The woodland track, part 2.

Now, goblins, we have all heard of goblins, we all know about goblins don’t we. But do we all know about redcaps? Goblins are evil creatures, they wage wars just for the sheer joy, raid villages, destroy farms, steal children from cots to cooking pots. Redcaps, do exactly the same, and worse. They are more evil than their cousins the goblins, redcaps must cause pain and harm to survive, it is part of the magic that keeps them living for an infinite time. Goblins will grow old, more wrinkled and warty than they already are, long grey hair falling down their bony backs, and eventually die, but redcaps are driven by their thirst for life by a thirst for death, they are tortures, slaughterers, bandits. They will never live too far off the beaten track, they need a fresh supply of victims to keep them entertained, and to keep their caps stained red with blood, their stomachs full with flesh, their hearts full of hate ( if they even have hearts) and their life force flowing. Poor Sam found out exactly how these foul creatures keep themselves entertained in their foul rotten dwelling. The crow told me, but I neither have the heart or the desire to remember those memories that were forced upon me by my own inquisitively.

 

Seasons passed, snow fell, snow melted, and gave way to hot summer days, the wood was green and cool, but still devoid of the life that you would expect to find in such a lush environment ,then the leaves would wither and fall, covering the woodland floor in a yellow and orange blaze. These changes came and went many times, yet still the wood was haunted by the red caps that resided there. Many travelers went missing in those woods, yet few were missed, the realm is a dangerous place, missing folk is not such an unusual thing in these lands infested with trolls, werewolves and such like, but a missing princess is a cause for concern…..

Thick snow had covered the entire landscape. Wind whistled through the trees of the wood, snowflakes drifted eerily in the air, settling on the floor, their individuality never to be seen again. Gusts of wind would blow up a dusting of snow, sending it to fly across the landscape. Yet over the windy gales voices could be heard, just at the mouth of the woodland track. “we must pass through the wood then, it is only a few hours till dark”, “no” replied another voice, “we turn around, head up that hill and the castle is a few miles the other side, I’m sure”, the two men sat upon their horses, both had dark blue cloaks pulled tightly about themselves with the hoods up, covering their entire bodies from the cold, they had round steel helmets on and thick leather gloves. Each held a spear and a sword was sheathed at their side attached to the saddles they sat upon, their clothes and equipment were very fine indeed, the best in these lands, well-crafted and well looked after, and these men were professionals, bodyguards to royalty. Sat just a short distance from them, upon a white horse was a lady, lady Leanna, a princess of the realm. She was wrapped up in a fine regal blue cloak, etched with stoat fur, the hood was pulled over her head, and she had a scarf that covered the rest of her face. She was shaking uncontrollably, staring at her two bodyguards as they had a dispute at the edge of the wood. “Enough” she demanded in her commanding yet soft voice, “we go through the woods, at least we will be out of this wind in there”, “as my lady wishes” replied one of the body guards as he stooped a bow. She kicked on her horse that obediently trotted off down the track into the wood, the two bodyguards at her side. Princess Leanna had left the castle with her bodyguards earlier that day, she had heard rumours of a white unicorn that only emerged during the peak of the snowy periods, so that it was camouflaged and free to roam the land unhindered. The search for the unicorn had been unsuccessful, the princess had raced off impatiently, and her two bodyguards, trying more to keep up with her than concentrate on their surroundings had become lost in the white countryside. The light of day was failing, the cold and wind intensified, snow began to fall more harshly, in no time at all it was a blizzard, the three riders slowed down and rode side by side, the princess in-between the two men. The bodyguards hefted up the huge round shields that were to their side, they hoisted them up, making a small mounted shield wall, protecting the princess from the blizzard that was coming in from their front. “My lady, we must stop” “we must make shelter, to continue in this is madness” they shouted at the top of their voices, and even though the princess was right next to them she still struggled to hear them over the blizzard that enveloped them. “My ears are cold” she grumbled to herself as she looked up into the sky, “I bet he is cold, poor bird”. Up in the sky she could see glimpses of a dark bird, just above the tree line, he was only visible for a few split seconds, and then he disappeared into the snow that raced through the bitter cold sky. “Wait, stop” demanded one of the body guards, “look, to our front”, not fifteen feet from them, standing in the track and barely visible was a small figure, leaning on a pike twice the size of itself. “Who are you, drop your weapon and come closer, show yourself” demanded one of the bodyguards, his voice holding new authority and aggression. The figure stood still, staring at the two men and the princess. The body guards looked at each other, one stayed put while the other kicked his horse on and slowly advanced on the figure, his spear levelled. He stared back at his companion who was now just a mounted outline in the dark, his horse moved nervously unable to keep still, something about the situation frightened the animal. He looked to his front again, the figure was walking away, disappearing into the blizzard. He looked back to his companion, he was gone. Just the horse remained, panic took over him, “the princess” he whispered to himself, he hurried his horse back to where they had left her, ignoring what may have happened to his companion, honour bound duty took over all his emotions. Right where they had left her was her white horse, riderless, he looked about for footprints in the snow, but all had been covered up in seconds. He yelled, called for her, but the wind carried his voice away with it, as if it were but a leaf in the wind. He heard a sound to his left, there atop a large stone, almost as if it were calling out to him was perched a crow.

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