The mid-afternoon golden sun shone on the beautiful forests of Vestland. It dappled the forest with light and warmed the backs of the two boys on horseback riding slowly along one of the many deer tracks. Both boys were barely sixteen summers old and had recently finished their general tutoring but it would take two more summers before they were old enough to begin Vestland’s compulsory military training, something they were both looking forward to very much. With not much to do, apart from some more advanced tutoring they were still doing with the monks of the Black Lotus, they occupied themselves in the meantime with hunting and fishing on camping trips like their current trip. Sometimes they were joined by two of their other friends, Ursula and Ming, but mostly the two boys went alone.
Although they were close to the same age and were being trained by the same tutors, the two boys could not be more different. The older, by almost a full season, riding a beautiful dappled grey mare, was quite tall for his age, taller than most of his friends. He already had the heavy chest and broad shoulders that promised a warrior’s physique when he was fully grown. He had longish black hair, so dark it looked almost blue at times, and sensitive deep set blue eyes with a full mouth below a fairly large nose. His name was Wulfstan and he had been brought to the Palace at Noorvix as a small baby and raised as if he were their own by the High King Erich and the Queen, Urda.
The other boy, riding a muscular bay gelding, was also very tall although not quite as tall as Wulfstan. However where Wulfstan was slightly stocky in build he was long and lean, with almost delicate hands and long, slim fingers. He too wore his hair long, a reddish blonde that fell often across his dark blue eyes. He was a handsome boy, easily as handsome in his own way as Wulfstan, with a cheeky sense of humor and a passion for hunting and fishing. He loved being out in the woods and bringing back the occasional stag or wild boar for the Palace kitchens. He was also an excellent tracker and rarely came home empty handed from a hunt.
The second boy had been named Einreich by his parents but was called Slade by almost everyone who knew him. He had few real friends because of his position as the Crown Prince of Vestland and High King Erich’s designated heir to the throne. For this reason Slade especially treasured his friendship with Wulfstan, who treated him just as he would any other boy. It was something that Slade deeply appreciated as he was so often treated differently simply because of the position granted him by his birth. By virtually everyone else he was given a deference he did not feel entitled to receive. Slade had an older brother and had expected that Ulrich would be named Crown Prince and wasn’t sure that he wanted the honor his father had bestowed upon him.
This was their second to last day of their trip and although they had caught nothing of any significance the two boys were not disappointed. They had enjoyed their time together in the woods, swimming in the cool springs they’d found and living off the land, eating small rabbits and the single baby boar they had caught. Now they were headed roughly south east to return to the Palace in the time that had been allotted to them. They were both feeling so comfortable that neither one of them was really paying any attention to their surroundings. That’s how they got caught in the trap.
If they’d been paying attention to their surroundings either one of them would’ve easily spotted the clumsy net trap as they were both accomplished woodsmen. Instead they were too busy laughing and joking together and now they were caught. High up in a tree, they presented a tangled mess of boys and horses, stuck in a net like fish caught in the Eastern Sea. Slade swore in a stream of profanity as he tried to reach for his skinning knife. Neither he nor Wulfstan were particularly well armed for this trip; carrying only light hunting bows and long skinning knives to use if they had been able to bag a deer or something similar.
Now they had to get out of this net as soon as possible before whoever had set the trap came back as it was unlikely they would be able to defend themselves against any foe that was smart enough to set a net trap. Slade swore again when he realized that in his current, squashed up position he was unable to reach either knife or bow. The two horses were already panicking, kicking and trying to buck inside the net trap, which was disappointingly strong enough to handle the horses’ behavior, and served only to make it even more uncomfortable for the boys.