We crept past the slumbering guards and further into the fort until we stood outside what was left of a large side room, its wall crumbled to the floor in one corner. From inside came the mumble of quiet voices and I dared a darting glance around the wall. Inside, with their backs to us, two men stood in the far corner, they were poring over maps on a table and quite oblivious to our presence. Everwyn glanced in too before we both moved back and looked at each other, her expression was cold but her eyes were gleaming with more than reflected torchlight. It had been clear who was the ranking officer and a few nods and silent hand-signals later we made ready a simple plan.
I spun round the corner and sprinted across the room, the men turned in alarm to look at me just as I felt two arrows slice past my shoulder. The man to my left spun round and hit the wall dead as the other grabbed for his sword. I cleared the space between us in four strides and swung my shield up hard. It connected with his jaw with a sound that suggested he would have trouble eating anything but broth in the future and he collapsed to the floor unconscious. A quick check outside to ensure no one had heard or was about to raise the alarm and Everwyn ran over to join me.
“Nice shot,” I remarked glancing at the dead man by the wall.
“Nice smash to face,” she replied flatly. I think she was being sarcastic but I found it hard to tell at times.
“It worked,” I said with a mean smile.
“Hmm, well let’s find out if he can still talk before we give you a medal, eh?” Sarcastic then. I think. “Pass that wine jug,” she nodded to the table as she began to lash the unconscious man’s hands and feet together.
“I don’t think this is the time for a drink, do you?” I replied.
“Not for me,” I noticed she did not say ‘us’, “For him, you fool!” she hissed. I passed it over and she took it in one hand as she withdrew a knife from her boot with the other, “Now watch the approach and let me know of someone is coming. I’ll wake him up and see if he can oblige us with news of this precious Ranger.
The next few minutes were unpleasant to say the least, especially for the Blackwold, but talk he did. Everwyn proved to be most persuasive and not for the last time I felt relief we were blade-mates and not enemies.
“He said,” she whispered to me as I stood by the entrance and kept watch, “the Ranger was taken by another officer somewhere else. He swore he didn’t know where but he gave me the name Skunkwood. Do you know of him?”
“The name is familiar, yes. A brigand and robber and low-criminal of these parts. It would make sense for his sort to have thrown in with these devils.”
“What should we do now then?” she asked as she wiped her blade clean on a scrap of cloth, part of the Blackwold’s own uniform I noted.
I thought for a while before replying. I wanted to tear this damnable place down and kill all the murdering swine I could find but I knew I stood little chance of managing that and living. No, better to gather more forces and make them all pay for what they did to Archet properly rather thanjust a few in a grand but stupid gesture. “We should return,” I said eventually, “Go back to Combe and speak with Underhill and Toradan. Maybe they will aid us in finding Skunkwood and the Ranger and then we can all return here to hold these filth to account for their actions.”
Everwyn slipped the dagger back into her boot and nodded, “Let’s move before our path here is discovered,” she said simply and padded back along the dark corridor to where we had entered…