The cry of riders and their horses pulled Arden out of his confusion.
"Ho!" one of the riders called. "Anyone alive?"
"I am," Arden replied, and then he climbed his way out of the wagon. When he pulled himself up, he faced several townsfolk atop their steeds, their own arrows pointed at his head and heart.
"Were you bitten?" one of them asked.
Arden raised his hands up into the air. "No," he said.
They whispered among themselves. Arden recognized several of the riders; none of them had any love for him or his family. "How can we be sure?" the leader of the party asked.
"Were I bitten by a boggin, I would not prolong the inevitable," Arden said. "I know what happens as well as you do. Better, in fact."
"Put your bows down, you idiots," a voice called out from behind them. Richard Greenbury--the town's mayor--trotted forward on his horse, clad in a white nightgown and cap. He was a burly, hairy man who wore more rings on his fingers than arrows in Arden's quiver. "If the boy was bit, it's none of our concern. He doesn't live in our village."
"Father!" Desmond ran in behind Arden. "The last one is dead. The road is clear."
Richard narrowed one eye and widened the other as he stared at his son. It was a look that Arden was familiar with--one that could measure the precise distance between danger and himself. The mayor was incredibly observant; it was said that when a flea took a shit, he heard the plop.
"Tell me everything that has transpired here," he finally spoke. "Leave nothing out."
Desmond nodded. "I was hunting in the woods, with William and Drake. We happened upon Arden, who was coming to town with fresh kill. We began to--" he looked between Arden and his father. His stance stiffened. "We started to talk, when we heard the wagon, along with the boggins. We gave chase on Arden's horse."
"Ah," Richard said, and then he smiled broadly. "It seems we owe my son a hero's welcome, then!"
Arden said nothing. Desmond's stance shifted again, growing agitated. "Well, father," he spoke with great reluctance, "it was Arden's arrows that felled the wagon, as well as most of the boggin."
"And humble!" Richard said, and there was laughter among the riders around him. "Nevertheless, we clearly owe a tribute to Arden, as well." He turned to the young man. "Your kill--did you lose it?"
"I cut it down to give chase," Arden said. "But I should be able to recover it."
Richard waved his hand. "Regardless, you will be compensated. Would you care to be my guest tonight, young man?"
Several of the riders shuffled in their saddles, uneasy at the suggestion. Arden smiled thinly and scratched at the back of his hand. "Thank you for the honor, sir," he said, and he gave a swift bow. "But I must return home. My mother and sisters grow worried."
"Of course," Richard said. "But stop by tomorrow, and we will discuss proper compensation."
"Certainly, sir," Arden said, and he climbed back onto Tulip's back. "I will."
He could feel the glares of the other townsfolk on his back as he road away. But none of their looks worried him half as much as the itching tattoo that had been burned into his skin.