“So you know nothing of this Bazurr?” Reuben asked, smashing through the table.
“Nay. The king only appointed him a month ago. Nobody’s even sure if he hails from Pytham,” the stranger cringed, frightened by the malicious Reuben.
“Your king would appoint outsiders to positions of authority? Preposterous!” Reuben spat at the wooden floor of the pub. “You’re no use to me!”
Reuben exited the tavern, slamming the door hard enough to tear it from its hinges. Not a single soul in Linter could give him any background on the minister. Infuriated, Reuben decided to return to the inn, where he promised to rendezvous with Wulfrik, who scoured the city as well.
This Bazurr was an enigma, a ghost. Wulfrik may very well have made a correct assumption that he was a dæmon, and the king was at his mercy. Reuben smiled. If Bazurr was there to assassinate the king, it would please Reuben. It had been so long since he bathed in the blood of a monarch, especially one as stout as him.
Still, the fact loomed that the minister was not to be trusted. Reuben was quick to take the job, without a second thought. After what Wulfrik told him, he was not so sure anymore.
Wulfrik sat at the coffee table in front of the door, sipping a pint of beer. His legs reclined on the table, and he slumped backward.
“Anything?” Wulfrik asked.
“No one is this town knows a bloody thing!” Reuben shouted impatiently, angrily snatching the other chair and slamming onto it.
“So he is a ghost to Linter. We can always return the go—”
“No! We will see this through, and if it is a trap, we off that damned minister.”
“We would become enemies to an entire kingdom.”
“I already am an enemy of Austantis! Pytham’s military is a dandelion compared to my—pardon—the Masterson’s guard! And I decimated them before I even came of age!”
“Like you said, that minister is ‘treacherous.’ Who knows what tricks he has up his sleeve?”
“Simple parlor games, that’s what! A sleight of hand to pull out a few playing cards. Now, let’s get to bed. We need an early rise if we want to find that witch quickly.”
“Fine! Don’t bawl your eyes out when Bazurr serves your head on a platter!”
Reuben spat on the ground beside him before tossing himself into bed.
The dawn was frigid enough for breaths to freeze in the air. The cold was a hunter’s best friend because of the vapor. It is difficult to hide from a couple of sellswords when your breath has the ability to chill the air in front of you.
The Brothers returned to the castle that morning, in order to reclaim their mounts and collect a portion of their reward. Bazurr accompanied them to the outskirts of Linter: a heavily forested area, where conifers pile high. It was funny seeing an area so lush and green in the dead of autumn.
“Our scouts report that she was within the vicinity not too long ago,” Bazurr said.
Reuben and Wulfrik dismounted their horses.
Confused, Bazurr asked, “Won’t you need those?”
“A horse could never navigate through this dense wood. We’ll leave them with you,” Reuben answered.
As he gave up his reigns to the minister, one of the horses winnied, unable to keep itself standing. It nearly collapsed on Reuben, forcing him to dodge its tumbling bulk. Reuben searched for a pulse, but could not find one.
“Dead. She was a good steed, too.” Reuben eulogized before Wulfrik’s stallion toppled over as well.
“She must’ve known that we were hunting her,” said Bazurr.
Reuben crouched to examine the mare. His mouth was foaming. “Wulfrik, come ‘ere.”
Wulfrik scrutinized the horse as well, “No witch I’ve seen can do this. This looks like they were poisoned.”
Reuben stood up and grabbed the minister’s white garb. “You were the one who gave us the horses, what did you do!?”
Bazurr rose his hands, “I know nothing,” he grinned.
Reuben grabbed his lance from the horse’s corpse. He held the crown to the minister’s neck, “You poisoned our horses! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t offer you as my sacrifice to Obitulem!?”
“Please, we both know you wouldn’t want to start a war with Pytham.”
“I’ve waged war with a nation once before!”
“You declared war against your parents. Last time I checked the Mastersons held no position of power in the Austantis monarchy.”
Bazurr knew Reuben’s last name, the curse that was placed upon him at birth. Reuben raised his lance higher, poking the minister’s forehead, “If I am defied, then war it shall be!”
Reuben pushed his lance, which would have pierced Bazurr’s forehead if Wulfrik had not intervened. He pulled from the bottom of Reuben’s lance, restraining Reuben.
“We will hunt you your witch. We do not wish to declare war on your people,” he spoke calmly
“Wulfrik! This is betrayal!” Reuben screamed angrily.
“I wasn’t finished, Reuben,” Wulfrik approached Bazurr, lifting him by his collar, “If we suspect sabotage again, we will have no choice.”
Bazurr’s smug grin was infuriating to look at. Reuben fantasized serving his body to the king on a kebab.
Wulfrik threw Bazurr on the ground. Bazurr stood up quickly and brushed the dirt off of his white garments, “Remember, you are to return with her entire body. I pray you will have a good hunt.”
Reuben spat at his black loafers.
“Ta-ta, Brothers!” Bazurr called as he returned to his stagecoach.
“Come now, Reuben,” said Wulfrik, sniffing the frosty air, “Do you smell that?”
Reuben simmered down, his heart as cold as the breeze surrounding him, “Is that…?”
“Magic, she is close. Witches tend to radiate their magical aura. It usually smells rancid, but this one smells of wildflowers.”
Reuben expected the witch to carry a scent of the frogs she would toss into a cauldron. Maybe he had heard too many fables and tall tales that it clouded his judgement. Nonetheless, the two followed the potpourri of flowers, leading them farther into the forest. The scent of conifers blended with the witch’s perfume, sending the Brothers in circles.
“It’s no use,” said Wulfrik, “These damn trees are masking her scent.”
“Wait,” replied Reuben, “over there.” Reuben pointed to a tree a few meters away. He squinted a little bit, and could see the air chill with water vapor. A breath.
“Stay quiet,” said Wulfrik, arming his sword.
The two of them crept towards the breath, dodging leaves and twigs scattered on the floor. They were within arms-length of it. Easy hunt, thought Reuben…
Until she started to run.