|We the Smallfolk|
|Summary:||A trio of smallfolk involved in the hunt for the missing children have their own discussion on the issues at hand.|
|Related Logs:||Missing child saga in general, but makes reference to a conversation in Not Just a Place for Prayer and another in Something Crazy This Way Comes|
|The Road to Terrick's Roost|
|A road, leading to Terrick's Roost, with a lot of people on it.|
|Sun Dec 9, 289|
It's been another long day in the saddle for the searches and as of yet they have nothing concrete to show for it it seems. There could be numerous reasons for this, many beyond their control, but there's one potential one that's been bothering Mortimer since he first found out just how many nobles and their assorted hangers-on there were. So far he's spent the ride back keeping to himself and slightly apart from the main group but now he seems to have decided something as he glances up and around before spotting Nathaniel and steering his horse in the direction of the other Terrick man.
Riding at the end of the assorted gathering of nobles, armsmen, hunters, trackers that surround the small core group of noblemen who are - at present - gathered in the center of the body of mounted riders. Being one of two couriers attached to this expedition, and standing apart for a few other reasons, Kalira makes the effort to lessen any annoyance her presence may cause to the lauded sensibilities of some of the more misogynist of the men in the group. At present she is eyeing the trail while studying her map and the new marking's she's added to it after copying the marks from Lord Perrin's.
Nathaniel is riding beside Kalira, but watching the land itself in case he might spot something that they missed on the ride into this part of the land. He notes Mortimer approaching, and inclines his head to the man. "Master," he calls in a low voice. He eyes the man's face and then nods sharply. "Do you think that we missed something?" he questions. He glances to Kalira and offers, "If we need to go back, we can."
Mortimer returns the greeting with a quick, shallow nod, keeping silent himself until he has maneuvered himself so he's riding alongside Nathaniel, on the other side to Kalira. Shaking his head slightly at the question he glances behind along the path they're riding, answering with a pessimistic "ought we missed will be trampled over now." Leaning a little forward in his saddle so he can look across to Kaliea he offers her what of a polite nod in greeting he can before asking quietly, hoping for his voice not too carry to the other riders ahead, "begging your pardon Mistress, but I could do with a quiet word with Master Nathaniel here."
"Of course, Master Trevelyan," Kalira replies with a tilt of her head in a nod to accompany her words. "I do have a few questions I'd like to pass in your direction, however, if you've a moment first?" she asks, equally polite in exchange, and her voice equally quiet, no reason to be shouting loud enough for the rear-most of the armsmen to be listening in.
"As you wish," Nathaniel replies to Mortimer with a nod of his head. However, he glances to Kalira, and then adds to Mortimer, "If you're worried about spies or tricksters, master, you have my word that she's neither. I've trusted her with my own life, and I will again."
Mortimer would really rather talk to Nathaniel first, having made up his mind to have the conversation he’s planned he wants to over with, not sitting and nagging at the back of his mind. As Nathaniel speaks he shakes his head once to indicate that that is not in fact his concern before confirming that vocally as way. "You've vouched for her already an' that'll do me. No, it was something I wanted to ask of you." He then drops silent again for a few moments, still weighing Kalira's request against his own wants before he turns back to her and offers, "If it's only a moment aye. If its likely to be longer than I'll beg your patience for a minute or two."
Kalira is silent for a moment of her own, weighing her questions against the words that Mortimer needs to have with Nathaniel before she simply nods. "My questions can hold, Master Trevelyan, they'll bide, that is," she clarifies before shifting her attention to Nathaniel. "I'll hang back for a few moments, just signal when I may join you again," she offers before making the most subtle of changes to her body posture and press of her knees against her mare and slows so that Nathaniel and Mortimer can continue ahead.
Nathaniel nods forward and urges, "We can ride ahead on pretense of checking a bit of the land ahead once more," he suggests to Mortimer. I recall a bit of creek ahead with some dense undergrowth. It would make a fair place to duck for corminals in a pinch."
Mortimer nods a silent thanks to Kalira as she slows her mount to give them a few moments to converse. "Sorry about that," he then offers to Nathaniel before skipping straight to the point rather than taking the other up on his offer of somewhere quieter to talk. "Lord Ozric's instructions, 'bout me and Ser Justin. I know why he made it and his reasoning is sound enough, but we'll do nothing like this." Glancing ahead to the mass of riders he continues, voice low and weary, "I'd not be surprised if they could hear us at Seagard and we're as likely to destroy tracks as we are to find them." He leaves that a few seconds to settle in before taking a deep breath, exhaling slowly and continuing. "You were there, and you heard what he said, but I'm going to ask you if you'll mind me adding you to his list. We need to split, not only to cover more ground but to actually have a chance of doing any good." He's found the limitations of this massive mounted group frustrating since the start and the feeling that it's markedly inhibiting the chance of progress is etched across his face clear enough as he speaks. "I know it's going against what he said, but I'm hoping not what he meant. On my head be it though if that's not the case."
A faint but relieved smile crosses Nathaniel's face while he listens to the concern that Mortimer confides. "Kalira and I wondered the same about this huge host, master," Nathaniel mutters with his own glance to the group ahead who are stirring enough dust to cover a small town. "Many of them seemed to have no idea about tracking, and as you say, they make enough noise to give any self-respecting criminal a candle-mark's worth of warning." He looks ahead again when someone laughs particularly loudly. "You probably should talk to Ser Justin or Lord Ozric to be sure that they agree, but yes, I'll be glad to help. We need smaller groups covering more territory, and honestly, we don't need the kind of notice that a group of lords invite by riding across the land."
"The Lord Sheriff would agree in an instant and ask why it hadn't been done already," Mortimer replies with a fair degree of confidence before his expression slips into a slight frown once more, "Lord Ozric I am less sure of." Theres another brief period of silent consideration before he gives a short, decisive nod and turns back to the courier, "I'll try and find him on our return. If not we'll split tomorrow anyway and I'll explain my decision to him when I can." And in the worst case, take the brunt of any displeasure. Glancing forwards to the crowd ahead he moves onto the nitty-gritty so as not to keep Kalira on her own for longer than necessary. "I was going to give you the Erenfords, as the Young Lord and his escort are the largest group. Along with maybe the Lord Groves. I'll take the Haighs which I venture will also give me Lord Fenster and Lord Mallister, with the Ashwoods either with me or searching their own lands depending on progress. THat way we have a relative of the little Lady in both parties and, if I recall right, those who fought at Stonebridge on their respective sides."
"Your grouping should be both effective and politically expedient, keeping rival groups away from each other and reducing the risk of tensions," Nathaniel confirms with a firm nod to Mortimer. "As for Lord Ozric and his decision, I've heard a saying that seems most appropriate: 'It is easier to beg forgiveness than to wait for permission.' We cannot afford many delays. The people with small children cannot afford delays." He shields his eyes while he looks ahead at the party. Then he suggests, "If Ser Justin agrees, ask him to intercede on your behalf. He is a reasonable man. I believe, as you do, that he would have chosen smaller parties as well."
"The children can not afford delays," Mortimer offers somberly, looking away from Nathaniel as he does so. Not that he's turning to look at something else in particular mind, just away, and down a fraction. Happy thoughts. "I think," he starts, before correcting himself to, "I hope, that Lord Ozric had not thought so large a party might gather." Hope because if he did, then the discussed arrangement stands far more chance of breaking the spirit of the instructions, which he's relying heavily on it not doing. That said though he turns and glances back to Kalira, giving her a brief nod to indicate that he is done and that it is all clear to ride alongside again.
Kalira guides her mare forward after catching the glance back, and accompanying nod, that Master Trevelyan gives, riding forward to join both MOrtimer and Nathaniel after a few moments. "I'm sure that this ground is well pounded into the dust, Master Trevelyan, and I don't wish to take your time covering the same terrain. And, equally, it's not my place as Heronhurst's Courier to be asking questions, but it's the niece of my Lord's, and there's only so much ground pounding and scouring the hills and woods that we can do before we start to wonder how all of this is so blessedly illogical. Would you mind if I asked a couple questions?"
"This was a small matter to nobles until they found that one of their own might be a victim," Nathaniel comments wryly. "Now, many houses want to help because they have relatives of the right age to attract these criminals." He frowns and adds, "For something like this, more hands means more delay or more need for organization." After Mortimer signals to Kalira and she advances, he nods to her. Then he waves toward the herd of nobles ahead, and he suggests, "Let them go ahead while we talk about the real business here."
Mortimer has equally noted the sudden surge of interest from the nobles of other houses now a Lady is missing, but he is of no particular mind to dwell on those thoughts for now. Instead, to Nathaniel he offers a simply, "I'd ask you not to mention what we discussed, at least until morning when I announce it," although if that includes Kalira or not he'll leave to Nathaniel. Turning to said lass he shrugs once before replying. "We've time yet before we reach the Roost, ask what you will. The more heads that share what information we have the more might find something we missed. Ask what you will."
"The children that went missing at first were not of noble birth, so those that make the decisions were not all that alarmed and not particularly motivated, in some quarters, to do some proper investigating," Kalira says quietly, again keeping her voice pitched quietly so that it doesn't' carry beyond this conversation. "Which is not, Master Trevelyan, a slight intended to your efforts, it's a point of statement that not enough was done by our collective neighbors. Which brings us to here. And not all of this follows. Now," and she leans back slightly in the saddle, the leather creaking quietly in a comfortable sort of fashion, "not all of this follows, and not all of it makes sense. There's rumors of this fairy tale or that one, missing children here, dead bodies there, and it only raises flags when our Lady Hafwen goes missing. Why Lady Hafwen, because it doesn't follow - still - to go after children of commoners first and then work up to a more difficult security breach to take our Lady Hafwen. We've turned Heronhurst on end, Master Trevelyan, every single guard, squire, cook, boot boy, stable hand, every single person with eyes, ears and a working brain all the way down to the town drunkard is asking each other if they saw anything." She passes one hand over the back of her neck, shifting her gaze slowly around the group that's riding and the trail before turning back to Mortimer. "Every hunter, tracker, gamesman and able bodied man or woman should be walking in a line in concentric circles outward, on foot, to scour every inch of the land. Every farmstead that is abandoned should be pulled down to deny whoever is doing this a place to keep hiding. Every cave that could be used to hide in should be explored, it's depths plumbed, before rocks are pulled in to deny that source as well. It's excessive, it'd be extreme, but if the person or persons who are behind this are moving the children from place to place, we have to deny this person resources, force them to move before they want to, force the game into the open, give us a shot at it."
Nathaniel gives Mortimer a curt nod for answer to his request. "Aye," he adds. When Kalira begins to speak, he shifts his full attention to her. "One thing has bothered me from the beginning about the young lady's disappearance. I've heard that they found her riding cloak, hanging neatly in a tree. When I heard it, I thought that it's almost like a sign to give notice to someone." He glances to Mortimer and Then his gaze settles back on Kalira.
With Kalira being vouched for by Nathaniel, Mortimer doesn't point out that the Terricks had placed this case as their top priority weeks back, when the maid disappeared, and that it's the other noble houses that all seem to have been slow on the uptake. It is however something he's had to bite back a couple of times recently though when others have spoken of the desperate need for the children to be found. Listening to her words without interruption he nods in acknowledgement as she finishes then considers his reply for a moment, aiming to ensure he misses nothing. "If you have men to spare enough to stretch from one coast of the cape to the other Mistress then I'll introduce you to Lord Ozric upon our return. Forgive me if I tell you what’s already known, but we lost," he pauses for a moment, reaching mentally for the right words, looking down a little as he does so, "a lot, to the Ironborn. We have barely enough hands to work the farms and what spare we have are at Highfield aiding the construction in return for the food that keeps us from starving. Given the time, and an army, your plan would likely find them but I fear we have neither." Nathaniel's comment about the cloak though brings a bothered frown to his brow and he queries, for clarification, "hanging in a tree?" That is of course, how he found the body of the maid from Kingsgrove, hanging in a tree, and he doesn't like the idea that there might be more of a connection than the obvious.
Kalira gives a small glimpse of a smile, head angling in a nod, "A valid argument, Master Trevelyan, and if we'd have enough men to do so, we'd have done so ourselves. This turns back to a numbers game, then. The number of children taken, the number of days they've been gone, the calculation as to whether or not those that have taken them intend to keep them alive, and the query as to whether or not they are still here. I would argue that this last question is yes, because if he, she, they hadn't intended to make a point out of this - the slow build, that is - then this would've happened somewhere else. Which circles back to a question to the motivation of all of this. And, even further, the question - the suggestion - that if this IS a personal agenda, is there someone on the inside of our households, someone on the inside of our own search party, that is willingly - or unwittingly - giving information to the source of all of this." She does nod, slowly, taking Nathaniel's remark and confirming it, "Aye. As though it were a banner, a taunt, look what I can do."
"Indeed," Nathaniel murmurs gravely. "I didn't see it, but the accounts that I've heard described the cloak, hanging neatly in a tree in clear view. It was there for someone to find, to show that evil was afoot. Anyone doing this might kill common children, but the gang will want to ransom the nobles, or use them to strike other bargains."
Mortimer considers Kalira's words again, listening and then mulling them over to himself. "I think, that were it one house, or even one group. Us Mallister banners say, then maybe there might be someone. Even the Ashwoods are close enough on our border, but why smallfolk from us an a Lady from you? Your case Mistress, makes the least sense of all." Not that he can offer much beyond that for now. He'd had in mind that the woman was someone driven mad with grief and the man someone taking advantage, or perhaps driven from their right mind by the same thing, or even something else, and the pair having fallen in together with their madness combining to reach the sad situation where they started killing children. Hafwen's disappearance, to him at least, doesn't fit that though, and so he's at a loss. He remains silent as Nathaniel speaks and then for a good few moments afterwards, head down and brow creased in thought. Eventually though he glances back to them again and says grimly, "I think, once we've seen these Lords and knights home, that I'll take advantage of the loan of this horse and go back to the cottage where I found the Kingsgrove lass. Will you join me?" when he went alone he was almost eaten after all. "The light will be against us, but I'd rather put a doubt to rest without having to drag them all along as well in the morning."
"Have you ever learned to carve, Master Trevelyan?" Kalira wonders, the question a bit oblique, but she has a reason for it. "You start out with a block of wood and a knife, making rough shapes at first, oblong awful things that make for great kindling. Working at the wood and skill until you can carve the truth of what lies within the wood, waiting to be discovered. What if the first abductions were .. test runs, for lack of a better phrase. Trial and effort, working their way up. But the question circles back, again, to our Lady Hafwen, and still does not at all address the worry that one of us may not be who or what they seem," she pushes this question again before leaning subtly back again, having made her point and letting it go. "A ransom is best gathered when one is demanded," she says quietly to Nathaniel. "One hasn't been demanded, nor word sent to prove our lady is healthy and hale. No proof, Nathaniel, and that is even more worrisome for the silence than to have someone banging on a drum at all hours demanding outrageous compensation in exchange. May I join you gentlemen in this expedition? I'd like a look at it myself, I can relay back what details we may gather to my lord."
The analogy of carving registers clearly with Nathaniel and he nods slowly when Kalira unfolds the idea. "You start with simple things," he agrees. "You try to carve a simple dowel first. Then you move to increasingly complex forms." He nods to her, and then to Mortimer. "What do we know about the children and /how/ they were taken? The people might have tried different lures, and targeted children who were easy to entrap."
Mortimer had been including Kalira in the invitation, so he simply nods once to show his assent as she asks. "I have not Mistress," he then states with a faint shake of his head, returning back to her initial question, "and that is as plausible a theory as any I have heard." He falls silent again as he runs though the conversation he had with the wailing woman once more before a hint of doubt creeps onto his features. "I can not tell you why, nor offer a better, but it doesn't sit right with what she said." Oh course, she's several removes short of a banquet, so that might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but he's not a man who likes it when things don't add up. Sharing what he figures is relevant from that conversation of a fortnight ago he starts, "she knew who I was, said I was wasting my time by being there and not stopping him. That he'd take three more in seven days and that by taking the body I found I'd anger him. Now, those three are likely your squires and the little Lady, even if it was a slight more than seven days. She made no difference between them though, just said three." It has occurred to him that the retribution for taking the body back for burial might be what has spurned the escalation, as a form of revenge but he's not about to voice that yet, however much it now sits heavily on his shoulders. Fixing instead on Nathaniel's question he answers briefly, "not much, although they've all occured near the woods. Inna's brother said he saw the woman a few days before she vanished, and the parents of the lass from Kingsgrove said she'd spoken about someone offering her a better future or somesuch. They'd assumed she run off with a boyfriend or such."
Kalira holds one hand up briefly, trying to catch Mortimer's attention: "She said 'he'," she repeats his words. "He. The legend of a 'Wolf Woman' does not sound like a Man. This doesn't follow. If the legend of a Wolf Woman is tied to this Man who lured the young Inna away.. more pieces to the puzzle, and none fitting better than any of the others already in play."
Nathaniel frowns. "The man might have followed in the woman's footsteps, taking her role from her when she died." He shrugs. Then he adds, "The legends speak of attacking wolves, strange animals that were like horses mixed with other creatures, and any number of other things that might be wholly imagined. We do know that at least two people are involved - this man and the woman who spoke about him to Master Trevelyan."
"There are two of them," Mortimer replies to Kalira, filling in what apparently she missed by arriving after most of the nobles. His tone is heavy, and grim, although it's readily apparent that he's trying to lift it to something more neutral. "The woman with her wolves who mourns for her own lost children and the man she, and others it seems, call the Hunter, who she said is taking the children for her. Was the woman that Inna's brother saw though, and we've had no sightings of him on our lands. Just her. He was seen in Ashwood territory with his strange horse though." Hoping that that will clarify things, as much as they can be, for now, he glances forward towards the other riders for a moment. Sensing an opportunity to take his terrible new theory away to mull over privately in the hope of destroying it before having to give it voice he takes a deep breath and turns once more to the pair alongside. "I should go see to the head of the ride again, ensure the pace is kept. If you have any further queries Mistress I'd take it as a kindness if you could save them for when we ride again later." The pair are given a brief nod in greeting before he then coaxes his horse into a quicker pace without waiting for any reply that might keep him from his thoughts longer.
Nathaniel listens, while frowning, to Mortimer's recap. "They work together, but what if one decides to change direction in the partnership?" he wonders to Kalira when Mortimer looks toward the pack of nobles. Then he nods to the deputy, and agrees, "We'll be ready to ride, master." Then he watches while the man moves ahead.