Beck led Nightstorm and Olwyan to the road. Stepping on the raised, crushed stone way which was covered by untouched snow, they looked both ways. The dwarf and man made road created a straight line through the forest and joined the two towns at the north and south edges. Beck let go of the reins and pulled up his hood, knowing he was best not be seen here.
‘I’m not sure which way to go,’ Olwyan said in a quiet voice, ‘I do not think I ran in a straight direction.’
Beck crouched in the snow and began sweeping away the top layer. Slowly, he moved to the centre of the road and went either side of Nightstorm. Olwyan which him, but could not see what he was searching for. She patted the warhorse, who restlessly pawed the snow. Beck came to a pause and stood up; wiping wet snow from his hands on his leather pants.
‘How many were in the party?’ Beck asked as he came back to them.
‘About twelve horse guards and two carriages with four horses each,’ Olwyan replied thoughtfully.
‘How long had you been traveling for since you entered the forest?’
‘A day. We arrived in the morning and were attacked in the evening.’
‘And did you see or meet anyone else on the road?’ Beck questioned.
‘Not that I remember, but I did fall asleep for some time mid-afternoon.’
‘Then I think you passed this way. The horse hoof prints seem to indicate that,’ he added as Olwyan looked slightly confused.
Beck took Nightstorm’s reins and walked the horse on again. The snow crunched less loudly under them, but the sound still broke the quietness of the forest. They heard birds singing in the distance for the first time and the wind continuing to huff through the tree branches. Olwyan looked at the small trees on either side of them, trying to remember if she had passed this way before. However, all the snow covered trees looked the same and with the ground freshly covered also, she could make out any land features.
‘What if we do not find them?’ she asked.
‘Then we make for the next outpost for the night and head to Erwood in the morning,’ Beck replied.
Olwyan kept quiet and breathed out heavily, to watch the breath mist before her.
‘You can ask them to set up a search party there. Though, if anyone did survive they will not make it another night out here.’
‘What if they found shelter, like I did?’ she pressed.
Beck looked at her over Nightstorm’s head and shoulder, ‘perhaps. If they did we shall meet them at the other outpost, for there is no other shelter around here now.’
‘What about the elven city? Surely you know where that is?’
‘It’s miles, days from here,’ Beck muttered, ‘if you can find it. I have only seen it twice after a month’s search both times. It’s too well hidden and the few others that knew the way have passed on now.’
‘I heard it’s haunted with the ghosts of elves and goblins that were killed there. They are locked in a battle to the end of time,’ Olwyan declared.
‘That may be so, but I have never seen any ghosts there.’
They fell silent for a few moments, till Beck spotted something ahead in the snow. He slowed Nightstorm then let go of the warhorse’s reins and came alongside him. Olwyan watched as Beck first drew a great sword and belted it around his hips under his clock before pulling out a long bow and a quiver of arrows.
‘What is it?’ she dared to ask in a whisper.
‘Don’t know. Hopefully, your party. Stay here and take this,’ Beck said and handed her his short sword.
Olwyan took it and unsheathed it slightly to see the silver blade beneath, ‘is this elven steel?’
‘Yes. Do you how to use it?’
‘I am not sure…’ she trailed off.
‘You might need to defend yourself,’ Beck cut in, ‘just go with your instincts and do not trust Nightstorm to do all the work. He’s more into fleeing then fighting now.’
She nodded and sheathing the short sword, stroked the top of Nightstorm’s shoulder.
‘Looks like you are getting better with him now,’ Beck pointed out.
‘Just a little,’ she replied shy.
Beck smiled and set off. Avoiding looking back at the young woman, clutching his sword and atop his stallion, he kept his eyes forward and stole glances to either side every few seconds. He saw nothing but bare trees and snow piles. Slowly, he approached the blue cloth he had seen buried in the snow, listening all the while.
He unsheathed his great sword as quietly as possible and reached the tip out the blue cloth. It felt frozen solid under the blade. Beck pulled it back, holding it in one hand as he moved the snow around with his foot. More the blue cloth appeared until finally, he picked the cloak off the ground with his fingertips.
He turned and went back to Olwyan with it.
‘Do you recognise this?’
She lowered her hood and looked at the cloak, ‘yes, all the guards were in blue.’
‘Then I think we have found your party.’
Olwyan gasped and made to get off Nightstorm. Beck stopped her, by laying a strong hand on her ankle.
‘No, don’t. Stay on Nightstorm, it’s safer,’ Beck hurriedly said.
‘But, Eric!’ Olwyan cried.
‘That was his name?’
She nodded and went still. Nightstorm shifted under her and she quickly gripped the saddle. Settling back on him, she looked down the road and could just make out the top of a carriage. She pointed a finger to it and Beck followed her gaze.
‘Come on,’ he said and carefully led Nightstorm over.
A few inches away from the snow buried carriage lying on its side just off the road, Nightstorm sudden stopped. Beck felt himself yanked backwards and his feet kicked up snow. He looked down and saw brown matted hair laying on the disturbed snow.
‘What is that?’ Olwyan uttered.
Beck crouched and rubbed some of the hair under his fingers, ‘its horse,’ he breathed.
Coming back to Nightstorm, he pushed a shoulder against the warhorse’s and moved him on with a wide berth. Olwyan looked back as a harsh wind started up and blew the top snow away, showing more of what was underneath. Her hand flew to her mouth and she swallowed a scream.
Beck looked up at her, attention drawn by the rasping of leather on leather. The hand in which Olwyan was holding his short sword was shaking badly. He muttered to Nightstorm, who lowered his large head to listen closer. Beck moved his hands further up the reins and they carefully walked on.
Moments later, the wind wildly picked up and threw snow into their faces before blowing the trees in a laughing like sounded. Beck felt something hard under his boot, but didn’t stop to find out what it was. Scanning the ground he made out more dead horse like shapes and few that could be humans. Gritting his teeth, he walked on, hand tightening on his great sword.
‘They are all dead,’ Olwyan finally forced out.
Beck did not reply and led them over to the second carriage, which as he worked out with a glance back had actually been in front. He let go of Nightstorm and walked over to the upside down carriage. Scrapping away the snow, he tried to look inside, but couldn’t see anyone. He dug faster and his fingers hit the sharp edges of a sword, he pulled it out and tossed it to the side.
‘There,’ Olwyan pointed out a few moments later.
Beck paused in his digging looked at the red cloak that had popped out of the snow. He brushed the soft powder away then dug some more. A face began to appear. He heard Olwyan gasped and snapped his head up to her’s. She had tucked his sword under her arm and had pressed both her hands to her mouth.
‘It’s him then?’ he asked.
She nodded as tears blurred her eyes.
Beck stood and went to her. He reached for her knee, but a low chittering sound stopped his hand. He quickly glanced to the trees and saw a number of small figures appearing from behind the trunks.
To Be Continued…