Elu treks off into the wooded area south of camp, following the false trail with, Crellion, Allete and Arvid. The group moves a hundred yards off, nearing a hillock still soggy from morning dew embanking a small clearing.
While pausing in the calm to think over the next move, two arrows fly overhead and find their mark – buried a foot deep in Arvid’s chest! His moan seems muffled as the Talabhiem watchman collapses to the patchy earth. Ever so quickly, Elu is the first to point out the assassin on the cusp of the hillock…
The woodsman, Regimius Janicke…
The wiry, weathered-skinned, man stares down at the lot of you, arrow knocked in the fine great bow within his grasp.
“You Hochlander lovers will find a quick death if you step any further!”
BACK AT THE CAMP
Roland, X and Enrico fan out through the startled refugees, drawing weapons, and intimidating the lot of them. Roland goes to work with his crowd-pleasing Oratory skills.
Roland: “Listen to me for your very lives. We will find the thief even if it means leaving you here to face the hordes of chaos. Each of you will pass through the checkpoint one by one where you will be searched for the missing bow…”
Roland mounts his horse and withdraws the repeating crossbow.
Roland: “The checkpoint is the great axe of my associate, the Executioner…” Roland glances to his old friend, who cuts a deep line in the soil with one sweep of the great axe then rests the haft over his shoulder, beckoning the first of the refugees to pass. “If any of you decline or attempt to flee… I will have no choice but to shoot… Enrico, if you would, please.”
Enrico sighs in compliance and bids the first refugee forward, the eldest maiden in the throng, and she passes the Executioner — no bow in her possession.
The shakedown continues one by one as the sun climbs the eastern horizon until half the refugees have been cleared. Enrico wipes the sweat from his brow, ready to call another when a young boy tugs his shirt, pulling him to the side.
It’s the eldest of the Keller children.
“There’s a thing you need to see, Sir.”
He leads the Estallion Destro to one of the small camp fires where Susi Keller, her eyes red from crying, sits near her youngest boy.
Matthias Keller prods her, “Susi please..”
He pulls the blanket back from her son – grey blotches mark the boy’s arm, face and chest. He coughs once, feebly, then shudders violently, his body shaking as his mother’s tears begin to flow again.
Enrico gasps, unsure of the sight. Roland rides close, dismounts.
Roland: “What’s this?”
“Plague! Plague!” shout a few of the closest refugees, attracting the attention of the Executioner who sprints over.
X: “What in Taal’s name is this? Chaos mutation?” Roland cuts him off, pulls X back, tears a a strip from his cloak.
“Do the same, quickly.” Roland wraps the torn fabric around his neck, covering his mouth and nose.
Roland: “Keller, put your family in the wagon and follow the camp at a bow shot’s distance – or we’ll be forced to take deadly precautions.”
Keller: “What are you saying, kind sirs?”
Roland: “You’ve brought whatever malady was in Talagraad with you. Now get in the wagon.” Keller nods and helps his family into the wagon.
Enrico crosses himself, tears a piece of his shirt and covers his mouth. Roland turns to X.
Roland: “Well, shall we keep searching for the bow or break for Breitblatt before half these peasants are infected?”