As Rabin scanned the other edge of the village, he saw a small group of very tall men bearing torches. With loose limbs and wiry muscles, the straight-backed soldiers resembled the old pines they stood beneath. Rabin had seen a few Rehan traders during the days of the old king.
The men of the Rehan race that Rabin had met had all been tall and lanky like these men. His stepfather, Borin, had told them they were very strong and could be quick. However, the very looseness of their joints sometimes made them less than agile.
Two men wore crested helmets that looked fancier than the ones the other soldiers wore. The crests appeared to be shaped like the hooked beaks of birds of prey. Of course, these must be Raptor leaders.
Both men had their visors up as if they had finished the day’s fighting. He had not seen any villagers, but he supposed the Rehans might have herded the prisoners to their campsite to get them away from the burning cabins.
By now, Rabin had surely seen enough to report back to the cave. He remembered that the Moquel on the bridge had told him he was supposed to make an enemy. At this point, Rabin figured that he’d only make an enemy of Del if he delayed too long.
From over the boy’s head, Rabin suddenly heard a storm of shaking branches. Leaves and twigs fell about his head. Rabin looked up and hissed as he caught sight of a human foot that swung close enough to brush his hair. Earlier on the path, Rabin had entertained a passing thought that he might run into a jaguar or pack of wolves. Neither would attack a boy as big as him unless they were very hungry. SInce it was already spring, he figured he was safe.
He had not even considered the possibility that the Northern Savages might be curious about the attack on the village. Like any child in the Hills, Rabin had been taught that he had to be careful alone because the Tree Folk were always watching and waiting to steal a child to barter back for things they did not make or grow themselves. If the rough men of the forest snatched Rabin now, there would be nobody to pay the ransom.
Now, with his back against the tough bark of an oak, Rabin barely considered his options before stepping away from the trees and closer to the village. In the trees, the Northern Savages were surely stronger. But he believed he was much faster on the ground.
The back door of his stepfather’s smithy was just steps away from the trees. Rabin crossed the distance in a breath and without thinking and ducked inside. Finding shelter in his own home seemed as natural as breathing.
The walls smoldered, but Rabin’s own cabin was not aggressively burning. Perhaps the Rehan Raptors had gotten tired or just sloppy as they reached this side of the village. The familiar workplace felt comforting. By the light from the fires outside, Rabin saw the cool forge. It seemed odd to him that the forge should be so cool as the night burned.