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  from The Dragon War by V.R. Rosewood

On the Hunt

The sun was still below the horizon as Seida planted herself on the log by the campfire. With a stiff groan, she stretched side to side and blew into her hands a few times to warm her cold fingers. She stirred the ashes with a stick, piling up the coals in the center of the pit. With both hands, she scooped up a pile of pine needles and dried grass and placed them on the embers. Next, she threw on the smaller dried twigs she had scavenged the evening before. Once those had caught, she stacked the last of the split kindling and logs.

Satisfied with her work, she pulled her empty water skin from her pack and rose to her feet. The walk to the stream was a short one. She followed the game trail down the hill from their camp on the ridge, relying more on her outstretched hands than her vision. The sound of heavy feet shuffling on the forest floor ahead signified her approach to the stream. Tied to a fallen log were two hippogriffs. Their heads snapped up as she entered the clearing. They pawed at the ground and fluttered their feathered wings, clicking their beaks in greeting. Even in the early dawn, their orange eyes gleamed.

Seida patted both of their flanks as she passed between them. She knelt at the water’s edge, shivering as she lowered her waterskin into the gurgling stream. Once it was full, she tied it closed and strapped it to her belt, rubbing her hands together to take the biting chill out of her hands again.

Dawn was breaking now. The sun was a sliver of gold on the horizon. Everything around her gained a rosy hue as the first light of morning broke through the trees. The birds began to sing as they rose from their nests for the day. Seida could finally make out the trail she had come down, and see the smoke coming from the fire above her.

After watering the mounts, she returned to the camp to prepare a quick breakfast. The fire was roaring now, crackling and sizzling as the lingering remnants of sap caught fire. Seida cast a scowl at the other tent. Her apprentice, Gregorim, hadn’t risen yet. Rather than waking him, she nestled a small pot in the fire and filled it with water and contented herself with staring impatiently at his tent.

The boy had proven to be less cooperative than she had previously expected. When he had been assigned to her as an apprentice, she had dismissed the warnings that he would be a challenge. After all she’d heard about his short history with the Order, she had figured he just needed a bit of patience and understanding---a softer hand to guide him rather than a stiff one to force him. Now, though, it seemed there was some truth to the words.

Not so much as a single sound came from Gregorim’s tent as she opened the leather pouch at her hip and tossed in several chunks of rabbit meat. She stirred in a few pinches of salt and herbs, growing more impatient as the stew bubbled. The sun was fully above the horizon now, the sky turning from shades of rosy reds and pinks to soft blues and yellow. It would soon be time to leave.

Finally, Gregorim emerged from his tent, stretching and yawning. His dark hair was disheveled, sticking up at odd ends in the back. He peered around the camp as he rubbed his eyes, regarding Seida with a sleepy blink as he shuffled over and sat across from her. “Morning,” He said, covering his mouth with his hand as he yawned. “Breakfast smells good. Stew again?”

“You should have been up over an hour ago.” Seida pulled a bowl from her pack and began to ladle stew into it. She slapped Gregorim’s hand away as he reached for it. “Go and saddle up the mounts first. You can eat when you are done.” She pointed the spoon in the direction of the stream. “And fix your hair while you are down there. You look like a wild animal with that matted mane of yours.”

With a sour scowl, he pushed himself up to his feet and stalked down the hill. Seida shook her head at the sound of his feet stomping down the hill- a cacophony of snapping branches and crunching leaves. She downed her stew while she waited, painfully aware of the sun’s progression.

Gregorim returned after a few minutes, combing his fingers through his wet hair. As he sat, Seida handed him the last of the stew and rose to her feet. “When you are done, wash the pot in the stream and give this-" she tossed the pouch of rabbit meat at him “-to the mounts. Wash the pouch as well; we can’t have the smell attracting predators to us. I’ll disassemble the camp.”

Gregorim grimaced as the pouch landed in his lap with a sickly squelch. He scarfed down his breakfast and again marched off towards the stream, snatching the pot up as he went. Seida could hear him grumbling as he went. She tore down the tents as fast as she could. To her surprise, Gregorim had already gathered up his things, albeit sloppily. After adjusting the ties and straps on his pack, she set it next to hers. Once she had everything ready, she sat before the remnants of the fire, waiting for Gregorim to return.

The snorting and squawking of the mounts announced the return of her apprentice. Gregorim had their reins in one hand and the pot from breakfast in the other. He dumped the water in the pot on the fire and separated the reins. Seida took charge of the smaller grey hippogriff and tied down her pack and tent onto the saddle. She pulled herself up into the saddle and looked back at Gregorim. He was struggling with the knots, cursing and muttering as they kept coming loose. His mount pawed the dirt impatiently, ready to be off. Once he had the knots secured, he mounted the saddle and gave Seida a quick nod. Without a word, she nudged her steed down the hill towards the game trail.

They followed the stream as it twisted and turned south through the valley. Squirrels chattered up above them as they ran from tree to tree, watching their progress. Seida kept a watchful eye on the surrounding forests. Most predators wouldn’t dare attack them, but the last week of travel had been full of poachers and thieves attempting to take their mounts for money.

“How much further before we reach an actual town?” Gregorim asked. “We’ve been out here in the sticks for five days now. Sooner or later we will have to resupply.”

“It is another day’s ride to our destination. We should be able to see the village by nightfall,” Seida looked back at him. He had his arms crossed as he slouched in his saddle, clearly bored out of his wits.

“So, we’re almost there?”

“Almost.”

“Fantastic. I could go for a bed and real food.”

Seida chuckled to herself. “You expect much of the village. I take it you weren’t paying attention in the last town, were you?”

Gregorim shifted in his saddle, chewing on his cheek. “I heard a little.”

“The village we are visiting is a small farming village. There are maybe two-h...







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