Chapter Nineteen: The Watchers of the Woods (4)Mature

And gone they were, tack, saddlebags and all.

            Seymour de Winter was disgusted with himself.  Their transportation, along with their provisions, had been stolen under his watch.  To make matters worse, he had wept like an infant in front of two attractive young men.  Now, in addition to thinking that Seymour was an irresponsible drunkard—which he was—they would take him to be a crybaby—which he wasn’t. 

            It alarmed him how unequivocally he had fallen to pieces.  He hadn’t sobbed like that in years.  Not since he had lost Raif.  But he supposed that the combination of being scared out of one’s skin and receiving a minor head injury could do strange things to a person’s emotional restraint.  

            He just hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

            The ground was greatly disturbed near where he had tied the horses, and he had to follow the trail for a good many yards before he could find a clear footprint belonging to one of the thieves—and judging by the trampled earth, it had been a fair-sized party that had come through during the night.

            His first thought was that the horses had been stolen by a band of forest elves.  The foot that had made the mark had been bare, after all, as was the custom of that race.  He doubted that their territory extended this close to the edge of the woods, but it wasn’t inconceivable that they might send a hunting party out to the fringes of the Waelyngar Forest.  And if it had been a group of elves that had stolen the horses, there was a good chance that they could get them back.  If they followed the elves to their village, Seymour was fairly certain that they would be welcomed.  Forest elves were a mischievous people, but they weren’t particularly warlike.

            But there was something off about that footprint.  Something very un-elflike.  Something almost sinister.  It took him a moment to realize what it was, but when he did, he couldn’t believe that he had missed it.

            The foot that had made this print only had four toes.

            The foot that had made this print belonged to a goblin.

            Seymour’s heart sank.  What chance was there now?  Goblins were not nearly as friendly as elves; unless they could overtake the thieves and steal back the horses and provisions before the goblins reached their home base, there was no hope. 

            And who would have ever thought that goblins would stray this far from the mountains?  The nearest range was a week’s journey south, and goblins were famously averse to low elevations.

            Seymour sighed, folded his arms across his chest, and gazed down the trail that the thieves had made through the woods.  He had a strong suspicion that this new phenomenon had something to do with the Parasite.  How they might be connected, he did not know, and did not particularly want to find out.

            After a spell, he looked up, and something caught his attention.  A strand of golden sap, glistening in the dappled sunlight, was crawling down the trunk of a nearby maple, oozing like blood from a fresh wound in its bark, a wound in the shape of an eye.

The End

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