A group of crows screeched angrily and flew into the sky as the knight shooed them away from the corpse. He surveyed the area, looking for any evidence of the creature or creatures that had attacked the caravan. As he approached the body, he spotted an ax, covered in blood, laying in the dirt.
"Orcs, mílord," the knight called out to his young leader, holding the ax high. The fact that the word "mílord" was spat out like a curse did not escape the young nobleís detection.
Jarvis turned to regard the speaker, trying with little success to hide his revulsion. This was the first time he had ever seen dead bodies this closely. He had only just recently been given command of a company of knights...a favor to his father from the local lord. Jarvis knew well enough that few of the knights respected him. Every day he listened to their jeers, spoken just loudly enough for the noble to overhear. He was determined to show no sign of weakness, after spending the last two weeks dealing with their snide remarks and thinly veiled insults. He would get the job done, and win their respect in the process.
Jarvis surveyed the area, pushing aside his discomfort, looking for any signs of a survivor. After a thorough search, it was apparent the massacre had been complete. Not a single human had survived the attack. The entire caravan that had been sent to help reinforce Cove was destroyed completely. The stench of the dead lay thick in the air and Jarvis silently hoped he could maintain his composure as he bent low to examine the body of a fallen man. He glanced up at the sound of footsteps approaching. It was the ranger, the one man in the party who he actually liked.
"Look at the holes in his armor, and that wound along his leg. Orcs donít make cuts like that," the ranger said, as if he was reading the young nobleís mind.
Jarvis noticed it too. Virtually all of the cuts were small, piercing attacks and slender slashes, not the usual large gash from an ax or the dents from an orcís club. Jarvis nodded grimly as the ranger continued.
"My guess would be brigands. These attacks are too precise to be orcs."
"We havenít seen brigands in these parts for a long time, Dustin. Besides, they didnít take any of the valuables, just the food and other perishables. No, not brigands, someone...or something else did this," Jarvis said as he stood up, gaining confidence now that he was in his element.
The young noble always fancied himself as tracker or a detective, not the knight that his father wished (and had forced) him to be. He much preferred the company of the free spirited scouts and trackers ("common men", as his father would say snobbishly) to the strict discipline of these knights.
A hand on his shoulder pulled Jarvis from his thoughts. He stood up and faced the ranger, expecting him to disagree. After all, this was the rangerís area of expertise, and he was just a nobleman! He should known no one here would listen to him. Instead, the ranger gave him an approving nod and smiled slightly.
"Well done, Mílord. Weíll make a ranger out of you yet!"
Pleased and more than a little surprised, Jarvis turned and was about to call out to the knights when he heard Dustin make a sound. Jarvis turned to regard Dustin. The rangerís eyes were wide, staring at Dustin, his lips moving but no words escaping. Jarvis looked from Dustinís face down to his chest, where a spear point was sticking out, covered in the rangerís blood. The ranger fell to his knees, then to the ground, taking the spear with him. Jarvis would have gone to his friend to try to help him, but he stood transfixed as a large group of strange looking humans charged into the knightsí ranks.
The enemy had finally shown itself.
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, June