Arndt watched from a distance as the Paladin, Brand, interrogated the blacksmith. He knew it was an interrogation and not just a friendly conversation as his erstwhile companion had implied based off the apoplectic expression on the blacksmith’s face. People passing by in the early morning hours sped their gait to pass the scene in progress out front of the smithy. Arndt wished he was one of them.
After an extended bout of shouting on the part of the blacksmith which left the man’s face redder than the fire he had been stoking, Brand turned heel and headed back to where Arndt loitered across the street. The old paladin produced a pipe from his dark blue robe and proceeded to pack it. Arndt hazarded a glance to where the smith still stood fuming.
“We should move,” he said. The paladin harumphed as he proceeded to light his pipe with all the leisure of a couple out for a midsummer stroll. Arndt’s gaze darted around as he attempted to look everywhere but where his fellow townsman remained glaring. He trotted to catch up to Brand when he noticed the paladin was no longer standing right beside him.
“Where are we going?” he asked. Brand removed his pipe and used the stem to gesture in a vague manner toward the forest beyond the village. Arndt’s stomach grumbled, reminding him that the only thing he given it in the past day had been sour beer which he had summarily vomited up.
“Should we get some food first?” he asked the paladin, dejection tinging the request.
“For the Crown’s sake, man, we’re investigating. It’s not a merry picnic.” Brand huffed with indignation. Arndt sighed. The day began to look very long from his point of view. He wondered if they might pass by the old blackberry patch that he and Jiselle used to frequent. The thought of his wife turned his stomach more than the rancid swill he bought last night. The fresh wound stung all the sharper for the memories. He pushed thoughts of blackberries from his mind.
Despite the cool air and the shade of the forest, Arndt found himself soaked through with sweat as the sun began to show signs of slowing its ascent. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, and his surroundings lacked a familiarity that gave him any hope of finding food to abate his hunger. Arndt knew Brand had not eaten either and envied the man his indefatigable resolve. He stopped to catch his breath. Brand disappeared into the forest up ahead. Arndt cursed and wiped the sweat from his brow before lurching into a disjointed stride to catch up.
Despite the brevity of Arndt’s respite, the paladin evaporated into the forest like a morning fog in the sun. The man should have been just past the moss covered trunks Arndt had noted when he paused, but the path ahead revealed empty air. He wheeled around, hoping that Brand had turned unexpectedly. There was no sign of the midnight blue robe through the gaps of brown and green that surrounded him. Arndt carried on, hoping that the paladin had noticed he’d fallen behind and waited for him up ahead.
The path he followed ended abruptly. Ahead lay a clearing in the copse he’d been wandering for the better part of the day. A burned out pile of wood sat at its center along with the torn up carcass of some animal. Arndt walked slowly toward the charred sticks. A sense of unease permeated him. The idea that this would be as good a place as any to wait for Brand crossed his mind unbidden. He stared at the fire, noticing a piece of wood that remained unaffected by the fire that consumed the rest. He retrieved it to find that instead of wood, it was an antler. He wanted to remember something about antlers, but his thoughts felt like so much fog competing for space. A strong desire for Brand to see the antler overcame him. He needed to show Brand the antler when the paladin found him here.
Apropos of: Arathania