They reached their camp from the previous night before the sun had reached its zenith, stomachs rumbling noisily.
“I will see to lunch while you scout around and see if you can dig up some tracks.”
“Ok.” Wain dismounted, tethered his pony, and started to walk deeper into the forest. But he stopped and turned after only a few steps, his face twisted in confusion.
“What?” The paladin looked up from the provision pack.
“Why are the tracks buried?”
“Well, you said I should try and dig them up. Which means they are buried and I don’t know how to find buried tracks.”
“They will not be buried.” Sir James stared at Wain for a long moment.
“Never mind, Wain. Just scout for tracks.”
“The normal, above ground ones, right?”
“Ok.” Wain wandered off between the trees muttering, “I still don’t understand how the tracks got all subterranean!”
Sir James stared after his muttering friend. Doubting Thomas snorted and he turned to give the pony a carrot piece.
“I swear, boy. Sometimes I think he is just plain dumb and other times I think he is just messing with me.”
Doubting Thomas whickered doubtfully. It did not take Sir James long to make a pair of bark bowls and start a hearty broth simmering over the small campfire he built. The broth was made from some salted meat and a few carrots shaved to slivers with his dagger. He was just pulling the bowls away from the flames before they caught fire when Wain slipped back through the trees.
“Smells good.” Wain reached for one of the bowls. He snatched his singed fingers back and stuck them in his mouth.
“Just off the fire. Find any tracks?”
“Yes.” Wain drew his dagger and used it to pull the bowl closer to him, “No subterranean ones, though. Only tracks of the strictly terranean type.”
“Do you even know what that means?”
“Yeah. Underground. My mother always said dwarves were a subterranean lot and I should steer clear of dwarvish lasses cause they would drag me underground.”
“Huh. I always thought it was their beards that dissuaded young barbarians.”
“They have beards? Like men? No wonder I’ve never noticed any dwarf women!”
“Never mind about the dwarf women! What about the tracks.”
“Oh.” Wain blew on his soup and took a sip. “They are all around the campsite. Big paw prints, with big, sharp claws. Something was circling us the other night.”
“So. It seems this beast is clever.”
“And cautious.” Wain slurped his soup. “It may be watching us, even now.”
Sir James blew on his own soup and meditated on his danger sense. He did not feel anything except for a vague threat from deeper within the trees. “I do not think so. But from what White said, the beast attacks at night. Did it leave a trail?”
“It did, but the trail disappears amongst a rocky knoll.” Wain slurped more soup.
“Really? This is ridiculous.”
“Actually, no. It doesn’t. I’ve just always wanted to say that and I smelled the soup cooking so I came back. The trail goes off deep into the forest.”
“Oh, well praise the Lord for small favors. As soon as we finish here we will trap the beast in its lair and slay it.”
Wain nodded solemnly and supped his soup. Then he whistled a brief tune, considered the notes and whistled it again.
“What is that?”
“It’s a song I’m writing, cause I’m instrumental.”
“You are what?”
“Instrumental. You said so. The song has words too. It goes, We’re off to find the beastie, the beastie, we’re off to find the beastie, where-ever he may hide.”
“That sounds really familiar.” Sir James muttered into his soup.
“We’ll kill him dead, in his homestead, smiting his mighty paws and vicious claws and…”
“Your tune changed.”
“What? No it didn’t”
“Yes it did. Your rhythm completely changed.”
“Cause it’s a different part of the song!”
“Right. How about you keep the song to yourself.”
“You’re just jealous because I’m a famous warrior who will soon be a famous musician.”
“That is exactly it. Hurry up and finish your soup.”
Wain slurped down his soup and wiped his mouth the back of his hand. He belched.
“That hit the spot. Thanks.”
“If you are quite ready.”
“Oh, right-o, me ol’ chap. Into the woods we go.”
- Serial Fantasy Story – The bandits of Dunn – Part XI (marieabmare.wordpress.com)