Power is a funny thing. Some men do not seek it and are happy to have their small plot of land or business and that’s the end of it. They’ll work the soil or run their shop, raise a family and one day they’ll be put in the ground, half the time no more than a mile from where they were born.
Others though, others crave it. They need it, like a drunkard missing wine. It inhabits every sort. There are kings that cling to power, and fight wars to keep their crown. Princes that poison their fathers just to have a chance at ruling. Lords and barons, and wealthy merchants that preside over their lands and relish in the trappings of power.
And then there’s another sort. One does not make as much sense. Some men will let the slightest hint of power go to their heads. Give some command over just two other men and you might as well crown them. Men ruling over little villages as though they were granted a fiefdom from the gods themselves. Sometimes there’s nothing worse than a small town king.
It happens in small towns like this, and Avondale’s mayor was just one of these men. He was a short skinny bald man and he was holding an assembly in the town square.
I was standing at the back of the impromptu meeting, normally any gathering of people would give me cause for concern, and it’s best to avoid them, but this time it wasn’t an option, because the nature of the meeting was well, me.
He had been going on for some time.
“This is a travesty, and we need to expel them from Avonsdale. I know Bardo has given them quarter at the Inn, but this can’t go on any longer. If they keep staying here it will cause nothing but trouble.”
“And what of before?” Bardo spoke up. I’ve found it’s often better to have someone else deliver your message, and Bardo liked to talk so I let him.
“They were burning our farms. Stealing our money. Our food. And for what? Some king none of us have ever seen? For some kingdom that does nothing for us? We are here at the edge of his land, and he lets creatures steal our children.”
Mayor Haskell winced when the Innkeeper mentioned it. It was small, but I made a living noticing small things.
“Yes, but now? Now they attacked the King’s men. That could mean death to everyone. Do you think Skein will forget this? He will skin the lot of us.”
“And so we should have just watched idly while they took us one by one, child by child?”
“No, but what we will do when they show up and start burning down homes and fields? What will you do when they tear down your Inn?”
“It’s better than living in fear my whole life. I’ll pack and move to the Winterlands if I have to.”
“And trade one king for another?”
“Well, that’s where the Winterberry wine comes from. He can’t be all bad.”
The crowd laughed.
“Well, I can’t have this in my town. I won’t lead a rebellion.”
“Who says we’re asking you to lead it?” another voice said.
It was the woman whose parents shop was being ransacked, I learned that her name was Maeli, and it was good to see her doing well. Morgan saved her from a werewolf two days before.
“Where were you when the soldiers burned down my family’s store? Or when the wolves attacked? You’ve been holed up letting everything happen? Why should we even let you run the town?”
“Because I was appointed by Lord Daggett and I will keep the peace in this town, and will not have it go into open revolt. And I will not let some former warden lead us to destruction. The wardens were disbanded for a reason they were nothing but thugs roaming the woods. I will not bow to some…”
“You don’t have to worry about a revolt Mayor,” I said stepping forward, “My friends and I will leave Avonsdale tomorrow. When the soldiers come, tell them that you sent us off. That should buy you some goodwill.”
“No, you need to leave immediately. I have just signed a charter saying that all former wardens are banned from Avonsdale effective immediately.”
“Fine,” I said.
“No,” someone yelled from the crowd, “If they go I go too.”
“I second that,” Bardo said. “If Owen, Morgan, Eric, and Ben are no longer welcome here then I will close the Bard and Quill and go with them.”
“Us too,” I heard the couple that owned the destroyed shop.
And one by one the people in the town, the baker, the blacksmith, echoed the sentiment.
“Fine, you all can go,” the mayor yelled, “be gone. I want everyone out.”
“Maybe it’s time for a new mayor,” someone from the crowd called.
“Yes,” Bardo said, taking the charter from the mayor’s hands, “I don’t see why you need to be in charge any longer.” The crowd swelled around the old mayor knocking him down.
“Please stop,” a woman cried working her way between the crowd and the mayor. I figured her to be his wife. “He doesn’t want them gone.”
“Doesn’t sound that way. He just wants to be in Skein’s good graces.”
“It’s not that,” the woman said, “they have our son.”
I bent down, so that I was at eye level with him, “Where?” I asked.
“At the mayor’s cottage. To the west. Off the old shepherd road. A handful of men took him the other night. I’m sorry. I’m sorry all of you they said they’d kill him if I didn’t get the wardens to leave.”
I jogged back to the Inn where Morgan, Eric, and Ben were sitting. They were packing up.
“Stop,” I said.
They all looked at me confused.
“Eric, you and Ben are going to check all the woods around town. I want to make sure no scouts are hiding in the woods.”
“We’re not leaving?” Eric asked.
“Go. Now.” I said and the two of them rushed out.
“What’s wrong?” Morgan asked.
“The king’s men have the mayor’s son.”
“When do we leave?”
“Right now,” I said and we geared up. We took our bows and a dozen arrows each with a mix of steel and iron points. The iron points dulled quickly but were useful on the Fain. We also had a silver-tipped arrow each. A small silver blade for each of us. I took my rowan staff and she had her long knife on her belt.
The Old Shepherd’s road crossed the Autumn Road just north of town and then meandered into the western woods. We sprinted along the road, Morgan ahead, as usual, I spent nearly my whole life in the woods, but it constantly annoyed me that she would probably be fleeter of foot than me. Luckily we both took a minute to stuff rags in with the arrows on our belt quivers, otherwise, we’d rattling through the woods, and the odds of sneaking up on anything other than a deaf troll would be unlikely.
Once we were in the forest, we slowed to stalk. Sounds carried far in the forest, chipmunks sounded like bears rolling through the underbrush at times. I had a vague idea where the cottage was, and instead of just wandering down the road and knocking on the door, I thought it best to cut through the forest. I didn’t discuss the plan with Morgan. I didn’t have to. If you spend enough time in the woods with someone you might as well share one mind.
It wasn’t long before I caught a glimpse of motion ahead. The woods opened up to a small clearing in which the cottage sat. It was nothing special. A decent-sized home and bit nicer than the other houses around Avonsdale, but I’d pull apart by hand if need be to get the boy out.
There were three soldiers outside acting as guards, two men, and a woman. One man and the woman stayed near the front, while the other walked to the back of the house. Morgan nodded at that one and silently worked her way to the back too. I quietly slipped two arrows out of the quiver using the woods as cover, and inched in the direction of the soldiers, nocked an arrow, and waited.
Within a minute, I heard the thwack of Morgan’s bow releasing, and before they realized what happened I stood and drew until the middle finger of my draw hand hit the corner of my mouth, before releasing and let the arrow fly. I nocked another and repeated, and both of them fell.
I ran to the front of the house, dropping the staff as it would be nearly useless in the house, and kicked open the door, where I found two men guarding the little boy. Morgan came threw the back and drew the attention of one man. I pulled off my cloak, wrapping it around my arm, and the man drew his sword. He stabbed at me, and I blocked with my cloak covered arm, drawing him close enough to punch him in the throat. He staggered back and another blow knocked him out.
Morgan dispatched her man just as quickly. I found the boy sitting on the floor. “Are you okay?” I asked him.
“I think so. Where’s my dad?”
“He’s in town. I’m going to take you to him. Okay?” I said holding out my hand.
“Okay,” he said and grabbed my hand. I lead him out through the front trying to keep him from seeing the soldiers on the ground.
Suddenly I heard a rustle in the woods, and the werewolf from the other day walked out. I pushed the boy behind me. But that wasn’t all, nearly a dozen soldiers arrived as well coming from the woods and the road.
We were surrounded.