Part Nineteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)
Part Eighteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 18)
The week passes smoothly, the bounty hunters and the villagers enjoying their time together sharing their knowledge and skills with each other. The wounded recover quickly and in a few short weeks they are preparing to leave the village and continue their journey. Late in the afternoon while Zsófia is inspecting their wounds, Luke’s voice broadcasts a message to throughout the village, “They’re back! The hunters are home!”
“I’m sorry, I have to go meet them. I’ll check your wounds after,” Zsófia rises quickly from her chair and with an apologetic bow dashes from the house. With her departure Vahkragg shrugs his shirt back into place and the pair follow her outside.
The village is alive with people, almost two hundred people have crowded in the centre of the square. Children reunite with their parents who in turn honour the elders who welcome them home. After weeks of the village feeling empty, the sudden density of people is a surprising shift. The hunters carry the spoils of their hunt, stacks of furs, tusks and meat representing a vast treasure trove for a community such as this.
Within the centre of the crowd Pan is being introduced by Jacob to a pair of hunters, who seem to be Luke’s parents. The elderly farmer’s wife notices the pair stood by the edge and waves them over.
“Jack, Aubrey,” she says to the hunters, “This is Telfor and Vahkragg, along with Pan they helped slay the Anathema we were telling you about”
Jack puts his son down and turns to greet the pair of them. Telfor can see the couple are both very fit, though still quite young. He takes the hand Jack offers as greeting, the hand calloused and strong though differently to Jacob’s or his own.
The hunter’s demeanour is warm and welcome, his voice booms with a practised volume as he greets them, “We are in yer debt, strangers. Without ye we I dinnae want t’think what may’ve been.”
“It was nothing,” Telfor’s dismisses gruffly, “I have a daughter of my own.”
“Then you understand why it weren’t nothin’,” Aubrey interrupts firmly, her hand on her son’s shoulder holding him close to her, “We don’t have much currency, but I want t’ repay ye f’r helping us.”
Telfor shrugs noncommittally, he always felt uncomfortable accepting payment without a contract but he wasn’t so well off that he could refuse. For the moment however the conversation moves away from business, as Jack says, “I have to go now, Zsófia will want me for the sacrifice.”
The hunter pats his son on the head and hugs his mother before heading back through the crowd towards the clearing in the direction Zsófia had headed before. The crowd seems to be slowly dispersing as families and couples leave for their homes and some privacy. Aubrey leads the group back towards Jacob’s home, insisting the three visitors join them.
The seven of them are seated around the table, Aria provides refreshments for the table this time including an unusual and potent alcoholic beverage unlike any Telfor had tried back in the kingdom. Leading the conversation effortlessly Aubrey establishes herself as a supremely confident and charismatic woman. She draws the story of the fight with the Anathema from them, praising their valour and praising Verumalleus’ sacrifice in particular. She keeps them talking about their fond memories with the crusader, skillfully maintaining the positive mood.
“I wish I could have met her, she sounds like my kind of woman,” she concludes with a smile to Pan who looks away into the distance. For a moment Telfor wonders if she had been flirting with the Revenant, but decides it best not to think to hard on. At least Pan seemed to be being helped thinking of Verumalleus positively.
The sacrifice keeps Jack and Zsófia away for of the rest of the day, Aubrey explains that the reason the hunt takes so long is the need to capture the razorback alive. Almost half of the month long expedition involves tracking, pursuing and funnelling the monster into trap. When a child is born or elder dies, one of the domesticated pigs is a worthy sacrifice but during the birth and death of the year, known in the kingdom as the solstices, the Wild God grows hungry and demands a meal. The razorback is trapped in a pit out in the forest, far enough from the village so it wouldn’t be a threat if it passed the pit on the first funnel.
When Jack and Zsófia returns the next night, Aubrey explains, there would be a huge party to celebrate the Wild God’s satiety. “I think everyone will enjoy having some outsiders to show off for as well.”
They drink well into the night, Vahkragg the only one remaining sober despite drinking as much as anyone else. Aria is the first to leave for bed, with Luke being made to turn soon after by his mother in spite of his protests. Vahkragg loses interest in the conversation and turns in closer to midnight. Telfor feels a pleasant lethargy from the drink to his thoughts. Trading war stories with Jacob’s hunting stories brings him back to his youth. As the older men begin to slow Aubrey takes Pan to continue drinking with other young folk, if he’d been a bit younger or more sober Telfor might have gone with them. He had noticed Aubrey’s flirting had started to be reciprocated by Pan and he was concerned it may lead to something.
In the end his legs disagreed with his mind’s suggestion to follow them, and so forced to leave it in the hands of fate the grey soldier bids his older drinking buddy a good night and carefully makes his way to bed. As he struggles with the complicated process of laying down his groggy mind pointlessly wonders as to where Rubin had been. Closing his eyes, as well into the bedroll as he can manage the pessimistic part of his brain thinks, “I should enjoy my rest, I’ll deal with whatever mess they’ve been making tomorrow.”