When we made it back to Kynareth’s clearing the tiredness and fatigue set in our bones. It was the last day of the hunters guild contest and if I had any hope of graduating this year, I still had a bit of a ways to travel. Graduation from the guild wasn’t an all or nothing proposition. Every hunter graduated when the elders judged them ready to uphold the guilds practices, hunt,and conduct businesses on their own. Some students simply needed more time to develop. Good hunters who could do the job and come back alive for their foreseeable future ,was more important than receiving accolades. The competitions we held were as much a means to run the piss and vinegar out of energetic students as they were a teaching tool.
The Breton dropped on a bed roll and started to snore. She started muttering in her sleep. “Fish heads,fish heads rolly polly fish heads.…Zzzzzz eat them up,yum.” The Bosmer got the fire stoked back up as I headed off. The town guardsmen accompanied me to the hunters guild to present my catch. The Redguard, the Bosmer and the sleeping Breton would camp for the night and meet me in town tomorrow.
We arrived at the hunters guild right on time for the judging to begin. The town guard had agreed to wait until morning to take statements from the hunters guild students who had been held captive. Hunters guild events were deeply ingrained in Black Marsh culture,unless it was an oblivion gate opening in the town square it could wait.
Riverbed-diver made a fine show of wolf pelts and swamp pig quills. Gil-woor had a full collection of local alchemical ingredients. Parties-his-tail-off got recognition for his clever use of hunters caches. He stashed his windfall of rabbits,salted cured meat and deer hides properly so he could retrieve them unspoiled after he was released. He won a spot teaching the initiates curing,tanning and storing. He would start in the spring.
Milo-tus won the prize for tracking. A nix hound wandered over the border from Morrowind some months ago. He was living peacefully in the moors until recently. The critter began wreaking havoc on the rice farmers, and making a nuisance of himself for the fishermen on the Tall reed river outlet. He was able to tame and train it,so he also took the prize for dog training.
Strikes-with-fury proved his mastery of the bow with pheasants,wild ducks,quail,partridge and grouse. The impressive kill was a Dire turkey that nearly swallowed him whole. He brought the best of his hunt back to the guild before he was captured. He was given credit for foresight and prompt delivery of goods,before he went out for a second run.
Tin-ehm had no luck, but showed great resourcefulness,patience and humility. No game came his way,due to being scared off by the slavers in the area. He dug clams and dove for oysters. He got many pearls,found treasure,he found ore deposits and undiscovered veins of gems. He marked locations of new resources on maps. He refilled hunters caches with healing potions.
One of the treasure spots he found belonged to a long lost wizard from Cyrodiil. His camp was overflowing with them along with his journal. He was working on a spell to repel bugs,flesh flies in particular. He failed and was eaten alive. His college and kin could finally be notified about what happened to him.
He found good stone to craft arrowheads,spear points,and knives to put in the caches. We are taught to do this so we aren’t caught in the wild without a weapon. There are situations which arise in the field that involve ditching your gear and running for your life. Heroic deaths don’t keep the community feed.He built a safe camp and carved hunter signs for others to follow. He had time to mix paper pulp out of reeds and stone press it,while he wove some baskets. He used his time well even though his hunting trip was a bust.
Tin-ehm was presented with a special commendation for service. The guild acknowledged doing small,tedious task so others can get their job done is important too. Working with what you have in lean times, and making the most of it is a valuable skill.
I had the most varied and rare haul of the season. I got awards for search and rescue,grace under fire, and team leadership. I got my ears boxed when my mother found out where I’d been hunting from Hjorg Wild-stag.
When the mead started flowing at the annual awards dinner Hjorg favored every one with the tale of the adventure we had been on. The other members of A.S.S were telling my parents what brave and clever sons they had raised. Vah-roe got his ears boxed right behind me. It didn’t matter that he was living in his own apartment above his shop. He had been the age of majority for two years. I stopped Hjorg from telling the part of the tale about comely imperial maidens by getting him to focus on how fearsome the Gristleback was;before Mother got out her stick.
I spoke with my brother Lun-Shua about keeping an eye on little Min-Kin. He said he already knew she was a shadow scale. Her parents were loving people,but were not argonian. They were Bretons who found Min-Kin when she was hatched. Nothing was ever discovered about her real parents. We all searched for clues about them when the hatching pool was found abandoned on their newly purchased farmland. The sign of the shadow doesn’t carry the same weight in other cultures.The worst the kindly older couple was bracing for is stealthiness and thieving ways.
Lun-Shua had discussions about training her in secrecy for the dark brotherhood,and keeping her hidden in plain sight till she came of age. I was relieved someone was keeping an eye out. I wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley now, and a shudder of terror ran down my spine for a moment thinking about the kid fully trained.
My father congratulated me on my graduation. He made Ranger a set of light hunters armor and a pack. He made me a new dog whistle and some bird snares. He gave me some advice on keeping mother in the dark about the more dangerous aspects of my job. He said he would try to shift her attention by letting Jumps-the-fens start dating and setting her curfew later. The romantic drama of a teen daughter,might give me a chance to come into my adulthood on my own with little hindrance.
My mother is strong,savvy,good natured,and very distractible. Giving more freedom to an already free spirit should do the trick.
The celebration was one of the most lively we had seen in years. Graduates,teachers and families enjoyed the Dire turkey with all the trimmings. There was storytelling,music and dancing that went on late into the night. Strong drink, the soft,vibrant glow of the bonfire made the happiness on our young faces shine all the brighter. The scent of dried apple wood coated with sage,crackling was comforting music of it’s own. Watching embers floating up to the sky entwined in curling smoke and the bountiful array of dishes laid out on the banquet hall’s lovingly carved oak tables embellished with all the creatures we hunted around the edges; Set the feeling in our bones that we were safe at home. What we had been through dispelled all our lingering doubts. We were true hunters.
We graduates showed off our Mudcrab amulets to our younger siblings and students. Our dogs slept in the kennels peacefully with stuffed bellies from turkey dinner scraps.
The next morning was mild,but overcast as I went to meet the town guard and all the other witnesses. The Nord Sargent gave Min-Kin sweet rolls after he took her statement. He showed her some basic shield work out in the yard of the guard barracks so she would be out of earshot while the adults spoke about more graphic details about their ordeal. Min-Kin proudly showed him her toe necklace. “If you were a little older I would buy you an ale. You have the true heart of a Nord.” I heard him tell her as the Breton came out of the barracks.
Cameroc helped gloss over the Bretons arrival in Blackmarsh from another plane. The local guards were confused and furious enough about one of their own had been wrapped up in this slaver business. The last thing we needed in Rootfalls was to call attention to Sheogorath’s cavern if it was active again. The local temple priest would make safe passage to Kynareth’s clearing a priority.
It took a better part of the morning to get all the interviews completed. The Redgaurd and The Bosmer resupplied in town and headed on their way to chase the leads the prisoners had given them. The Orc chieftain and his son left earlier. The Breton enjoyed the shops and sights.
My mother and sisters entertained the Breton for the afternoon. I don’t know what they were talking about, nor do I want to know. There was some wicked witch style cackling coming from the house. I helped my father with the dogs. Ranger sleep peacefully in a pile of hay.
When the sun set we all headed to the tavern. The Breton gave a rousing performance of the battle hymn we sang when we faced certain death staring down the Gristleback. Her voice won the heart of some overly large Nord with rippling muscles and silky chestnut hair. He had silver beads in his braided beard. The Breton ran off to Skyrim and I’ve never seen her again. I have a feeling I haven’t heard the last from her.
Anticlimactic, I know. Life went on at the sleepy pace for years for me. There are other adventures to be shared from Rootfalls on another snowy day by the comfort of a roaring fire and full glasses of mead.