Franklin’s spirits lifted when he started seeing signs of someone else passing north recently on the trail as well. It looked like he might not be alone after all. At least one other person had managed to survive the attack on the camp and had come up with a plan similar to his own – head north and find Walter’s caravan. Franklin moved with an extra speed to his step. He didn’t want to spend another night alone.
In fact, he was moving so quickly, he didn’t notice the massacre until he almost tripped over Earl’s body. Franklin jerked to a stop and froze. Half of Earl’s face was disfigured almost beyond recognition, puffed up and scabbed with dried blood so only the eye on his left side was visible. That eye was glazed but gaping wide as if shocked he could have fallen so quickly that he hadn’t even been able to draw his weapon.
Reminded of his own defencelessness, Franklin knelt down and pulled Earl’s crossbow out from under him. Two bolts were still clipped to it’s stock, one silver and one with a broad hunting head like the one that had shattered on Cookie. Franklin considered trying to cock it with only one good arm but then thought better of it and just slung it’s carrying strap on his shoulder before rolling Earl over to get at his short sword.
Franklin was surprised to feel the body still had some warmth to it. Pushing past his exhaustion and weakness, Franklin surveyed the terrain to take stock of the situation. The road was littered with refuse. There was no life in sight, unless one counted the few flies braving the chill and buzzing among the bodies scattered on and around the damaged cart. The cart itself was mostly empty with its contents shredded and spilled among the carnage. It seemed obvious that whatever had occurred here had been long enough ago that Earl should have be frozen stiff by now. Unless …
Franklin grabbed Earl’s wrist and felt for a pulse. At first he thought it was just his imagination but after a while he was sure of it … it was the weakest pulse he had ever felt but Earl was still alive. Franklin dropped the arm and stood up. How was this possible? No one could have survived loosing the amount of blood pooling under his head, could they? And yet, now that he stared he was sure he saw trace amounts of breath misting in the crisp air around Earl’s half mouth and good nostril too.
“Hang on there Earl. I’m here now, just hang on!”
Franklin stumbled his way to the cart, improvising a plan as he went. Fluids, if he had bled that much what he needed now were fluids. A number of casks had tumbled from the cart and split, leaking their contents to create a puddle with a thin frozen crust. He used the short sword to pry the banding off of a cask that had split high enough he thought it might still have some liquid in the bottom of it. With the band gone he whittled enough of a gap between the wooden slats that a small stream of ale splashed out and into a copper pot he positioned to catch it. While it was filling he started tearing up any rags of cloth he could find that looked clean enough to use as a bandage. It was in the middle of one of these tears that he heard a guttural noise on the other side of the cart. His left hand left the fabric dangling, half torn, from he teeth and scrapped the short sword from the ground where he had set it. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he inched his head over the side of the cart to see what had made the noise.
A huge weir with an almost pure black hide was crouched at the side of the road squinting into the sunlight with an angry grimace. Then a runt of a beast with mangy reddish hair moved beside it, growling once more before slinking in the direction Earl lay. The dark one sniffed the air and then moved towards the rear of the cart.
Franklin scurried under the cart in an unthinking panic. The far side was cluttered with enough detritus from broken trunks and fowl cages that it formed a rough wall. Between that, the tailgate hanging from one hinge bolt at the rear, and the casks he had just squeezed through, he was at least partially hidden from view from every direction. He could only hope it would be enough.