Cole kept his journal in hand and opened to the new and improved map he had drawn up across two full pages. His eyes would study it, then the lay of the land around himself, then change course a bit as he was adventuring through the trees but not so far in from the road that he would get lost. Cole would also pause at every other greenwood torch he found was healthy for testing the theory of the stripes.
He was experimenting in this way a couple of days now, mornings going to Greeny as the shimmer was still visible under shadow, and evenings going back, and checking to see just how accurate it was. Now he was going to get the chance to see the markings for the north side of the forest to be absolutely sure. It was seemingly true. The trees consistently pointed towards the landmarks of the forest.
And the more he started to "read the trees" the quicker he was picking up the patterns without need of touching; likely in the same way Jane and Marin did. For a time he questioned as to why Marin never mentioned this mysterious detail their eyes could see, but then he reminded himself it was known from past conversations that Marin's father was mixed. Was the magic behind this that specific? Also, why those locations? Westen, Batseye and the lake. Demon's Path felt reasonable, seeing as magic was at play there, but there must have been reason behind this. And the colors...
"There is more than just these," Cole breathed to himself. They were very faint and thin, but other stripes were showing themselves the harder he looked, yellow, rust, a thin green unrelated to the lake, even purple... As it was he was still unsure about trusting the trees, but the other colors would require investigation.
That said, Cole dared to be bold on this market day, going to Batseye by way of trees. He was told white was Batseye, a bold mark about as hard to miss as the green stripe for the lake. He found a good tree, pointed Gail and onward they walked through the brush towards what was suppose to be Batseye, correcting their way a little each time a tree was found. But something was interesting about that, the way was much easier than Cole would have expected for going right through uncharted forest – it was as if the trees were planted straight.
Amazement struck Cole as he found himself walking out of the forest and into Batseye. He looked back from where he came and back at the people milling about, and it struck him that he indeed made his way in relatively the same time had he taken the road. And they were walking slowly! It also struck him how jarring it was to the handful of people that spotted his entrance, with a flurry of concern he had been another victim of the mists. So with a quick excuse and quicker escape Cole learned to not be spotted – though why so few people were made aware of this knowledge was still a mystery.
Market day. How long had it been since Cole last was here for it? Three weeks? It was as busy as ever, with the sights, smells and sounds of a healthy community. There was also much talk going around about the disturbances last night, to which Cole kept his head low and nose out of.
There was other talk however he would over hear: The Vouls' had another storehouse broken into in the hills on Saturday; the talk of Greeny last Tuesday was still lingering; and to his surprise trouble reared its ugly head for the Martins' on Sunday. A real shame. And finding Shelly later on Cole learned that their second son, Kane, had been badly hurt during it, and only now finally moving about after receiving a head and leg injury. It was unsure exactly how, but he was found bleeding and unconscious with strange marks. Kane himself could not remember what happened.
This put it all on the bleeding edge of being personal for Cole now, but more on behalf for Bailey who was livid that this happened to one of his nephews.
Cole also found it felt good to be missed. It had been over two weeks since he saw the Farren family and the whole clan was in this time to smother him. He finally got to talk to Bailey to learn more about the body found on the Oolro farm, Cole also share a bit of his side of the story with the training thus far. Jane was of little help when it came to the cultist, apparently sent away because of the conflicts he and Garrin had, so any info he had was secondhand from Bailey anyway. There was little to update with though even now: the body was unnamed and cremated within a very short time of recovery; as is, Garrin was in the middle of the preparations when Bailey came to look. There also had been nothing more mentioned about the black meadows.
Eventually things wound down and Cole found a chance to break away so to continue his errands after bidding the families goodbye. He only had three goals for Batseye today: Get his bread from Wendy, so that was now done; other trade and earnings collected, which was very minimal at this point in time; and talk to the storyteller.
Finding Lyzule was hardly difficult, she was sitting in the meeting circle surrounded by children as per normal. But as per normal, she was busy weaving tales to keep said children occupied, so he unsure as to how to approach and not get mauled by some hoard of thirty wanting to know how the story ends. So Cole moved on and would come back later. But then finding her was near impossible as she had moved on by the time he returned.
One would think she would stand out from the crowd being one a handful of colored people, but she did wear a head covering at time and now dozens of children were running around that were her same height.
Perhaps the best way to find the smallest woman of the villages was to find the largest horse. But where did she normally keep Flaxen? He honestly did not know. In the past he never noticed the unmistakable horse in either of the stables. But then there was the stallion's reputation of causing trouble.
So it was time to take a walk around the edge of the village, perhaps on the northern side near Westen's road would be a good start seeing as the healers hut was that way. No. Flaxen was not tethered but rather wandering around the outskirts grazing freely towards the south with the reins dragging along.
Cole thought he would do the right thing and catch Flaxen he wandered off any further, a task proving more of a challenge than it should have been. Flaxen was keen to not let Cole close. Walking in, Flaxen would turn and walk away, Cole got into the way of his driveline and Flaxen would turn around on his heels. Cole had to rush up into the treeline to drive the horse BACK towards the village. This was ridiculous. Finally, Cole managed to snatch the reins and keep hold through the resistance Flaxen was giving him.
"Easy, boy, easy," Cole said. Flaxen snorted and threw his head. Troublesome maybe, but "Terror Horse" was a greatly exaggerated title. Cole was sure this had to look strange, no one dared bother with this horse, but all he wanted to do was make him and himself easier to be found. And all Flaxen wanted was to not be attached to the man, now refusing to move an inch when Cole tried to take him in closer to save Lyzule the walk.
There was a serious eye locked onto Cole that was reading him. A pail green eye not too unlike that of the owner, ears were pinning back and head tugs trying to get free that were almost capable of picking Cole off his feet. It was easy to reason why people felt unnerved around Flaxen, but he was just a horse, and Cole had enough strength and sense to manage this battle. Then the ears were up, the head up high and Flaxen went on the move– until Cole put a foot down.
"Na ah, she will find you here," Cole said.
Cole could not say if he had ever had a horse looking him in the eye before, but just then he got a taste of the reputation this beast had when Flaxen decided he was tired of this game. There was a growl that came from Flaxen, then came teeth as the horse lashed out and directly for Cole's face. The natural reaction was to defend himself with both hands, blocking and shoving the massive head away, and away Flaxen sprang.
"Oh no..." Cole gave chase, his mind still thinking he was doing the woman a favor by not losing her horse. There was a couple of people that apparently were watching, now laughing and chiding him in place for the strange efforts, but he kept after as Flaxen went wandering into the village. For such a huge horse Flaxen was light and quick on his feet, nearly losing Cole out right if not for the disturbance made in his wake. Just listening for it all Cole rounded the corner and in time to see the agitated horse nearly run someone over, even giving chase if not stopped by the tiny woman that owned him. Well, Cole found her.
"Oh, hello, Cole," she said with smile when he approached, a gentle expression that would turn hard within moments as Flaxen went to turn on him. "Ehy! Calm down!" she order, snatching the rein and jerking Flaxen's head to the side, getting a shocked nay and he sought some release by backing away behind her. It wasn't enough it seemed, as she eyed her horse and made him shift more so she was standing in the way. "I am sorry about that, Cole."
"I may be the one at fault," he confessed. "I caught him wandering off into the forest."
There was a brow raised by her, and Flaxen's head lifted up, that eye on him until she looked back. "Oh... Well thank you, Cole. I know he can be very uncooperative."
"Oh, nothing too bad," Cole said, blinking away the imagery of teeth. "Contrary to all Jane spouts, he is just a horse."
For some reason she found this amusing and Cole watched as she started into a slow chuckle while looking back at Flaxen. Flaxen was seemingly full of personality with head high, ears pinned and gave a snort.
"Hear that? Just a horse," she said laughing. Flaxen seemed to hang his head close to her as he pawed at the ground with a groan. She grabbed him by the halter and gave his snout a smooch before shoving him off. "You big-ass idiot."
Cole had to have been missing something, he was utterly confused as to the behavior but remained quiet and polite as always.
She smiled back up at him. "How are you doing, Cole?" They then moved over to the side to make way in the road.
He pushed his hood back. "Well enough, Miss, thank you. And yourself?"
"Can't complain. But, Cole."
"Your hood," she said with a nod. "You don't need to take it off with me."
It tripped him slightly, a detail he hadn't expected to be called out upon, not by someone who wasn't also Falorn and so quickly. Bashfully he corrected the problem and it pleased her.
"That's better," she commented. Lyzule then tilted her head slightly as she looked at him. "But, I do have to ask if something happened."
She was looking at the side of his face, even though was at the end of healing Cole grew very self conscience.
"This- there is nothing to be concerned about, Miss," he replied.
"But I am," she replied with a smile.
He started to shy away more. "I suppose, it is your job to watch for such things," Cole commented.
She just smiled. "Among other things. What happened?" Did he not already learn she was like a wolf after prey? Not satisfied until she has what she seeks?
She kept staring at him waiting. "Only that Gale spooked and ran for the trees," he finally replied, turning away a bit.
She grimaced, closing her eyes picturing it. "Ouch... Been there..." Seemed that was acceptable, which was good because Cole was not about to tell all about what he had been doing. "Cole, you do know that you can come see us if you are ever hurt or ill, yes?"
Cole paused in thought a moment. "Thank you, Miss."
"You do know that, yes?" she pressed and tone grew serious.
"Yes," he replied and she smiled again.
"Good. Well then, it was nice to see you again, Cole, and to see you doing well. I know I seem rude but I'm in need of getting back to Gammi."
"I am sorry to have kept you, Miss," he replied as he backed away a bit to give her clearance.
"Oh no, that is fine, and well, thank you again for catching Flaxen for me."
"My pleasure, Miss."
They bid each other a goodbye and with that she went to leave Batseye, Flaxen following after as Cole watched. He then felt like an idiot as he rushed to catch up with her again.
"Miss! Wait, wait." She looked back at him very oddly. "I am sorry to keep bothering you like this."
"What is it, Cole?"
"It is- well... As I understand it, you make a salve for wounds... specifically for the animals? Bailey had given me some a time ago, but was if it was possible to get more. If, that is still something made."
Lyzule's eyes lit up. "Oh! Why didn't you say so?"
He watched her think a moment, then as she balanced the large basket upon her hip and started rummaging through the wide saddlebag, blindly as it was above her head. Something impressive Cole watched was she gave a simple verbal order for Flaxen to turn around, and the large horse did so to show off the bag on his other flank. No fuss, no resistance. Then another deep search in and she pulled out a sealed jar to hand right over to Cole.
"Here you go."
He was thoroughly surprised and held out his hands to receive it. "Ah, thank you, Miss. I did not expect you to be carrying any at this moment."
"It's a common use item around here," she explained.
He nodded then started to feel awkward as he brought forth another question. "What do you normally expect in return?"
She raised a brow along with a smirk. "You're kidding, right?"
Cole shook his head. "N-no, I honestly do not know what you expect in trade."
She just looked him over with a smirk and started to walk away. "Have a good day, Cole."
Cole looked at the reasonably sized jar in his hands. "Miss?"
She sent him a smile from over her shoulder. "Answer is nothing, Hero."
Cole cringed. He blushed. And he had no words to say back as she and her horse walked off towards their home deep in the forest. He did watch her go then looked back at the clay jar. For a quick moment he brought it to his nose – yep, he could tell it was the same stuff even through the wax seal. With how much he had been taking Gale through rough terrain he used the last of what he had and foresaw the need to stock more.
"Thank you," he suddenly spat, furious with himself. He was so thrown off guard that he did not get that out before she was gone, for just giving it to him. He then had a worried thought and hoped she was not going to keep doing this just because of what happened.