.
The man nodded slowly and turned to the blackened hut. He pointed a calloused finger at the burnt remains and a growl emanated from his throat.
“They were pretty damn alive when they burnt down my home,” the man stated angrily.
The man looked across at Prynda and sneered at her.
“I had to send my family into town because of the threat, and the castle sends four amateur castle soldiers to help out,” the man said, spit spraying from his mouth.
The situation was escalating fast and the man was obviously putting the responsibility of the loss of his home onto them. He had lost everything to the attack and he was fired up.
“Actually, just for the record, I’m just a traveller not a castle soldier,” Ravel piped in casually.
The man glared across at him and Ravel smiled cheerily back at him. Prynda swivelled her head to frown across at him with a confused look.
“Not helping, Ravel,” Dervon hissed, equally annoyed.
“We’re part of the Lord’s personal guard, sir. Believe me, we will take care of the situation and you’re family will be able to return,” Prynda explained, trying to diffuse the situation.
“The lord and his idiot of a son were the reason I left that place,” the man replied.
“I’m just a traveller,” Ravel reiterated. “I hate the son as well. He’s a complete ass.”
“Indeed,” the man agreed.
Dervon nudged Ravel in the ribs with his elbow and Ravel responded with a scowl.
“The fact that you are the Lord’s pawns doesn’t give me much confidence,” the man continued.
Dervon and Prynda were becoming offended by the man’s brash words although Marcy retained a seemingly calm exterior. Prynda exhaled an irritated sigh and smiled forcibly at the man.
“We are here to help. If we cannot deal with the problem, then I am sure they will send an army after us,” Prynda said, slowly and carefully.
“You should just go and collect the army now,” the man replied slowly, as if Prynda was a child.
“I think we’ll attempt to deal with the situation first.”
“Typical, pompous castle dwellers,” the man spat. “You think you know better, just because we’re less educated than you.”
“I’m just an innocent traveller,” Ravel chimed in once again.
“We’re well aware of that fact,” Dervon hissed. “Just shut up will you.”
“I’m just saying, I vote for leaving it to an army of trained soldiers. We can go back, report in and I’ll get out of your hair once and for all,” Ravel said with a shrug.
“We’ve been ordered to sacrifice you, should the situation require it. So we’ll be trying that before anyone goes for an army,” Prynda said, smiling serenely in reply.
“I’m glad you have such a dim view on my life.”
“An order’s an order,” Prynda replied. “I’m the Lord’s loyal guard after all.”
The man grunted and turned away from the group with annoyance.
“Is there anything else you can tell us about the skeleton army?” Marcy spoke up calmly.
The man snorted and shrugged sarcastically.
“Since you’re here, you can go and find out for yourselves,” the man replied. “A person without a high education, like myself, wouldn’t be a reliable informant.”
He grunted once more and strode off into the forest again, assumedly to a makeshift camp. Prynda sighed and shrugged at Dervon.
“What a lovely sociable man he is,” Prynda said sarcastically.
“He is a mountain man,” Ravel stated casually.
“So?” Dervon replied.
“Well, it’s not like they come all this way up the mountains to be social and learn prim manners.”
“Then it would be the perfect place for you to live. You and he could get along very well,” Prynda teased, relaxing slowly.
“Well, he is my uncle on my father’s side,” Ravel returned quickly.
“Seriously?” Prynda said, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I’m jesting with you,” Ravel said, shaking his head. “You guys really need to learn basic sarcastic humour. We’d all get along much better then.”
“Or you could learn to be serious, and I would want to strangle you less,” Dervon replied.
“I’m open to suggestions, both ways could work.”
“I suggest we get a move on,” Marcy stated, firmly.
Ravel, Prynda and Dervon turned to look at Marcy and she was looking extremely serious. Prynda’s smile faded and the furrow returned to her brow.
“Do you think what he’s telling us is true?” Prynda asked.
“Despite his unsociable attitude, I highly doubt he would make such a thing up,” Marcy replied. “If what he describes is true, then we may indeed have to send for reinforcements.”
“Why would skeletons be taking over the mountain then?”
“We have to think more than just that skeletons are appearing. Skeletons don’t just form on their own. There is a likely hood that the main threat we face is a powerful necromancer.”
“The question still remains as to why,” Dervon said.
“Perhaps he’s just unsociable and doesn’t want neighbours like Mr Grump,” Ravel stated.
“I thought we were trying to be serious right now, Ravel,” Prynda said, glancing across at him.
“It’s not in my nature,” Ravel replied seriously. “However, if we want to discover more, I suggest we do as Marcy said and get moving. The attack party can’t be camped too far away.”
“We can scout out the area, although we may come across more than we can handle,” Marcy stated.
“You mustn’t have seen Prynda and I fight together recently, Marcy. We can fight off a party of goblins without raising a sweat,” Dervon said proudly.
“I know perfectly well how good you both are at fighting. However we haven’t dealt with necromancers before,” Marcy stated seriously.
“I’m sure they bleed just like anyone else,” Dervon said bluntly.
“The necromancer? Yes. But getting to him or her, through an army of undead, who do not bleed, will be a problem,” Marcy said. “We aren’t just dealing with the living here.”
“All we can do, I suppose, is to scout out what is happening and if we can deal with it, deal with it.”
“Sounds like a reasonable conclusion to me,” Prynda said. “We need to camp for the night, though.”
“I agree, we won’t be much good if we meet a group of skeletons in the dark forest,” Marcy said.
“It would be extremely spooky to say the least,” Ravel said.
Dervon and Prynda rolled their eyes and Marcy just blinked at him with a raised eyebrow. Ravel ignored them and strode over to where they had tethered their horses at the edge of the clearing.
Camp set up was achieved quickly and a camp fire was crackling away cheerily once they finished. Ravel caught several pheasants which meant that they could have a warm meal. Prynda took some of the trampled vegetables from the garden and cooked them along with the pheasant meat. Ravel knew that ‘Mr Grump’, as he had named the hut owner, would be less than thrilled they had taken the vegetables. Ravel also knew that Prynda couldn’t care less about whether the man was happy or not. The meal was delicious and left the group feeling comfortable and sleepy.
It had already been decided that they would have two people on watch for each shift that night. Marcy and Dervon would take the first watch and Prynda and Ravel would take over from them. Ravel was awakened by yet another boot to the ribs, but he rolled over as if he hadn’t felt a thing.
“Wake up, lazy bones,” Dervon yelled loudly into his ears.
“Do I really need to milk the cows today?” Ravel mumbled his voice thick from sleep.
“Yup, and all before two o’clock. Now get up, I know you’re wide awake,” Dervon said sarcastically.
Ravel uncurled himself from his cacoon of blankets and stretched his arms wide, hitting Dervon in the chest. Ravel yawned as Dervon glared at him and started to crawl into his own blankets.
“Have a good rest, Dervon,” Ravel stated.
Ravel reached across and ruffled Dervon’s hair, in the same way many mothers did to their children. Dervon pushed his hand away and pulled the blankets over his head.
“Go on watch, you idiot,” Dervon mumbled succumbing to sleepiness. “Keep an eye out and don’t leave it all to Prynda to do.”
Ravel rolled his eyes. As if he’d ever let someone else do all the work, he was a sarcastic ass not an inconsiderate one. Well… a considerable majority of the time.
Prynda was strapping a sheath onto the belt at her hips and then sheathed her sword. Ravel picked up his hooded scarf and wrapped it snuggly around his neck. He breathed out and a cloud of mist floated into the air.
“Sleep well?” Prynda asked in a whisper.
“It was perfectly adequate, until I felt a sharp pain in my ribs,” Ravel answered, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “You?”
“Not great, I allowed myself to think too much,” Prynda replied, scanning the clearing.
“Thinking is overrated,” Ravel said with a smile. “Do you think we have a chance?”
“We’ve never experienced a necromancer before. From what Marcy says, the risks are pretty high,” Prynda replied honestly. “However, I couldn’t have asked for a better team to be investigating with.”
“You guys are so trusting and close, it kind of makes me feel awkward.”
“You’ll get used to us,” Prynda said with a laugh. “You do plan on wielding a weapon though?”
“I’m capable of cracking some skull with my kicks. I see no use for any other bladed weapon,” Ravel answered. “I prefer hand-to-hand, un-armed combat, although the opposition can be armed for all I care. Don’t worry, if the skeletons attack, I will crush them.”