Some years later, but still during the Solar Moon, Lukas, a wandering mercenary, is in a forest hunting for game. He hasn’t eaten in days but hopes that today will be his day. If not he isn’t sure how much longer he’ll last without a decent meal.
The mercenary wishes he could say this is a rare occurrence but to do so would be folly. It happens more than he would like to admit. Yet, he finds it strange that he has come across no one on the roads for a good while.
The roads are the arteries that link the towns, cities and kingdoms together and are usually frequented by merchants and other travellers like him, at a minimum. But Lukas, the man with shoulder length blond hair and grey eyes, has seen no one.
If he were a less capable mercenary he might have to wait until he comes across the next town to seek out a meal but Lukas is an expert archer. Expert or not he will first have to find game to dispatch. And thus far he has found nothing while creeping through these woods. His bow is in his hands, as is an arrow which has been drawn from the packed quiver slung across his back and notched.
Lukas makes sure to keep his breathing silent and his footsteps soft as he edges deeper and deeper into the forest. He doesn’t know where he is, other than to say that he is in the northern half of the continent. Though, he is sure he has never been here before. It isn’t a surprise to him but it would be to others who seem to believe men like him have seen every sight this vast swathe of land has to offer. Such a thing could not be further from the truth, and Lukas has come to believe it would take him a lifetime, at the very least, for him to see everything the continent has to offer. That is especially true as he has thus far spent most of his life in the south of the continent. And he’d still be there if it were not for a shrivelling of work for men like him. It seems the southern kingdoms and city states have organised to such an extent that their affairs now seem to be in order. It still astounds Lukas to be able to admit that. But astonishment does not reward him dinner and so when he spots a hare hopping about a good fifteen metres ahead and to the right of him he cannot help but lick his lips subconsciously.
Now all he has to do is close the gap, without altering his prey. Many hunters would fire from this range and while his bow is perfectly capable of making the kill, there is a high probability that the hare will shift and his arrow will miss or it will go slamming into a tree. The former might not alert the hare, but the latter definitely would. So as Lukas has been in this forest for hours, he doesn’t see the point in taking such a risk. That is why he instead continues to edge forward, making sure to stay down wind of the hare so it cannot pick up his scent. To facilitate such a thing, the mercenary is forced to weave between towering green-leafed oak trees the colour of which are tainted by the Solar Moon as it hangs somewhere overhead and above the canopy.
Navigating around and between the trees slows his progress toward his goal. Thankfully however, the hare still seems entirely unaware of his presence. It’s the first blessing of the day and Lukas accepts it humbly.
The blond haired man is dressed in black dyed hide, which serves as a form of light armour because it is fashioned, at least across his torso, from sections that overlap. Lukas constructed the apparel himself from a succession of kills he had been forced to make many years ago. The kills had been of a family of bears who had attacked him without warning.
The mercenary had learned later that they too had been starving and searching for food and it just so happened that the first thing they came across was Lukas. That had been unfortunate for them, but beneficial for Lukas who at the last second sees a thick twig and manages to avert the inevitable crack that would have rang out had he put his weight upon it.
Lukas breathes a silent sigh of relief, but never takes his eyes off the hare who is still hopping about feasting upon tufts of thick grass that have sprouted through the forest floor. The tufts are scattered everywhere. Lukas isn’t sure how they came to be here, but it seems they might grow in the myriad spots where light has somehow managed to punch through the tightly laced canopy of leaves that loom high above his head. It’s remarkable but surprising.
Suddenly Lukas stops. The hare is still unaware of his presence but he’s close enough now, maybe four metres away from his target in all. And the hare is busily and greedily munching on a particularly large and lush tuft of long grass. Around this tuft and his prey is an opening. It couldn’t be called a clearing as only a few people would be able to stand within it shoulder to shoulder if they tried. Yet, it will benefit Lukas all the way. That is why he quickly and silently raises his bow and prepares to draw the string back and then fire.
The hare continues to snuffle and munch on the grass as Lukas draws the bowstring and then calmly breathes in and then out to help steady his aim.
A slight breeze forces him to adjust and compensate before he is sure his shot will hit its mark. Then he releases the arrow.
It sales through the air creating little more than a low whistle before lancing right through the hare’s neck, killing it instantly. The force of the impact rolls the hare onto its side before the arrowhead digs into the soft dirt that is the remains of the fallen leaves, twigs and other detritus that the trees have shed over some unspecified period of time.
Lukas smiles and nods as he slowly rises out of the squat he’s been in throughout his forest tracking and back to his full height. He slings his bow across his back and pulls the twenty centimetre long hunting blade that he carries from the sheath that is fastened around the thigh of his right leg. He hefts the blade, testing its weight as he always does, while closing on the dead hare.
A pool of darkness is spreading around the head and shoulders of the animal as one of its black eye stares lifelessly up toward the canopy above.
The animal is larger than he’d believed it to be from a distance. It might even be enough for him to have leftovers that can keep him going for a couple more days, if he rations the meat that is.
Right now, Lukas doesn’t care. His stomach grumbles loudly as he drops to one knee right next to the hare. He grabs hold of the arrow and then wrenches it free of his kill.
Lukas briefly examines the arrow and concludes that it is without damage and so slides it into the quiver on his back before going about skinning the hare. Lukas has no use for the fur and its sale would not bring him enough coin to make carrying it worthwhile, so he abandons the hide and then hefts the bulk over his left shoulder before stowing his knife back in its sheath.
Lukas can almost taste the wonder that will be roasted hare and licks his lips as he turns and heads back the ways he’s come. He hasn’t set up a camp yet, but he will closer to the road. Doing so is safer, not that Lukas needs the security of passing travellers. It’s just a long ago ingrained lesson that was imparted upon him when he’d been barely old enough to hunt beyond the safety of the village he grew up in. The village is long gone, burned to the ground by bandits, the very same kind that often seek the weak and untrained when they camp alongside the roads of the continent. Yet, they are barely a threat to Lukas. He is better with both a bow and blade than they can ever hope to be. Though, that doesn’t mean that he will needlessly engage in combat unless he needs to.
As he strides back toward the roads edge he is suddenly beset upon by a group of men. They surround Lukas, who glances around at them. He can smell trouble, yet they do not seem like bandits. After all, bandits seldom wear proper clothing let alone well maintained garb like these men are clad in. That suggests they are something else, though he knows appearances can be deceiving which is why he waits for one of them to announce their intentions, which before long they do.
One of the men, a dark haired man with a crooked nose and bushy eyebrows says, “Hunting is forbidden in Bovinden Woods.”
“I didn’t know. But this is a meal, not needless slaughter.” Lukas replies with a deep booming voice while indicating toward the hare that is slung over his shoulder. Blood the kill dripping onto the dry dirt below creating a recessed puddle.
“Meal or slaughter you have broken the law of the land. This is protected land and you have trespassed.” The dark haired man continues from atop his brown horse. His dark eyes locked on Lukas who endlessly glances around at the men who have surrounded him. They all have their hands on their swords.
The man on the horse speaking to him sounds like an enforcer, but the rest of them have a stance that is decidedly bandit.
Lukas admits to himself that he appears to be wrong. Yet he has never heard of bandits upholding any law. So either they are hired, by who the mercenary cannot imagine, or these words are lies meant to scam the unsuspecting.
“I saw no indication of such things. If I had I would simply have moved on.” Lukas replies hoping to outwit these men.
“None is provided. None is necessary. Everyone knows that while passing through Bovinden all hunting is illegal in the eyes of the Grand Imperator.” The man on horseback replies flatly.
“Grand Imperator? Now you’ve given yourself away. Bovinden is ruled by a king. That makes you common bandits attempting to baffle and confuse. So I will urge you to not push the issue.” Lukas explains as eloquently as he can achieve before adding the thinly veiled threat.
“You dare insult the eminence! Blasphemers are not tolerated here. So we will push.” The man on the horse thunders loudly.
Lukas sighs, releases his grip on the hare’s rear legs and lets the skinless corpse flop to the floor with a wet thud. He would have preferred to avoid this, especially as he will now be forced to clean the animal before cooking and consumption. But it seems these men, of whom there are seven, do not wish to heed his words and warning.
“Cut him down, with haste.” The dark haired man on the horse orders in the moments before the other six men pull their swords from the scabbards hanging off their waists.
Immediately Lukas recognises their form. It’s poor, sloppy and clearly self-trained. That definitely marks them as bandits. So there is no reason to drag this out. A conclusion can swiftly he brought. That is why in the blink of an eye he rips the bow from his back, notches three arrows and fires them.
The trio of projectiles claim a single life, with each plunging through their unarmoured chests and deep into their hearts killing them instantly. Before the remaining three attackers brandishing weapons can react, Lukas notches three more arrows and fells the second trio in exactly the same way he did the first, leaving only the man on the horse still breathing. And that horseback rider’s face is a picture of shock and fear. His mouth hanging agape as he breathes audibly with jagged breaths. It sounds as though he is out of breath from a long run, but he has partaken in no such thing.
“Who are you?” The man on the horse demands as he draws his sword, ready to attack.
“A man you shouldn’t have beset yourselves upon.” Lukas returns before pulling a single arrow blisteringly fast and then letting it fly two seconds later.
The arrow cuts through the air with a barely audible whistle before spearing through the dark haired man’s left eye and into his brain. The man’s head snaps back as a result of the force of the impact, but he’s already dead. That is why he soon flops forward onto his mounts neck, who is irritated by the sudden closeness and so turns and ambles to the right. In turn that causes the weight of the dead man to shift and then ultimately for his dead body to roll out of the saddle and then crash to the forest floor in a heap. The horse neighs, seemingly relieved by the quick shedding of weight from its back.
Lukas meanwhile sighs, his head low as it shakes from side to side making his shoulder length straight blond hair tussle back and forth. He regrets nothing. Instead he simply hopes his arrows have not suffered any damage, and that the cleaning of the hare will not take too long. He’s starving and would really like to quickly get the meat cooked and a healthy portion of it shovelled into his mouth to ease his hunger.
That is why Lukas wastes no time in quickly retrieving his arrows. Two are broken. He grumbles to himself at the discoveries before he begins to search the pockets of the man who had been on the horse. The others he checked as he reclaimed his arrows and they carried little of interest, save for a few coins which he pocketed for himself. After all, the dead don’t need coin. And unfortunately he finds little of interest on the heap of a corpse, except for a seal bearing roaring flames within a circle. Lukas doesn’t recognise the marking, but flips the wooden disk over to discover an inscription scrawled elegantly into the smooth wooden surface. The inscription reads: By appointment of the Grand Imperator of the Order of Sacred Flame, I am hereby bound to enforce the law of Bovinden without mercy or exclusion, and in a manner befitting of my vow as taken in the presence of his eminence.
Lukas sighs loudly this time. His voice rumbling as he does so. It seems the warning given was true. There is no way bandits would go to such an elaborate deception, seeing as bandits never plan on being cut down by those who they choose to pray upon. Yet, it is clear that the men had, at least at one time, been little more than highwaymen. Still, none of that changes the fact that Lukas will need to get out of Bovinden sooner rather than later. In truth, he wasn’t even aware of his presence in the kingdom. Though, the last he had heard it had been ruled by a king. He thinks the monarchs name was Porrison, but he can’t be sure. However, it clearly does not matter as something or other seems to have occurred to change that.
Ultimately he decides the warning is moot. The only threat against him is dead. No one knows where he or they are and he’ll be out of Bovinden in a couple days. It’s only a small kingdom after all. That is why Lukas reclaims the now dirt covered hare, slings it back over his shoulder and continues on his way once again; leaving the bodies of the men he killed to rot and fester. They’ll almost certainly be claimed by predators and carrion devouring birds that will pick up on the scent. Meanwhile, Lukas will clean the hare, cook it, eat it and then bed down for a few hours of rest before returning to his travels. He hopes this time he won’t be beset upon by any Order of Sacred Flame ruffians. If he is it’ll end the same way, of that there is no doubt.