What a Trip!
A quick bit of Mental communication, and Benedikt's usual gang was coordinating their contributions to the scouting trip.
Six young Mentalists, turned loose on an unsuspecting world.
"Ah! Away from the old grumps for a couple of weeks." Benedikt surveyed the meadow along the river, down to the bridge. beyond the bridge, the forests grew up to the river, while on the far side, he could see meadow beyond a short arm of the forest there. "Rodian's got the best idea. We'll cross at the bridge and keep heading west, staying close enough to the river that we won't have any trouble getting back."
"Heh. So long as we can find them, somewhere out there." Anatoly sniffed the air. "Whew! some of these camps need to work over their privies. Let's go."
Gladly. Snow may be the least of the good reasons to get away from here! And spread out a lot further. He shifted his pack a little and the slung rifle. Awkward with the pack, but we'll be living off the land, and the rifle's range is a heck of a lot longer than my slash.
Makar--Nikifor Makar Smirnov--met them at the bridge.
They followed deer tracts through the forest for an hour, and then out to a broad meadow with a sweeping view to the west. Far out in the distance the dark specs of a large herd.
"Cattle, perhaps?" Anatoly squinted. "I can't make them out. I was sort of hoping we'd find horses here."
Makar perked up. "Oh yeah! If we're going to be primitive, horses would be excellent. And my brother brought his hunting dogs. Well, two hounds and a borzoi. They were a real nuisance in the hotel, but they're already proving useful here."
"Ah, there's Rodian, and it looks like Svya and Dimi are there too." Anatoly grinned and led the way toward them and angling down slope.
"So, the Gang's all here." Benedikt thought that over. Magically, I'm the strongest, and Svya the richest and now the fifth largest Family here. But really, there a virtual three way tie for third place. The others?
Makar's family, here, numbers a mere thirteen.
A powerful Family back home. Here? I'll evaluate his usefulness.
Benedikt shoved aside as unimportant that while his group had ninety people, that was spread among three families. Father has forty-six, Uncle Volya twenty-one. That puts them at seventh and eighth, size-wise. Lord Ivan married Anatoly's sister, so he sort of adds more to our standings.
Rodian's only got twenty-two, and Dimi--Artem Dimitrii Ivanov--had the smallest group of his friends. Seven. The smallest Family here. Definitely have to think about dropping him . . . or subsumming his group into ours.
But is the total number what is important?
Benedikt shook his head. "It's going to be interesting, seeing how power shifts among the Families here. So much of our futures are going to depend on our strength as Mentalists. Not sheer numbers, especially since that number includes servants. It's not as if having more lady's maids or cooks is going to keep us live, out here."
He flashed a grin at his allies. "So while we're out here, let's get in a lot of practice."
Nods and grins as they headed for the next arm of the forest.
Two days of increasingly lower hills and thinning trees, and they were gazing upon a herd of shaggy beasts.
"They look more like North American Bison than anything else." Benedikt frowned. the horns are longer and they're shaggy all over . . . but the facial contours . . ."
Svya grinned. "We need a taste test, to be sure."
Makar pointed . "I'll bet that calf over there would be tasty."
A pretty big calf, this late in the summer. Benedikt grinned and dropped it with a single shot.
In an unusual display of common sense, they waited until the alarmed herd, moved off, before they trotted down to dress their kill.
Gamy, but still, a nice break from venison.
The wolves showed up while they were preping their fire, but three shots sent the survivors running.
It was a good week.
Benedict eyed the mountains to the east. "My car has regenerative charging, while coasting and braking. If we had a rod, I'll bet most of our vehicles, once we got them on the downslope, would charge enough to be able to climb the next hill."
"Yeah, but once they were down, we'd never get them back up."
Benedikt shrugged. "Why would we want to go back?"
"Well. Wood?" Anatoly looked back uphill. "I heard talk about log cabins, and those tall straight pines would be perfect."
Makar grinned. "See that lake to the south? What do you want to bet that our river feeds into it. We could cut logs and roll them into the river. Then retrieve them from the lake."
They all grinned. All the way back, they blazed a trail that kept the grades steep but not dangerous, the turns easily negotiable.
And as they followed the river through the final meadows, were met by an armed trio.
"Keep your distance! Family Mikhailov has the Plague."
Benedikt stopped dead. Took a deep breath and absorbed the heat around him. Raised both arms and pour that power into his hands and crushed it down into brilliant orbs in each palm.
Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the others showing their power.
"Good to see you aren't affected. Now go away for two more weeks so the Plague can burn out before you return." The man . . . Ivan Federov? Shifted a bit. "Lord Anatoly, I am sorry to tell you that your Father has died. He was unable to raise a shield to protect himself from a boar."
Anatoly stood, stunned. "I have to go . . . I need . . ."
Ivan shook his head. "To stay away and keep yourself safe from the plague. Your Family understands. Lord Klim was injured, but recovering, and still has his Mentalist powers. He will protect his brother's family."
Anatoly nodded, looking stunned. "Lord Ivan?"
Benedikt stiffened his shoulders. "We will retreat, then, and circle wide to the south when we finally do return, so we encounter no one, for at least two weeks. Thank you for your watch, and your warning." He gave a slight bow, and turned to Anatoly. A quick hug. "Come let's look for a place to cross the river and move south."
His cousin's eyes filled with tears as he turned and stumbled away.
Benedikt tried to think around the shock. This makes Anatoly the head of his branch, and . . . God! Twelve year old Vlasiy the only Kutnetsov representative, unless Anuska births a boy.
And Father and Leonti exposed to the Plague.
Good God! If we survive this disaster . . . everything is going to change!
I think I will make my way back to our camp very slowly.