The fog that draped over the Kingswood and its environs since dawn has lifted some, leaving only a soft blanket of cool mist over the reeds and water. It’s through this the party arrives, some like Luthor, are astride mounts, while others like the beaters and the dog handlers run along side, their dogs kept close by on the end of their leashes.
As they reach the water’s edge Luthor calls a halt as the path along the bank opens up before them. “This is it,” he announces to Janden glancing back over his shoulder. “My men say there are still waterfowl to be had by those reeds,” he points to a stand of bullrushes in a still place near the bank. “And beyond there along the bank. Shall we see if it’s the truth?”
It’s a dreary day, though it could be worse. Janden’s met up with Luthor to depart for the Blackwater Rush west of King’s Landing, dressed warmly with a cloak worn over the rest of his clothing as he rides atop his courser. Sword at his side, the man is prepared in the event any trouble shows up. Squinting, he reins in his mount to stop and survey the area ahead of them, looking ahead to the area indicated by the Kingswood Warden. “Might as well, and see just how good they are at flushing the birds out.”
Luthor nods and glances back at his men. Two of them carry birds with them, borrowed for the trip from the King’s Mews. “Shall we just flush the birds, or shall we see how these two fly?” he asks glancing back at Janden with a bit of a grin. “Though in truth, I’ve never really done this before.”
Janden dismounts and ties his horse off to a tree nearby, reaching into a pack at one side to take out a couple carved wooden decoys. “I think first, I want to see how they react to these,” he says, holding up the decoys. “I’m not looking to catch anything today, just to try to determine the best way to draw them in and flush them out. We’ll need the beaters at some point to cause a stir, though.” A length of rope is tied to the bottom of the decoys and he approaches the bank to toss both out into calmer areas, tying the ropes off so the ‘birds’ won’t float off.
Luthor nods and swings down from his horse and ties it off next to Janden’s. He returns after that to the water’s edge and can see one of the ducks paddle out from behind some reeds. “There better be more than that,” he remarks to the huntsmen before turning to Janden. “Alright, we’ll take no foul today, the men and hounds are yours, go to it.”
Janden casts a momentary grin Luthor’s way. “If it’s just one that’ll make for a swift hunt, successful or not. Let’s stand by and give it a little time, see if the decoys draw others any closer. First I want to see if they follow any patterns before we have any flushing out, then we’ll see what the birds do after that.” He’s in colors that blend in, more or less, with the surroundings, though he adds, “Best to make sure a couple of those men are told not to dress so loud when we have the real thing.”
Luthor nods and gives the men in question a look under arched brows. The huntsmen scowl a little but scrape up the humility to look in a semblance of shame. Luthor shakes his head and looks back out onto the river and sees that more ducks have joined the first. Luthor’s own clothing is simple browns and greens, colours he has worn out of habit since he was made Warden.
“The idea,” Janden explains to the men that give hurt looks, “Is not to stand out. If we need you to flush them out and be quiet about it, best you look like you belong there. They have good eyes and won’t get close enough if they see you because you stand out.” He’s firm about it, but also tries to explain just why it needs to be so. “When we do this for real, I’ll expect a few of you to go on ahead and set the decoys, then be prepared to wait around a while. This won’t be like tracking down a boar.” Green eyes shift over to watch the way the other ducks begin to move, crouching to lower his profile.
The huntsmen nod and one of them spits in the muck at the riverbank. He’s dressed in greens and browns. “We know our business, ser, I’ll make sure these two,” he nods to the two men who are more brightly dressed. “Know it too,” he says.
Luthor eyes the two young men for a moment before a look of recognition dawns and he nods slightly to himself. He crouches next to Janden. “The two who don’t know how to dress are new, merchant’s sons, I offered them a chance to apprentice with the huntsmen as favors for their families.”
Janden gives the one who answers him a nod. “Good man,” he states, though he’ll be sure to make certain on the day of the hunt, nobody goes without looking the way they ought to. As a few more ducks start to follow the others that have ventured closer to one of the decoys, he glances sidelong to Luthor and a grunt of acknowledgement follows. “As long as they learn and don’t botch things up for the others, it’s no matter to me. It’s good to have the chance to survey the area first, though.”
“Of course, choose the best men when you do your hunt, it is your chance to show your supporters why you should be Huntsman. Not something you’d want to leave to,” a glance over his shoulder at the two brightly dressed men. “Them,” he adds with a small smile. “So what do you think? Do these ducks swim how you want them to?”
“Indeed,” Janden answers, giving the two in question a second look. “And they’re not on the list at present. As for the ducks, let’s find out.” A few others have made their way closer, enough that near to a dozen are in view now. Remaining close to the rope tied to the decoy, he gives it a subtle but slow and steady pull toward him and a cluster of reeds sticking up out of the water. “If they come in near enough, it’d be a good spot to have the beaters ready to flush them out,” he says in a near-whisper.
Luthor crouches down next to Janden in the mud watching the other knight pull in the wooden duck while the other ducks follow. He glances about their spot on the riverbank. “Seems like it has good cover, could come right up on the river before you’re out of cover.” He looks back to Janden. “So, yes, seems a good spot.”
“So long as it’s calm enough, I think this would work for a spot to position a couple of the men to lie in wait, and if they need to they ought to be able to do the same as I am now to draw the ducks closer,” Janden says, shifting in place just enough to make it obvious he’s actually there, watching to see how quickly the ducks react. Once they have, he pulls the decoys in the rest of the way and shakes off the excess water, his boots - not his best pair - leaving muddy tracks behind as he moves. “We’ll set up decoys here,” he explains to the men Luthor’s brought with them. “But those reeds look like a good place as well.” He leads the way along the riverbank where it curves slightly, paying the ducks no further mind as he points around to a couple other points. “And there, and there. They seemed to to be around those spots as well. Best to have more than one place prepared, I think.”
Luthor’s men nod the one who spoke before steps closer to the bank and eyes the spots Janden pointed out. After a moment he nods. “Aye, those will do,” he agrees. “You want those decoys set up in the morning or the night before?” he asks Janden half a challenge half a question. Luthor joins them then leaning against a nearby tree, arms crossed, watching and listening.
“That depends on whether the ones doing it fancy trying to return in the dead of night or waking before daybreak to head out,” Janden tells the man that’s decided to speak for himself and some of the others. “I expect the hunting party will be here by midday, so as long as things are ready and calm by the time we’re there to set up and the ducks are out, it shouldn’t make much difference.” He then looks out across the nearby fields and treelines, wondering, “Have there been rabbits found in this area?”
The man nods and grunts, the sound is vaguely approving. “They’ll be ready by midday,” he promises scans the woods once and nods again. “Yes ser, hard to keep the bloody things from getting anywhere they please. You want us to set some traps?”
Janden rubs his chin in thought after nodding to the man’s answer regarding the decoys. “Any men who have experience rabbiting, have them locate any burrows they can a ways from the river and set out some nets to flush them into. Use a few dogs, a couple hawks if you have to. Some of the ladies should have their own birds, but they’ll be occupied with the ducks. If the men can bring back a dozen or so, that would be a fine catch to go with the rest.”
“They’ll be ready ser, mark my word,” the elder huntsman says. “Anything else you plan to hunt, or is it just the rabbits and ducks?” his surliness giving way now to curiosity. A glance is spared towards the Warden and then he turns back to Janden. “And these rabbits, would you mind much if my men and I caught a couple for ourselves?”
“Good,” Janden nods again, moving on further to take a closer look at the fields and woods they’ll likely be hunting in, expecting the others involved in the conversation to follow. “Just those, and catch twenty and you can keep a fifth for yourselves, including the two fattest if you like,” he offers them a deal with a hint of a grin.
The man smiles now. “Very kind ser,” he says his eyes gliding towards Luthor as though he expects the Warden to object. Luthor doesn’t, his lips curving slightly at the expectation however. “Good, then that’s settled,” the bastard knight says, before following Janden towards the trees. “So, will this do?” he asks of their surroundings.
Janden holds up a hand, just to be clear on one thing. “Mind, just the dozen caught and we’ll need them all. If that means you catch a couple extra for yourselves, that’s all right. If I see sixteen or more, I’ll know you reached the goal and you can keep your fifth, whatever it is. We all know how they reproduce, but let’s not clear the entire area of them. Does that sound fair to you?” After that’s squared away, he faces Luthor again. “I think it will. More than that, I hope it will.” He’s sounded confident enough in the preparations so far, but there’s a hint of apprehension that runs through him. It’s an important test.
Luthor places a hand on Janden’s shoulder. “You’ll do fine, just remember your goal is to make sure the ladies have some fun, bring them home laughing and smiling then you’ll be that much closer to your prize,” he reminds the knight then lets go of his shoulder. “Anything you need from me?” he asks.
Janden nods at the supportive gesture, making his way afterward back toward the horses. “That’s the goal, yes. The funny thing is I’m at home with a sword or lance in my hand, but this is enough to make me think twice about a few things. Maybe it’s because some of it is out of my ability to control.” At the question he shakes his head. “No, I don’t think there is right now. I thought we’d give the men some time to scout for some burrows a few days before the hunt. Otherwise, I just need to spread the word.”
“The gods favor the prepared,” Luthor counsels glancing back at where they have their horses tied up. “All one can do is make themselves as ready as they can the rest is up to chance, or the gods depending on what you believe,” he says then adds. “And if we’re scouting too much further ahead, best we do it on horseback.”
“You’re right, and I think we’ll be as prepared as we can be,” Janden agrees, shaking his head afterward to talk of scouting any more today. “We can save that until we’re closer to the day. It’ll be soon, though. I’ll let you know.” His courser is untied, then he climbs back in the saddle. The men didn’t get to use their dogs much at all this time around, but there will be chances aplenty come the day of the hunt if all goes as planned. “Shall we all be getting back, then?”
Luthor nods and looks skyward. “Best to, before the weather turns and we’re the ones who end up drowning,” he says referencing the joke of the night before. “Share some wine in the great hall when we get back? Talk over anything we’ve missed?” he offers as he strides back towards his horse.
A distinctly uneasy look forms on Janden’s face as he imagines himself drowning, one he takes care to quickly cast away though there’s still an undercurrent of discomfort in his voice. “Yes, we’d best be on our way immediately.” A few moments to compose himself again and he adds, “Be glad to. I’ve got an appetite building, I can tell already.”
“Then lets be off,” Luthor says as he unties his horse from the tree and pulls himself into the saddle.