Snowlands; Warriors Domain

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3 Kings and Thieves

Many Hunters of the Wolf Kingdom would try to sell the majority of their game in Hunters Garden; a guarded field in the north of Fang Forest where a thriving market town had grown. As timber was local and abundant Hunters Garden had become one of the largest provinces of the Wolf Kingdom. This had brought many Wolves, mainly hunters and builders, all wishing to prosper.

By the time Markco and Hannah got there, their bellies were nearly empty and desperately in need for something to eat. Silas bounded back up to them from the oak market stores, a new knife with a sturdy willow handle at his thigh.

“Perhaps we may be able to hunt some other time? But for now I must say fair well to the both of you, for time is precious and I must return to the forest as soon as I can, for the sake of my living courters. We are not all as lucky to be blessed with a name as valuable as yours, Hannah.” He said before kissing her paw gently, slapping his own on Markco’s shoulder and walking off through the bustling Market town in the direction of its borders.

Markco and Hannah wondered through in search of a hunter with something to eat. Markco had suggested it partly because he was hungry, but also to give Hannah something else to do than relentlessly tease him on his performance in Fang Forest.

“Oh, my hero. I don’t know what I would have done without you. You were so brave and you fought so well. How can I ever repay you?”

“You could shut up for a start,” Markco said with a broad smirk.

“Cheeky.” Hannah playfully nipped at his shoulder.

“Ouch. You started it,” Markco glared at her through narrow, playful eyes.

While on their search they spotted a scrawny Wolf with tufted grey fur being haggled by some swordsmen on guard duty. By the looks of things he was very young and judging by the dull iron knife on his thigh, a hunter. There were two guards standing behind him, a hard glare in their eyes with their paws on their swords. The captain, a tall Wolf, was holding him at sword point. His hazel fur was covered by steel plates of armour and his copper eyes were like iron.

“Put it back. Put it back now.” He spoke the words so harshly that the Wolf he was threatening became frozen to the spot.

“I didn’t steal nothing,” The Wolf whimpered, his paws clenching tight by his side. The captain raised the fur above his eyes and nodded in a way that would make one think he believed the Wolf.

“Not just a thief, but a liar too?” He nodded while gesturing his paw out and gazing around at the crowed he had created like a preacher. “You’re not making this any easier on yourself.”

“I didn’t steal nothing,” The Wolf repeated his words, his glance darting at the vicious eyes all around him.

“He’s lying,” spoke out an older Wolf, pointing his large paws in the direction of the thief. “He stole Greywood from my stall.” A sly smile came to the captain’s face as he looked from the old Wolf back to the thief. He nodded to one of the other swordsmen, who upon his gesture marched forward and pined the thief’s arm behind his back in a horribly uncomfortable position. He yelped and from a distance Markco noticed a steel dagger drop into the snow.

“Now wouldn’t it have been a lot easier to just give it back to the smithy?” The captain sheathed his sword and began to circle round the quivering thief, kicking the knife back to the blacksmith who had forged it. He then swiftly turned to his two comrades. “Take him away. Maybe a moon cycle in a cell will make him think about his crime.” A white fear burst into the foolish thief’s eyes. His stomach knotted and sweat soaked into the fur on his face. Then in a single movement he brought his elbow back into the captain’s face and flicked snow into the face of the other two. Franticly, he began to scamper in the direction of Markco and Hannah still on his hind legs, many Wolves keeping out of his way.

“Stop him!” the captain’s shout was muffled behind his paw covering his bloody nose.

Like lightning Hannah bounded towards the thief; Markco had never seen her move so fast. His heart thumped hard in his chest as the thief reached for his iron knife and slashed it towards her, however his flailing arm was stopped and his feet were snatched away from the snow beneath him. Before the thief could blink his sore back had struck the ground, Hannah’s claws were digging into his chest and his own knife was pushed against his throat.

“Thank you,” one of the guards gushed as he rushed over, “may many speak of this honourable deed you have done.” Hannah said no words, but smiled nobly at them before trotting back to Markco, her face was alight with pride. Markco’s eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly parted. It might not have been the first time he had witnessed Hannah preform a stunt like it, however it never ceased to shock him how deadly his adorable lover could be.

“You should see your face,” Hannah playfully nudged Markco has she approached him on all fours. There was a twinkle in her eye and her witty smile was slowly growing across her jaw line. “Come on.”

The two of them continued to make their way through Hunter’s Garden, the growls form their bellies getting ever louder. Soon they came across a hunter sitting next to his stall. His dagger rested by its oak side board and fat, plump pidgins were pinned to the top of the stall with arrows.

“Good afternoon my young masters,” he greeted on their approach and quickly stood to attention. “What will we be having to day?” He asked even though the only thing he appeared to have on offer were the pidgins. Markco had tasted the flesh of pidgin before in the palace and to see them strung up like this did not seem unusual to him. But what had always puzzled him was how hunters managed to catch them. Curious about the matter and fearing he would never get the chance again he asked the hunter.

“With the right tools and great skill. Here look, look.” With great pride in his voice he tossed the knife to Markco. The hilt bounced of his paw and landed in the snow. He felt embarrassed, but the hunter did not stir at all, for it was normal to mistake a Wolf’s blessing from time to time and easy to forget that other Wolves could not hold the same tools.

Curious, Hannah picked up the knife and held it in her paw with fascination.

“It’s perfectly balanced.”

“Yes, yes. It’s designed for throwing. With the right technique it will fly as straight as an arrow. Just a few swishes of your paw and they drop from the trees.”

“Fascinating. We will take three of them,” Hannah studied the knife with great care before handing it back to the hunter. The hunter did not even need to ask for her name, for he was one of the few who knew what the princess looked like, and handed over the pidgins; bowing low as he did. Same as always Markco carried the birds for her, gripping them tight in his jaw.

“I’m afraid we are going to have to eat quite quickly. I need to get back to Solomon’s View before it gets dark, else farther will start to get worried.” Markco nodded in some form of agreement, the birds drooping from his mouth. “You can come too. Perhaps we can get you a room in one of the local barns, or even in the palace.” This was an exciting prospect indeed as the barns at Solomon’s View were immense. They were made of the finest wood and filled with deer and elk skin rugs, and bison quilts. Markco had only stayed in one once or twice, and the experience had been extremely pleasurable and civilised.

“You don’t have to waste any expense on me,” Markco waved his paw and smiled in protest.

“Oh no, I insist. It’s no problem.” Not wanting her to change her mind Markco responded quickly.

“Fine, do what you will.” Markco said, not in the least displeased with her offer, however he did feel a little guilty accepting it.

Markco could hardly say that he enjoyed pidgin. There was very little meat on the rodent, and what meat there was, was tuff and hard to chew. He left the third one for Hannah, who seemed to adore its rich taste; a taste which she had become quite accustomed to. The two of them left the birds as nothing more than scraps of blood and bone in the snow. The sun was far off to the west when they entered the forest, and very soon it would fall behind the mountains and bathe the forest in a warm red glow.

Markco walked through the trees, his feet pressing into the snow and the cold gently sinking into his feet. Hannah practically skipped beside him, sending particles of snow high into the air. Markco watched her, marvelling at the eccentric silliness her actions seemed to hold.

“What are you doing?” He asked her in adoration.

“What are you doing? Why are you staring at me you weirdo?” She said flicking up snow into Markco’s face.

“I love you so much,” Markco’s heart became lost in the words as they were swept so effortlessly from his tongue. It was something that neither of them really said a whole lot, as they both knew that one another did and neither of them needed to be reminded. It was also something that they should have said a lot more to each other. Hannah stopped and gazed at him as though he was a star.

“I love you too.” She said softly and buried her head in his fur, making Markco’s body buzz with a warm delight. The two of them walked south west through Fang Forest towards Solomon’s View. There was a soft chirp in the air as birds dived from the trees, and fluttered through the thin branches, and the beautiful sent of chilled air and pinewood filled the air. There was no hurry as the two of them made their way through this winter wonderland of tall trees and deep snow. However, although their surroundings may have resembled paradise, this did not stop the two of them gazing around every now and then just to make sure they weren’t being hunted. Top predators as they may have been they still couldn’t be too careful.

The number of spiders in the Forest had increased recently. This had not only made hunting a far more dangerous prospect, but also made it far more challenging for those who did it. The Wolf’s were now in direct competition with the spiders for hunting deer, moose and elk. And due to the creature’s ability to climb trees and spin web traps, the spiders had the advantage and were slowly diminishing the Wolves food supply. Luckily the Lake of the Blessed to the east was still flourishing with salmon and other fish. If the spiders really were becoming a problem then the Wolves could always switch stock. Either that or the King would send in the soldiers to take care of the problem. Knowing the Kings pride in his soldiers it would probably be the latter.

There was suddenly a rustle from the trees and above and more birds took to the sky squawking, there movements causing blocks of snow to thud down to the ground below. Markco shifted his gaze, and watched the white lumps fall and morph with the white crystals at their feet. Nothing followed their light pat on the ground. The only thing to hear was a strange silence that even the wind struggled to fill. Something was wrong, Markco could smell it in the air; he could feel it on the nape of his neck and deep within his stomach. Hannah could too; Markco could see it in her narrowing eyes. The two of them began to make tight circles, their eyes scanning deep into the sea of trees around them. Suddenly his ears were filled with a heave lumbering sound and the crunching of snow. He whipped his head round to the south east and something struck him hard across the jaw. He flew through the air tumbling in the snow.

A Bear coated in a silver armour as smooth as pebbles towered on its hind legs. But this was not much more than a blur to Markco. He had been hit hard and the world around him began to fade into a single image. A pain rushed to his jaw moments later, and behind his rows of teeth he could taste his own blood. There was a fuzzy image of another Bear knocking Hannah to the ground and hoisting her over his shoulder. She whimpered, before biting and clawing the back of the Bear. The creature threw her back on the ground and struck her. With a single yelp she fell unconscious.

Although dazed, Markco found his way to his feet and stumble forward to confront the Bears. He dived at the first one, ripping the flesh on its arm with his teeth. The Bear battered him off with his other arm and then unleashed his sword with fire in his eyes.

“You wish to die? Then so be it; you are not what we are looking for anyway.” As he said this he looked back to his comrade, a sharp look on his face as though to ask for confirmation. The other Bear dressed in gold armour gave Markco a curious look.

“No, don’t kill him. I don’t think he’s the Guardian, but either way I don’t see why we should take a chance. Let’s take them both and get out of here before the soldiers pick up our sent.” The Bear’s voice was rushed and faintly hushed. This passage was not much more than a faint mumble to Markco, of which he only managed to pick out bits and pieces. Kill him, and take them being amongst them. The Bear in silver stamped down on Markco’s ribcage and brought his hand down to pick him up. Markco could feel the crushing grip of the large creatures paw upon his shoulder, his black claws digging into his back, oozing blood. Suddenly a harsh whip darted throughout the forest, bouncing off the trees towards them. An arrow struck through the Bear’s upper arm. Roaring in pain he rolled off Markco and snapped the arrow off.

“Leave him Beorn. We must make haste before more arrive; quick into the trees!” His superior officer’s words carried with as much speed as his actions. The other was soon to pursue, sheathing his sword and lumbering off on all fours.

“Are you alright lad?” A voice echoed and boomed around Markco’s head making its owner’s sentence morph into a single word. A paw reached out of the blurred image of silver and white and smeared the blood away from Markco’s face with his paw. “We have to get you to a healer.” From here the world fell upon Markco and darkness swirled around as he closed his eyes and fainted.

*

Markco awoke in a barn made from pine, it’s sent seemed to fill the air and send him into a state of relaxation. A Wolf with thick silver fur and long golden eyes was sitting next to his bed. The willow bow on his back was worn; white scars like old hairs were streak down its brittle frame and its string had whips of deer hair flaking away like the petals of a dying flower.

“I took the liberty of taking you to Solomon’s View. I had to tell the Healers I was your farther; else they would not let me stay. I just wanted to make sure you were alright. I am Jaspin,” the old Wolf croaked with a deep warmth, comforting Markco like a burning log fire.

“You brought me here?” Markco made a pondering frown, now confirming in his own mind that he had been saved by this old Wolf. He nodded with the same warmth in his smile. “Are you okay?” Although Markco could see no marks on the Wolf he thought it best to ask.

“All the better for seeing you.” There were howls and sharp yelps sounding out from across the barn as healers attended to Wolves with problems and illnesses of all sorts. Bronze light flowed out of the healers hands and absorbed its self into the wounds. The wounds then began to slowly seal, and illnesses were expelled from the bodies of the poorly Wolves. Markco looked at the patients almost expecting his Hannah to be amongst them, however he never laid eyes upon her.

“Where is Hannah?” Markco tried to sit on the bed of bison hide but the Jaspin’s paw gently held him down. His eyes were narrow and his face was furrow.

“Sorry, who?” Suddenly his facial expressions lit up like a torch, “Oh you mean the female?” Markco nodded but he could not find his smile as the old Wolf was giving him a very grim look. “They took her. I’m sorry lad; there was nothing I could do.” Markco lay back down on the bed as an icy cloud of fear and sorrow grasped its hands around him and squeezed, and his heart felt weary with a heavy ache that could not be ignored, then in his head his world fell down and down until it hit another world beneath him. My love is gone? Is this truly possible? Then his mind began to recall the fuzzy images of the Bears bounding off through the trees with Hannah limp as a fish fillet.

“Has anything been done about this?” Markco asked, assuming that Hannah, being the Kings daughter, would have caused a massive concern if anything ever happened to her.

“Not to my knowledge lad. If I’m brutally honest I’m not sure anything will be done about it…” From that Markco leaped off his bed and before the old Wolf could stop him he began to head for the exit. “Wait, where do you think you’re going?” The old Wolf call after him, knowing that it was not advisable to leave the healers before one had fully recovered. However gut instinct told him that words would be no use here.

Markco exited the healers through a wooden archway leading out into the snowy village at the base of the mountains. Here the houses and barns were made of the finest wood and all of their occupants were of noble birth with many stories behind their name. It was here where some of Solomon’s most legendary soldiers lived, and of course Solomon himself. Markco looked up the winding path through the village to the palace, which had been carved into the mountain itself by the finest builders. Even from here it looked huge, it’s stony walls smooth and vast in length and breadth. Spiralling towers climbed up high from it, twirling to pointy coned tips high above the village. Markco headed towards it at a sprint.

By the time he reached the giant, daunting walls and gates of the palace, Markco was panting wildly, and his fur was damp with sweat.

“Holt there! State your business!” The guard at the gate rested his hand on his sword as Markco approached.

“I need to see the King!” Markco demanded.

“I am afraid that is quite impossible. King Solomon is incredibly busy at the moment and cannot be disturbed.” The guard spoke the words as though they had been taken from a script from which he could not deviate.

“This is about his daughter,” Markco howled, “She’s been kidnapped!” Silence was bestowed upon the guard, whom glared at Markco as though there had been some mistake. Eventually he told him to wait there before entering through the gate and disappearing off inside the walls of the palace. Markco lay down on the ground and began to scratch his claws on the black stone beneath the snow. It was the very least he could do in attempt to put out his frustration with the guard.

For a moment or two he did wonder if the guard was actually informing anyone, or had he taken Markco’s word as a joke? Then the doors opened and who should come out but the King himself. Markco got to his feet quick as a flash and bowed low before his presents.

“Markco,” he spoke as though he was speaking to his child, “I’m so sorry I kept you waiting. Please come in.” Solomon’s voice was a calm and soothing one, one which had been shape by experience and age. He gestured towards the gate with his paw before turning and walking through on his hind legs, his night blue robes billowing out behind him. Markco followed him through into a beautiful court yard, placed together by thousands of stone bricks. Vines smothered with blue and red flowers hung down from the balcony above. Soldiers patrolled around, some on two legs, and some on four, all of them gazing at the young Wolf walking beside the King as though he was his son. They whispered to one another as to what this could mean. Some questioned if the young Wolf beside the King was his youngest son Edward, but others said ‘no, at least it does not look like Edward.’ Un able to make their minds up they looked upon Markco as a mysterious outsider, who could somehow command causal audiences with Kings.

“I hear you bring grave news regarding my daughter.” Strangely there was little panic in Solomon’s tone as he shifted the arrangement of his robes on his left shoulder.

“Hannah has been kidnapped by Bears. I think they would have taken me to if not for an old Bowman who came to my rescue.” Markco said. Solomon glared at him as though something had been lost in translation.

“Kidnapped?” He exclaimed, “This is far more than I could have ever imagined.” He bowed his head in silence. “Was there an audience to witness this? Or were the two of you completely alone?” Solomon adopted a sharp look and a curious tongue as though Marcko’s next answer would make sense of the disaster.

“Besides me, only the archer saw what happened.” Markco’s words caused Solomon to cast his head to the ground once more.

“Then I fear this is far more than a political statement. Such a thing has not happened for nearly fourteen years. I thought that they had given up the search, but clearly I was wrong. I had no idea that they might have mistook my daughter for him though.” By now Solomon was deep in conversation with himself. Markco was confused, convinced that he had missed something out. As far as he knew the Bears had taken Hannah and were planning on using her as black mail, but Solomon clearly seemed to think that there were other reasons. “Come,” he said “it is probably best if we talk where we do not fall on preying ears.”

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