Four weeks had passed since Eamonn and Aaren returned to their home on the edge of Faraday, after the brief encounter with Dallin, the pair had spent a few extra days in Blackden whilst Aaren recuperated and he tended to issue of the local thugs. His shoulder wound in the confrontation with Dallin needed some work, he’d been given a sedative and the local surgeon had set about a repairs job as much as he could. The doctor had admonished Aaren to spend a day or two in town to receive further medical attention before heading out.
Aaren had hoped to slip away quietly, but a scowl from the man and the unrelenting words of patience from Eamonn changed his mind. Aaren had wrote a letter to Damian Read to look after his lodge for a little while longer and to call in a few favours from Litton Myerscough to look after the problem in Blackden when they left.
Due to his need for rest, Aaren spent most of the time in the cell room of Blane Montgomery. Aaren’s former master had been captured during the fight at the guild. His unconscious form had been escorted to the town’s prison for further questioning. When he woke, Aaren had made it his top priority to interrogate his former master.
They’d sat in silence for some time, the tension was almost palpable until Aaren finally cleared it, “What have you done?” he asked his former mentor in a low voice. Even after the short skirmish, Aaren couldn’t believe that Blane had taken the side of his enemy.
The pain of his betrayal was evident in Blane’s body language, his shoulders were slumped in defeat. “We were wrong. You were wrong. I was wrong.” Blane admitted.
Eamonn accompanied Aaren, hoping to offer some support for his friend, but as he looked on at the scene between the other men, he had shied away, telling Aaren he’d held Braum track down the locals.
The emotions ran high in this affair and Eamonn felt his presence wasn’t welcomed. He quietly excused himself from the room and left them to talk.
“He approached me,” Blane began, “I have no idea how he knew I was here, perhaps he found out somewhere in the north, I suppose I do have sources that he could have tapped onto. Regardless of how he found me, he did find me. He pleaded his innocence.” he said.
The anger in Aaren flared at that moment, “He pleaded his innocence?” he retorted, he shook his head in wonder, anger built within him, threatening to spill over like an erupting volcano, “The only thing he deserved was to spend the rest of his life rotting in a cell, watching as his life wasted away before him. He doesn’t deserve your pity.” Aaren disputed.
It was Blane’s turn to shake his head. He could see the pain in his friend’s face. The sight tore at him, he looked up at him and tried to break through the heavy blanket of blackness he could see that was clouding his judgment. He pleaded to his friend to see the truth.
“Don’t you see? The man wasn’t looking for revenge. When he found me, he was looking for who had done it, the one who had killed her. To set things right. To free himself from the life of an outcast.” Blane told him. He needed to get this across to Aaren, he’d been told in the strictest of confidence that what had been said to him was nothing but the truth. Blane himself had spent decades tracking, fighting and judging people, he was one of the best of reading through lies and deceit. Like Aaren had realised that night, Blane knew that Dallin’s eyes held his true emotions and that was where his secrets were kept. When Dallin had come to him, Blane had seen nothing but the truth in the other man’s eyes.
Tears sprang to Blane’s eyes but made no attempt to hide them. “You know that she meant more to me than she did to you.”
The words cut Aaren deep, he stood, grappling the defeated man in front of him, forcing him off balance and looked cruelly into his eyes. The hate in him overcame the pain of his injuries. “How dare you?” he spat, “How dare you when you know how much she meant to me, how much I went through when I found her, you’ve no right!” He choked.
Blane made no attempts to free himself of this stranglehold, he let Aaren continue to hold him off balance, “I was her father.” he said simply. His tone was full of pain and sorrow.
The change in mood seemed to bring Aaren back to his senses. Shame faced, he looked around himself, he had let his emotions overwhelm his actions. He slowly let the man down and shrank away from the dejected form. They’d both scored hits on the other, scores that burned deep. It was a pain that was buried deep inside them. Aaren took a moment to gather himself. He couldn’t bear to look at his master in the eyes again, knowing what he’d done, “Who?”
Blane looked up at the fallen figure, it was the one thing he could do. “An insider.” he revealed. Seeing no reaction from Aaren, he continued on, “Dallin mentioned that he looked to be quite young, he’d seen him before with her, and that you’d talked to him a few times, Dallin had been a small crimes pest at the time, he knew the goings on inside Hailsham at the time, they knew they could set something up. There was something pressing down on the other at the time, it would have worked for them perfectly.”
Aaren licked his dried lips, his tongue felt heavy, and a lump was in his throat, he looked up to face Blane, “I’ll follow the lead. If I find anything, I’ll let you know.”
Aaren turned away, he turned his head slightly. He couldn’t face his friend again. “I’m sorry that I can’t do much more for you, you’ve made your own bed and only you can lie in it. Take care, Blane.” Aaren called the guard forward, letting the man lock the cell gate as he walked quickly from the building.
That had been almost a month ago. With Aaren tying up a few loose ends and writing reports on the mission, Eamonn had been left alone to practice his various skills. Knowing that Aaren wanted to be left alone, he’d taken rations for a couple of days and told his mentor he’d be back. He decided that some field work would be best, he saddled Dusty and went into town for a day, had lunch at one of the local inns and did some of his own investigating. He came up with little, not that he’d been looking for much in the first place. The added practice on his skills wouldn’t be unnecessary, and it kept his mind busy.
On the second day, however, he did find the tracks of a wild cat through the woods. On numerous occasions he came across rumors of missing livestock. Being from Wildwood where every morsel of food was important, he put it on himself to track down the animal.
He stayed on watch by a nearby farm, the night was uneventful. The morning was not. He slipped out of the cover of his post up a tree and approached to where the animal had taken the farmer’s stock. He knocked on the house door, handed the man and his wife several gold coins and was off. His bait had been successful.
Its lair was nearly half a day’s ride from the farm. At first he was unsure how he was best to tackle the situation, he loved animals and while this was a pest in the local area, as he scraped through the tracks he could see that the cat was a juvenile, likely its first season away from its mother. To kill it would be perhaps a little impulsive and a decision that would fill him with remorse. However, if he left it unattended to, it could cause trouble for the locals.
Because of this predicament, he dropped by the offices in Faraday. He found Damian Read in one of the reading rooms in the north tower of the keep. Eamonn hoped that the experience of the older Commissioner would provide him with some guidance in what was a difficult situation.
“Choosing whether an animal lives or not can be difficult.” Damian had told him. “I remember my first kill, there was some trouble west with some bears in the late summer, a group of us decided to take a hand. Aaren was among that group, it was his job to track the movements of the game down near Hailsham some years ago, just before he moved over here to Faraday. After a month we hunted almost a dozen different bears, until one day we came across one bringing food back to her cubs. We made sure we gave her a wide berth, a young family like that is unfortunate for what we were doing, a couple of men stayed behind on patrol, checking to see if the mother was naturally aggressive like most of the others or if it was just her maternal instincts taking over. Two nights later we got our answer, I along with the other soldier were attacked during the night, she’d left her cubs to go hunting that night, she caught us downwind, inside her territory, she got the other man pretty good, he still has the scars on his arm to prove it. I still have the mental scars of killing her. As I said, it’s something that simply stays with you, you’re being given the choice in this case, my hand was forced. Sometimes you never know which would be better.”
Damian sat with Eamonn for some time, he could see the anguish on the younger man’s face. In time the boy would learn how to assess these situations and put his emotions aside to focus on the best outcome, but that wouldn’t be for some time. He figured it’d be best that he handle this one for him, “Show me where.” he told him.
Eamonn searched for the tracks again, remembering the key features of the landscape he’d noted down, it was another one of the tips he’d been given by Aaren. It took some time until they came across the animal’s lair, “We should move further east, we don’t want to the wind to our fronts, wild cats have an amazing sense of smell and hearing. If we get too close, it’ll hear us moving amongst the trees.”
Eamonn nodded at that and led the way farther around the area, he sighted a well-hidden cove on the that would give them an adequate place to watch the animal from. They dismounted from their horses and Eamonn bedded down Dusty for the afternoon. He pulled out his water canteen and drank deeply, “Now we wait.” Eamonn announced. Damian had already settled himself into a more comfortable seating position, wrapped his cloak up into a bundle and was resting his head on it.
Eamonn’s eye’s flicked open, instantly alert. He had fallen asleep under the shadowed area as he waited for the wild cat to return. The warmth in the sun was waning as it slowly shrunk below the line of cloud-cover that was forming in the west. It left the countryside in a state of eternal glow and soon the last vestige of warmth would be stolen away by the onset of night. Eamonn explored through his subconscious, knowing this wasn’t what had woken him. There was something else, it was lurking deeper.
Then he heard it. The soft padding of foot movement across the dried ground littered with fallen leaves and twigs from the trees. He looked towards the animal’s lair, saw movement at the edge of his field of vision and swung his head to look. He waited a few moments, hoping to catch another glimpse, but he realised he’d missed his chance, Eamonn turned to his right, to where Damian was a few meters away, he could see the serious gaze of the man, Damian’s face soften and he smiled wanly and nodded. This was it, Eamonn realised.
Slowly, Eamonn retrieved his crossbow from where he left it. On the saddle bag attached to Dusty’s saddle. He ignored his satchel of crossbow bolt cartridges for the time being and instead reached for a single bolt from his small quiver. Taking the bolt, he silently slipped it into place and drew back the secondary string until it locked into place, only then did he grab one of the cartridges and slide it into the opening in the weapon’s stock.
When he had been given the weapon he’d been told to learn the weapon inside and out and make necessary customisations where required. That had included the different bolts he would use. After meeting with Damian earlier in the day, Eamonn had visited the apothecary in Faraday to enquire about the numbing chemicals that were administered to patients at the surgeons.
The man explained how some were stronger than others, when Eamonn told him of his need, the man told him he’d need a direct application rather than the standard selection. Eamonn waited as the chemist went out the back of his shop and returned with a small flask of viscous looking liquid, the man handed it to him and told him to handle it with care.
Eamonn also managed to procure some ocher paint to colour the tips of the feathered ends to discern it from his other bolts. He fingered the end of that bolt now, setting his sights on the animal as it finally came into view, his sights had pre-marked angles for fifty meter increments, but so far he’d resisted the urge to use them, he wanted to trust his own judgment as he’d been taught.
Aaren had explained to him that knowing angles and directions by instinct could be the difference in a fight and he’d worked hard to hone his skills for some of the more difficult shots, he’d spent the previous few days in the nearby fields practicing from plenty of ranges and heights. He’d learnt about how his own posture and the conditions around him would alter his accuracy. As he moved throughout the countryside, he spent time around the fire at night, forging the different arrow heads they’d been supplied with as well as the working on his crossbow to allow for different forces applied to his shots. There were still some kinks to the system and he’d removed the previous night. He knew this arrow would fly just like the rest of his shots.
He’d measured out a small sample of the drug into a small container and attached it near the head of the arrow. Alongside the container was a needle that would administer the drug as the arrow came into contact with the animal. He had used a device that would pressurize a small amount of the fluid inside a container, even if the container broke, the force of the impact should still get enough into the wound that it still works.
The arrowhead was thinner, designed to cut through the air, but blunted so that it wouldn’t penetrate far. He’d also removed the broad head so that it was easier to remove the arrow when he went to remove it.
He held up the crossbow, judged he was a touch low and made the slight adjustment. He licked his lips, dried as they were in the tense situation and took a deep breath. He took a hold of the firing mechanism and pulled sharply but smoothly. The bolt arced away into the low light of the trees and made impact with the animal. Eamonn saw the animal’s head rear up in surprise and turned to look at its attacker, after a moment or two it seemed to become unstable on its feet, struggled a few meters on and fell onto its side. Eamonn grinned up at Damian, who gestured for the boy to lead the way, “Let’s see the results” he said happily.
The result was a perfect shot to the animal’s flank, it was unconscious with the bolt sticking proudly from where it had struck the animal in its side. Eamonn quickly withdraw the rounded head of the arrow from the wound, he checked the small cylinder of the fluid he’d placed on the side, he held it up for show to Damian. There were still a couple of droplets still there but his design had succeeded in delivering the serum as intended.
Eamonn wiped the head on some linen cloth he’d brought with him and placed it back in his quiver, already he could feel the numbing agents in the serum going to work on his fingers, leaving him with a needle like sensation in the ends.
There was a slight trickle of blood from the wound, he wiped it away using the rag and cleaned with a small cleansing bandage he had. He took a moment to marvel at the animal, it was almost pure muscle in its hind legs. He noticed there was a decent amount of flesh there to suggest it was well nourished in this environment.
He clicked his fingers at Damian, motioning for the small tarp they’d brought along with them. They’d tie that in place on a small wagon they’d left a little further behind. While he waited, Eamonn drew out one of his casters he always had on him and tied it around the animal’s front legs. He grabbed his larger caster and did the same with the animal’s hind legs.
Normally, he’d have used the device with its four rounded stones to trip up an animal when he was hunting, in the past, when he was with Sam, however in this case he figured the cordage that connected the stones to the central throwing device would keep the legs in place.
Once he was done, Damian had returned with the tarp, “I’ll put it to the side as close as I can, that way we can lift it up onto it easily.”
Eamonn nodded, once they were in position, with him at the animal’s front and Damian at its rear, he counted aloud to three and together they lifted the animal onto the sheet. Eamonn set about adding in the timbers to support the animal’s weight while Damian went to retrieve the wagon. They’d have to be quick Eamonn knew, too long and the cat would wake up and they could find themselves with a panicking wild animal in their arms. He pulled a little harder on the casters to ensure they were secure and wiped his brow.