Eli values friendship highly. At least he doesn't like it when they get slaughtered and their family kidnapped. Now he is on the trail to find whoever did this. It will go badly for them if Eli catches up with them.
Character Series: no character series
Group Series: Hadesdorff, 4
Author: Chris Wilkins
“That’s not right. Where the hell did they go?”
Eli looked about at the burned out house and barn, slaughtered cattle and pigs, and his dead friend and brother in arms. His wife and her kids were nowhere to be seen.
“Who the feek would have done this?” He wanted to scream but there was no one to scream at. He wanted to seriously kill whoever had done this but they had long gone. The fires were nothing but cold ash and charcoal.
“This could have been anyone.”
Eli looked at his friend. “Now there’s a statement of the frigging obvious. No shit, Shay. Could you say something frigging helpful? You know.”
“Yeh, fuck you, Eli. I’m trying to help, and you asking me daft questions doesn’t actually help either.”
Eli looked about at the slaughter. “Yeh. Feek you too.”
They both spread out to see what they could find. The saddest thing Eli had seen for a while was Tadhg dead, his old buddy who he and Shay had fought alongside for years. Tara, Tadhg’s wife and a great friend of both Eli and Shay, had married him only five years ago, which had made Eli jealous though he had never admitted that to anyone, not even himself. She had once told Eli something about Tadhg making her happy, and she actually loving him. Eli had laughed at the time, to which he’d got a punch in the shoulder which left a bruise for three days.
He had to admit they had made a good couple. They had moved a bit away from the main village and started their own farm. Eli and others had warned them about wandering monsters and roving bandits. But they never seemed to have a care in the world. They had made their own life and it had been a happy one.
Tadhg had been a hard worker just as he had been a tireless warrior, there was no denying that. He had cleared a small field, fenced it with the trees he had cut down, and also built a small cabin. As the next few years ticked by the cabin became a proper two bedroom house with a kitchen that had a huge metal range that warmed the inside in the winters. Tara, even while giving birth to four children, kept the stove going all the time, producing a constant array of bread and fantastic soup. The ingredients came from vegetable patches she started up around the house, and game from the woods she killed and skinned herself. She was a mean shot with a bow.
And the four kids, great kids all of them, always made Eli laugh when he came by for a visit. They were always happy, chasing each other around the house and growing farm, laughing and giggling as they went. Eli was constantly surprised they never fought, always playing nice. He knew it was a sign of what a good mother Tara was.
But that had all turned to shit. The house was burned down, Tadhg was dead, and Tara and the four young ones were nowhere to be found. Some of the livestock had clearly been butchered and taken for meat while the rest were killed. There was a sign of a fight but how big Eli couldn’t tell. It looked like the furniture in the house had been broken in the struggle but it was hard to tell because a lot of it was also ash. What he guessed were the burnt chairs and tables weren’t where he remembered they used to be. Plus there was the dead Tadhg with stab wounds through him.
“Why the hell would they do this?” Eli asked himself. “What’s the point?”
“Slaves.” Shay said next to him. “It has to be. A woman? Four young kids?”
Eli looked in horror at Shay as the implications sank in. “They’d take the little ones?”
“Sure. Train them while they’re young. They’ll forget their mum quick enough once separated from her.”
“Feek no.” Eli looked about at the destruction, the dead cattle and pigs, the burnt house, and poor dead Tadhg. Somehow the standing pristine fences in the sun made it look even more morbid.
“We have to find them. Before they disappear for good.”
“Buddy, sorry, but what chance do you think we have?” He swept his hand around at the cold ashes. “This happened at least a week ago. The ashes are stone cold. They’ve long gone.”
“Feek, Shay. Never knew you one to be give up so early. Where the hell would they go? Where would they take them? And frankly who the hell are they? There have never been any slavers in these parts for years.”
Way in the past it had been commonplace for marauding bands to scour the lands for slaves. It was a good business. Ship them south to tend to the houses of the rich in warmer lands. But one by one the villages had hunted the slave traders down. After a number of brutal mass executions and torturings the slavers stopped coming. They learned the hard way that the tough folk across the moors didn’t take kindly to being rounded up and taken away. They seemed like nice pleasant folk, what with their constant singing, partying and drinking. But it was a mistake to think because they liked a good fun party that they were not capable of extreme blood curdling violence, especially when their own family and friends were threatened.
“We have to find them, Shay. Tara, she can probably take care of herself. She’s probably thumped a number of her prisoners already. But there’s no way we can let the little ones become slaves.”
“Okay. Then where do we start?”
Tara did not really care for herself much. She was a Gaelge, she didn’t feel pain and she would fight to the last. Which is what the slavers had found out. Already one of her guards had lost an ear when she attached her teeth to it and didn’t let go until the ear let go itself. She did cop a sword hilt in the face but it had been worth it.
What she was worried about were her kids, all small, all helpless. One of the guards, who was absolutely going to die just as soon as Tara figured out a way to untie her hands, had already threatened to kill the baby in front of her if she didn’t behave.
Tara of course did not believe him. Liam, as cute as a baby as you could ever imagine, with his blond hair and blue eyes, would be worth a small fortune to the slavers. She knew full well that she would lose Liam when they got to the slave markets, or whenever it suited the slavers. Most likely Gabby, Calvin and Kaiden as well. The slavers did not bring them along to make sure they got good proper motherly care.
The wagon she was locked in was small and cramped, typically two and half yards wide by three long, a wooden tray on a two axles, and a wooden cage over the tray, long slender poles bound together with leather and nails. She and her four kids had been grabbed in the middle of the night, about a week ago she guessed. At the time the wagon had been nearly empty with only four other people in the back. As the wagon trundled along through forests and fields heading south it was slowly filling up from more attacks on isolated farmhouses.
What made the slavers’ enterprise clever was that they travelled long distances before making another ‘acquisition’ as the slavers described it. Tara heard one of them say doing this made discovery harder. By leaving no witnesses behind, and coming and going in the night, only taking one family here and one family there, it stopped an entire town or shire going to arms and hunting them down. If they nabbed a family and were gone the next morning, those left behind would say it was very sad, nothing could be done about it, and then go about their normal life, quickly forgetting Mrs. whoever who disappeared one night with her children.
Sick, but Tara knew it would work.
Which is why she had to find a way out of the cage. Maybe even slit some of the attackers throats before running into the forest to hide.
Eli and Shay had the trail now. It wasn’t hard to follow the wheels tracks of a cart being hauled through the forest, over hill, and through fields. The tracks were easy to spot through the underbrush. What was also clear was that some of the slavers were ranging ahead of the cart to find the best way for the cart to go, as they weren’t sticking to roads.
They didn’t want to be seen.
Which is what had made it so difficult to pick up the trail to begin with. Searching around and around the burnt out farm there had been no sign of tracks, except that of heavy set boots in the dirt that were at least a week old. Harder to see than if they were fresh but not impossible for someone like Eli who could track a rabbit through miles of thick dense forest.
The slavers had clearly kept the wagon a mile away from the farm house, had grabbed Tara and the kids, after having killed Tadhg, and then marched the family to the wagon. This way the tracks didn’t connect with the farmhouse.