Midas had never heard of elves killing men before. He slumped in his saddle, staring at the bodies scattered near the forest edge. Crows hopped and cawed just out of kicking range. The horses stamped their hooves and flicked their tails at flies. The smell of corruption was yet mild.
“I don’t recognize these men,” he murmured. He should recognize them; he knew the people on his lands. These men had not simply been passing through. Three axes lay near the corpses, and two of the trees showed chop marks. Red sap flowed down the silver bark, the trees bleeding from their wounds.
Laithtaris--called the Elf Wood by men--bordered the tiny province of Welby. It was home to the elven folk, their only remaining home since the race of man had come to the Known Lands more than two thousand years ago. A treaty was signed at the time promising these woods to the elves, to be untouched by man for all time. Midas had rarely heard of any encroachment of the forest; if it happened it was usually an accident and elven rangers would escort the offenders to the edge of the woods.
Three bodies lay near the trees and two more were partially obscured by the brown grass and weeds a few paces away. Each had a single silver-fletched arrow jutting from its chest or back. Elven arrows, thought Midas. No man could make arrows so perfect.
He shifted his gaze to the woods. Silverbark trees towered into the sky, their canopies forming a ceiling over the tangled shrubs and dead leaves below. The edge of the forest was thin and the summer light shone down in beams to the forest floor, but there was no sign of elves. This was not unusual; Midas had never seen an elf in all of his thirty-eight years. There could be dozens of them staring at us right now and we’d never see them.
He twisted in the saddle to speak to Fridrik. “Bring a wagon from the village. Post a guard on these bodies until they can be loaded up and brought to Welby. Something's happening and I intend to find out what.”
“Yes, milord,” the squire said. He detailed two men to guard the bodies, picked out two more as escorts, and rode off toward the hamlet they’d passed on the way.
Midas sighed and glanced at Sir Brindor, who was gazing blankly into space as usual. Amidst the stubble of his gray hair, the crater in Brindor’s head was clearly visible. Years ago, Sir Brindor had taken part in a tournament melee, during which his helm had been knocked from his head and a mace had bashed in the side of his skull. Healers had given him up for dead, but Brindor slumbered in a coma for three weeks and then woke up. He wasn’t the same man--his speech was slurred and he had little memory of his previous life--but he remained a ferocious fighter, devoted to his liege lord.
“Brin!” Midas said.
Sir Brindor swayed on his mare, but then his eyes focused and he turned to Midas.
“Brin,” Midas repeated. “That dwarf merchant who sold you the elven dagger, where can I find him?”
Brindor’s mouth worked silently for a bit and his face took on the confused look it always did when he was required to remember how to speak. “Iskimir,” he finally managed. “Sh-shhhop in Iskimir.”
Midas nodded to Brin and bent to examine the closest corpse. The man was filthy and clothed in rags. He looked like the beggars or thieves one might find in any of the big cities.
“How could they think to get away with this, Voor? Even desperate men…”
“I don’t know, milord,” Voor said.
“Someone forced them.”
“Have Dalthis and two guards ride to Iskimir. I want them to find the dwarf merchant who sells elven goods. I want to know how he gets his goods; how he makes contact with the elves. Make sure Dalthis takes enough coin to persuade the dwarf. If he won’t speak to Dalthis, see if he’ll come to Welby and talk to me.”