“I wouldn’t trust a single one of them, my lord,” Tresk said carefully. From across the table Lord Sven sat in silence.
“And why not, Sir Tresk?” The old lord’s blue eyes studied Tresk closely. Once Tresk had heard that Lord Sven’s blonde hair was then envy of many, but the years had left the handsome lord with a head full of grey hair. The lord’s sons sat on either side of their father, but they appeared disinterested with Sir Tresk.
Tresk swallowed before answering. Hopefully, Sven could not tell that he was so nervous. “We lost sixteen men in the past week,” he said, forcing his voice to stay steady. “Sir Woden says that the bear must be dealt with soon, but I would not send such new troops.”
“Then we will send you to lead a group of them,” Lord Sven said. “You can take some of your best men with you as well just kill the bothersome beast.”
“The natives believe the bear to be their guardian spirit, my lord,” Tresk said. “They will not take its death kindly.”
“The people of Teol must learn to fear us,” the elder of Lord Sven’s sons, Lord Derrich, said loudly. “If we kill this guardian of theirs we will establish ourselves as their masters.”
Lord Sven nodded. “Derrich is right. Kill the beast, and the natives will realize just how weak they are.” He glanced towards the door of the tent. “You are dismissed, Sir Tresk.”
Tresk left the tent quickly. Lord Sven always demanded a lot from his commanding officers, and at times Tresk wasn’t sure that he could comply. Sir Woden met him outside of the tent. “What did he say?” he asked.
“He wants the bear dead,” Tresk said with a sigh, “but he still won’t march. I was commanded to take the new men with me.”
All around them the members of the camp went about their daily business. It was already getting dark, and they all tried to finish quickly. They’d already camped in the same area for a whole moth. Lord Sven would not give them the order to march. The men grew impatient, but Lord Sven still waited for word from the capital.
The last message they received contained dark news. The king had halted all expansion until he was done mourning the death of his mother. Some of the highest ranking lords returned to the capital to pay their respects. They had not returned.
“The bear should be easy enough to deal with,” Woden said, “but if we don’t move soon we might have a mutiny on our hands."
“It’s up to the king to send a messenger,” Tresk said.
“Lord Sven should send a messenger to the capital,” Sir Woden said angrily. “We can’t live on nothing.”
Shouts interrupted their conversation. A few feet in front of them a knight stood over one of the natives. The Teolan spit at the knight’s feet, and shouted in her own language. Tresk stopped the knight from kicking the woman. “What’s going on here?” he asked.
“I caught this woman sneaking around the camp,” the knight said, removing his helmet, and allowing Tresk to identify him. It was Sir Erin, a son of some lesser noble.
Sir Woden was helping the woman up. “The Teolans are usually sneaking around our camp for one reason or another,” Sir Tresk said. “What made you think this one of unusual importance?”
Sir Erin scowled. “She was acting suspicious.”
Sir Tresk nodded and turned to speak with the Teolan. Sir Woden had already gotten a name from her, Neveyah. “Why were you in our camp?” he asked gently.
A bruise covered the right side of the woman’s face, but other than that she did not appear harmed. “I was trying to reach the other side of the camp,” she said in lightly accented Arkacian. “The healer needs some herbs.”
Her grasp of Arkacian surprised Tresk. One of the foolish mages must have been teaching the natives more about Arkacia. They thought this all a fun experiment. He would have to speak with them. “Where are the herbs?” Sir Tresk asked.
Neveyah glanced towards the far side of the camp. “I couldn’t find any,” she said with a slight edge to her voice. The Arkacian army was not being very kind to the surrounding land, an army never was.
“What plants were you searching for?” Sir Woden asked. He was now standing beside Tresk. Sir Erin had moved on after Tresk questioned him. Hopefully he wouldn’t cause more trouble.
“I don’t know what your people call it,” Neveyah said, “but my people call it bearpaw.”
“I’ve never heard of any such plant,” Tresk said. “You might want to speak with one of the mages.”
Neveyah frowned at Tresk’s words. “Your mages surely do not wish to be bothered by one of my people,” she said harshly. “I must return to the healer now.” She turned to leave, and Sir Tresk didn’t stop her.
“Where do you think she learned Arkacian?” Tresk asked Woden. “I don’t think one of the mages taught her.”
Woden shrugged. “I’ve heard that their healer knows many languages. It was most likely she that taught her.”
Sir Tresk just stared in the direction Neveyah had gone. She perplexed him. “Shouldn’t you be choosing men for your hunt of that bear,” Woden interrupted. “I’ve heard it’s larger than a warhorse.”
“I’ve heard anyone who sees it doesn’t live to tell the tale,” Tresk said mockingly. “You will be joining me, Woden, and most of those green recruits that Lord Hael sent us a few days ago.”
“Why is Lord Sven sending the recruits?” Sir Woden asked. They were now walking toward Sir Tresk’s tent. A few of the men hailed them as they passed by.
“He believes it’s the perfect way to test their mettle,” Sir Tresk said.
“When will the hunt begin?” Sir Woden asked.
“Tomorrow at dawn,” Tresk said. “ I want this done quickly.” With those words Tresk entered his tent, leaving Woden standing outside. A moment of quiet was sometimes all that Tresk wanted. He sat at a desk inside his large tent and pulled out a piece of paper and ink.
He listed the names of the men that would join him at dawn. He called for a page to deliver his message. The bear would not be much of a problem. He was sure of it, but the hunt would only alleviate a bit of the army’s impatience.
Suddenly Tresk felt very enclosed in his tent. He walked out into the woods. The full moon lighted his way to a small clearing. Back at home, in the capital, Tresk would have midnight picnics with his wife in the woods near their home.
“What are you doing here, Arkacian?”
Tresk stood up and faced Neveyah in the darkness. Her eyes were wary as she watched him. “I could ask the same of you, Teolan,” Sir Tresk retorted.
“This is my land,” Neveyah said. “My people place no weight onto your claim of ownership. This land will always belong to us.”
“Not if my people have their way,” Sir Tresk said. Neveyah glared at him and then disappeared back into the woods. Tresk felt a little wary about her. She was too smart for her own good. After a few moments Tresk returned to his tent to sleep for the few hours he could.
Dawn found him at the head of a party of knights. Only a few were dressed in full armor. Most of the men Lord Hael sent weren’t rich enough to buy their own armor. Sir Woden rode on Tresk’s left. “We’ll have this bear dead before noon,” he said to Sir Tresk. “Then we might have some peace.”