Dawdwin was one of the oldest people in the freehold when Crinokk had made the arrangement for Adwin to learn the hunter’s vocation. The honorarium, old-man, seemed an understatement in his case, wispy white hair, gnarly joints and more wrinkles than Adwin could count. Dawdwin was of an age that few others ever reached.
Adwin had moved to the Lord’s Reserve, where the hold’s hunters were given leave to live and build small cottages or shelters in exchange for protecting the small forest and the neighbouring orchards. Very little hunting was done on the reserve, some took place around the lake, however most of the hunters worked in small groups out on the plains. All the hunters knew and respected Dawdwin and they made sure Adwin knew how lucky he was to be trained by one of such experience.
The hunters of Hadden’s Fort had used a variety of weapons, mostly light bows and long spears, while others preferred a crossbow or a broad-headed spear and a small number used heavier bows. The hunters mostly used traps, snares for small game and pitfalls being the most common for larger animals. As well, many of the hunters had dogs to help track the animals or drive them towards the pitfalls.
Old Dawdwin had taught him to hunt and trap, the crafting of basic weapons, terrain and weather hazards, how to find and build shelters and how to travel across the plains without getting lost in the tall grass. As well he learned which plants were edible or had healing properties, these were often collected during their trips and then delivered to the Sisters of Mercy or the town’s other healers.
By Lord Willik’s decree each hunter was welcome to a third of what he caught, a third went to the Lord’s Keep and a third was given to the townsfolk. Often on the large herd hunts a number of animals were taken at a given time, these usually provided extra meat for drying, a help through the long winters.
On the fourth day of his travels, shortly after the sun had reached it’s height, Adwin saw a large solitary tree, about a yat north of the road. The tree was mostly dead, signs of many lightning strikes marred its tall trunk, from here he knew that a small freehold, Predost, was only another half day away. About fifteen to twenty yat.
He debated investigating the tree, but thought it best to press onward. The wind dropped and the grass stood still, bird song was abundant and the day started getting hot. Spring was near its end. He saw a small heard of a few hundred bleek deer, called such because of their unusual cry when danger approached. Some people called them sheep deer, but other than a vaguely similar sound the slim plains deer shared no other traits with sheep. As mid-afternoon passed he quickened his pace along the road, making sure he would reach the village before nightfall.
Predost was small and on ground that lay low on the plains. A dozen homesteads crowded a long hall or common house near a large well. A modest wall of piled natural stones circled the dwellings, while further out a lesser wall protected livestock and crop fields. The people looked and dressed similarly to those in Hadden’s Fort and a few of them waved at Adwin. He waved back, noting that there was no tavern or shrines, no shops or industry beyond basic farming. As he came closer he could see that a fair number of the people were starting to gather near the well in front of the longhouse.
They were friendly enough, offering water and their hospitality, the local elder came to the front of the group and greeted Adwin in person. They talked for some time, as the sun sank towards the western horizon. As night began to settle the majority of the villagers had gathered and they ate a small meal of stew and hard biscuits. Then everyone sang the setting of the sun as those who follow the old ways did at every sunset.
Then the villagers invited him into their longhouse and a fire was lit, he and the elders sat closest to the fire and the others gathered around to hear what the outsider had to say. They wanted news from Hadden’s Fort and any other news he may have gathered. At first he was a bit uncomfortable being the centre of attention, but he remembered his own hunger for stories from beyond the walls of home. In exchange for his stories the locals told him what they knew of the road westward. If he kept to the main road he would reach Aramy Crossroads in about an eight-day. The Kaymere ruins lay about halfway between, a ruined castle that was said to be haunted and was often a refuge for bandits or goblins, best not to camp in the area.
After a few hours the folks of Predost retired to their own homes, only a few stayed to keep Adwin company and as he settled he received more than one offer for company from some of the village women. Surprised and a bit confused at having a choice of one or more lovers for the night, he made the excuse that he had recently separated from a relationship and would be more inclined for company the next time he passed through. He slept well enough that night.
Before dawn the locals gathered to sing the sunrise and after a communal meal they gathered at the west gate to see him off. They invited him to return and to share the stories of his adventure to GreensBridge.
Adwin covered a lot of distance that day, walking until the sun was sinking, using a fair portion of the dried meat and roots he had brought with him. Over the next couple of days he kept to the same pace with only the briefest of stops to gather berries or hunt small game. Somehow he had missed one of the expected roadside springs.
On the forth day after Predost, near mid-morning he spotted a black smudge rising above the plains in the distance. He assumed it to be the ruins on the hill, Kaymere. After a few more hours of walking the distant shape of the ruin crested hill did not seem that much closer. Keeping in mind what the villagers had said about bandits and goblins and not camping near the ruins, Adwin slowed his pace and took some time to hunt, gather and to look for water. Birds, berries and beetles were his meal that afternoon, no water was found and he carefully rationed what remained in his near empty water skin. He made a small fire, well before dark to cook his food then took time to attend his kit. He fell asleep near sunset with the grass gently swishing under a light breeze.
Adwin woke before dawn, ate the few leftovers from yesterday’s meal, savouring the tart berries and keeping his small amount of water for later. The sun rose as he started along the road, the day clear and cloudless. The distant ruins and the plains between were easier to make out and he could see rockier terrain and a number of short dulmak trees closer to the hill. By mid-morning the day had become very warm, the smell of summer came and went with the slight breeze.
A dip in the road took the ruins out of sight until early afternoon. Adwin was hot and thirsty and by the time the road brought him back in sight of the ruins he was starting to feel the early effects of dehydration. Up ahead a fluffy blooming dulmak offered some shade, he took refuge and dug around the gnarly roots to find grubs. Sleep tempted him, but he knew there was water near the ruins, at least a couple of springs from what the folks at Predost had said. The grubs would do for now, he crawled out from under the tree and trudged onward.
The road became more even and broadened as he came closer to the hill. The ruins had once been a castle or great fortress and had been made of dark stone. Now it was just a jumbled pile atop the hill with less remaining structure than the ruin at Hadden’s Fort. Other smaller structures, nearly as collapsed, surrounded the hill below the castle. Small and large blocks of black and grey stone dotted the landscape. Dulmak trees were numerous, some of them were fairly old, the tallest being over a dozen feet in height with their red-brown blooms big and fluffy, too new to be blown free in the gentle breeze.
Water turned out not to be as elusive as he had feared, among the ruined foundation stones of what may have been a dwelling, there was a small pool, partially fed by runoff from further uphill but also seemly a small spring on its own. A partial wall and encroaching dulmak provided good shelter. A fire pit and small stash of wood and dung indicated the ruins periodic use as a roadside camp.
Adwin thanked the gods as he knelt by the water, cupping a handful from the pool and sipped. It was fresh and cool, a relief, the water seemed good. After drinking his fill he topped up his water skin and sat out of the sun on a long stone near the fire pit, he rested. His body was sore and he was hungry. It might have been best to have taken a slower pace over the last couple of days, after all, GreensBridge was the oldest city in the world. It would still be there regardless how quickly he travelled. He dozed off, dreaming of the legendary green towers and bridges of that distant city.