Lost in the Forest
[Nob(#16122)] It's early in the morning, and the Breefolk in their wagons - on their way home - are stirring and stretching. Or some of them are. Others are straggling in from a long night spent hunting for a young teenage boy. Their eyes red-rimmed from lack of sleep, they argue about what to do next.
"He probly just run on home," grumbles one, "I ain't lookin' no more for some fool boy, got scared and run home to his daddy."
"But," says another, uncomfortably, "What if.. he's gotten lost?" He glances nervously at the dark forest to their south.
"We got to go on looking," says yet a third, firmly. "We ain't near where the bad stuff is, so they says. That's further on, like. So here, what we got to do is not panic none. It's day, bright enough, we'll all stay where we can see each other, and look." He looks around, expecting, commanding agreement. (set)
Victoria stays well enough back, and as close to the wagons as she could possibly be. Her arms are crossed defensively, and her manner is quite different from her norm. Victoria listens to the conversation and just shakes her head. She is tired, worn, and wishing they were back in Bree.
"Of course," Prudence agrees with the third one. Her thumbs are tucked into the waist of her apron as she nods sharply. "There's no call to be going home without the lad. Come on now, we're looking."
She then turns around again and gives the kettle in the cookfire behind her another stir. "Porridge for anyone who's hungry, then we'll go out again."
"Gotta agree," Milt says, spitting off to the side of the road to express his displeasure. He's a human man in his late 30s, with hair greying at his temples, along to help guard this group. "Damn fool kid. Ought to whip his hide when we find him."
"Well, I ain't goin'," says the first man, grumpily. "I think he just run home, an' I'm not risking my hide in that there forest!" The others, silently, take up bowls of porridge and eat then turn towards the woods to begin the hunt again. Nob hustles them into a long line, ten feet or so between every man. "Now," he says, "Don't anybody go off where's they can't see their neighbor!"
Prudence ladles up a few bowls of breakfast and passes them out to hungry folk before she abandons the cookfire to join the line. "Teenaged lad ain't a grown man to be abandoning," she snaps at the first man as she passes him. "What would you say if'n he were your own?" This being said, she walks off of the road with the others.
Milt the human shoulders his weapon, if you call a heavy staff a real weapon. "What are the tales of these woods anyhow?" he says with a leery gaze at said forest.
"They say them trees move around!" pipes up a small hobbit who has been hanging nervously back near Victoria.
The grumpy man glares back at Prudence, and changes his tactics. "Well, somebody's got to stay here and guard the wagons!" he blusters. He looks around, his eyes falling on the very obviously unhappy woman. "An' the women and kids!"
"You'll do no such thing," Milt growls, shifting his staff from his shoulders to both hands. "The sun's up and the wagon'll be perfectly safe for the women and children. Ain't no place for a grown man to hide his responsibilities in, less he wants to be answering to the rest of us."
"Both of you!" snaps Prudence just before she gets out of shouting range. She is looking at the men near the wagons. "Get to moving! Now!"
A woman, hitherto thoroughly engrossed ina few piles of dried herbs laid out in her apron, looks up with mild interest at the commotion. She rises from her position on the ground with some difficulty, aided by a staff. (OOC: Thiea)
Nob is paying no attention to this, as he bustles up and down the line, examining it and spreading the men properly apart. "All right!" he says, his voice shrill. "Let's be off!" And they start, slow at first and then speeding up a bit.
Howie glowers back at Prudence, but his gaze falters before Milt's and he goes reluctantly to join the end of the line.
Milt turns a glare on Prudence--he was in the line, after all, and just waiting for Nob's go-ahead--and then focuses on Howie, muttering under his breath. Sounds something like "women."
Prudence glares at Howie, then at Milt, summoning all of the sharpness that an angry tavernmaid can in those eyes, which is really quite a lot of you think about it. Then she looks forward, shakes her skirt briskly, and starts marching at Nob's say-so. "Kaldean!" she calls.
Others take up the call. "HEY THERE!" "KAAAAL!" "Hoy, lad, where are you? If you hear us, give a shout!"
Looking after the disappearing searchers, Thiea glances a bit ruefully at her feet, shrugs, and begins hobbling not quite aimlessly around the wagons. After a moment she leans to examine some plants growing at the edge of the trees.
A certain, scampish lad who stowed himself secretly with the party by finding a means to secure himself underneath the wagon (!!!) for the first part of the trip, has amazingly been well behaved since. Probably because Madeleine likely hauled her neffew off into the bushes at one point and whupped his deserving little backside for giving her a fright.
Now, feeling a whole lot more impish about the world, Tamhill sits on the wagon bed kicking his currently bare feet and begins to sing out loud, rather shrilly, "Frog kiss'n! Ya don'ts know what ya been miss'n!"
"Gonna be gettin' sour ale for a while," Milt whispers to Howie as Prudence glares at them both. He grimaces, then shouts, "Kaldean! Come git some breakfast!"
It was a long night, filled with attempts to cling to maturity and not overreact, and equally as many moments where he was frozen in terror every time he thought he heard some horrid creature lurking in the inky shadows. The lantern oil failed in the first half an hour and he dumped the tool after the first hour of carrying it along. Keldean truly regretted all the stories he was eager to hear from Conall and the dwarf, as his imagination begin to replace his better sensabilities .. conjuring wolves and goblins and dragons. After hours of wandering in circles he grew weary enough to settle down in a mossy hollow, curled up in the dirty blanket that he had wrapped over his shoulders. When he fell asleep it was exhaustion that won over his fear and misery.
"Kaaaal!" shrieks the smallest hobbit, then blushes as his voice comes out high and squeaky.
Even though it is broad daylight, the woods are spooky. Branches hang low and catch at hair - seemingly on purpose. Nob's eyes go wide and he gulps, looking up at a huge old oak beside him.
"KELD-ah!" Prudence is jerked backwards, her bun caught in a branch. Others start walking forward without her as she frantically tries to untangle her haystack hair.
Even in the light of day, the atmosphere is foreboding. Tall dark trees stretch high and wide, casting layers of shadow to play tricks on the eye. Foreign sounds all around, shuffles of leaves and snaps of twigs. In the distance, as if travelling on the wind, a melodious and happy tune is being whistled. Surely another trick of the senses!
"Hey! I think I heard him!" shouts the woodcutter. "Over this... wh-what was that?" From a deep shout of triumph, to a quavering query, in less than half a second.
"Oh for goodness sake, woman!" Milt snort as Prudence's hair gets caught. He turns back to help her, and then the big man trips on a tree root that didn't seem to be there before. At least that's what his expression seems to say.
The air gets heavier, filled with an aura of menace - as if lots of eyes are watching from hiding, and none of them are friendly. But then something shifts a bit of sunlight glimmers brighter, and there - a spot where you can see the blue of the sky.
The tree branch in Prudence's hair seems to be a bit higher than it was a moment ago, for why else would she now be standing on her toes? Her eyes go wide as Milt falls right in front of her. Her hair falls out of its bun, one long loop still caught in the tree. "Are you hurt?"
Quite oblivious to the concern the others have, the young Breelad sitting on the wagon continues his own song, his words chaffing at both the ears and the trees around himself, "Thar's opportunity under each'n every looooggg.... if'n ya nev'r been a charm breaker - if'n ya nev'r been a handsome Prince mak'r, just bend ya down 'n kiss ya ... ME!"
Tamhill laughs at his own foolishness, but... nobody else is laughing. He frowns, wipes a dirty arm over his even dirtier face and then he picks up his staff, "Aint they ev'r com'n back?"
"Trees that move," Milt grumbles. "And now trees that sing?" He struggles to his feet, which seem to be tangled in tree roots. "Not hurt..." he half makes it to his knees. "You?"
Keldean wakes up, the cold and discomfort of his makeshift bed rousing him from heavy slumber. He was too tired to have any nightmares, but as he sits up and remembers the dilemma he's caught himself in, his waking nightmare returns. He climbs to his feet slowly, pushing thick auburn curls back from his face, dried bits of leaves and moss stuck in his hair. The forest is decidedly less scary in the light of day, but replacing the shadows is that uncertainty that he could be in serious trouble if he doesn't find his way back to the road. He swallows, looking around slowly with fearful eyes as he holds the blanket tightly about his lean frame. Think Kel.. think. What do you do if you're lost in the woods? ... It doesn't help that he's completely unfamiliar with the region west of Bree.
Nob looks around worriedly. "Keldean?" he calls, uncertainly, then clears his throat and shouts it louder. "Keldean!" But the whistle.. "There's birds here," he says to the man nearest him, shoring up his courage. "Did you hear that? Can't be all bad, surely?"
Milt looks up from /pulling/ his leg free from a tree root that has wrapped around it somehow--it's getting easier to do so, at least, and his leg pulls free. "Sun's out, too." He points to the sky.
Howie has hung back the whole time, trudging along, scowling and beating his staff against bushes angrily. "He ain't out here," he mutters to himself. "Pointless." Even the scrap of whistle doesn't cheer him up.
Prudence's hank of hair unwinds from the tree, revealing that without the bun, it's longer than her waist and dried into messy waves. She looks beyond Milt to the sunlight. "Imagine the lot of us making fools of ourselves over a bunch of trees." She walks around the man to continue searching.
Milt scrambles to his feet and snatches his staff, which was flung several feet away, though he doesn't remember it ever leaving his hands. He huffs after Prudence, chest puffed out to try to regain his dignity.
Victoria reaches out and gives a gentle pat to Tamhill's shoulder, smiling politely before answering. "I hope they do come back sooner rather than later." She tries to keep her voice even, and takes a breath as she looks at him. "Why not sing a little more, maybe they'll come back?
Keldean finally decides to climb a tree, figuring that if he can see the road, he can head in that direction and at least -then- things won't seem so hopeless. He picks an oak with some low branches and drapes the blanket over the lowest, then begins working his way up, hands finding purchase and pulling him higher. About halfway up he runs into some difficulty, the limbs spread further out and taking some careful planning. Still, the boy stubbornly continues his ascent, and when he finally gets about as high as he can manage he looks around in accomplishment.
His staff now in hand to keep up his own spirits, Tamhill holds his other grubby hand up to his mouth and mimiks the others, "Kaaallllean! Whoot! Whoot! Here! Come here, lad!"
A hand reaches over and pats him on the shoulder and the scamp turns his moppish head of hair to look at her. A rackish grin for Victoria - who probably shouldn't encourage the rascal.
Tamhill stands up on the back of the wagon and starts to bellow out a song, "A lusty youn maiden tae the smith she di' go, tae ask 'im if'n he wa tae go at her forge!"
Surely the shouts of the searchers float through the forest towards the boy, where-ever he is. But the scrap of a tune has disappeared, even from memory, and the air grows heavy and smothering, pressing down their voices.
Prudence stops as the air seems to grow thick again, smothering. After a moment, she glances over at Milt again. She gives a heartless little laugh. "Funny place, isn't it?"
"Funny, yeah," Milt grunts, looking up at the trees with suspicion. "I just want to stay here all day watching it grow funnier and funnier as the sun sinks down, too. Where is that boy?!"
But then a breath of air, a bit of a breeze, cool and heartening and it brings with it another elusive melody. Almost, it seems there are words wound into the wind...
His pride at his clever thinking quickly slips away as his brown eyes meet little more than leaves, needles, and bark.. He's not high enough to see past the forest around him. A moment of crushing despair floods through Keldean, tears threatening to fill his vision. Then he hears the faintest sound of yells.. people! Calling! He laughs in relief and calls out in a voice that cracks, "Here!!" He clears his throat and yells again louder.
Nob's sharp ears catch a distant shout - a cry that /isn't/ a coyote or wolf or fox or some strange nonexistent music (that must after all have just been the wind). "Wait!" he says, hurrying up the line to catch the man beside him by the arm. "Did you hear that?"
"Shh!" Prudence flaps a hand at Milt. "Shh! Did you hear something? KELDEAN!!!" she shouts. "Didn't you hear something over there?" she starts making her way toward his voice.
"Birds," Milt mutters grumpily--sounding as grumpy as Howie now. "It's the cursed birds and the trees in this place." Though he keeps his voice low and stalks along, following the others.
Howie's face is a picture as, by the sound of it, the boy really /is/ out here in these woods. "Well!" he says loudly. "What're you all waiting for? Let's go get the lad!"
"Over here!!" Keldean calls again, gripping the branch tightly to keep from falling. When he hears them drawing closer a grin is plastered on his face as he begins climbing back down to towards the ground. The last thing he wants is for them to move on because he's up in a tree. It's a ridiculous fear at this point, but with a rescue so near at hand his nerves are a bit frazzled.
Victoria doesnt seem to notice the words being sung by the young boy, until it is too late. His chorus is nearly done before she reaches for him and gives his sleeve a tug. "Tamhill!" she whispers harshly, and trying hard to not laugh. The laugh was most certainly needed, but she refrains and attempts to look stern. "Where did you HEAR such things!"
"No!" Prudence looks back at Milt again, her terse face almost smiling. "listen, the others are hearing it too!" Her boot-lace tangles in yet another root and she goes crashing into a bush.
"Huh?" Milt grunts, turning one ear to try to strain to hear in the forest. He does frown for a moment as if his ears pick up something, but then Prudence goes crashing into the bushes and he lunges forward to try to grab her. He misses...somehow...the long arm of a tree branch seems to get in his way, scraping at his arm and with a loud RIP! tearing his sleeve, leaving a bloody line.
The smallest hobbit, the one who has said nothing more for fear of squeaking again, goes racing towards Keldean's voice. And Nob, dropping his neighbor searcher's arm, rushes after, shouting. "Keldean, Keldean, is that you?"
One would think getting DOWN from a tree wouldn't be that difficult, but his shirt keeps getting caught on branches and the easy path he took up to the top has.. disappeared. Still, Kel's too excited to consider that there might be angry trees at work. "Yes! I'm over here!! In a tree!" Thank you thank you thank you! Saved! All that's running through his mind is that he won't end up as a tasty meal for wolves.
Tamhill oofs as Victoria suddenly almost jerks him off of the wagon. The boy's skinny arms and legs go akimbo as he tries to keep his balance, "Hey!"
Giving Victoria a very innocent and laughable look, the dirty lad bears his teeth at her in a grin, "Me Pa, he's th' town smith!" As if that should explain things. The boy hops down to sit back down on the back of the wagon, "Do ya think they all got eat'n by orcs? I aint never seen no orcs, b'th' Dorfs back in Bree ha' said someth'n 'bout orcs last summer, didn'a hear?"
The boy is quiet oblivious of the possibility of freaking the poor woman out.
Victoria straightens and smoothes her hands over her hair. "I'll have t'speak to him when we get back. Til then, please do not sing such.. songs." When the boy goes off on a tangent about orcs and dwarves, she puts a hand on his shoulder again. "I pray that you never have to see them, Tamhill. And there are none near here that I am aware of. And I am quite sure they would have made their presense known to us."
Howie blunders face-first into a large branch overhanging the path. He gives a muffled yelp, and claps his hand to his nose blood oozes between his fingers. But he is nearly to where the boy's voice as come from... or he thinks so at least. And coming to a halt at the base of a tree, he peers up it. "You up 'ere?" he calls, in a very nasal tone.
Prudence, meanwhile, spends some time squirming in her bush while trying to get out. She succeeds, but only with a couple of scrapes on her face. She stands and stares at Milt. "Bloody forest!" she swears, most unladylike. "We need to get that lad and get out."
She marches off, nearing Nob now. "He up in this one? HEY KELDEAN!" she shouts, perhaps louder than necessary. She looks down at a root and stomps on it purposefully.
Milt just stares at his now-bloody arm. "Out..yeah..." he frowns, echoing Prudence's words sort of dreamily almost. He looks up as she marches off, snaps out of it, and stomps off to the foot of the tree--and then lets the woman do the threatening. She seems to be so good at it, after all, or so his rather humorous expression might indicate.
And now the whole line, mostly, of searchers has fought their way through brambles and thorns and thickets, to cluster around a group of trees... starting to quarrel over which one the boy is actually up. "This one!" "Tis Not, he's up here, I say!"
Tamhill opens his mouth to say something else in his piping, shrill voice, but Victoria's reply hushes him right up for a breath, "Ya would talk tae me Pa?" He looks incredulous, then laughs! "Oiy, he woul' like tha' me thinks. He do like 'is woman folk!"
To the rest the boy just gives Victoria a knowing look, "Thar aint no such thang as orcs, silly. Just be stories tae try'n frighten me'n Lek!"
"Up.. here!" Keldean calls, jerking his arm away as his sleeve catches. The blanket is still hanging down on one of the low branches, a good indicator of what tree the teen is in. Slowly he descends, at one point hanging precariously and barely reaching a limb below with his toe. He manages, and when the fourteen year old finally lands his booted feet on the forest floor, he still has the relieved smile on his face. There are a few scratches and superficial cuts on his arms and face from his blundering about in the dark, but otherwise the boy seems well enough.
There is a general outcrying of relief - broken by Howie, who growls, "Ought t'tan your hide, young'un! Lead us on a proper dance you did!" But Nob turns around to return to the wagons. Then turns around again. And once more. Only trees stretching in every direction. Finally though, he starts off the way that they had come - that part at least is easy enough to figure.
"He's on that one, little fool," Prudence says to a hobbit with almost a laugh in her voice, pointing at Keldean's blanket. "Let me see to you." The tavern maid walks to Keldean and starts looking at his face, reaching out to touch his scrapes.
Milt takes a look at the boy first--a quick glance to ascertain that the kid is in one piece. Then he walks over to where Nob stands. "Which way back? This wood gets all twisted around."
Keldean is smiling until Howie starts growling at him in that angry tone. The teen shrinks back, bumping right into Prudence as she approaches to look him over. There's dried blood on his face from a couple of cuts, but he's probably better off than half the rescue party. "I'm sorry.." He says quickly to Howie, his tone nervous.
But the smallest hobbit of all is the one who steps up to the angry man. "Now you just leave him be," he says in (yes!) a squeaky voice. Then he reaches up on tiptoe to pat Keldean's arm. "Don't you bother about him none, he's just grumpy on account of being got the better of by a lady. Now come along and let's go find our way... back to the wagons?" He gulps a little.