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Chapter 5

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Chapter V

Hunters of the Mountain

 

By the time that Codsworth walks in through the door with the wolf still over his left shoulder, he was sweating bullets and mentally telling himself that he was too old to carry meat up so many stairs, it had certainly been a wakeup call, as a few years ago, he would have been running up those steps. But those days were apparently well and truly over. It was at that moment when he notices that he was not, as he had first thought when entering the quarters, alone in the room.

Standing in front of him are his comrades; Lieutenant Barca Godfrey, his shoulder length dirty blond hair tie back behind his head. The nervous young scientist Jimmy Grey, looking thinner by the day, picking at the skin between his fingers. And the now fourteen-year-old Dave Wolfrick, his bright green eyes staring at Codsworth, and a faint line of hair above his lips. All three standing in front of him, clearly wanting to talk.

“I’ve got dinner.” Codsworth said trying to break the ice and hoping they would get whatever they wanted to do over with so that he could lie down.

“Was there any sign of him?” Dave said. Codsworth didn’t need to ask about who he was referring to, as the same question had been asked by either the lad or his younger brother, every time he went out.

“No.” Codsworth responded in a defeated tone and shaking his head all the while. “But I’m going out tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that. If that is what it takes to find your brother.” Codsworth continues as he sits down on a chair sighing to himself. But any hope for some peace and quiet was quickly shattered.

“Let me come with you, you need me out there and you know it.” Dave said pressing an advantage he thought he had.

“No Dave.” Codsworth said in a tone that indicated this wasn’t the first time this discussion had taken place. Before continuing. “You’re barely fourteen, you’re too young to be out there with only me to protect you.” The commander, however, couldn’t doubt that on the surface at least, the lad was right, he needed help, and even on the hunting missions, and it was now only the thought of what Vernon would say to him if he even so much of thought of allowing Dave to come out. Before the lad could argue back. Barca intervenes.

“That’s why we’re all going commander.” He said looking at Codsworth. “We’ll be able to find Martin much faster with four of us searching rather than just one.” The lieutenant finishes as he looks at the commander, he knew that Codsworth had appointed himself to complete the mission, but if he was now actively hurting his chances of ever finding the kid. Thinking on this the aged commander looks at the three set faces in front of him before finally relenting, at least partly.

“Fine. Jimmy, Barca. We leave at first light tomorrow.” Codsworth said looking at the two men, before turning his attention to Dave. “Dave, I’m sorry but I can’t allow you out in the field.” Codsworth finished however, if he thought that the kid would take this lying down, he was proved to be sadly mistaken in this fact.

“He’s my brother.” Dave said looking angrier. “I’m going with you.” Dave finishes as he stares stubbornly at the commander, who looks over at Barca, the lieutenant only nods in response.

“Fine, if you can convince Vernon that is. Now go and tell the rest that we’ve got dinner.” Codsworth said finally relenting. Letting Dave leave, thinking that he had won, either the old butler would accept the proposal, unlikely he knew but still a possibility, or he wouldn’t, and he could still claim that he had at least been open to the idea of letting the teenager come along for the ride. He pauses for a moment before turning to Barca and Jimmy unsure of himself for the first time. “I hope I just made the right decision.” Codsworth finishes as he hopes that he had not just sacrificed another one of the Wolfrick brothers to win a pointless battle against Vernon.

“You’re already having doubts. About the kid being with us.” Barca said looking slightly confused, he couldn’t understand why, yes Dave was young, and a tad reckless, but he had proved himself as a skilled hunter and scout throughout the entire quest north, even taking part in the early searches.

“It’s not that.” Codsworth said. “The kid knows how to track and has been an excellent scout for us. It’s just, the lad is still underage no matter how much of moustache he tries to grow. So, it’s up to Vernon to decide. I can’t make that decision for him.” Codsworth said, he was right on the count that Dave had been very useful to them. But he was also right on the fact that Vernon already thought that he was wasting their lives.

“The age limit don’t matter no more Codsworth, you know that.” Jimmy interjects, hoping to try and add some reason to the debate, when he wasn’t shut down however, as he thought he might have been he continues on. “I mean, Martin is proof of that.” Jimmy finishes, if there was ever a case against keeping people away just because of their age it was this, they had sent Martin into the woods during the battle, a supposedly safe place, and now he was missing. Proof that apparent safety didn’t mean actual safety. At this comment however, Codsworth looks up from his chair slightly weary and wondering why people don’t get what he is taking about.

“Aye. But with Jack still down south and Martin missing in action. Dave and Nick are all that Vernon has left.” Codsworth said looking grim. “I won’t be the one to take them from him.” Codsworth gets up wiping the sweat of his face. “Barca would you mind butchering the wolf. I need to go and lie down for a few clicks.” Codsworth asks as he gets up and Barca nods, allowing the commander to leave the room and heads down the corridor towards his own private quarters and catch a few winks, as Barca takes out a knife an begins to skin and butcher the recently killed wolf.

 

Vernon looks up from the table at Codsworth sitting directly opposite him, around him the others were eating whilst also trying to avoid the obvious tension in the room, it had become remarkably easy for them, however. As they had all adapted well to that fact and left the commander and butler to ignore each other in peace. That however, seemed to be at an end as, with a deep breath, Vernon utters the words that he never thought that he would say again.

“Codsworth.” Vernon said with a tone of wanting to get the worst over with. At this Codsworth looks up himself, having almost forgotten what Vernon’s voice sounded like over the past few months when they had been giving each other silent treatment.

“Yes Vernon.” Codsworth responds looking wearily at the aged butler. His caution was well founded as the last time Vernon had directly spoken to him. The butler had beaten him across the head with his walking stick. Only relenting when Charlie had pulled him off, that had been a dark day for the group and words were shared that had done more harm than good.

“You…” Vernon started hoarsely trying to get the words out of his mouth. “You have my permission to take Dave with you tomorrow.” Vernon finished and made a small smile towards the commander, despite the small smile on Vernon’s face, Codsworth could see that the words pained him. The same could not be said for Dave who grinned like a child again for the first time in what seemed like months at the news that he was finally going to be allowed out again.

He had after all, been pestering both Codsworth and Vernon for months now to be allowed out to go and search for his missing brother. And finally, it seemed that his wish had been granted, for months he had been stuck looking out at the landscape but forbidden from going out more than a few hundred meters beyond the city gates. At the news Abi spoke up, the twenty-year-old having been keeping up with the progress as eagerly as the rest.

“Where do you plan to go next?” she said looking between Dave and Codsworth, as she would have thought that the commander would have searched the entirety of the north by now.

“Down south.” Codsworth replied. “See if there anything that I’ve missed.” He turned to Dave before continuing. “We’ll be out for a few days. If you are still interested in coming along Dave?” The commander finished, although he was well aware that the kid was no stranger to remaining out in the wilderness for long periods at a time. heck the kid probably knew the lands surrounding the now ruins of his manor home, better than anyone ever had and did.

“I am.” Dave said looking eager. “I’ve been out for longer than that before.” Codsworth couldn’t argue with this. Dave had been the groups scout since their escape from Wolfrick manor and had been well known to leave the manor for days if not weeks at a time to explore the surrounding area before that.

“Aye lad. I know you have.” Codsworth said. At this Vernon looks at Codsworth a note of pleading in his eyes.

“Codsworth. Just fine him okay.” Vernon said. “Or at least fine some information about him.” Vernon finished, imploring the commander to continue on in his search,

“I will. I swear.” Codsworth responded not knowing whether or not he would be able to keep this promise either. Deep down he knew the only way they would find any information about Martin now, was if they could locate any black cars in the area, something that is less and less likely to find with winter now setting in. as he thought on that fact is brought back to reality by Nick Wolfrick. Whose bright green eyes bore into Codsworth as his brother’s had done just a few hours before.

“What about me?” Nick said. “I wanna go with you. I wanna help find my little brother.” Nick demanded as stubbornly as his older brother had done. The commander was going to answer this, but someone else beat him to it.

“No.” A voice from down the table spoke. It wasn’t Vernon who spoke, or even Codsworth, both having expected the other of issuing the rebuke. But it was Barca, sitting with his hands pressed together a few seats down from where Nick sat. “You’re still a child Nick. I know you want to go and find your brother.” Barca said seriously “But there are dangers out there that you cannot comprehend.” The lieutenant finished looking sternly at the now youngest member of the group. This went about as well as when Codsworth first rejected Dave’s demands to be allowed to help.

“I’m ten.” Nicks said. “I’m almost a man now. And I was the one who got us into this mountain in the first place.” Nick smirked at this, even though the effect was somewhat ruined by his still unbroken voice. However, the kid was blissfully unaware of this weakness in his tough façade and looked at the commander demandingly.

“Aye. Lad, you did.” Barca said, conceding to that point, and thinking that the king’s words to the lad on their first night here were perhaps right. Although he still wasn’t sure whether that had been bravery or foolishness, the two were often so similar in Barca’s albeit limited experience, he chose however, to push that thought aside as he continued. “But I want you to get to actual manhood. You understand. Plus.” Barca looked at Nick with a slight smile on his face. “If you’re not here, who’s going to look after the old man.” Barca gestures at Vernon quickly and Nick nods, accepting this defeat although he still gives occasional glances around the table to see if anyone was taking his side on the matter.

“But.” said Codsworth looking at Nick, who looked up eagerly hoping that the commander was about to overrule the decision. “I think it time that you were trained to defend yourself.” Codsworth finished and nick sat back in his chair, content to take this victory and decided not to push the matter in case he lost this concession.

“I’ll train him.” Charlie said. The twenty-eight-year-old scientist had so far managed to stay out of this family drama. She did not know why she had been so quick to nominate herself, whilst she had plenty of experience fighting. She had no experience in training. But she knew that Dmitri had wanted to have Nick trained up after Martin was kidnapped. She also happened to know about how Codsworth had armed both the younger boys before the battle against the hoard.

“Very well.” Codsworth said. Looking up and nodding to Charlie, who was starting to realise the enormity of the task that now lay before her, as she had no idea how good the kid was at shooting.

 

The following day dawned as Codsworth walked out of the quarters and into the main hall of Normanguard. Where Dave, Jimmy and Barca were already saddling their horses, with varying degrees of proficiency, Dave and Barca being able to do it first time, whilst the city boy Jimmy had to redo the procedure before getting it right. However, they were not alone as the commander saw with astonishment was Doraghek, who is deep in conversation with Barca about there mission. When he was withing talking distance, the dwarf turns around to face Codsworth approaching footsteps.

“Off so soon my friend?” Doraghek said, looking up at Codsworth, his thick beard masking the smile that was on his face. As Codsworth noted that the dwarf was also wearing a thick traveling cloak, similar to the ones worn by Codsworth and the others.

“Aye. We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.” Codsworth responds. “I want to get to the safe zone before the sun goes down.” This was an important part of the mission as they were now in the winter and would almost certainly freeze to death if they were still out in the open when the sun went down.

“Well then. Let us get going.” Doraghek said, before giving a short sharp whistle. At which a large hairy goat trots up to Doraghek side, looking as eager to get out into the open air as Dave was.

“You’re. You’re coming with us?” Codsworth asked, as Doraghek holsters his axe and a sawn-off shotgun to the goat’s sides and clambers on with ease.

“Aye lad. I’m going with you.” Doraghek said, turning around after attaching his weapons to the side of the goat’s saddle, the beast seeming at ease with the heavy weapons. “Your surprised at that I take it.” Doraghek said, but before the commander could answer Dave pipes up.

“Can that thing even keep up?” Dave asked looking curiously at the goat. Which he notices had a few scars along its face and body. He knew that horses could move at great speeds, and he wondered how the goat, with its much shorter legs would be able to keep up.

“It is a she lad.” Doraghek said not unkindly and smiled at the teen, like all imperials that he had met, they were complete novices when it came to the best animal to pick when travelling across the broken terrain of the north. “I call her Blizzard. And yes, she can keep up. In fact, you’ll be the one trying to keep up with her, me thinks.” Doraghek finishes as he mounts the goat, at which Codsworth looks at Dave and nods telling him not to argue if he knows what’s good for him before mounting his own horse. As Dave, Jimmy and Barca do the same. The five hunters set of riding through the gates and down towards the southern border.

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