Savage Ep. 10
Happiness was found in the lonely wilderness over the next few days. Off the beaten track, the traveling Savages (Portia and Fayre, sister felinekin, and Velius, a harekin and former monk) progressed slowly, hampered by rough terrain and undergrowth. Their moods, however, were light and exuberant, not angered but gladdened by the obstacles of the wilds. On their own for the first time, the two felinekin had never before been inside a forest, and neither had the silent monk traveled so far from home. For days on end, they could choose to continue on, or to roam about, taking in the sights, or to break for a while to hunt, fish, or hold palaver.
All throughout, the three remained profoundly grateful to take the long about way. Often times, the three could be found lounging beside a stream, casting in hand-fashioned rods. They had very little luck catching anything besides reeds, but they found something to laugh at all the while. Or the capable monk might be seen teaching the younger sister to hunt using sharpened sticks, yielding about the same results as the mishappen fishing. Still, the young felinekin was grateful, and pleased to be accepting lessons from the harekin whom she so fondly looked up to. He quickly became like a bigger brother to her, in much the way that Felhaan had been in her prior life.
In the wilds, with Velius' resourcefulness, they never went hungry, despite Fayre's disastrous attempts to procure her own food. His harekin nose could always sniff out herbs and greens, ideal for consumption, as well as any wild berries that might be growing nearby. Often times, they took wide detours out of their way, all of them following his nose to a large bush, over-flowing with ripe berries. That, and the occasional wild game that Velius would skewer with hand-carved spears, kept each of them well fed.
Never did Velius take charge, nor did he accept the position when Fayre would ask. He was content simply doing what was necessary for the benefit of the whole, but in no way did he feel qualified enough to take charge. Thus, the group survived without a leader, deciding on what action to take by polling the others.
It was on the fifth day of traveling through the wilds that older sister Portia, standing guard over the other two while they fished, heard a disturbance behind her. Turning her head, she saw only bushes and undergrowth, yet she nevertheless felt as if she were being watched.
Stepping forward, Portia was about to notify the others of this when Fayre burst out in sudden excitement.
“I caught one, I caught one!”
Indeed, half disbelieving as she was, Portia rushed over to see a good size fish dangling off the end of Fayre's line. It was perhaps as long as eight inches, and hanging there as stark as the noonday sun.
Fayre, the fish and rod forgotten completely, jumped up from the ground, squealing and hollering like a fool, before running over to Portia, grabbing her paws, and spinning her in rapid circles.
“I caught one, I caught one!”
“Had you?” Portia replied in jest, still paw in paw with her younger sister as she spun around maddeningly fast. “I hadn't noticed.”
At length, Fayre released, rushing over to Velius and squashing him in an enormous hug. Portia, meanwhile, paw to her forehead, waited for the world to stop spinning before standing upright once more. A moment later, her dizziness passed, Portia went to free Velius from Fayre's strangling bear hug. She thought the poor monk was beginning to look a little blue in the face.
And in all this excitement, the fish itself had nearly flopped its way back toward freedom. At the last moment, Portia grabbed the rod and yanked it away from the bank, the unlucky fish flying in its wake.
Fayre, realizing her mistake, released the harekin, taking the catch from Portia and holding it proudly, beaming up at her.
“I caught one!”
“Yes, I had heard. Now, go get all messy cleaning it so we can eat the little bastard later.”
And Fayre was away, bolting to the other side of camp. She grabbed Velius' knife and worked in a trance, scaling the fish with vigor. And the entire time she worked, she had that big grin stuck on her face.
It was evident that she really couldn't have been prouder than she was at that moment.
Portia meandered over to Velius, who was brushing the dust off his knees. His brown traveling cloak had become quite filthy during all this hiking, not to mention his lessons teaching Fayre how to hunt and fish.
“Silent,” Portia called. Velius responded, looking up to meet her gaze. “A word, if you would.”
Portia, over the course of the last week, had taken to calling Velius everything except his name. At first it was Inept, but having saved the foxkin and kept all of them from certain death, not to mention foraging and hunting so that the lot of them could eat, it no longer seemed an appropriate title. Then there was Mute Boy, which Portia fancied, but it just didn't flow off the tongue well. Mute Boy changed to Silent Boy, which eventually just became plain ol' Silent. That title stuck, and Velius didn't mind, so to Portia, that had become his new name.
Portia and 'Silent' trailed the riverbank well out of earshot of Fayre. Once there, Portia jumped right into the heart of the matter.
“I think we're being followed.”
To this, Velius hardly had any reaction at all. He just gave a slight nod of his head and looked out across the water.
Velius slowly reached down and pulled from the pocket of his traveling cloak his parchment and quill set, which he had taken to carrying around with him, lest he be excluded from the conversation.
His written reply was simple: Three days.
“It's been following us for three days?”
Velius shrugged lightly, an expression that clearly read 'give or take.'
“Well, who is it?” Portia demanded, her voice carrying an undertone of anger. “Why have we not done anything about it?”
Velius, unphased by Portia's uttered wrath, put ink to parchment once more.
You know who it is.
Portia stared at his response a moment before looking up at his face. In it, she saw no traces of jest, nor of sarcasm or insincerity of any kind. The silent, little fool was serious about it.
“After taking off like that, why would she follow us?” Portia demanded, taking a good hard look at the terrain around them. She peered around every tree and bush she could find without catching sight of her.
“You're certain? Of course you're certain, you don't bullshit around with stuff like this. Damn the woman!”
She clenched her paws together, the muscles of her body becoming rigid in anger. If that crazed bitch were to hurt any of them again, she would beat her senseless.
A slip of parchment handed to her brought Portia back to the present. She calmed down enough to take and read it.
If she wanted to attack again, she would have done so by now.
“Well, then, what the hell does she want?” Portia raged.
To answer her question, Velius pointed toward Fayre; more specifically, he pointed toward the fish she was currently carving.
“Food,” Portia reasoned. “You mean, she's just hungry?”
Her reply came on parchment once more.
She's spent most, if not all of her life in containment. Like you and Fayre, she only escaped recently, and can not fend for herself in the wild.
“I'd almost feel bad for her, if I didn't want to strangle her tiny little neck so bad,” Portia shot back. “What do you intend to do?”
Velius 'walked' two of the pads on his paw through the air, then pointed north.
“Keep on hiking toward the trading post, Raestall, and let her fend for herself,” Portia translated. “Should we tell Fayre?”
To this, Velius shook his head. No need to worry her over it, Portia reasoned. Unless the bitch showed herself and tried something stupid.
And so they let the matter drop. Portia and Velius returned to assist Fayre, and in a little while, they had the fish prepared and ready to eat, as well as some greens Velius had boiled. They ate, buried the fire, and moved on, but not before Velius had doubled back briefly to lay out a sampling of fish and herbs upon a bed of sticks. He had been leaving breadcrumbs in this fashion, unbenounced to the others, nearly every day that they had been hiking. He suspected that, even if he were not leaving nourishment for the foxkin, that she would have followed them anyway, scouring into their camp during the night. Hunger and desperation would have led to an open confrontation by now. But by leaving food in secret, Portia had not even noticed up until just now, and the foxkin had not been forced to show herself.
Velius' offerings left behind, he hurried to catch up with the group, lest they take notice and begin to question his absences.
Tucked behind the crowded stalls at the center of Raestall, behind the shuffle of the crowd and the steady flow of hunters and trappers, sat a squat, little cabin, complete with thick timber walls, stone chimney, and green-tinted glass in the tiny windows. Inside this small wooden abode was only a single room, a room which was mysteriously lacking of any large furniture or devices for living. There was a simple square table, little more than an inch-thick slab upon four rods, with enough seating around it for six. There were cupboards, where inside there would usually be kept ingredients for food preparation. And at one corner sat, as it would in most homes in Raestall, a wooden keg of dark brew.
What made this particular home unique, aside from its sparse furniture, was a trapdoor hidden in the planks of the floor. Leading down from this door was a long earthen tunnel at a harsh angle, blanketed with lumbered stairs and dotted with the occasional wall sconce.
The tunnel, through dim candlelight, led down a good ways into the earth. At its length, a large square room stretched out, with a low dirt ceiling kept aloft by heavy planks, set into orderly rows. A tree root or spider's web would hang down at random around the room.
The light here was more lacking than that of the stairwell, and did a poor job of illuminating the implements of torture kept here. Blood-stained tables and racks lined the walls, along with grim-looking chains and hooks protruding from the walls. The air was thick and oppressive, burdened by too many sweating bodies and too little ventilation.
And standing at the center of this wretched chamber of suffering, there was a man as large and vile as they come, even by hogkin standards. His girth was wide; his belly rolling in waves beneath an ancient tunic, discolored and stretched beyond logistic bounds. His wide breeches, held up with a tied rope, were dirty beyond all comprehension, soiled with a volatile and harsh-smelling composition of blood, sweat, and booze. Wiry strands of hair protruded from an ugly, mishappen head, in front of which grew a grotesque snout. Large growths of warts dotted his head. An evil leer full of tusks and spittle was affixed to his face, transforming his hog-like features into a truly horrific complexion.
And his odor was twice as bad as his looks.
The man's name was Mordred the Savage, for truly he was a brutal man compared to either Slaver or Savage.
Many of the people within Raestall did not know of his existence, for they did little more than pass through again in a few days time. Those that lived there, those that did hear of him, pretended to have not heard. He amounted to any law that the small town might have, but only inadvertently. The citizens of Raestall minded their manners and their own lest they accidentally catch his attention.
Since settling down in Raestall some years earlier, rumors began to fly about the hogkin's sadistic pleasures that he extracts from others. Horrible torturing and executions happened under his beady eye, of this, they were certain. But any substantial evidence of it was impossible to claim. All of Mordred's victims either died within his secret chambers, or were chased away, kept on the run by fear of death.
And it was this man's eyes and ears, working under him up in the streets of Raestall, that caught wind of the explosions in nearby Stonetide, and of three criminals at run from the law. Upon hearing this, he became immediately interested in them, for he had not had the privilege of working on fresh subjects for a very long time.