Kate stalked away, and the reflexive sense of satisfaction was tempered this time by a feeling of disappointment.
Kate truly hated me.
I couldn't say I was surprised, but I thought... after our conversations... and the hanging...
Perhaps I shouldn't have expected any different. After all, Kate had left me. Hadn't even looked at me.
And why should she? Why did it matter?
"...no deal Twynam?"
Kate's companion, Jem, was half glaring at me, waiting for an answer to a question that I hadn't heard.
"Excuse me, what was that?"
"I said, does this mean we have no deal?"
I shook my head in amusement. "Still going on about your bedtime stories Hawk?"
Her eyes narrowed dangerously.
"The sheriff certainly wouldn't approve of this... Jem. However I am not the Sheriff,"
"Lucky for you" Jem muttered.
I ignored the remark, "So here's my offer. If you can prove to me that your fairy tales exist, and I mean solid proof, then I will consider aiding you in this escapade. Is that acceptable?"
Realizing this was probably the best offer she would be able to extract, the Hawk nodded.
"Then we're through here. We'll show ourselves out."
I lead my small contingent of troops out of the tent and down the road that led towards the castle that loomed in the distance. I turned to voice my thoughts to the Captain, but something caught my eye before I could say a word.
Kate was wrestling with a knife that had stuck in the wall of a small hut.
"Marshall?" asked the Captain, drawing my attention away from the scene. "Did you need something?"
"Ah... no Captain, thank you. Actually, I would like you to assume command and take the men home."
"Yes sir. May I inquire as to what you will be doing?"
"I'm going to look around. See if I can figure out what these Hawks are really up to."
"We could help-"
"That's alright Captain. It'll be less conspicuous with only one. And these walking tin cans will alert everyone in the town as to our presence" I said with a smile, making it clear that I was joking.
"If you insist sir. Be safe."
The Captain barked out a command and the men pivoted and began to march towards home. I watched them until they turned a corner farther the down the street, then turned back to where-
Kate was gone.
I cursed my luck, but all wasn't lost quite yet. Darkness was falling, but the villagers had begun to light fires around the village and I was just able to catch a form slipping away towards the boundary where the forest and village met. In seconds, I was on the pursuit.
Approaching as quietly as I could, I came up behind the form, who I could now see was Kate. She sat quietly, twirling a knife, and staring off into the night. Taking a risk, I sat and watched along with her. She didn't turn to look at me, and only spoke after a few minutes had passed.
"Did the Marshall agree?"
"I thought we were beyond such pleasantries... Kate" I said quietly, hesitating before saying her name.
Leaping from the log, Kate had procured another knife and wasted no time in taking up a defensive stance. I continued to sit.
"Make no mistake Marshall, seeing you is anything but pleasant."
"Why the change Kate? I had thought we were finally starting to get along."
"Is that what you told yourself? That the reason I cooperated was because we were... 'getting along?' I think you forget the bars, the guards, and, oh that's right! My crippled feet!"
She followed that last statement up with a kick, that caught me in the chest and sent falling back off the log. Standing slowly, I held my arms up as non-threateningly as I could.
"I didn't come here for a fight Kate."
"Well you're going to get one!"
She swung at my face, and I stepped back at the last second to avoid being hit. Kate advanced and had had enough of of waiting for me to act. She jabbed out with one of her knives in a poor attempt at an attack. It was clear that whatever was going on in her head, it didn't have much to do with fighting.
I spun away, and Kate's thrust, while missing me, caught one poor tree that was just couldn't move fast enough. The dagger stuck.
Abandoning the lodged knife, Kate transferred her remaining blade to her other hand and came at me once again. I reached for small rock, and barely brought it up time. The strike knocked the rock from my hand, but had sent a jarring vibration up the dagger, and Kate dropped that one as well.
I took another step back and found myself tripping over the log that I had been sitting on moments earlier. Kate charged forward, knocking me to the ground, and landing on top of me. Kate's face glistened, the moonlight playing off of the tears streaming down her face as she threw punch after punch at me.
"Why?! Why aren't you doing anything?! Fight... back! You... BASTARD!"
Kate's punches were slowing, and then just like that, they stopped altogether, and the weight on top of me vanished.
"I just want to help you-"
"Help me?" She got in my face. "Help me!? Name one thing that you've done to help me! In fact, name one thing you've done to help... anyone! You've never done anything for me!"
If she had asked me last week, that would have been a hard question to answer. But now, I had answer.
"I was about to kill your friend, but I didn't. Because of the look in your eyes. Because of you."
Kate took a step back, and slowly allowed herself to sink to the ground.
"I knew this was a bad idea" she whispered.
"What, trying to trick me with your imaginary fae?'
"They're real Twynam! No, I meant, bringing you here. To the village." She turned away. "Go back to your castle. We don't need your help."
"I never said I gave it."
"I said I would help, if I got proof that these creatures are real."
Kate turned back and stared hard at me for a long minute. Then suddenly she leapt up and disappeared into the forest.
And I followed.
Within minutes, I had lost not only Kate, but also my bearings. I spun in a circle, looking for some sign that she, or anybody, had passed through here. There was nothing.
I followed the sound to my left, and was relieved to see a figure a little ways off. Kate hadn't seen me, but I started waving, and opened my mouth to yell, when a hand closed over my mouth and jerked me backwards. I fumbled as I tried to draw my sword, and just started thrashing as hard as I could. It wasn't going to end like this-
"Corin! Cut it out!" Kate whispered from behind me, and the hand dropped from my mouth.
But if Kate was behind me... I shot her a glance and slowly stuck my head out from behind the trunk where she had dragged me.
The thing was gone.
I looked back at Kate, who returned my gaze somberly.
But I wanted a closer look. If I jumped at every dark form that I saw in the distance, I wouldn't have been made a Marshall. I slowly stuck a foot out and began to make my way around the trunk when Kate grabbed me, and pulled me back once again. Annoyed, I turned to ask what she thought she was doing, but stopped when I saw the look on her face.
She wasn't playing.
Motioning for me to stay put, she peeked around the tree and instantly drew her head back.
And then I heard it. Something was passing by only a few feet away from us.
All that stood between us was a tree trunk.
Kate tapped on my shoulder and mouthed,
"Take a look. But be careful."
I nodded, and slowly stuck my head out. When I saw it...
I understood why it was used in nightmares.
It was hideous. Crooked fangs, a lopsided smile, and hair coming out in all directions, and...
Mercifully, Kate tapped on my shoulder, drawing my attention away from the fae.
"Still just a fairy tale?" Kate mouthed with a smirk.
"You can't blame me for doubting" I shot back.
The two of us anxiously watched the thing pass, not daring to even breathe until it had been swallowed up by the forest.
When it was gone, the two of us turned toward each other and let out a collective breath. And then exploded into relieved laughter. The way we were acting, you'd think we were two children who had almost been caught up past their bedtime. The laughter gradually subsided and the acute awareness of how close I was to Kate sprung up.
In order for us to both fit behind the tree, we so close, that now looking at each other brought our noses to mere inches apart. And something clicked.
Kate was... beautiful.
I could feel my heart quicken its pace as I looked straight into Kate's golden brown eyes. I was as lost in them, as I was in the forest, but in this case, I didn't want to leave.
I reached a hand up to touch Kate's face, but the movement startled her from whatever world she had been in, and just as quickly as it had happened, the moment was over.
But the realization that had come with that moment had no intention of going anywhere.