The Huntress

King and Crown Chapter 6

She moved through the forest in an unusual way. She didn’t have the heavy boot stomps of a woodsman, instead she crept through the trees like a panther, just a mere shadow slinking through the trees.

She was the dirt.

She was the trees.

The leaves didn’t rustle when she moved.

Twice she could have touched a deer if she wanted and the animal had no idea she was even there.

Such was the way when Anna walked through the forest.

She left no trace upon the woods, just an ethereal presence shifting with the wind. She left no sounds, no smells. She was the perfect hunter. It was almost unfair. Almost.

It was all around her.

The blood. She could hear the birds above and their hearts beating a thousand times a minute. The blood coursing through the squirrel ahead of her.

But they had no interest to her. She was after larger game, though she had no idea why she was helping. To go against the king could mean death. To go against the Skein would be even worse.

She knew when she met Owen West he was different. Something about the woodsman made him seem more dangerous than them all. He tricked her. No one had done that. If the poor boy had better plant knowledge she wouldn’t be running in the woods right now.

Morgan too was dangerous. She let herself get bit in order to take out a vampire. She pulled the trick with the blood, but it was still dangerous.

The two of them together were going to be trouble. The other two weren’t much better and if they weren’t careful everyone in that ramshackle town would figure out their secret.

She didn’t want to let them know she’d been following them since they entered town.

When she saw the young warden stop the soldiers from ransacking that shop she knew he was different. The people of Avondale were being abused for so long and no one would stand for them. The local lords didn’t care, the ones that were left anyway. Morgan and Owen might have let her go but she didn’t think they would take kindly to her having killed Lord Daggett and his son, making it possible for Skein and the king’s men to run roughshod over the northern borders of the Kingdom.

Each day more and more darker elements made their way to Pembroke, some of which even made Anna squirm.

She heard something behind her. Quicker than any human she darted up the tree, perched, waiting to see what might be tracking her. She wouldn’t put it past the wardens to tail her.

But it was a wolf, large and grey, and not the changing kind. Anna liked wolves. She felt a kinship with them. Everyone was told stories about her kind and humans associated her people with bats, but it was wolves that she felt closer to. She once spent a week following a pack, watching them, following their hunts. It was the closest she came to having a family in a long time.

She let the wolf move through the area and then dropped silently back to the ground and continued on her journey.

She worked her way south. For her, the woods was just as fast as the road.

She stalked through the woods until she heard what she was looking for.

She sped up. A light jog for her was the full sprint for most, and within a minute she was back towards the road, where she heard them, a group of soldiers on the road.

She recognized them, they were among those garrisoned at Avonsdale. It was only ten of them. She almost wished it was more, as then they might have a chance.

She stepped out in front of them. The small brigade stopped when they saw the small woman impeding their path.

The large man at the head of the line, “Can we help you?” they asked.

“No. I’m afraid not,” she said pulling down her hood.

The man’s eyes widened when he recognized her, “You’re…” but he didn’t have time to finish as Anna rushed forward, and kneed the man in the stomach. When he doubled over she pulled his sword from his belt and hefted the large blade. She preferred her hands for this kind of work, but it couldn’t look like a vampire did it.

“This will do,” she said.

Later that night, after dispatching that group of soldiers she came upon a camp in the woods, a scouting party. This would do nicely.

The soldiers were gathered around a fire.

This time she’d traded her black cloak for a green one, and she pulled the hood over her head. She waited, watching them, until finally one stumbled away from the fire to relief himself, but Anna cut off his hand. He went screaming back to camp and now they were all aware that something was in the woods.

“Who’s there?” one man asked.

“Death,” Anna answered, trying to keep her voice as low as possible.

A sword flew through the night air catching the soldier in the chest. The men shouted with terror.

“We have have money,” one man yelled, tossing a purse of coins into the woods.

When he was met with silence, he yelled, “we can get more.”

But again no one answered, instead Anna appeared out of the woods, and her grey cloak flashed in the firelight. She ducked and spun and no man could touch her. She was a ghost among them, and within seconds all but one were on the ground bleeding.

The man dropped his weapon and fell when he spun to run away.

Anna sword the sword, flinging red flecks on the scared man.

“Don’t…don’t hurt me,” he pleaded.

“Relax,” Anna said keeping her voice low, “I want you to deliver a message.”

“Anything.”

“Tell everyone. All the king’s men what happened here tonight. I want them as scared as you are. If you don’t I will know. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he cried.

“One more thing,” Anna said hoping the fear would mask her voice.

“Anything.”

“Tell Skein that Owen West is coming for him.”