In the high north of Solstheim…
Finwëdwyn Caranthir crouched low to the snow and passed his palm over the ever shifting surface, watching the subtle changes in light as his shadow drifted over unseen traces of footprints left in the ice. This mark was more clever than most, her footfalls light, crossing on stone where she could to avoid leaving tracks. Only a few feet ahead he picked up her trail again. She’d had a mount waiting for her among the trees, the horse’s heavy steps would be easier to follow.
“Come on now, Elf,” the Legion Captain Eron barked from his saddle, “bloody snow. I’m freezing to death. I thought you said this ranger knew how to track,” he grumbled to the sergeant beside him.
Sergeant Macen shrugged, “The men say he can find anything, anywhere, even trails long dead.”
The captain snorted doubtfully, “This had better be worth the gold we paid is all I can say. If we don’t retrieve the package that devil woman snitched we’ll all hang for it.”
Fin sighed listening to them argue as he drew Rabbit closer by the reins held in his hand. The little mare nudged his shoulder and he brushed the lightly falling snow from her face before pulling himself back up in the saddle.
“What say you Fin? We have a target?” Macen called, pulling his own horse’s head up.
The wood elf nodded once, “There is a trail, this way, we should move quickly,” he said, pushing Rabbit into a swift canter.
He leaned low over her neck, keeping his eye on the tracks and any traces in the underbrush the other horse may have left as they made their way into thicker woods. There was no way to overtake their quarry quietly, the legionnaires thundered behind him like a coming storm.
Suddenly a form darted onto the path just ahead of them in a spray of loose snow. It was a cloaked woman, set atop a black and white dappled gelding, red hair flying in the wind like a flag. She must have been camping nearby and heard their approach, like a bird flushed from its hiding place. Her mount was galloping at speed to save his rider from the enemy and Fin pushed Rabbit to pick up the pace, hearing the soldiers drawing swords and kicking their horses into the fray. The woman was deft in her saddle, weaving between the trees effortlessly. After only a mile, Fin glanced over his shoulder and saw their path and pace had separated several of the soldiers off the chase.
By her surety, the woman knew the terrain well, and Fin started to sense she was leading them somewhere. She turned her horse sharply down into the ravine of a river long dried, filled with snow and rock. As she passed under a fallen tree she reached out with a small knife and cut a line. A branch swung just over his head, but Fin was sitting so low to Rabbit it passed over him and struck the first two soldiers following him. Once he cleared the log, he drove Rabbit up out of the ravine to ride alongside, keeping pace with the red haired woman from above. Another of the soldiers lost his balance and fell from his mount attempting to follow Fin, but the three remaining managed to escape the ravine and any other traps the thief had laying in wait on that course.
“Gods they have a ranger with them,” the woman hissed to her mount, “come on boy, let’s see how they do with heights,” she turned him up out the other side of the ravine and up a narrow goat pass which led into the tree lined hills. The snow picked up, growing thicker and falling faster. She hated the cold, but in the moment her adrenaline was keeping her warm enough. As she reached the top of the first hill she could see the elven ranger still leading the Legion riders, a distinctly Ayleid lantern on his saddle glowed with the iridescent light of a welkynd stone, giving them a guide through the heavy snow. She sighed, she had hoped the brewing blizzard would have scared them off, but these seemed more determined than imperial soldiers she’d encountered before. She pressed further up the goat pass, “Time to disappear, Savior.”
At the top of the next rise the path ended on a cliff face and the only way forward was a narrow wooden bridge the Nords had suspended for herding goats across to the other meadow. It was the sort of crossing that would give most horses pause, but the little gelding and his lithe rider trotted across in a practiced ballet; Savior’s hooves almost tapping out a cadence. On the other side, the path resumed and the red haired woman laughed, her mount tossing his head playfully, both certain the chase was over as they vanished into the snowfall.
As they reached the height of the path the soldiers had overtaken Fin, charging in for the arrest, and as the two lead horses reached the bridge they reared up in terror, haphazardly leapt in the air as if trying against their own nature to obey but falling back against the snow. One crushed his rider, scrambled to his feet, bucking and screaming as he ran passed Fin heading down the path. The other knocked his rider out cold against a tree before wandering and bucking into the safety of a clearing; Macen was slumped over in his saddle limply. Only Captain Eron managed to pull his horse to a stop in time to avoid being thrown.
“You go over first Elf,” he growled at Fin as if the ranger were to blame for their foul luck.
Fin eyed the bridge for a moment, patted Rabbit’s neck, then slid out of the saddle, taking her by the reins and leading her onto the pass. The mare snorted nervously as she stumbled a bit to meet hoof to wood, her ears pricked to and fro, but she followed her Fin across the narrow bridge bravely. When they reached the other side, Eron dismounted and led his horse across in turn, the heavy bay seemed encouraged by Rabbit’s successful crossing. Back in the saddle they resumed their pursuit, riding hard to make up lost time, and heading back down into the valley.
As they caught up to the thief at the bottom of the hill, rocky crags around them on all sides of a path that was only slightly wider than before, she was waiting, still seated on her horse but facing them. Eron pulled his horse to a stop suspiciously.
“What is she waiting for?”
“Us,” Fin answered simply, but his attention wasn’t on the thief. He scanned their surroundings and patted Rabbit again when she whinnied softly. Her feet danced beneath him even though he had brought her to a stop; something was making her nervous. Fin took a deep breath, the cold biting his lungs, but he caught the scent of death on the wind, “we must not linger here.”
Eron frowned, “That witch has brought down or scattered all of my men, I’m not riding into another one of her bloody traps. You go on then if you’re so sure.”
Before Fin could respond the legion captain and his mount both cried out, their voices smothered by the roaring of an ice troll as they were thrown off the trail. Rabbit reared up, almost throwing Fin, and forcing him to stand in the stirrups to stay with her.
“RIDE!” the woman shouted as Fin turned his mare’s head and kicked her into a gallop toward the waiting thief.