Disclaimer: All recognisable content belong to J.K Rowling and George R.R Martin
Something happened here.
The forest sleeps.
The third stark son glances to the men on his left before he quietly dismounts. Sword drawn with only the slightest squeal of metal sword on metal scabbard.
Still too loud.
There was a struggle on the rocks, one that led down on to the crisp snow. Freshly fallen. An animal or Wildling he can't tell yet, he wonders which is worse?
He scans the tress, measures his breath, strains his ears. They can't be too far. Laying in wait? Scarpered to lick their wounds?
They lead the horses by the reigns, keeping them close in case of ambush.
A footprint. Human.
More than one.
Strange though, it's like no other Wildling print before. These prints are thin, and have the deeper tread of heels, like a boot. Not something worn by a Wildling.
It raises an alarm.
Something about this is wrong.
A hissed "Ben!" Drags his attention towards the trees.
They have gouges. Like the swing of an axe only deeper. Sharper. Sticky sap leaking from the wounds.
More attacks such as this on the trees ahead, and then chains. The type with two steel balls on the end, designed to be thrown and ensnare prey.
The hairs on his arms and neck dance.
Something very wrong happened here.
He wonders if they should turn back. Whatever did this is clearly well beyond the skill set of a Wildling. His mind briefly flickers to old nans story of the white walkers. He shudders. Fingers white from the death grip on his weapon.
He is afraid but no coward. And if they turned around they might be pursued. Better to deal with the threat out in the open.
They were running.
The boot prints are large, a mans foot. Two of them. A smaller print, from a woman? It's hard to tell as they overlap and slide on the snow, the heeled soles more suited to the halls of a southern lord and not the terrain beyond the wall.
The attacker must have got atleast one direct hit. Although he doubts anybody could be that bad at battle or sword play to hit so many damn trees.
The wine coloured splashes melted in to the snow show a clearer path.
The smell of ash tingles his nose and he sees a tree badly scorched on one side. It's still warm to touch.
Another struggle off to the side, more blood.
The trail twists and they edge around the trees slowly.
On the ground. They jump back.
A body sprawled out on the snow, face down. He motions for the others to check him.
"Dead." They turn him over. Dagger to the chest. Blood pooling under him.
The stark brother studies his face. Brown hair, features of a lordly house. None that he recognises though. Perhaps a Bastard? Expensive cloak, screaming wealth.
Something wasn't right here.
They collect the dagger and leave the body. Though they keep a close eye on it, until the creeping trees block it from view. The crows have long since learnt that there are things beyond the wall that deserve their fear.
As the forest thickens the footprints are closer together, becoming slower to accommodate the new rockier ground, until only one set of prints remain.
Where did the woman go?
The thought was also obviously on the mans mind as his foot steps lead in both directions, backtracking.
He is the pursuer.
They lead up to a rocky point until they too disappear.
Barely daring to breathe the brothers of the nights watch glance uneasy at each other.
They all feel it. A thousand eyes are watching them and even the air daren't stir.
A minute, two, their knees ache from the crouched stance.
SNAP their heads whip northwards.
A light flashes across their head and they duck down searching for the source.
A man stands there dressed in the same garb as the other. This time the face animated by a malevolent expression. He looks at them unafraid and raises his hand to strike with a weapon they cannot yet see.
But he had forgotten the most important rule of fighting, never loose sight of your opponent and while he faces two crows the other runs his sword through the lords back.
He falls, dead.
The immediate threat has been removed but there's still the case of the woman. He thinks to call out for her but doesn't follow through. Just because she was a woman and being chased by these men doesn't mean she wouldn't see their heads mounted upon spikes.
He signals to the other crows to search for tracks in the direction they heard the scream. They circle the rocks looking for clues when one of his more experienced rangers finds a fresh blood trail.
They're just about to turn back when something wet drips on to his head from the tree above. He swipes at it thinking it sap but when he pulls his hand back, it's smudged with red.