Chapter 36: Reconnaissance

Indeed, during the infamous polar White Nights, the Eor Sylvans had been resting at home with their Fernwick allies and preparing for the first grand raid of late summer when ragged, frightened Fernwick refugees were found running through the Waebre hills. The appeared to have been running as hard as they could for at least a few weeks.

"Calm down, calm down," a scout said as evenly as he could. "What is the matter?"

"There has been an uprising!" cried a fugitive. "Not only did our brothers turn on us when our warriors left for a glorious raid, they had Ferals working with them to do it! The Elders are locked away and we can't retake our lands alone."

"This is serious if what you say is true," Oswin said with concern. "Come, at the least you should be allowed to rest. We will investigate your claims." He ushered the small, tired group to one of the outlying villages. After making sure they had been received by the chief and were looked after, he went straight to the capital to seek permission to travel to the Fernwick lands and see for himself what had happened.

The Waebre capital was stirring with life at the height of the hot, steamy summer. The weavers were hard at work on wool gathered during the last moon's shearing and vats of dye were being prepared for soon use. Gatherers were coming in with several baskets of berries and fruits to be made into preserves and wines. Owsin's brow furrowed at the thought of the unrest in the Nyre destroying the gregarious productivity in the Eor as well, and flew up to the structures among the tree and landed on one of the suspended walkways near the chieftess' residence. He relayed his message to the guard outside the door and waited patiently for instructions.

Richelle was in the middle of settling a dispute between two hunters over who had rights to a young boar that was unknowingly speared while caught in a snare, and was about ready to tie and skewer the squabbling hunters by the time she had managed to get them to reach a compromise. When she had been able to send them on their way, she was in an unpleasant mood. Richelle called for the next visitor and rubbed her eyes tiredly.

"Greetings, chieftess," Oswin said warmly and bowed low to her.

"What news have ye, scout?" Richelle asked with mild irritation.

"I picked up a band of frightened Fernwick who claim that the clan has been overthrown by a rebellious uprising and the Elders taken away, with the aid of the Ferals no less," Oswin explained.

Richelle turned her head to him sharply. "Obviously, this will have to be verified before we aid our kin in the Nyre," she said slowly with cold eyes. "The Fernwick warriors would be recognized and taken if sent back home. Go at once to the Fernwick lands while I inform their warriors here."

"Yes, ma'am," Oswin said and bowed to her again before exiting.

Oswin promptly flew back to his home in southeast Waebre to gather a few belongings and set out for the Nyre. He paused on the lonely mountain that overlooked the wide river between the Eor and Nyre forests. Everything appeared deceptively peaceful as the trees glowed in the setting sunlight and the river reflected glints of sunbeams. Steeling himself with a deep breath, he launched into the air and began the long flight over the brown waters. Three leagues later, he dropped to the muddy shore on the other side and rested his tired wings.

"Some bloody brilliant scout I am," he grumbled between gasps of air. "Can't even fly the river without feeling like I'm gonna die." The winded scout crept away to an overgrowth of shrubs and wrapped his sore wings around him for warmth against the chilly spring night. He passed the next day under the same bush carefully out of site of any patrols. When evening began to fall, he rose and began his observation of the Nyre. Oswin vaguely remembered the location of the nearest village and made his way to it. The village had been embedded in a rocky outcropping almost level with the canopy. This would make it difficult to steal a set of clothes so he could blend in with the Fernwick as a harmless traveller.

After giving his head a confused scratch, he began to scale the boulders up to some laundry hanging to dry. His ears twitched and he peaked very carefully over the edge of the porch to see if anybody was watching. The family seemed to be sitting down to their evening meal, so he clambered up. Just as he was reaching for a shirt and breeches that might have fit him, the youngest cub started barking at him. The scout hastily grabbed at the laundry on the line and leapt off into the darkness as the cub's parents started to yell at him. The unfortunate scout landed in a tangled patch of blackberries.

Cursing, swearing, blackguarding, clapperclawing, and generally spouting profanities and expletives under his breath, he extracted himself from the pokey plant and found a thornless thicket to take refuge in. His clothes, skin, and feathers were torn and dishevelled. Oswin set to stopping the bleeding so he could travel without the agitation of trickling blood, or attracting unwanted attention of predators or parasites. It was another bland night of rations and bumbling around in the dark. He absentmindedly preened his feathers back into place as he stumbled between the trees, over fallen logs, and tried to tiptoe around briars. Oswin gave an audible yip as he stepped into a low area filled with the spiked seeds of the sweetgum tree.

"These accursed Nyre trees," Oswin growled. "Back home we only have cones to deal with!" Sighing with defeat, he found a safe place to curl up for the night and gave up on trying to skulk in the darkness. He awoke to many bruises and cuts that had colorfully revealed themselves. "Fortune smiles on me," he said with a grin when he spied a patch of medicinal herbs nearby. "Sweet, comforting comfrey!" Oswin wrinkled his noise at the oily smell and liberally applied a paste to all his sore spots. He was much better in a few days and his spirits were lifted as he continued to wind his way to the capital.

The tall, graceful trees of the Fernwick grove came into view and Oswin sombered. Life appeared to be normal, but the jails were more heavily guarded than usual. He took a moment to don his stolen outfit and strode confidently into town. He was eyed suspiciously and approached by a guard.

"Who are you and what brings you here?" the guard asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oswin, my friend, travelling in from the river on my way to the shrine!" Oswin said. "My sister is dreadfully sick and my family sent me to make an offering here. Sent me with our best candle to burn at the altar and a nice flask of wine to pour out."

The guard nodded and motioned him to pass through the town. Swallowing nervously, Oswin now had to figure out where the shrine was to give his deceptive offering. A kindly old dam pointed him in the right direction and he smiled at her. The Fernwick capital kept their shrine in the center of the town instead of secluded between birches, cedars, or other revered trees outside the settlement like the other clans.

In keeping with ritual, Oswin knelt down at an altar, and drew from his pack a candle he kept for such occasions. He lit it on one of the metal plates and clapped his hands. Please do not let me be revealed and subsequently plucked and fried like a Dolagog goose. When the short candle had burned down, he poured the small flask of wine over the stones behind the altar and rose. Oswin turned a curious eye up at the jail again.

"'Tis a shame, ain't it?" asked an old dame.

"Ma'am?" he asked politely.

"All the Elders and remaining warriors held captive in some other clan's lands while our greatest warriors were away. These poor sods in the cells are just lowly guards and commoners who mouthed off their displeasure," she said sadly, shaking her head.

"I am from a distant village without word of latest gossip. What's happened?"

"Swiftly in the night, our beloved Ryan Chase Stormer lead a band of thugs and betrayers against their own people! With Ferals and gryphons aiding them!" She spat on the ground to show her disgust. "Then our poor Elders and warriors taken away and scattered. Oh, such a sad time for our people!"

"Keep your voice low so you are not captured too, kind lady," Oswin said softly. "A sad state of affairs, indeed."

"You be safe in your return home," she nodded and toddled off.

Oswin sat on a bench below the graceful canopy, watching the comings and goings on the ground and across the walkways. Where usually there would be finely dressed nobles in certain sections, there was a distinct lack of activity, and at times a very old and grouchy dame would cross with a small entourage. After as casual and unassuming a walk around the jails as he could manage, Oswin began to leave the Fernwick capital. None of the imprisoned looked like warriors or highborn. All were simply commoners as the old dame had said. But should he travel deeper into the Nyre to find the missing Elders? There was no telling where they had been taken to, and he turned back toward the Eor when he was safely outside of the borders of the city.

"What have you learned?" Richelle asked roughly when Oswin had returned.

"It is true," he replied. "There are no nobles, Elders, warriors, or anybody left in the Fernwick capital. Just the workers and a few guards. The one knight I saw was busy with trivial matters."

The master warrior of the Fernwick clenched his fist on the arm of his chair as he glowered at the scout.

"Well, at least it seems they lack the forces for a counter-attack," Richelle said coldly. "Leighton, if you will prepare your warriors, I will send word to the Falnor. I think a swift and strong punishment should send sufficient warning to future traitors, and to meddling Ferals."

"Agreed," Leighton said coldly. He excused himself and sought out the Fernwick warriors who had been waiting uneasily for news from home.

"I will admit, I am not keen on attacking our own people," Richelle said when she was alone with Oswin.

"I do not envy your position," Oswin said. "How many villagers will fall?"

"Too many," Richelle said shortly. "The loss of any devoted villagers is always too many." She dismissed Oswin and he bowed to her before leaving. Fresh scouts were called to deliver news to the Falnor, Austmont, and Sushaw clans. "Gale speed." The scouts were gone before nightfall.

Richelle remained secluded in her quarters for the rest of the evening, pacing, lost in thought.

⁂

"Such brazen disrespect!" roared Udom, chief of the Falnor, when he had received the Waebren message. "Inform our fearless lady that all of the Falnorn are well rested and on the wing to her aid to reclaim rightful Imperial lands back from those cursed treasonous mongrels. We shall alight in her fair branches long enough to join forces before marching onward."

The Waebren messenger bowed lowly and was out the door hurriedly. Udom called for all the warriors to be gathered at the ceremonial clearing and be prepared to leave immediately upon dismissal. The Falnorn forces had been preparing for the first of the summer raids upon the nearest villages north of the Eor forest and expected their chief was about to signal the start of the campaign.

"Brothers, sisters, I come bearing ill news," Udom began loudly as he stood atop the tallest boulder that jutted out of the ground on the edge of the clearing. "Our distant kin in the Nyre, the Fernwick, have lost their way, overthrown their chief, abandoned their people! We fly tonight into glorious battle, not north for the thrill of spoils, but for the honor of the Imperials. Wings up! We go!"

Furious war-whoops answered him as each spread their wings and launched into the sky to follow their chief wherever he may lead them.

⁂

"Say what again?" Walentyna, the chieftess of the Sushaw, asked in shock.

"There has been an uprising in the Nyre and the Fernwick have been broken into pieces," the scout said again. "They took advantage of their strongest warriors leaving for the summer parties and overtook leadership of the clan."

"Cheeky bastards," Walentyna said incredulously. "It has been getting stale dealing with those stubborn hawks on the grasses. We will aid the Fernwick and Waebre. You may go, we shall be along shortly."

The messenger bowed to her and left.

"Gather my travelling gear, if you please," Walentyna said to her chamberlain. "While that is prepared, you, sir, gather the captains. I must speak to them," she addressed a young attendant. Both scrambled at once to fulfill their orders. The chieftess was staring wistfully at the fire when her captains arrived.

"The lass said you had an urgent matter for us, ma'am," her eldest captain said.

"There has been a rebellion in the Fernwick clan, conveniently while their warriors were gone to aid the Waebren," Walentyna explained. "I will leave half our forces here to deal with any pesky hawks, and the rest of us will be joining the Waebre and Fernwick to reclaim the Nyre. You, gather your warriors. We leave at dawn."

The captains all nodded silently and began making preparations.

⁂

"I don't have time for this right now," sighed Dedrick, the chief of the Austmont clan. "That is a long way from home, and we're needed here to protect our people from the Tundra Highland rogues. Send my most sincere regrets, and blessings for a successful campaign."

The Waebre messenger bowed and quietly left the chief behind.

"Do you think it wise to ignore a call for help?" his advisor asked.

"I think it more prudent not to leave our people vulnerable during the height of the barbarian rut," Dedrick replied. "We'll have to be more careful now that our allies are away at another war. We'll be on our own for a while."

The advisor nodded and resumed his reports on the casualties of one of the farthest outlying villages that had recently been ransacked.

The Fernwick had terrible timing, Dedrick thought as he tiredly rubbed his eyes.

⁂

"Magnificent Richelle and Walentyna, greetings to you both!" Udom said jovially when each were finally present in the war room. "And of course, our valiant Fernwick masters ready to lead the captains and warriors back to subdue those dishonorable scoundrels."

"It seems a bit excessive to have all four clans charging in against a ragtag group of rebels," Walentyna stated.

"It's not just disgruntled Fernwick commoners. Some of the knights lead the assault, and with the aid of Ferals," Richelle explained. "Apparently several years of border skirmishes did not weaken their forces, but instead strengthened their resolve."

"They must have had something absolutely horrible planned to have gotten to our fellow Imperials," Walentyna said with disgust. "Why else would they have turned on us?"

"Many of our villagers have been expressing displeasure with the campaigns, claiming the Eor Imperials are too far away to be of use should we come into trouble with the Ferals or surrounding creatures," Heyne, the Fernwick chief, said.

"Then we will strike with speed and fury, to allieviate such fears and prove we are more than capable of protecting our Nyre kin!" Udom said sternly. "Perhaps we should establish a stronger presence in the Nyre? One without those Ferals dragging us back down to the dark ages. We would certainly be a stronger people without them."

"Agreed. The Nyre is full of resources that would be a great boon to our retaking of L'aernth from those flightless rumpies. We should make ready and be on the way as soon as possible," Walentyna said. "My warriors are primed and can leave at first light."

"As can mine," Udom said. "It is time to turn our attention to the neglected Nyre and the land of our forefathers."

"We have been preparing while awaiting your arrival," Richelle said. "We can leave on the morrow as well."

"The Fernwick is forever in your debt for your aid," Heyne said humbly.

The rulers sat together in the war room for a while longer to make plans and strategies for their conquest of the fallen Nyre.

⁂

"Are the defenses fortified?" Ryan asked a third time as he inspected the walls and barricades again.

"You're going to worry yourself into an early grave long before the action starts," Jorgen teased him. "Relax!"

"It's starting," Ryan said solemnly. "The last of the Imperials have landed in Waebre and the gryphons tell us they have all taken flight. We can only hope and pray that whatever the praire kurach and night gryphons have planned will be enough to weaken them we can maintain our position."

"Think positively! Lest a foul spirit latch on to your poor mood and try to grant your dark wishes," Jorgen said cheerily. "Come. A few drinks before the big day should settle your nerves!"

"There is something to be said for respectful sobriety!" Ryan protested as he was dragged along to the pub. "B-besides, Cille still has me banned!"

"Cille still has who what?" Cille asked with a coy smile as she threw open the door. "This one's on me, mighty knight."

Ryan cringed as she got behind him and positively shoved him inside. The pub was full of a myriad of patrons. Some were enjoying the evening after a day's work. Some were celebrating the recent victories. Some were grieving the related changes and losses. Others, like Ryan, were trying to forget the storm brewing over the horizon.

Cille kept their glasses full until Jorgen's inhibitions were completely gone. "You really should marry this wench!" he blustered and slurred. "Best wench in the whole Nyre. You'll be sorry if you don't!"

"When ye can hold yer own with the dwarves, I'll consider it, good knight," Cille teased with a wink.

Ryan just shook his head and tried to keep his mind off the coming troubles as he watched his clan mates enjoy themselves.


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