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Chapter 20

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Chapter XX

Madman in the Forrest

 

Jack walks down into the entrance hall to find Codsworth along with Dave, Nick, Martin and Jeanie on horses alongside Doraghek sitting resolutely on his goat ready to go out on the hunt.

“Room for one more in this hunting party?” Jack asked, he knew only because Vernon had told him when he had woken up to find the quarters almost empty other than the old butler, who had at any rate been sleeping in the worn armchair.

“Get a mount lad.” Codsworth said smiling down. Jack effortlessly got onto a nearby horse and heads out of the gates along with the others.

Dave and Nick led the group, laughing and talking with one another, followed closely by Martin and Jeanie, bring up the rear was Codsworth Doraghek and Jack.

“I see you are coming out with us more and more Doraghek.” Codsworth said looking down at the dwarf who looked up from his goat, his hair blowing about in the early spring breeze.

“Aye lad.” Doraghek said.

“Any particular reason?” Codsworth asked, more out of curiosity rather than anything else, he liked the dwarf’s company, all the same though he was curious as to why the dwarf seemed to like theirs as equally.

“Truth be told, I’ve always hated the politics of my father’s advisors. I’d much rather be out in the field taking the fight to the enemy.” Doraghek said before adding more as an afterthought more than anything else. “Plus. It’s also a chance to speak frankly, soldier to soldier.” He finished looking up at the old commander with respect. Codsworth nodded at this, remembering his own time with Osmund.

“I know what you mean about politics. Give me a hundred enemies in my face rather than a council meeting.” Codsworth said remembering the council meeting he had been forced to attend and being bored stiff through all of them. At this comment Doraghek gave a howl of approval.

“HA! I second that brother.” Doraghek said, Martin and Jeanie looked back at the sound with caution, before turning back to continue their conversation realising that it was only the dwarf and thus no threat. After a few moments of silence, Jack turns his gaze towards the northern horizon and spots a collection of what look like black blocks set against a hillside, they looked odd, set against the blue sky that he knew instantly that they were man made.

“What’s that place up there?” Jack asked pointing at the dark shape in the distance. At which, Doraghek follows his gaze, a grin on his face. But when he sees what Jack was pointing at a frown creases across his brow and the smile disappears.

“Those ruins, that’s The Sanctuary of Aevilok, but most call them The Temple of the Spirits.” Doraghek said shaking slightly at the mention. Codsworth also looks up at the ruins, he had heard about the old ruins but had never seen them before.

“I take it that’s not for a good reason.” Codsworth said also getting nervous just at the sight of those collection of ruins.

“Aye, people go there occasionally, go to seek the advice from ancestor’s or what have you. Almost all come back mad though. Not somewhere I’d want to go back to willingly.” Doraghek said grimacing as he spoke. Both Jack and Codsworth noted the ‘Go Back.’ In the sentence.

“You’ve been there?” Jack asked looking at the dwarf with some awe, wondering what kind of madman would go to a place like that willingly.

“Only once, and I never want to go back.” Doraghek said his tone indicating both that and a wish that the questions about the temple would stop. Which both Jack and Codsworth did. But Jack continues to gaze at the ruins thinking to himself. ‘Maybe there is a way I can see them again.’ He continues to gaze for a few more seconds before riding off to the front of the group to join Dave and Nick.

Codsworth looks ahead at the group in front of him, Doraghek follows his gaze to where Martin and Jeanie were talking about something they couldn’t quite here from back of the group.

“Those two seem to have fallen for each other.” Doraghek said observing. “Certainly, the lad has at least.” The dwarf finished; he had noticed that the pair had been spending a lot of time together since their return from that awful place.

“Aye.” Codsworth said, he wasn’t sure what to make of it, whilst he was glad of it, and Martin did seem to be happiest when he was with his friends. He didn’t want the lad to become heartbroken if something happened. But before he could continue with his thoughts, Dave voice carries down from the head of the group.

“We’ve got a trail!” Dave shouted up from the front, the fourteen-year-old seemed to be happy at the news.

“Finally.” Doraghek said, as pleased as Dave had been at the news. Whilst Codsworth rode up to the front to of the small group to get a closure look.

“Can you tell what it is?” Codsworth asked hoping for anything but wolf, although he wasn’t hopeful on that regard.

“Not yet, we’re probably only half an hour behind it though.” Dave said looking down at the tracks. Jack looked at his younger brother amazed that he could tell that from a simple dent in the ground. The group pick up the pace following Dave who led until he stopped suddenly outside a small, wooded area.

“What is it?” Martin asked looking nervously into the woodland, whilst his courage was slowly returning, he still wasn’t all too keen to go inside, if he could help it. The woods glared down at them, looking harsher than the one that he had run into that day.

“Tracks just stopped.” Dave said dismounting and hunkering down on the grown trying to pick up the trail again, for a few seconds before looking up.

“There’s smoke in the distance.” Jeanie said looking at the tops of the tree where a small column of smoke came up above them. She had spent enough time on her own to know that smoke normally indicated people, and people normally indicated trouble. As Dave too looks up at the tree line, thinking that it was certainly odd, they were miles from the nearest settlement, and most would still be surviving on what was left of their winter stores.

“Good chance whoever’s over there has our food.” Dave said putting his hand onto his gun, wanting to be careful, he didn’t know whether the people inside would be friendly, but his experience taught him that it was almost certainly going to be the latter. He turned to Codsworth who had look that told him that he was thinking the same thing.

“Right. Myself, Dave and Nick will go over and scout it out, see what we’re dealing with here. Rest of you stay put and guard the horses.” Codsworth said and the three of them enter the woods, with only Martin looking relieved that they hadn’t been chosen to go inside.

 

Whilst the trio were inside the forest, Doraghek turns to Jack who was checking the scope of the rifle he had brought with him before noticing that the old dwarf was looking at his face or more specifically his bandaged eye-socket, he gulped as he had never been comfortable when people drew attention to his injury. But, before he could raise this with the dwarf, Doraghek asked the question that he would never get used to answering.

“Tell me lad. What happened to your eye?” Doraghek said, blunt as all dwarves were, whilst Jack was used to the bluntness of the northern people it still took him aback, normally people would make a comment, usually about him being a cripple, before lunging in.

“Gunshot wound.” Jack said hollowly. He saw no reason to lie to the dwarf, probably because Doraghek was also missing an eye. “You?” Jack asked, sitting down on a rock, having lost the feeling in his legs.

“Knife wound during a local pub brawl.” Doraghek said, shrugging slightly as if he had simply announced the weather. The silver gemstone in his eye gleaming in the sunlight.

“I hate it. Not having it I mean.” Jack said bitterly, he had never admitted to this. It was after all, the hand that he had been dealt with now and he had to live with it. Vernon had told him that after he had first complained about the fact. But that still didn’t top him loathing the sight of himself every time he caught a sight of himself in a reflection, at least until Erika that was. He stopped there. Thinking about that was still too painful.

“Really.” Doraghek said, he seemed surprised at this reaction. “I mean it’s proof isn’t it, that you’re a man, proof that you’ve seen combat.” Doraghek continued. Jack thought on that for a moment as the dwarf continued. “I mean, look at your brother here. Half your age and already having received his first battle scars.” Doraghek finished.

“What?!” Jack said looking at Martin looks sheepishly at Jeanie, who nods, before rolling up the sleaves on his coat to reveal faint black burn marks down his arms, they were faint, but still visible in the sunlight. “What in the gods name happened to you?” Jack asked, looking at what he knew were clearly electrical burns. Martin merely shrugged at the question, he was used to the sight of his arms now, even if he didn’t like it, despite the fact that both Herfouck and Charlie had assured him that the burns would heal in time, he wasn't sure if he believed them.

“Shock sticks. At the camp where we were held.” Jeanie said, gesturing at herself and Martin who looks at Jack nervously, Martin had hoped to try and hide as much as possible from Jack until he felt in the right place to talk about it.

“What… What camp?” Jack asked looking at his youngest brother. Martin still looking at Jack roles down his sleeves, before answering.

“After we left you in that town, the group was ambushed. I got caught and ended up in a camp for about eight months, I think, I lost track of the days I was in there for after the first few weeks. Would have died there to probably.” Martin said.

“And they electrocuted you?” Jack asked. Martin smiles, but no hint of it reaches his eyes.

“Among other things.” Martin answers, hoping to the gods that Jack would not ask what. Luckily for Martin, Jack said nothing, although that was mainly due to the shock of finding out what had been happening since his separation from the group. As he was mulling this over, Doraghek looked at the treeline curiously.

“Something must have happened, they’re never this long.” Doraghek said continuing to stare into the trees. Jack also looked into the woodland also getting slightly nervous. Whilst he knew that the odds said that nothing had gone wrong. It was certainty interesting that Codsworth and his two brothers hadn’t come out, and his gut instinct was telling him that something had gone wrong. Doraghek was right, they had been inside for too long, if their suspicions about people being inside the woods was correct. Whilst Jack wanted to stay and question Martin about his time at this camp, he instead followed his gut and decided to follow Codsworth into the forest.

 

Inside the forest Codsworth, Dave and Nick silently creep through the trees until they reach a vantage point where they observe below them a small clearing, where the remains of a small camp could be seen littering the ground.

“What the hell?” Nick said, the clearing looked like it had been hurriedly abandoned. When they had encountered things like this before, which in all fairness was fewer and fewer these days. The people that had inhabited said camp took great pains to leave the land the way that they had found it, as to fool any that would be following them.

The three proceed to head down into the clearing, their weapons drawn. Once they arrived Codsworth moved to examine a small fire that hadn’t yet gone out.

“Curious.” Codsworth said, more to himself than to the two boys, behind him a twig snap brought him back to his senses, turning around he saw a reasonably familiar man holding a knife against Nick’s throat.

“You two.” Forrest McCoy said gesturing at Dave and Codsworth, once the man spoke Codsworth recognised him, the governor of Bergskort, not that he was too pleased to see the man. “Drop your weapons. Hands where I can see them.” Forrest demanded looking at the two. Dave and Codsworth, look at each other, but do-nothing causing Forrest to press the knife into Nick’s throat allowing a small trickle of blood to come out, Nick begins to whimper slightly as he sees the beads of red down his neck. At this Codsworth drops his gun followed by Dave.

“McCoy. What happened to you?” Codsworth asked, the man who had been a well-groomed figure when the group had departed his town had become a man who looked worse than the average beggar, his hair now long and covering much of his face and a shaggy beard that didn’t look like it had been cut in months, his formerly neat cloths had become little more than rags and his face was covered in filth.

“Back up against those trees.” Forrest demanded, not answering the commander’s question, instead going through a routine that seemed highly rehearsed to Codsworth.

“Easy there. Let the kid go.” Codsworth said trying to reason with this man.

“Back up against those trees!” Forrest shouted and Dave and Codsworth walked backwards, although Dave was silently moving his hand behind his back. Not that McCoy seemed to notice as the former governor picked up the dropped gun and follows them, for a short while before pushing Nick towards them. “What you doing here?” Forrest asked looking at the three of them.

“We are simply hunting; we tracked a wolf here.” Dave said, out of the corner of Codsworth eye he could see Dave reaching for the knife he kept in his back scabbard. Guessing that the teen was obviously stalling for time, Codsworth intended to help, but McCoy was quick to answer the statement.

“Wolf’s dead.” Forrest said licking his lips, at the three imperials.

“In that case we’ll be on our way.” Dave said smiling, his hand now on the unseen blade. He makes to move forward but Forrest points the gun at him, causing him to stop, he might be quick with the knife, but nowhere near quick enough to strike and miss the bullet that would almost certainly come if he made his move.

“No can do. I’m still so hungry, I’ve always wondered what Imperials taste like. So sorry for this.” Forrest said now smacking his lips together before advancing and aims the gun at Dave who was nearest.

At that moment however, a thudding sound, followed by a crack echoes through the forest, as McCoy, turns around, the sight nearly makes Codsworth retch, an axe was embedded deep into the back of Forrest’s head, explosing parts of his skull. Forrest looks up to see who had thrown the weapon.

“You.” Forrest said as he makes to dislodge the weapon before he coughs up blood and collapses to the ground revealing Jack standing behind him. As Jack walks up to Forrest and dislodges the axe with no attempt at care instead ripping the weapon out and returning it to his belt, bringing bits of Forrest’s skull up as he took the weapon out.

“Thought you’d run into trouble.” Jack said looking at Codsworth, who looked at Jack in shock and horror at the brutal kill.

“Are you mad, what if you’d missed.” Codsworth said trying and failing to keep his anger under control. If Jack had missed then the odds were that McCoy would have executed them on the spot, he wondered to himself why the kid hadn’t just shot the man.

“I didn’t though.” Jack said looking around at the clearing, wondering why the commander was making such a big deal out of his kill. “Now where’s that wolf?” Jack asked before locating it a few meters away from the firepit. Kneeling down to examine it, the beast seemed fine to eat, so he picks up the creature and heads out of the woods with his brothers and the commander in his wake.

 

Jack walks out of the woodland with the dead wolf over his shoulder, followed by Dave, Codsworth and Nick, a thin red line on his neck and looking as white as a ghost, Codsworth couldn’t tell if it was because of the knife wound, or witnessing what his eldest brother had done. They found the others are waiting for them, looking curiously at the four of them.

“What happened lad?” Doraghek said looking at the four of them his axe in hand, ready for a fight.

“Just as you said. Now I say we get going, my brother’s going to need a medic for his neck.” Jack said, as he attached the dead wolf to his horse, before mounting the beast.

“What’s going on?” Martin asked, he could see the tension between Jack and Codsworth and wanted to know what had caused it, he had told them about his experiences, and he wanted to know why nobody else seemed to be returning the favour to him.

“It’s nothing little bro.” Dave said, he knew what Martin was like and no doubt that his youngest brother would ask again once they were back in the mountain and Dave hoped to wait until then.

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