The Rainwoods, called so for obvious reasons, are often called the Grey Woods, also for obvious reasons. The mixture of rain and fog that often occurred in this stretch of forest tended to be creepy at night. I spent years in the woods, and it sometimes still took me by surprise how scary the they were at night.
But it was this atmosphere I wanted to use right now. Long ago, I was an apprentice under the Captain of the order, old Jack Swift, when he taught me to live in the woods, his favorite would repeat constantly, “The wood provide.” Usually, he meant food, water, and shelter, the things a woodsman needed constantly in the woods, but tonight the woods would provide a stage, and I the main actor. Especially after what Anna told me.
“What have you been up to?” I asked the small blond and rather treacherous woman in front of me.
“I was out looking for this one,” she said winking at Morgan.
“Seriously now,” I said trying to keep my voice low. We weren’t that far from where we escaped.
“I was doing what you suggested,” she said.
“You were causing havoc for the king’s men?” Morgan asked.
“Depends on what you consider havoc,” she said smiling.
“What. Did. You. Do?” I asked.
“Well, I found a band of the king’s men on the road. And I thought about what you said, about making it easier for you all here. So I took care of them.”
“You took care of them?” I asked.
“Yes, they’re all dead.”
“Dead,” Morgan nearly yelled, “Why are they all dead?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?”
“No,” Morgan said, “I meant to steal their food. Burn their tents. Scare off horses. Just make delay them.”
“You really should have been more specific.”
“How many?” I asked.
“Six,” she said.
“Mother Morning. You killed six of the King’s men?” I asked.
“I don’t get the big deal. You attacked the King’s men,” she said, “I just had the guts to finish what you started.”
“Do you think the king will let the death of six soldiers do? We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t ride north in strength.”
“You overestimate Ravengard’s care for any of his people. And aren’t you basically leading a revolt here?’
“No,” I said, “ we were going to help the people and show them some tricks against the Fain.and then leave town. The four of us couldn’t defend the town.”
“Oh,” Anna said, “you’re really not going to like the next part.”
“Those weren’t the only men you killed were they?” Morgan asked.
“Sweet days of sunshine you monster,” Morgan said. I, however, was speechless.
“I didn’t kill all of them.”
“You didn’t,” I said. I could feel the blood running from my face. Morgan looked at me not realizing the implication of Anna’s words.
“I left one to tell the rest of Skein’s men. To give them a message.”
“I’m going to be sick,” I said sensing what Anna was about to say.
“What was the message?” Morgan asked.
She looked down, almost remorseful if I didn’t know she was a monster I’d almost believe her.
“Tell Skein that Owen West is coming for him.”
“You doomed me, Anna. They’ll never stop until I’m dead. They’ll hunt these woods for us.”
“I did you a favor you lout,” Anna said, “and if you would quit bellyaching I’ll explain.”
“I’d love to hear this.”
“You’re about to fight a war. You don’t see it. I know you thought you could sneak away, but Skein would burn Avonsdale and skin the people one by one till you showed up. The second you attacked the soldiers this was happening whether you believe it or not.”
“How is this a favor?”
“Do you know what my kind’s greatest advantage is?” the vampire said, “you people tell stories about us from the time you’re little. We haunt your nightmares and anyone with any bit of sense fears us. The stories do half the work. The second anyone stands against me they have all those stories in the back of their heads. They know what I am, or think they know anyway. Instead of hardened warriors, it’s men quaking in their boots. All the stories coming back to them.
“That’s what I did for you,” she said poking me in the chest, “I gave you that. Right now there are whispers of a former warden who attacks men in the night. Of a shadow that haunts the King’s men. A man who fights like he’s part, Fain. They think one main killed nearly twenty. They think you’re a ghost.”
Anna was right and she forced my hand. There was no way out now.
I felt a plan forming. It was crazy but the best things are.
And we could hear the camp stirring not far away. They knew we weren’t there.
“Can you outrun a werewolf?” I asked Anna.
She looked insulted, “Yes of course.”
I handed her my cloak, “Take this. It has my scent. Lead him away so I can deal with the men.”
“So we can deal with the men,” Morgan said.
“No someone has to find Eric and Ben and get prepared. There’s no escaping this now. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Morgan wasn’t happy but she snuck through woods back to town. I grabbed Anna by the shoulder, “You will fight with us. This is your doing Anna.”
“Anna I will spend my days hunting you down if you burn me on this.”
“Oh don’t pretend you wouldn’t love that.”
“I mean it. With you, we can make stand a stand at least.”
“Fine West I will help you.”
She darted back to the soldiers’ camp. I followed but Ann was far faster than me. I reached the edge of the woods just as Anna sped through the camp wearing my cloak. Just as I thought the werewolf chased after.
The soldiers were easy to see in the firelight. I hefted my rowan staff. If I must be a ghost then these would be the woods I haunt.
It took me nearly a year to walk silently in the woods. My first year as an apprentice our great task was to get within reach of a deer. To blend into the woods and walk among the trees and leaves and not rustle a single twig. I still remember the deer’s pelt the first time I touched it.
I snuck forward with one I closed. The soldiers were alert but thought I was in the woods, not knowing it was Anna. Their purple tunics and mail shone in the firelight. Some of them had their swords drawn and they caught the light of the fire in their steel blades.
In my dark clothing and wooden staff, I might as well had been invisible.
Finally, I found the water pale I saw earlier. With one swift motion, I grabbed the bucket and tossed the remaining liquid on it, extinguishing it.
Suddenly I was left with 11 blind soldiers and a score to settle. I opened my closed eye, the one used tonight and it might as well have been day time for me as the soldiers scrambled. Their steel weapons caught glimpses of starlight.
They never saw me coming.
I swung my staff taking out arms and legs. Within a minute 11 men were down. Half of them were knocked in the head and out cold. The others took blows to the arms and legs and wouldn’t be fighting anytime soon.
I could feel the fear radiating from them. They had no idea what happened.
I rested the end of my staff against his quivering chin.
“My name is Owen West and you are in my woods.”