I returned from a self-imposed patrol to see a group of Hawks exchanging hurried whispers. Kate was among them, as well as Kiara and Norida, but no Jem.
No Robin either I noticed, letting out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. The man's careless flirting was going to get him into trouble. In fact, but for Kate's inevitable disapproval, I would already have introduced him to some. Griever, thank the stars, had picked up on the gathering tension. In the few days since our last incident, the big man had done his best to keep Robin distracted, and away from Kate. I wasn't really worried about the man's antics, Kate could handle herself.
But I was jealous, and I found myself wishing that she would handle herself, or I'd do it for her.
"She said she was going to keep watch from the outpost," Kiara said, "I-" all conversation ceased as I approached. A subtle nod from Kate started it back up almost immediately.
"I figured she would have checked back in by now. Griever returned with the Merry Men almost an hour ago."
I didn't need to look at Kate to know that she tensed at this. My hand found hers, gave a reassuring squeeze, and allowed my attention to return to the matter at hand.
"Didn't they run into some fae on their way back?" Kate asked tersely, answered by stiff nods from around the circle. That was all the information I needed. Breaking free of the circle, I made for the outpost, re-tightening my belt, and giving my weapon a reassuring pat.
"Do you think we'll find anything?"
I jumped at Kate's voice and cursed under my breath. I was just starting to think, after all this time, that my senses had improved ever so slightly, but that didn't stop the blasted woman from catching me completely unaware.
"I don't know" I answered, "But it can't hurt to check. And I need this."
Weeks had passed since the Sheriff had captured my men. I trusted Kate and her band with my life, and they constantly assured me that they were working on a plan, but I wasn't one to sit by idly, especially when my soldiers, my friends, were in trouble. With the fae back in the neighborhood, I patrolled often, but even that wasn't enough to sate the stirring inside.
"I know" Kate said softly, "Believe me, I understand. And," She flashed a quick smile, "I think we're finally ready. I was going to make an announcement later tonight, but it appears we'll be a bit busy."
"When?" It was all I could manage.
"A few days at most."
"What-... you don't think they've lost hope have they?"
Kate took my arm and pulled me to stop, "No Corin. I can assure you, they haven't."
There was more than just blind comfort in her voice. There was confidence. She knew something.
"We sent someone to infiltrate the castle. We've been keeping in contact with your Falcons."
"We didn't tell you," Kate interrupted, "Because we weren't sure how you would handle it. It killed me to keep that from you, truly, but trust me when I say I did it for your own good."
I resumed walking, though it was more of a numb, mindless shuffle. The outpost loomed just over the next rise.
"How are they?"
I could feel her breath catch, her gaze dropped to her feet.
She heaved a long sigh, and brought her head up to look me in the eyes.
"Not well Corin. The Sheriff isn't being very hospitable. He tried to recruit them, use them against us, against you..." Kate chuckled half-heartedly, "Long story short, they refused. But they know we're coming. They know you haven't forgotten about them."
"Thank you Kate."
Wiping a rogue tear from my face, I looked up to see the outpost. Kate moved for the ladder and began to deftly climb, while I searched the ground.
"Do you see anything down there?" Kate called after several minutes.
It wasn't an exaggeration. I fancied myself a decent tracker and there was nothing to suggest anyone other than Jem had been to the outpost. Although...
"Jem's tracks are only one way" I shouted. "Something must have come from above."
"I think you're on to something there Marshall," and before I could ask Kate what she meant, a feather, not from any bird I'd ever seen, flitted in front of my face.
"It was caught on the outside of the outpost."
I cursed, if Jem was taken by some kind of winged-fae, tracking her would be that much more difficult.
A roar sounded behind me, and I turned to see Griever charge past me into the forest. I hadn't even heard him approach. As he passed me, the dying light of the sun glinted off a small object in his hands.
"Cursed fae!" he yelled as he ran, "I'll tear your forsaken bodies apart limb by God damned limb!"