The smell of burning hickory and meat clashed with the clean moisture of the river. An army of invisible crickets and frogs sang an unending quiet song as Marcus sat on a rocky outcropping near a river. A simple looking wooden bow slung behind him resting on stone.
Rustling of leaves betrayed the movement of a rather large man trying desperately to push through the brush. Cursing under his breath, he finally broke through the line of pines and ruffage that lay a handful of meters from the river's edge.
“Bloody fine place you picked to relax. Food's ready ya emo bastard.”
Marcus turned only his head towards Carney. The slow whisper of water flowing made it easier to deal with looking at an enemy who became a friend within a matter of hours.
“Not sure if I'm hungry.”
Carney brushed his hand over his bald head and gave a disapproving snort. Stepping down with ease from the wooded outcropping, he found it hard to get a proper foothold on the loose rocks being nearly eight feet tall. The fact that he was wearing a simple sleeveless tunic and shorts didn't help his trek through the woods, and his sandals are betraying him on uneven ground. Not the sharpest sword in the barracks, but not someone you want to underestimate either.
“Don't give me that crap boyo. Ye haven't eaten since the border skirmish. That was three days ago.”
Carney managed to slowly make his way over to wobble on a stone just behind Marcus.
“Carney, I've got bigger things on my mind. I'm not worried about nourishment. I'm worried about leaving a border completely unde-”
Carney shouted with such force it caused the crickets and frogs to still in fear. Marcus was more shocked at the interruption.
“Aye, I get it. This whole self-pity argument. Ye damn city kids are just too soft in the head ye know that? Ye may have a tough outer shell and yer wits sharper than any I've seen, but ye're daft to spend time moping about it. Ye wanna know a secret there pup? I've killed a lot of men in my day. Many didn't deserve it. Even on the battlefield I always wonder if the men I'm layin' low really had hate for me in their heart. Were they really out to kill me? Or were they fightin' the people I worked for? Doesn't change the fact I've killed a lot of people. Right or wrong boy, it's reality. Ain't a damn thing you can do about it now. Now get yer arse off those rocks and come eat before I pick ye up and smack yer head on a few branches on the way back.”
Carney put a massive hand on Marcus' shoulder and squeezed lightly. Marcus sighed and gave up hope on having time to think about what had happened. It seemed Carney believed that was a bad thing. Maybe he was right.
"You're a pain in my arse sometimes, you know that?"
Carney took his massive hand off Marcus' shoulder, content with the outcome.
"At least we're not starin' down each others' blade mate. I'm quite thankful I don't have ye as an opponent. Not sure I'd win that fight to be honest."
Marcus looked back at Carney, puzzled. Carney was a formidable foe. Chainmail hung from his hardened muscular torso like an old favorite shirt. His axe was as tall as Marcus, and probably just as heavy. Thankfully he left that back at the camp. A light breeze touched the trees just enough to cause them to rustle.
Carney began awkwardly walking back over the rocks towards the tree line, while Marcus began to stand up. His bow clattered on the rocks, while he grabbed the quiver of arrows next to him. Slinging the quiver over his shoulder, he felt comfortable again. He always felt uneasy in unfamiliar territory, but having a weapon always at the ready made it easier.
Carney was stepping up to the small hill towards the trees as he stopped and turned back.
Marcus turned towards him and scanned the tree line. An owl hooted in a tree just above where Carney stood. It was a strange occurrence considering owls had natural predators all around the forests. In fact, it made Marcus uneasy.
"Do you see owls around here often?"
Pointing just above him, Carney looked up at the owl in the tree just above him. His eyes grew wide, and Marcus nimbly made his way over the rocks. With a whistle, the owl spread it's wings and started to take to the air. Retrieving his bow, Marcus pulled it from behind him and released the latch on the sling.
The owl fiercely started flapping as Marcus started to knock the bow. It was clearly no ordinary owl. The breeze picked up, and it gained altitude quickly. Marcus knocked the arrow, drew and aimed directly in the Owl's line of flight. Releasing as quickly as he could, he imbued it with air energy to ensure unfettered flight.
The bow made a comfortable twang as the blade tipped arrow released and flew with intense speed at the Owl. It managed to dodge out of the way, as the arrow flew past it. Marcus wanted to draw another arrow, but knew by then the owl would be out of range.
"Carney, that bird is a familiar and I have a feeling it's not friendly. We need to get-"
With barely a sound, a massive form burst forth from behind him and snatched the owl before it could get much farther. A blast of air swept up over the riverside and the trees shook violently. An elegant and terrifying screech escaped the massive predator as it flew away without a second glance back.
Marcus felt a light touch on his shoulder, and the overwhelming sweet smell of birch filled his nostrils. He knew that the flying monster was no accident.
"Well, that's a bit o' luck ain't it? A familiar ye say? Who's could it have been?"
Marcus didn't like the answer to that question.
"Luck's got nothin' to do with it Carney. We're safe for now, but we'd best be movin' elsewhere by morning. I don't like the sniff of this."
Carney looked at Marcus bewildered. A hearty laugh escaped the massive man which prompted Marcus to cock an eyebrow.
"Oh boy, what 'ave I gotten myself tangled into? Let's get back to camp and eat, then we'll pack up and get movin'."
Another breeze blew gently over the river, and the touch on Marcus' shoulder tightened lightly. A whisper came into his ear, and he knew exactly the voice he heard. One he hadn't heard since he was young. A girl's voice so sweet there was no mistaking it as she whispered one word into his ear.