The Refugees Leave Blackwood
As Marcus peered into the darkness of the Blackwood, it seemed as though it was looking back at him. Rigorous training regimens, strict exercise requirements and brutally long patrol shifts of the Windholme Militia did little to assuage the childhood fears that all focused on the beasts living in that cursed wood. Add to that reports over the recent months about mysterious disappearances and trade caravans that never arrived at their destination…
Marcus rubbed his chin. Maybe there was something real behind the pervasive creepiness that seemed to flow from between the trees.
“Eyes up, Marcus!” shouted his commanding officer, Jackson. “We must be ever vigilant!”
“Yes, sir!” Marcus replied, snapping back to attention and continuing to scan the shadows the trees cast on the entrance to the wood. Though everything about the forest was suspicious, nothing had changed in the few seconds that his scrutiny had wavered.
He tried to maintain his focus, but it was a struggle. Soon, he found himself thinking once again about the story his Nan told him about the giant wolf and the little boy. Or was it a giant bear? All he could remember were the descriptions of mad, ravenous things with giant teeth.
“Ho, there! Movement!”
The shout from another of the watchmen shook Marcus from his reverie. Peering once again into the shadows, he thought he could just make out some large, hulking shape starting to resolve from the darkness. His grip tightened on his spear.
“Ah, boys, calm down,” Jackson responded, “it’s just a caravan.”
Marcus picked out the details immediately, feeling slightly foolish and relieved that the beast was merely a pair of mules, a driver and a loaded wagon. As the caravan entered into the sunlight, the driver yelled for help and Marcus could see something was horribly wrong. Dropping his spear and shedding his shield, he raced the hundred yards or so that made up the distance between him and the caravan. The other four soldiers jokes died on their lips as they followed suit.
Exiting the wood behind the wagon, dazed and blinking at the brightness, was a group of twenty or thirty people dressed in hanging rags. As Marcus reached the group to aid them, the first of the ragged refugees collapsed into his arms. “What happened here?” he asked, as he eased the poor woman to the ground and began inspecting her for wounds beyond the gouges patterning her arms.
Another of the group turned toward Marcus, his eyes focused on a spot somewhere distant. “We were saved,” he said, before continuing on to the safety the tiny watch post represented.