|Going Back to the Scene|
|Summary:||More clues are gathered as a group of smallfolk revisit an old investigation scene.|
|Related Logs:||Follows on from conversations in We the Smallfolk and references Something Crazy This Way Comes|
|Woods outside Terrick's Roost|
|A clearning in the woods with a ruined cottage in the middle|
|Mon Dec 10, 289|
It had initially taken Mortimer several hours to reach the clearing where he had found the body, but ahorse and not needing to track the twisted trails it's a considerably shorter journey to lead Nathaniel and Kalira there, even if the weather is definitely against them. His mood is obviously not high as he relates the snide comments he's been getting from some quarters with relation to the logistics of the search. "If they'd responded when we asked weeks back, then mabey we'd not be in this situation now," he grumbles, "but now they have decided to pay attention it;s suddenly our fault that it's still an issue." It's more a case of simply venting where he safely can than any anger towards his two current companions though, and as they break through the line of trees that surround their target clearing he falls silent once more.
The ruins of a stone cottage in the centre, still showing the signs of being torched by the Ironborn although moss and vines now seem to have started to take over the stonework. There once was a garden that is now overgrown with wild blackberries and a lone apple tree stands partly obscured by the remains of a wall.
Nathaniel pushes a thorny branch aside and then follows Mortimer into the clearing. "Don't blame yourself, or allow others to blame you, master," he advises. "This has been a thorn in everyone's side for a long time." He pauses to study the structure and how the wildness has begun to creep over it. "This is the place, then?" he asks. "This is where you found her?"
"It's easier to cast blame around, Master Trevelyan, in hindsight, no one wants to be at blame," Kalira says as she emerges from the brush a few steps after Nathaniel. She tilts her head back to get a good look at the sky in a brief attempt to gauge the time by the measure of the shadows and position of the sun.
Mortimer remains silent for a few more moments as he scans the area, he's not actually ignoring the other two, although it might well appear that way to some. Eventually though he glances across to Nathaniel and nods in confirmation. "Aye, this is the place," he offers heavily before nudging his horse, which for once is not the usual one he borrows, forward towards the ruin. Dismounting at what remains of the garden he ties the beast to the rotting remains of a post of some form before turning towards the apple tree. He doesn't approach it though, not yet, pausing instead to take a deep breath and run a hand down his face, steeling himself somewhat. If his new theory about the little Lady's disappearance is correct, this'll be where he finds out.
Nathaniel watches while Mortimer dismounts and approaches the tree with an almost wary manner, as if the tree itself might hold some power. He ties Molly to another tree and heads follows. "This tree is important?" he asks. "Is this where …" his voice trails.
Kalira slides to the ground as well and fastens her mount to another tree, giving the mare enough room to graze as Kalira slowly looks around the clearing and the surrounding area that encircles the ruins of the stone cottage. "Master Trevelyan, will you say for us again how you came to this place and what transpired leading up to the discovery of the child? Anything at all would be helpful," she asks, resting both hands lightly on her hips as she turns slowly around in a circle to continue to study the surround.
Mortimer nods once, slowly and somberly, in answer to Nathaniel, although it's not until Kalira's words distract him from his thoughts that he breaks his gaze on the tree and turns back to the others. Blinking once to focus on the question he glances back towards the treeline through which they'd just arrived. "I was following tracks that lead from where Inna's brother said he'd seen the woman. It wasn't easy, they start and stopped a few times and sometimes seemed more like wolf tracks than human, but they led here. She was hanging from that," he notions to the apple tree "her hands bound behind her." Everything else had happened after he'd cut her down. "Keep your ears open," he warns them, "and bring the horses further in, the wolves appeared silently last time and I'd not have our first warning be the loss of your steeds. But lets see what we can find shall we? I've no mind to be here long if I'm wrong."
"I'll bring them further," Nathaniel agrees with a nod after Mortimer explains about what happened on his last visit here. The courier touches the hilt of a long dagger that hangs from his belt. He heads for the tree where Shadow is waiting, and unties her while speaking gently to the mare. "We're moving closer, girl," he explains. He leads her to the tree where he has tied Molly. While he tucks Shadow's reins under one arm, he unties his own mare, and then, taking a rein in each hand, leads them toward the house while he looks for some other place beside the apple tree where he can tie them. "And they wonder why we carry our bows," he comments to Kalira.
"Did you have a chance to look around inside the cabin? And what happened to the family that lived in this cottage?" Kalira wonders, untying the reins that she'd used to tether Shadow near Molly then leads her mare further in, giving her mare a signal that puts the mare on alert instead of contentedly grazing on what grass or fodder is within reach of her teeth. "Why here. Why in the tree. Why that method," she doesn't so much ask the questions as simply state the questions. She eyes the trees around the clearing, then picks out the strongest tree she can set eyes on, "We carry our bows because we'd rather be prepared. I imagine I could swing a sword, but I'd be lousy at it, and I'd never pick up a weapon that I have no training in. It's just a stick with a pointy edge and a unwieldy weight," she murmurs. "I'll want to skinny up that tree," she nods to the one she's picked out, "before we leave. Just for a look around," she adds, making this item on her official to-do list.
"I did," Mortimer confirms with a nod towards the cottage, "it seemed that it had been used briefly and then abandoned, much as those we've found in the past few days. The family? Those we lost to the Ironborn," and if there's anything likely to bring his mood further down is talk in that vein, so he leaves it there and starts to circle the tree, looking at both it and it's surrounds in an attempt to judge if there has been recent interference.
It doesn't take him long, less than half of the circumference of the tree in fact, before he drops down to one knee to examine something in the bark. Quickly convinced that it's relevant and not just something natural he glances back to the others, face grim, and beckons them over, muttering something to himself as he does so.
Nathaniel frowns as well when the deputy mentions the Ironhorn. That invader left more scars on this land and its people than anyone can count. Although he immigrated to The Roost just after the attack, he knows families across the land who lost relatives in that battle. He waits while Mortimer circles the tree. When the man signals. Nathaniel approaches slowly and joins in peering at the spot of bark that the older man's hand is indicating.
Kalira has one ear trained to the murmur from Mortimer, but her eyes are on the tracks that she sees in the soft rain damp mud. Having taken her bearings upon entering the clearing around the ruins of the cottage she once more checks her bearings and orients herself in a North/South fashion by body stance and eyes the tracks for a long silent moment. "North," is mused aloud before she goes to a crouch beside the tracks and rests her fingertips in the deepest part of the nearest one before doing the same in her own tracks, measuring the amount of rain in her tracks and the rain in the others. Once more she casts a weather eye up at the sky, doing a brief moment of mental math to calculate how long the rain has been falling, at what rate, and doing her best educated guesstimate of how old the tracks are.
There's space for Nathaniel before the tree without Mortimer having to move so remains still for a moment while the other man looks. "It is as I feared," he states bluntly, dropping his gaze to the mud for a moment as he does so before turning to face the younger man. "Do you have paper? We should record this." He's turning back to the tree again when he catches sight of Kalira out of the corner of his eye and raises an eyebrow slightly. Watching for a few moments he eventually works out the basis of what she's doing and waits until she's finished before pushing himself to his fet again and calling over to her, voice low and faintly despondent, "Mistress, we have just solved one of your mysteries. I know why they took a noble and I fear it is my fault."
After kneeling for a better look at the bark, Nathaniel turns his head toward Kalira, and beckons her closer. "Writing or cipher of some kind," he murmurs. Then he stands. "I have paper, charcoal, and even pen and ink in my bag," he confirms. "Whatever that is, we'll have it on a parchment." He looks up into the darkening sky, and he adds, "I'll bring a candle, to." Soon, he heads for his horse to fetch the needed items. He glances at Kalira on his way back, and murmurs, "What is it?" He knows her well enough to sense her apprehension.
"Tracks, not old, heading north," Kalira replies after a long moment of silence. "We came from the south-west but the tracks lead north." She rises slowly from the crouch and to eye the tracks that she can see in the gloom. "There," she indicates the path she can see from where she's standing, pacing slowly forward, her footsteps carefully apace with the tracks in the mud, careful even further to not muddle the tracks she is tracing until she reaches the terminus point - seeing more mud on the tree and look up. Cautiously. "They end here, or, rather, they end on the ground but I think.." and this is when she retreats - one slow step at a time, pacing backward in fact in her OWN Steps, "up in the trees," she murmurs. "Less than a day old, but with the rain.. it's a guess."
Mortimer listens to Kalira's explanation, watching her progress towards the trees for a moment before turning a wary eye on the treeline itself in case there should happen to be anything still there, waiting. As she pulls back towards the cottage once more though he relaxes his watch and turns back to the tree, crouching down once more to study the markings.
Nathaniel frowns when Kalira explains, and he follows her gaze to the tree where the tracks stop. His own hand moves slowly to his dagger and he opens his mouth to say something, but when he sees that Kalira is backing slowly away from that tree, he merely nods. "I'm watching, too," he whispers. His hand tightens around the hilt of his dagger.
"I'll work but not with my whole heart," Nathaniel answers. "I'll be watching and listening. You call, and I'll be there." He gives Kalira a meaningful look, then he steps back toward the tree. He spreads paper across one knee and begins the task of meticulously copying the markings.
Kalira nods and loosens the hunting knife in it's sheath as she sets the toe of one boot against a knoll in the trunk, grasps the lowest sturdy branch she can reach and pulls herself upward, proving her ability to be much like a squirrel as she climbs steadily upward. She is careful, mind, testing her weight on each branch that she uses, frowning as she makes the climb. She pauses mid-way in the climb and pulls the knife from the sheath and carefully carves out a section of bark and - equally careful - tucks the bark into the pouch at her side before continuing higher.
Mortimer seems to be having no great success in finding a meaning for the for the symbols himself, so as Nathaniel returns he stands once more and holds his cloak out over the other man to protect the parchment from the rain. "What do you make of it?" he asks glumly, eyes watching Kalira rather than the tree for the moment. "It has to mean something, it's part of the message, but Seven help me I can't figure it."
"I said a cypher," Nathaniel murmurs, glancing up to Mortimer. "But I don't' think that it's writing at all. Look." He points to shapes that look like arrows, a long jagged line running between them, and finally a large cross-shape, like two intersecting slashes. "If you think of these as trees," he suggests, pointing to the arrows, "And this as a river," he adds, tracing his finger along the jagged line, "It is more like a map." He taps the intersecting lines that look like a crossroads. "And this must be some destination." He raises his eyes from the tree trunk, and squints toward the tree that Kalira is climbing. He frowns with worry, and then checks his parchment against the markings on the bark before he carefully folds the sheet and tucks it into his pouch.
Kalira climbs as high as she dares, carefully to balance her weight out before slowly scanning the tree tops, blinking the rain out of her eyes before shaking her head and skinning her way back down the tree a good deal faster than she'd climbed it. Her hands wrap around a limb a few feet off of the ground before swinging herself off of her feet then drops lightly to her feet, knees bent, fingertips resting against the ground briefly before making her way to the tree where Nathaniel and Mortimer are standing. "What did you find?"
Mortimer takes his eyes off Kalira a moment to glance between the tree and Nathaniel's copy as the other man speaks. "Hmmmmm" is all he offers at first, eyes flicking back to the tree again for a moment before deciding the copy is definitely clearer. "It could be," he offers as he compares it to his mental map of the local geography, "there are certainly several streams and rivers around here. They're a feature of our border with what used to be Camden land." Once the copy is safely away he wraps his cloak around himself again, as Kalira approaches. "A map, Nathaniel thinks, and I'm inclined to agree." He glances between the two of them for a moment then adds, "and the answer as to why they took a noble."
Nathaniel nods to Kalira. "It doesn't look like writing, but it's symbols. When we're in a dry place and I can spread the parchment out, I'll show you." THen he glances to the cottage. "IF that place was in better condition, I'd show you." Then he looks back to Kalira and asks, "Did you spot anything worth noting?" Then his eyes flash with an idea. "Perhaps you should see this inside. If the map matches land that you saw from up there …"
"There's some odd sort of sticky resin on several of the branches that are in this shape," Kalira takes the section of bark that she'd cut off of the tree and - shielding it from the rain - displays the odd shape of a handprint. IF it's a handprint, but only if the hand print has two fingers and a thumb instead of the usual number, the fingers wider than normal. "These are all over the tree. It looks like this," she continues to protect the print from the rain, studying it herself before seeing the image that they've revealed on the other tree. "Camden land? Is that not.. they are no more, correct? And what answer?" she asks, trying to untangle and hoping that Mortimer will explain. "Is it your thinking that They.. are remnants of the Camden retainers? Of the family line somehow?" This said as she, too, eyes the cottage, "If there's enough roof in there to hold up we could use it for a moment," she suggests.
Mortimer glances to what remains of the roof then crouches in front of the tree again, explaining for Kalira, "It's clearer on the copy. If these are trees, then this is a river and that," he points to the X like mark, "is where we need to get to." For whatever reason. "Or it's a trap." At the idea there might be Camden involvement he quickly clarifies, "no Mistress, naught like that. It's just it's been Camden land since long before I was born and only a few months in the hands of the Ashwoods." Reaching up to tap the right side of his skull gently he shrugs, "Up there it's still Camden." Rising once more he glances to the bark a moment before leaning closer and holding out his hand over the top of it with his fingers paired first and middle then ring and little. He glances between his hand and the recovered print a few times before shaking his head and concluding, "too small." He has man-hands after all. Turning to Nathaniel he nods briefly to the man, "you were right about the little Lady's clock, it was a message. It was hanging, just like the girl I found here." He pauses a moment to take a deep breath then draws his theory together for them. "She, the woman, said I shouldn't take her, the lass. Said that it'd make him angry. She said he'd take three, but never mentioned a noble, that's a change, a change because of that anger. They've been back here, marked that tree. It was a message for me."
Nathaniel peers at the fragment of bark and reaches to brush his hand lightly over the sticky resin. Then he looks at Kalira. "It's like the sap from pine trees," he mentions. "They're more common in the north, but some types grow here, too. When I was a boy, I remember, I saw butterflies and other insects that would land on those trees and stick to the sap. If you heat it, it becomes soft enough to stick to leather." He peers more at the bark, and then looks at Kalira. He holds up his hand, with his first two fingers together and his ring and little finger together, but with a gap between the second and third, forming a 'v' shape. "Would it look like that?" he wonders. "Gloves, smeared with such sap, to give a better grip while climbing." He looks from Kalira to Mortimer, and nods. "Our hands might be big, but what about a /child's/ hand, or some adult with small hands, like a small woman who is … very good at climbing and other feats of acrobatics?"
"Acrobatics.. like the talents of a Mummer?" Kalira wonders, interjecting this question in a light voice, or - rather - carefully light. "How did she catch up with us, without a single one of the men riding with the mounted party spotting her," again - not quite a question. "It feels like we are one more than one step behind in this, because someone who should be helping ISN'T helping, is working on the other side of this coin."
Mortimer listens silently as the others expound their ideas, looking almost faintly releaved as the focus seems to firmly on the hand prints. He does frown a bit though, as he starts to catch onto just who they're referring to. "I see where you're aiming for," he states slowly, carefully, "but I'm not convinced of the leap. There are many with those sorts of skills, an' many more who learnt to climb as children. Her past might not be the most gleaming examply of how to live your life, but I'm not convinced on this. Not without actual proof."
"I agree that Mistress Caul appeared without warning when we were scouting," Nathaniel admits. "Still, any careful traveler could approach so many nobles and their people without drawing attention. Also, we made no secret about the search. I do think that someone with her skills might be involved. She came from a family of mummers. Other people ply that trade." He glances to Kalira, and notes, "The people who perform at the little theater in Heronhurst are mummers, and honest folk. But others who roam the land might be of a darker sort."
Kalira nods slowly, first to Mortimer and then Nathaniel. "Let the tracks speak for themselves, Master, or - in puzzle terms, let the pieces fit together as they will, not as we will them to," Kalira says quietly, sweeping one hand over the top of her hair to slick the rain away from her face. "I'm not suggesting or aiming for anything. All I want is to see Lady Hafwen returned. Alive. If she isn't, it could be war, Master. You have to understand the tensions behind this. WE are at fault for letting her be taken from our lands. If she is not found, alive, safe, hale, and in good health, it could very well be just the thing that is used as a lever to start a ugly conflict. Please," she asks, imploring now, "do not think that I'm suggesting any slight on your part or the entire efforts of your men here. I'm not saying that. I'm only putting perspective, a perspective, into the light as filter."
"And who will it be war against Mistress?" Mortimer asks coldly. "Ghost stories? Legends told to frighten children? Those who have searched and found nothing? Those who refused to search until it was personal to them and are now looking for others to blame?" He watches Kalira for a moment, regretting now that he shared the connection he found. Regretting it deeply. Turning then to Nathaniel he says simply, "if there is nothing else here then we should be going. It will be late enough when we get back and we'll still need to check the tower's maps before we leave again at first light."
Kalira holds up one hand slightly, "I don't mean that, Master. I mean that the Lady Hafwen's mother blames my Lord Brennart, and she is a woman of not inconsequential persuasion. That's what I'm trying to explain. It's easy for this to turn on the edge of a coin, that's what I'm trying to point out."
"And for my part," Nathaniel adds, "I mean only that someone with Mistress Caul's skills would do well at climbing trees and catching children, or even young noble ladies, unaware." He looks upward into the sky. Then he nods. "We should return, and compare this crude map to see how well it lays against those in the tower."
"And, in that vein, I climb trees quite well. I Track better than I dance. I know how to stalk any animal in these woods, lay traps, lures, snares, and do it expertly. I could just as easily have the skills for this as the person doing it," Kalira says quietly on the heels of Nathaniel's words. "Which means, equally, that we're looking for someone who knows the land, the lay of the land, the trails and the game trails as well."