I could not risk that he would follow me when I had left such easy tracks in my bid to get away. From the trees I watched as he pulled himself from the floor and retrieved his weapon, before he turned and stode from the forest. Only then did I turn and head towards camp in the fading light of day - careful to use the stones as much as possible so I did not leave footprints.
"Kate! Where have you been?" Jem asked, her face pinched with worry as she checked me over. I removed my mask and cloak, tucking them under my arm.
"Watching in case we were followed." I muttered bitterly. I could still see the surprise on the Marshall's face as he uttered those words, 'A woman...Impossible!' The fool. I headed towards my hut, Jem following me.
"Well? Were we?"
"Only by one. I dealt with him."
"He is dead?"
"No Jem!" I swivelled to face her and became aware that everyone in the camp was watching. Kiara appeared out of a hut dusting off her skirt and folded her arms watching us intently. The child newcomer was with her, peering around her skirt in fascination. Another, smaller child was with her. I lowered my voice. "No Jem, he is not dead. He is Twynam, the new Marshall."
"Twynam?" Griever spoke from the side, getting up from the fire. "You let him live?"
"I did more than that. He almost had me, he knows I am a woman. I cannot go back to the village. Someone else must go. Jem, Kiara?"
"He knows you're a woman? But that won't stop you going back..." Kiara said, her brow furrowed.
"No Kiara, I don't think that's it." Jem muttered, staring at me. "Tell me he didn't take off your mask?" I grimaced and she sighed. "Kate! Why did you go alone?"
I threw my cloak and mask to the floor in anger.
"I was looking after you. All of you. It is not my fault he took my mask off. Be thankful I got away! Now he will not recognise me from the market, unless I go back. I am sure the face of a peasant that he hardly saw will not have stayed firm in his mind. But the face of a Night Hawk, a woman who managed to defeat him? He will remember that alright. I cannot go to the village any more. Now who will take my place?"
There was a moments pause while Jem stared at me with a mixture of resignation and disappointment. Then she unfolded her arms.
"I will go."
"Good. And you will take him." I pointed at Griever. "We cannot completely change the cart, else he will suspect. You will pretend to be me. Nothing has changed. If he suspects... then you leave the food and the cart and scarper. But I think that he will not remember the peasant who sold food. He is too high and mighty for that."
"No buts. That's it. Market day is five days hence. The fresh food from today's raid will not last that long. Store the flour and grain for market, the rest for the neighbouring villages. We will take it and leave it in doorways as we have done before. Not as the Night Hawks, the gaurd are on high alert. Kiara, you and some of the others should go. Dress in villagers clothes. Concealed weapons."
Kiara nodded and marched to the centre of the camp to gather some of the women. The children, the newcomers, were left by the hut.
"Hey kid!" I called. The elder one stared at me. "What's your name?"
"Got a job for you Norida. Go with them, act as look out. The guards may have been warned that the Night Hawks will be giving out food. Make sure if a guard appears that the others know okay? Take that one with you." I didn't recognise her, but she must be new.
The girls grinned, nodded, and ran after Kiara. I glanced at Jembefore retreating in to my hut. She followed.
"Have you gone mad?"
"Jem I am not in the mood."
"It doesn't matter if you're in the mood or not. You've been revealed. You cannot go out in normal dress ever again. You're stuck as a Hawk now."
"I don't care." I lied, putting away my cloak and mask. "I belong here; where else would I go?"
"You could find someone, live a normal life..."
"And that's what you want is it?" I glared at her.
"Perhaps." She replied quietly.
"Well good, because you still can. But I never wanted that, and now I cannot. What difference does it make? If you wish to leave, why don't you?"
"Because you'd get yourself killed." She smirked. I shook my head and then broke out in to a laugh.
"You cannot mother me forever Jem. We are the same age you know."
"I know. But someone has to look out for you - you don't look after yourself." Her face became more serious. "What if he had killed you Kate?"
"He would have a dead woman and no Hawks. Besides, he didn't kill me did he?"
"Was he close?"
I closed my eyes and saw his face again, inches from mine. He had looked to me as I imagined a wolf would when it had you in it's grasp. Wild on the outside, with his untamed hair, but his eyes were cold and calculating. Until of course he had ripped the mask from my face, when they had been caught so unawares that all the concentration had simply fled from those pitch pupils.
"Yes." I whispered, that look imprinted in my mind. "He was close."
"What happened?" She asked and I opened my eyes to look at her. "He didn't hurt you did he?"
"Only my pride." I gave her the details of what had occurred during our short fight, and when I'd finished she sat on the floor and shook her head.
"The fact we are mostly women will not protect us any longer."
"But you still send women to give food?"
"It is easier to conceal food on women. Besides, I doubt he will have told the soldiers in the other villages yet. They cannot suspect every woman, just because he has seen one does not mean he suspects us all. He will have been told there was a woman in the battle I am sure, although he probably did not believe it until now."
Jem sat in silence alongside me until we heard the group leave to feed the villagers. Then she got up to leave. At the door she stopped and chuckled.
"What?" I asked, glancing up.
"I would have loved to see his face when he realised you were a woman. And when you blew that kiss." Then she disappeared, still chuckling, leaving me to smile after her.