‘We’re going hunting’ meant—get ready to go right away.
Hadjar and the old man returned to the hut. Immediately, Robin went to get his equipment: a light chain armor and a strong hunting bow. It wasn’t as big as a military one, but it was bigger than the bows used by the nomadic tribes near the South border.
Hadjar paced near his bed for some time. All of his possessions amounted to his worn clothes, which he’d gotten from Senta, and what he’d gotten from South Wind. Unfortunately, the book had been destroyed by the river water and Hadjar couldn’t take the risk of using the talismans without knowing what they did, why they did it and how.
The map had miraculously survived. It didn’t seem as simple as it had looked at first sight. He’d also kept the seal for the carriage. Hadjar didn’t know why he had kept it. Maybe as a way to remember someone dear to him.
“Here you are,” Robin threw a chain armor and a bunch of darts on the bed. “My son used to wear this.”
The old man didn’t flinch at these words. Not that he was a heartless monster, just... Life here was like that. Common people rarely lived to be as old as him. There were very few resources available, and a lot were required to overcome the threshold and advance to at least the Bodily Meridians stage.
Hadjar wore a simple shirt with the chainmail over it. It was a little too big for him, but it was better than being gored by a boar.
Hadjar belted his wide strip of leather with a metal plaque, armed himself with darts and left the living room. A crowd of more than twenty people had already gathered on the street.
Hadjar knew some of them, but he rarely hung out with them.
He wasn’t particularly sociable.
“Today we shall go to distant streams.” Robin began talking first.
They were standing right in the middle of the street. The old man drew a small map on the sandy road by using a long stick.
“Iriy saw deer traces there while he was with his brothers.” A mighty guy with scars all over his face came forward.
“They went to the north, to the Depression of Waterfalls.”
“Is this herd big?” Someone in the crowd of people that had gathered around asked.
“There are two hundred of them there, or even more than that.”
Whistles and whispers were heard.
“We’ll capture the weakest ones,” Robin told the people reassuringly. “We won’t be fighting the Alpha.”
Fight the Alpha? It was a beast as strong as a Heaven Soldier...
“We'll take enough food for two weeks with us, track them down, and then count the number of those whose level is greater than the Awakening of Power.”
“Do we need traps?”
“No, we don’t.” Robin pulled at his beard with a fist. “Luke’s squad saw boar tracks. If they fall into the traps during their migration—the whole forest will ring out with their squealing.”
“Shall we get a move on?” Iriy asked.
“Yes, let’s get going,” Robin nodded.
And so, a little more than two dozen villagers, armed with inferior armor and swords, went hunting. They weren’t going to hunt simple animals but those that had the Core force. Hadjar hoped he could get a hold of at least one beast—they could easily be sold in the city.
“Are you afraid?” Robin gave Hadjar another pat on the back.
He was about to answer “of course”, but, surprisingly, he realized that he wasn’t afraid. His heart was beating as steadily as always, and he was overwhelmed with excitement.
“That's right. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Always aim for the eye of the beast; and, please, don’t throw a dart if you aren’t sure you won’t snag the hide.”
“Why do you need the hide?” Hadjar asked for the sake of making conversation.
“We can keep some for ourselves and sell the rest.”
“Do you sell the hide to the inhabitants of the other villages?”
“Sometimes we do,” Robin answered while chewing a blade of grass. “But more often than not, we sell the hide to some wandering merchants. There’s this quirky guy from Spring Town. He's a pipsqueak, but he knows all the trails in our forests. The most interesting thing is that he’s never gotten any splinters or even scratches. A lot of people from our village have been wounded by wild animals. Some have drowned in the swamp, some have tripped on rocks or branches, but nothing’s ever happened to this guy!”
Hadjar looked at his chainmail once more. Well, now it was clear how the village had gotten their hands on some. It should be noted that the baths, mills and water wheel on the creek were the only benefits of civilization to be found in these parts.
Hadjar was very interested in the fun facts that the merchant might know, and he wondered when he would be coming around again.
“When will he be visiting again?”
“In a month.”
A month isn’t such a long time.
Hadjar paused and began to ponder this. Robin looked at him, nodded and went over to the other hunters.
They approached the largest and most beautiful house in the village. It looked like the place where Hadjar had grown up.
One would think that the chief lived there, but Hadjar had already seen the house of the local governor. He lived near the river, in a hut that was even smaller than the one belonging to Robin.
The villagers followed a simple logic, according to which the best things were to be shared. It was some sort of medieval fantasy communism.
A fat woman came out of the big house, which they used as both a warehouse and ‘club’, because they would hold feasts and ‘wedding dances’ there sometimes. She asked about the supplies they needed and sent several hunters inside. They pulled out large, stitched leather bags. Then, everyone was given a smaller bag, filled with jerky, crackers and a jar of water.
Everything was evenly distributed among the people. The total food supply should be enough for two or three weeks.
Next, Robin was given another bag full of different powders as well as leaves and pills. He would take special care of the ‘kit’. The lives of his people depended on it.
“Hadjar!’ He heard a familiar voice behind him.
The Prince turned around and saw the black-haired Lida standing before him. She was holding a basket and hurrying toward the stream to wash clothes and exchange gossip with the others.
“Don’t forget that you promised you would play for me.” And, after saying what she’d come over to say, she proudly sauntered off.
She looked like a duchess!
Hadjar hurried along behind the group. They went out to a high stockade (there was even a watchtower there, and people were stationed on it and wishing them good luck). Then they came to the edge of the forest.
The village was located on the bank of a stream which resembled a proper river. They were surrounded by mountains. Perhaps that was what had saved the village and allowed its people to live in their own little world, cut off from the rest of civilization.
The hunters stopped, pulled off the rags on their belts and began to fashion their makeshift shoes. Hadjar did the same. They had no boots. They were useless in the woods. They would only do a person harm since they were made of heavy, tanned skin; they were smelly and made too much noise. They would scare away all the animals.
Robin stopped to pray after he got dressed.
An idol in the form of a horned bear stood at the gate. A bowl of honey and some berries were offered to it.
With the preparations finished, the squad of hunters entered the endless forest.