It was still dark when I left after scattering the remaining soldiers. I took their weapons and ran them off. The scared men took off without much prodding. Half of them still had no idea what was going on. All they knew was that a crazy man attacked them in the forest. And thanks to a new ally, half of them thought I was some ghost demon hybrid.
I gathered some of the weapons and a few supplied that might prove useful. I was also able to find my bow that dropped the day before. I placed it all in a canvas tarp and hefted the bundle on my shoulder and started to make my way back to town.
I walked along the road to save some time. I trudged along the worn path using my staff to keep balanced.
There was something strange I couldn’t shake like there were eyes on me. It’s not on uncommon feeling, as you’re rarely in the woods alone.
But it felt eerie. It took a second to realize what it was. It was absolute silence. The one that comes before a storm…or when a predator is moving through the woods.
“Oh, you’re good warden.”
“Recent history suggests otherwise.”
“Be that as it may, I prefer to look forward. I suggest you do the same. It does you no good to wallow in the embarrassment.”
“Of getting captured.”
“I captured you.”
“Or did I let you?”
I changed the subject because I didn’t want to know the answer.
“What happened to the werewolf?”
“Oh, he’s off chasing his tail. I lost him and doubled back. I expect him to give up soon and run back to his master.”
“You’re welcome, warden.”
“Thank you, Anna.”
“You’d be doomed without me.”
“I handled those men on my own.”
“There was what, a dozen? That’s child’s play.”
We walked a little further with Anna constantly asking if I needed help with the bundle and berating me for how slow I was going.
Thankfully, the sounds of a fight ahead distracted her from the mockery.
Morgan was dueling with a soldier. The two of them dancing back and forth. The soldier had armor and armed with a shield and sword. Morgan was fairing well considering she only had a long knife. She was circling and staying out of range of the larger weapon.
Anna stepped forward but I restrained her.
“She’s fine,” I said and reached into the bundle.
“Here,” I called tossing a sword to Morgan.
“Thank you,” Morgan said.
“You got this?” I asked.
“Catch up when you’re done.”
And we continued a little while and Morgan jogged up behind us.
“Dead?” Anna asked.
“I applaud your restraint,” Anna said.
It was quiet until we reached the town.
But what we found surprised us.
All the people were gathered in the square. I figured they were getting ready to hand Morgan and over to the Marshall to retain the king’s favor.
But the closer we got the more clear that wasn’t happening.
Bardo was there. And the mayor, with his boy, Maeli with her parents, as well as Eric and Ben.
“Owen!” Eric called. “We were getting ready to come get you guys. The boy said you and Morgan had been captured.”
“Haha, I’m sorry we spoiled your rescue.”
“Not just us,” Ben said, “the whole town was getting ready.”
I looked around and it was true. The townspeople were armed with basic weapons. Some had spears and bows others axes and clubs. Bardo, himself, was armed with a cudgel and meat cleaver and wore his leather apron as armor.
“Owen.” the Mayor called grabbing me by the arms, “Shane told us what happened. Thank you. I’ll never be able to repay you. When he told us you and Morgan stayed so he could be released. We couldn’t let that happen. Bardo and I rallied the town. Your friends came back and heard and were about to lead us out there. We’re in this now, Owen. There’s no going back now.”
I looked around and was amazed scores of people willing to take on the crown, to save the two strangers only in town for a few days. They were gathered around a statue of Avon the Bard.
I climbed on its foundation.
“What are you doing?” Morgan asked.
“I have no idea.” as I stood on the statue’s base.
I took a breath, here goes nothing.
“People of Avonsdale,
“I can’t tell you how much it means to see one town rallying around a group of strangers. We’ve only been here days but the town welcomed us. Men and women ready to take on the King’s own men.
“I see something else, I see people, hardworking people, tired people. Tired of the King taking what he wants. Of soldiers kidnapping young boys and girls. A King that let loose creatures of the night on his own people. Tired of working to scrape a living from the dirt and shops to make a living only to have it stripped away to line the King’s pockets.
“My name is Owen West. I am a Warden of the woods, a guardian of the Northern Brake. My order was abolished to make it easier for the Fain to attack people like you and so they could fill his ranks and tighten his boot on all your throats. I swore to protect people and so did the King, only one of us lives up to it.”
“I say no more.”
The crowd cheered. “I say enough.”
They cheered again.
“I say that this town doesn’t need the King or Skein or soldiers. We are of the woods, friends. If we must eke out a living then let us do it on our own.
“Fight with me and my friends and we will throw off this yoke of tyranny. I stand before your not demanding your fealty but asking for your help.
“Help me and we will prevail. We will hold them off. We will fight until the story rings through the land of a town that said no more.
“Stand with me and we will be victorious. By King and crown, I swear it so.”
The whole town roared with excitement.
Things happened fast after that. We sorted through the people willing to fight. Out of the town, we got 30 decent fighters, we decided to keep them in town hidden in the building across from the Inn. Skein didn’t know the town was in revolt. He thought he was coming to arrest the four of us.
We’d draw them in and then hopefully our new militia would take them in from behind.
Most of the other people would move to the farms farthest from town to keep as many safe as we could and if the soldiers took the town, they could flea.
And so we waited in the Inn.
Eric, Ben, and Morgan tried to sleep but couldn’t.
I heard the first shouts at dawn.
“Ready?” I asked.
We loaded up. Weapons and a variety of little trinkets that might come in handy. I put on my cloak and grabbed my staff.
They nodded. Anna was there too, looking at her nails. We emerged from the Inn to see them. There were at least 40 men, as well as a tall, thin man with long, black hair on horseback.
“Owen West?” he called.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Really? I try to keep to myself.”
“I am Alaric Skein.”
“By the King’s orders, I am to arrest you and your party for crimes against the crown.”
“I’ve never done anything to a crown.”
“I will give you and your merry band one chance to surrender.”
“And if we don’t?”
Skein nodded and two of his men changed into werewolves. I expected one werewolf but two would be difficult. Luckily, I still had one card to play.
“Then I will bring you in pieces.”
I smiled, as I knew one thing he didn’t.
“I doubt it.”
“Last chance.” Skein raised his hand.
“If the King wants me, he can come get me himself and I’ll suggest a new place to put his crown.”
Just before Skein dropped his hand, sending his troops at us, I looked at Ben and Eric and nodded.
You see, I wasn’t afraid of Skein’s werewolves, because I had two of my own.
And Ben and Eric started to change.