462 Years Ago.
The dead hung from the tree in bunches, bloated and thick with flies in the high head orange sunset. Krota reached for his carving knife and set about his work in stalwart silence.
The boy was young--little more than a dozen summers with him--but it took less than three attempts to slice braided rope strong enough to slam a charging war horse to a dead halt.
His first corpse that day was a fair maiden, cold and grey as he set her on the river bank. Krota could tell she was beautiful; the green of her eyes once arrested men and women alike, now scoured to the color of wilted grass.
The knife twirled in expert hands; Krota set the instrument in muddy clay slick with blood as he set to loot the body. A betrothal necklace yet unclaimed by any worthwhile bachelor in her village and an artfully crafted earring that marked her lineage were all that awarded his questing hands.
Only a week into the war and both House Irkalla and House Renar had ceased to exist as countries. Nearby, the river that once carried merchant ships ran red--thick with ballistae bolts and splintered siege engines.
Krota pushed the once fair maiden into the river of the dead, where she joined a vanguard of House Renar soldiers that passed as drowned carrion--shattered bone and all, worn bronze swords forever held fast in rigor mortis. Not even the children or women were spared. In fact, Count Renar issued a proclamation to especially target the women and children...a tactic Krota couldn't help but secretly admire when he considered the tall people of his world were by birth lean and hardy.
His next corpse was a grandmotherly matriarch, wrapped in ruined silken robes, with grey tufts in her ears and prominent crow's feet at the corner of each eye. An ornate, ruby encrusted ring sat upon each finger on her left hand to mark each century the matriarch saw 'til today, when House Renar's Imperials clashed against House Irkalla's defending soldiers.
He was in luck; next was a rather youthful patriarch with only two rings on his left hand, but each was certain to fetch a fair price in the next settlement. And so the boy plied his grim trade well into the night, advanced to even more gallows downstream, each macabre under a full moon.
The next morn Krota branched throughout the rest of the village, glee sparkling in his eyes as he cut down corpse after stinking corpse and followed the war to the south west as he did over the last week, into the jagged Blackstone Mountains.
A shallow cavern was his warren for the night.
A rucksack of shattered arrows served as firewood, and with a captured torch he set a heath alight to roast the stolen beef before it rotted in the summer heat. He ate the meager morsel--a princely meal to any war orphan--with steamed carrots and washed it down with one of several filled flasks he relieved from the tavern.
Krota slept with a full belly, dizzy with the ale, and dreamt of warmer days when his mother tucked him in bed every night, his father taught him the merchant trade, and the boys of his village respected him and the girls gazed upon him longingly.