The Hunt, Part Two
Swift yet silent, Admund moved through the brush. His father had been the royal game warden and raised both of his sons to be expert woodsmen. His skills grew over time and now, as an adult, Admund could track anything and move through even the densest woodlands without leaving a trace of his passing.
The slavers, however, were a good deal less concerned with stealth. They marched through the trees, speaking and laughing loudly, as though they were carousing in a tavern. Their wagon creaked and rattled as it moved over the uneven earth, the draft horses pulling it huffed and snorted in the cool morning air. Unlike Admund, the slavers didn’t care if twigs snapped beneath their boots. A few of them even hacked at low-hanging branches with their curved swords. They assumed they were alone and, on most days, they would have been correct.
Admund stalked them as he would any other prey. He needed to know why these men were here and, more importantly, where they were going. Slavers were concerned with one thing: profit. And, slavers needed prisoners to keep their purses full of coins. The hill country and highlands to the north were sparsely populated, but those few small villages would make easy targets. It was very likely that Admund was the only thing standing between these innocent villagers and a brief life of harsh, brutal labor. Or worse.
In addition to the dozen broadheads in his quiver, Admund also carried a pair of long knives and a small hatchet, more useful in the hunting and skinning of game than for combat with a man. Fortunately, these slavers were clad in nothing heavier than wool or buckskin, neither of which would keep his arrows from finding flesh. And, if things became too dire, he always had his father’s longsword at his side.
The word the horseman bellowed meant nothing to Admund, but his men immediately came to a halt. He dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to the two slavers who had come up to tend to the older draft horses. He paused by the door of the wagon and threw back the heavy wooden bolt that had kept it secured. The door slowly swung open—from his hiding place, Admund could clearly hear the squealing protest of the door’s rusted hinges—and the slaver reached a thick-fingered hand inside and took hold of something. Something that was struggling or squirming to get out of his grip.
“Tak! Ungterren ramu tak!” the headman barked as he pulled the girl from the wagon.
Admund watched as the girl—no more than twelve or thirteen summers—collapsed on the ground at the slaver’s boots. Under mud and dried blood, Admund could see that she was fair skinned, like himself, with hair that had once been the color of wheat and dark, sunken eyes that no longer resembled the eyes of a girl. No, Admund recognized that look. The look of an animal. A frightened animal that had been hunted, beaten, and broken.
The slaver’s hand tugged at the rope that was used to keep the girl’s filthy, homespun shift in place.
Admund, his ears attuned to the slightest rustle of leaf and bush, could hear the girl’s whimper. He could also hear the coarse laughter of the slavers.
Before the vile, black-hearted slaver could finish removing the broken girl’s simple, tattered garment, Admund had strung and loosed two arrows. The twin missiles flew, their path unerring, their final destination without question.