An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Help for the Search Carvesh

Carvesh could not tell if he was more frustrated or frightened by his encounter with Ferron. Thinking back on it, there still seemed to have been something to the madman’s words, some undercurrent of truth. Whatever it was, though, he knew it would be impossible to decipher. Every question he asked was only met with another nonsensical response. Whatever knowledge or understanding was locked away in Ferron’s mind—if there was any at all—it appeared to be well beyond Carvesh’s reach. Unfortunately, that did little to relieve his sense of unease.

Mad or not, the other man’s words continued to echo in his mind.

“You friend does not look well,” said Lord Carwell once they were well beyond the limits of the stable yards.

“Ferron? He looks as he always looks. Mad a rabid fox, though perhaps not quite so dangerous.”

“He lives here in the village?”

Carvesh nodded. “There’s a small cottage that’s he’s been allowed to make his own. It’s not much more than a shed, really, but it gives him a place to sleep and keep warm during the winter months. He only ever speaks in these bizarre rhymes, but he can understand you well enough to do odd jobs. I don’t think he ever gets paid in real falcons, but the townsfolk make sure he’s fed and that he has a new shirt or new boots when he needs them.”

“That’s better treatment than he might receive in most places.”

“Maybe that’s why he ended up here,” said Carvesh. His mind went back to the time when he and Anya had first arrived in Kervale themselves. Though it had been his brother who had directed them on where to go, both he and his young wife had been drawn to the small village, where people respected hard work and privacy. As long as you performed your duties and kept the peace, your past—and your secrets—were considered your own.

“What were the two of you talking about?”  asked Carwell.

“Nothing really. He muttered something that caught my ear. It was just more nonsense though, like everything else he says.” Carvesh tried to sound as though his exchange with Ferron had been little more than idle conversation.

“May the Father bless him then,” said Aurin. “Look, here come your friends.”

Carvesh followed the other’s gaze to where Madik, Jadoc and Quelana were approaching from the direction of they Mayor’s house. The farmhand’s sword was once more strapped across his back, while the old hunter held his bow in one hand and carried a fresh supply of arrows in his quiver. For her part, Quelana appeared unarmed, though she wore a leather satchel over one shoulder.

“I hope you weren’t planning on going after the boy alone,” quipped Madik as they drew near. Beneath his moustache, his lips were curled into a half smirk.

“I hadn’t really given it much thought.”

“You know, that’s just the sort of thing that gets a man killed.”

“Somebody needs to find him,” Carvesh responded, suddenly feeling rather sheepish. Upon hearing that Dane was missing, his first instinct had been to rush out and find the boy. He had simply reacted on that impulse, without stopping to consider the dangers he might face. Or how it might effect his family. Not that it changed anything. His mind was made up. He knew that Anya would understand.

“Of course they do,” replied Madik. “But that doesn’t mean you have to go after him alone. We’re here to help. Henderick was always good to me. Let me sleep in his barn more than once, before I’d peddled enough furs to pay for board at the inn.”

“And he hired me on a few summers back,” added Jadoc. “Helping you find Dane is the least we can do to honour his memory.”

“And what about you?” Carvesh asked, turning to Quelana.

“You know why I’m here,” replied the healer. “I don’t want to assume anything—I pray that we’ll find Dane right as rain—but if he is in trouble… Well, he’s already suffered so much. If he’s hurt somewhere, I want to be there to help him.”

“They are all very noble sentiments,” interjected Lord Carwell. “Unfortunately, Carvesh is not permitted to leave my watch. As such, he will be accompanying me on the search. So that I can keep an eye on him, you understand.” He paused just long enough to offer a brief, almost imperceptible wink. “We were just getting ready to ride out toward the boy’s home. And, while it pains me to admit it, I simply don’t know these lands as well as I should. I’d welcome any help you could give.”

Madik raised one bushy eyebrow, but did not question the Lord’s words. “We’ll do wherever we can. I’ll fetch Winter, for a start.”

“Winter?”

“His pet she-wolf,” Carvesh responded. The words seemed almost comically understated. He had seen Winter with his own eyes, and knew that was no common animal. She was a northern wolf, one of the snowy pelted predators that stalked and fought on the Ice Range. Even then, she was said to be larger by half than most of her kind, a claim that Carvesh had little trouble believing. He turned back to Madik. “You think she could track Dane? We could fetch something of his from Chara’s house to get his scent.”

“No need.” The hunter smiled crookedly. “She knows the boy well enough, and she’s awfully fond of him to boot. ‘Course she’d be awfully fond of you too if you were always sneaking her pork belly.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, if I ever need to win her over.”

“Don’t you dare!” grunted Madik. “She’s already getting too heavy on the back haunches. A good long run is what she needs.”

“Where is she kennelled?” asked Lord Carwell.

Madik laughed. “You don’t kennel a frostback. Not if you have any intention of continued breathing, that is. She’s probably curled up under a bush somewhere. No need to worry though, she’ll find us when I call.”

“You just let her run free? With all the livestock around here?”

“Don’t have much choice. Like Carvesh here said, she’s a wolf, and a proud one at that. She wouldn’t stand for being treated like common hound. I keep her well fed though, and she’s knows enough not to go around killing the farm animals around here. If she hunts anything, it’s usually small game.”

“You don’t worry about her hurting someone?”

“Why would I?” Madik shrugged the question off. “She doesn’t feed on humans, so unless someone’s stupid enough to back her into a corner, she has no reason cause any harm. And if anyone is that stupid—well I’d have to say they deserve what they get.”

“It still seems terribly dangerous,” insisted Carwell. The concern was evident in his voice.

“It’s not so bad, uncle,” said Carvesh. “I’ll admit that I wasn’t so sure about her when Madik first brought her down out of the north, but she’s never troubled any of my cattle. To be perfectly honest, I’ve found that her presence in these parts actually helps to keep away some of the other predators—the ones that really would like to pick off a young calf or two. There aren’t too many animals that are eager to cross fangs with a fully grown frostback.”

“No, I don’t suppose their would be,” The lord still sounded unconvinced. “Either way, there’s no sense in wasting any more time standing here talking about it. We have perhaps two hours of daylight left. We had best be off. But which way?”

“Just start heading east,” advised Madik. “Jadoc and I’ll fetch our mounts—and one for the lady—then catch up with you as quick as we’re able.”

“How long will it take Winter to find us once you call?” asked Carvesh.

“Not long.”

“Good. We’ll start tracking as best we can until you catch up with us. That is, if my keeper will allow it.” Aurin responded with a single nod and a wry, half-smile. “Then shall we be off then?”

“I see no reason to tarry.” The lord extended one hand to Quelana. “You can ride with me, good lady. At least until they fetch your own mount. Banner’s a strong horse. He’ll have no trouble bearing an extra rider.” The healer hesitated, uncertainty written plainly across her face. For one brief moment, Carvesh caught a glimpse of something else there too—a flash of grief and pain—but it passed so quickly that he thought he might have imagined it. When she finally accepted the outstretched hand, however, it was with the same tentative care that one might handle one of the Kharnine’s great snapper fish.

The entire exchange struck Carvesh as strange, but he pushed the thought from his mind. Quelana was mounted and they had more important things to worry about—like finding Dane. With a quick flick of his reins, he urged Stepper into a gentle canter and began ridding east.

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