Scene 1: Morning Ride
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The moon rose over the forest trail. A light rain earlier had left drops on the leaves that made faint nightbows as Jezmi rode her horse down the well-trodden path.
Jezmi had broken camp early after a quick breakfast, even before the full darkness of Night had been sundered. If she made good time, she could make it to her Lord Rancort’s castle before the moon set again. If not, she might have to stop at an inn at a village on the road into the castle. Or at worst, ride a short ways in the dark, which could be dangerous but she had confidence in herself as a seasoned messenger.
None of the messages Jezmi was carrying on this trip seemed to be of vital importance, but it was always good for the lord to know what might be happening at the edges of his lands where light was a bit more scarce. Other letters might be carried along with those, often for free, but they were of secondary importance in the scheme of things.
Every now and then, shadows in the forest flitted past the sides of her vision. Animals, she thought idly, hiding from the light or waking up. But she noticed that any sounds of waking animals were at a distance from the road. She kept her guard up.
Jezmi rode on until the forests thinned and she saw fields with occasional small farms dotting the land off the main road. With her vision unobscured by branches and shade, she relaxed a little without realizing her body had been tensed in the last leg of her forest ride. Moonlight streamed down freely and she knew, from its position and the stars around it, that it was about midday.
Jezmi stopped in at one of the farms, offering to trade news for a bit of food and a place to rest. “Or even just the place to rest. I still have travel provisions, I’ve just been riding since before moon up.”
The farmer working the land was happy for the company and had in fact been getting ready for his midday meal as well. “I’ll get a few pears from the trees to fill things out.”
Once the meal was ready - some soup, the pears, some hard cheese Jezmi had gotten in the far town of Waham at the far end of her route, some hard bread the man had made - they both sat down and talked about local goings on and news in the realm.
The man’s name was Odi, and he cared for the small orchard and a few plots of land for vegetables around his home.
“My wife passed and our kids all went off to do different things years ago,” he said with a bittersweet smile. “One of ‘um even became a messenger like you. Checks in on me when he can come by. If you know a man by the name of Talbot, that’d be him.”
“Good guy,” she said recognizing the name, and giving a soft smile. “Very punctual. Went to another lord’s land once or twice when it was needed. You should be proud of him.”
The lands between the realms of various lords were dangerous, being far darker than even the outskirts of the civilized lands.
“I am. Just wish he could come by for longer,” Odi said, his own eyes wistful. “The folks up and down the road help me out when they can but I mostly just grow enough for myself and a little extra to trade or offer travelers anymore.”
“So, I’m guessing this farm would go fallow after-” Jezmi didn’t finish but the intention was clear. Odi just ate his soup for a little bit before giving a reply.
“There’s a neighbor, got a daughter who wants to take it up from me. Sturdy girl, good heart, family’s been here for a while so she’s got farming in her blood. I think she’ll do fine. Long as whatever’s been getting the sheep gets taken care of.”
“Something’s been getting your livestock?” Jezmi’s dark eyebrows popped up in surprise. She hadn’t been gone too long and hadn’t heard any news of this.
Odi rubbed at his wrinkled face, thinking a moment. “Not mine, of course. Don’t have any right now, probably won’t until Laiza takes over the farm. Any plowing I need, I get the neighbors with the big oxen to do for me. But a few of the folks with sheep out here have been finding some of their animals dead or very close to. Doesn’t seem to be wolves or other critters like them. Cuz those would leave bites and whatnot.
“Even worse,” he continued, now that he was on the subject, “people have lost sight of a lamb or sheep for a short time and find them attacked out when the moon’s overhead. Something’s not right about that, out in the middle of the day and no sign of the attacker either.”
Jezmi was puzzling over this. What would just leave the creature it attacked to be found, all in plain moonlight with the shepherd nearby? “So didn’t they hear anything? The people who found their animals attacked?”
“Nope, just one moment they got all their sheep, one or two wander around a curve in the hills or a big bush, and the next they find the poor things dead or good as. Almost like whatever’s attacking keeps them from crying out.” The man looked down at his hands and Jezmi couldn’t see his eyes through the bushy gray eyebrows over them.
He sighed and added, “I’m hoping I didn’t scare you with all that talk, just the only folks who seem to know are locals, and we’ve already talked around this as much as would be helpful. We’ve been keeping the kids in or in as close a watch as we can. No one’s been hurt or even seen what’s doing this yet. But we’d be mighty grateful if Lord Rancourt could hear about this and maybe send someone who might be able to do something or tell us what to do to stop it. People are worried and for some of the families their animals are the only things they have to really on.”
Jezmi nodded. “I don’t know if I can get this to the lord himself but I can give word to some people in town who might be able to help. They might not do it out of the goodness of their hearts though.”
“Well, it’s better than nothing,” Odi said after a long pause.
Jezmi added, “I’ll say hi to Talbot for you if I see him, tell him to visit soon.”
“Thank you, dear. I’d like that.”