[Author’s note: This is what happens to James in the woods after he sets out with his travel rations. Like in Exile and Legend by SpookOfNight the squiggles (~) indicate text spoken in Skathain. A language neither James nor his men understand. You should have heard the Skathain’s laughing in my head as I wrote this. So anyway, this takes place between chapter 86 (Plans Set to Motion) and chapter 87 (The Siege Begins)]
James handed out the rations to his chosen men. They gathered in the gatehouse and armed themselves.
“I know you’ve heard the rumors, but prove yourselves out there and there will be promotions. You five are to go west, get to the bridge and cross it, see if there is anything that way.”
James picked five of the men. He marked the leader with his Uncle’s cross. He might be scared and fight being captured, but James knew he was a good man underneath the way he’d learned to be.
“You five,” James picked the next set, marking the leader yet again. “Will go south and scout out in the woods there. My suspicions are that we are being hoodwinked by rebels.”
“So we go east?” the tremor in the man’s voice was clear.
“Aye,” James nodded, marking himself with his Uncle’s cross. “We’re going out to show the rest of the cowards how stupid they are being. Unless, of course, you’d like to get Major Chantey’s treatment...”
James looked at the men and they all shook their heads.
“I’m still not sure that was a female who killed him.” he heard one of the men whisper as they headed out to the portcullis.
James chuckled. “Oh believe me, she is a woman, but I wouldn’t tangle with her. If Senior Captain Chester hadn’t stabbed her with his dagger she’d have likely killed him too.”
There were looks of disbelief that passed through the men as they waited for the portcullis to open. James only smiled.
Once the groups had split into their directions James marked two more of his men with his Uncle’s Cross. “In case you lose me,” he stated.
The night had fallen and with it, a chill wind from the lake. They trudged along across the open land shivering in their coats. It wasn’t until they set foot in the woods that they began to hear the sounds. At first it was hoots and hollers but then it started sounding like words, only James couldn’t understand what they were saying.
“~We got another pack,~” came from the left.
“~You’d think they’d give up by now,~” came from the right.
“~Can’t fault their stubornness,~” this voice seemed to be in front of them.
“~Wait aren't we supposed to let some of these guys live?~” back on the left.
“Steady boys,” James warned as his men began to draw together.
“~Oh yeah, what was that symbol we’re supposed to be looking for?~” this time the voice came from behind them.
“~I don’t know, the Alithane wasn’t speaking all that clearly, his Errion accent was too thick.~” the voice form the right spoke again.
James, though he and his men had formed an outward facing circle, moved them further into the wood.
“~This group is funny; they aren’t running like the others.~”
“~Well, think we should bring them all back?~”
“~I think we should keep talking as we surround them. Look at the expression on their faces.~”
The strange voices were defiantly coming from all around them now.
“We’re surrounded,” one man cried.
“They’re going to get us,” other spoke.
“You’re all idiots,” James muttered as he shifted, his Uncle’s cross flashing in the moonlight.
“~The guy that seems to be leading him, he’s got this white cross on his right shoulder. That’s the thingy that Lord Far guy wears.~”
“~Well let’s get this over with I think we’ve scared the poor bastards enough I think the little one just peed himself.~”
Suddenly, James and his men were surrounded by towering figures.
“Drop your weapons,” James ordered his group.
“I said drop your weapons Private, or do you want a whipping when we return.”
James dropped his own sword. The big guy in front of him, stepped forward and picked it up.
“~This one’s smarter than the others,~” he spoke. “~Still want him tied up though. Mara, would you?~”
“~Sure~” an archer stepped from the trees, but before James could register that Mara was a woman she had him on the ground and was tying his arms behind his back.
“~What about the ones that aren’t marked?~” one of the other women spoke.
“~Let them run and poke them with arrows~” the big guy before James shrugged. “~I’ll take the others to see Phoenix.~”
Phoenix, the word caused James to breathe an inner sigh of relief. He’d been right that the rumors of possessed woods were related to Phoenix, though where he’d found these guys the Gods only knew.