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Sinner hopped off the wagon. He shivered despite wearing his heavy cloak. Although the rain had stopped, a dense mist had rolled in off the mountains shrouding everything in an eerie gloom. The journey back to the village had taken longer than expected due to poor visibility and muddy road conditions. Looking toward the sky in a vain attempt to locate the sun, Sinner surmised that it was probably mid-afternoon.
They were stopped at the edge of the village. There had definitely been a fire. The smell of smoke still hung heavy in the air. Sinner thought that he had sighted the burnt out husk of the Blacksmith’s shop in the continually shifting mist, but he couldn’t be certain. It wasn’t the obvious signs of fire that had caused them to stop before entering the village. It was the silence. No matter how bad the fire, surely there would have been survivors. But they had not seen a single person. Nor was there any evidence of activity now.
He could barely make out the hunched figure of Rayn just a few paces in front of the wagon, no doubt seeing signs in the muddy road that would mean nothing to Sinner. Tinker said that Rayn was the best woodsman he had ever seen.
Rayn stood and walked back toward the wagon. Patty reared her head and snorted, a plume of vapour blowing out of her flared nostrils. Rayn stopped and rubbed her neck in order to calm her down. “The horses are skittish for reason,” he said, looking at Tinker. “The rain has washed away most of the details, but there are too many tracks. Something bad happened here. I can feel it.”
Tinker, still seated on the wagon, stroked his beard and frowned. “Arm yourselves, boys. It wouldn’t be right not to check for survivors. Let’s hope that trouble is far away by now.”
Sinner and Rayn converged at the back of the wagon and pulled out their gear. Rayn looked every bit the ranger with the quiver of arrows slung on his back, bow in hand, and a long hunting knife strapped to his waist. Sinner took only his heavy oak quarterstaff.
They heard Tinker rummaging at the other end of the wagon before joining them at the back. Sinner immediately noticed Tinker’s staff. He had never seen it before. It was a dark wood that Sinner did not recognize; strange runes covered the entire length of the staff.
Tinker noticed both Sinner and Rayn staring at the staff. “Questions will have to wait,” he said. For a brief moment, Sinner thought Tinker looked tired, but then his face hardened and Tinker looked like Tinker again. “Rayn, you scout around the east side of the village. Sinner, you take the west side. Stay in the cover of the trees. I’ll hide the horses and the wagon here and head through the village on foot. We’ll meet at the north road on the opposite side.” Tinker’s stern expression softened. “And take care, boys.”
Rayn gave Sinner a look that said that they were brothers, even if not by blood, before turning and disappearing silently into the trees. The words did not need to be spoken, but they would die for each other if necessary, for Tinker too. They were an odd family, but family none the less. Sinner turned to go as well.
“Sinner,” Tinker said, “Please, don’t take any unnecessary risks.”
“Don’t worry, Tinker. You know me,” Sinner said with a smile.
Tinker sighed and turned away.
Sinner heard him mumbling as he entered the trees and left Tinker and the wagon behind.
To be continued…
©Peter Wiebe 2012