Lianna led the way, and Mirko and Venne followed behind her, walking level with each other and spread out into a tiny arrowhead formation. Lianna walked with a determined stride, setting a fast pace. Venne, who was a head shorter than both the others stayed quiet, and Mirko suspected that he was too short of breath to talk. They crossed the fields quickly enough: the first couple were grazing ground for cattle, and though the cows raised their heads in curiosity at the travellers they soon returned to eating grass and thinking bovine thoughts. After that there was a narrow dirt path that led through crop fields, green shoots and pale-green young plants all around. Mirko recognised the sprouts of wheat, cabbages, potatoes and carrots and felt the underground peristaltic thump of vegetable life.
"Watch your step," said Lianna as they entered the first crop field. "Any damage to the crops and I will tell Sir Wickhold that you are responsible."
The sun had fallen to mid-sky by the time they saw the edges of the forest; they had crested a hill and looking down they saw that the forest was only three fields away now. To the left and right were signs of clearance: tree stumps, and holes where the stumps had been uprooted and pulled out. Burned vegetation was beyond that, and there was a faint smell of charcoal on the air.
"That can't please you, eh druid?" said Venne, his voice tightly controlled. "All that damage to the land."
Mirko listened to his inner senses, letting himself spread out and touch the life. Within the burned vegetation new life sprouted, insects crawled and scratched, and small mammals made new homes, hidden and protected from predators driven off by the fire. Just beneath the soil were seeds, germinating now that the fire had provided warmth, destined for growth because that same fire had removed the competition.
"Not at all," he said. "Fire was a natural thing, long before it was claimed by man."
Mirko stumbled suddenly as something large moved into his nature-sense. Lianna snorted, her disgust at the druid's fall clear, but Venne stepped forward holding out a hand. Mirko took it, and pushed himself back up to his feet.
"Wolves," he said, the heavy weight of the pack still lingering even now he'd dropped his nature-sense. "Wolves are coming. Six of them."
"Wolves won't attack us, we're in the open and we're a pack ourselves. You worry too much, druid," said Lianna.
"Wolves alone, maybe not," said Venne, looking behind Mirko. "Wolves ridden by Hobgoblins though...."
Lianna and Mirko both turned and stared: running out the forest, eating up the ground in easy loping bounds, were six silver-grey wolves. Their ears were flat to their heads, their teeth were exposed in yellow snarls and their eyes were wide and maddened. The lead wolf, and the one behind it had riders, short, squat humanoid figures with disproportionately huge heads and ragged, cabbage-leaf like ears. As the wolf-pack raced towards the small band of humans, the riders started up an ululating howl.