Enchanted Blasted ForestThe Enchanted Forest is a punishment post, but never mind what we did to get sent there. They have to man the post, and soldiers don’t last long there, so you don’t have to do much to end up there. About half of those sent never even arrive.
There were six of us, and when the road entered the blasted Forest we divided up the watch. Tomo watched left, Martin right, Jock ahead, Kora behind, Shea overhead, and I was back-up to them all, scanning every direction as thoroughly as I could.
The monsters weren’t bold. If Shea called out “harpy overhead!” we’d all raise our spears and the monster would sheer off. Or Tomo would yell, “there’s a 3-headed flying werewolf in that tree!” and we’d aim our bows that way and the thing would fly away.
We only had to fire once, when a flying monkey swooped in low and tried to grab Kora. She’s not very big, but tough as nails. Martin and I both loosed arrows, but they stuck in a dead monkey. Kora had already beheaded it. She’s fast with her sword.
We were still several hours distant from the outpost when we began to wonder something. In short, we started to ask ourselves if everyone who vanished on the way to Fort End had been carried off by monsters. Maybe there was a way to get out of a long hitch in the army. Joining up had seemed like a good idea when I first went in, but it didn’t take long to knock the stars from my eyes, and if a single night out on the town could get you in this much trouble, I wanted out.
There was a guard hut halfway, and we holed up there to enjoy our lunch without having to swat away monsters. That’s when Martin asked, “Why are we here, anyway?”
“We got taken up for drunk and disorderly on our last leave.” Dumb question.
“Martin’s right.” I looked at each of them. “We acted like soldiers on leave and for that they sent us where only half the troops survive to even reach the post? But maybe we don’t have to get hauled off by harpies to disappear.”
“Yeah,” Jock said. “We can get eaten by 3-headed werewolves instead.”
“Or,” I said, looking from one to another, “we can appear to have been eaten by 3-headed werewolves.”
Jock was the last to get it. “You’re saying we could run off,” he said after we all looked at him for several minutes. “Desert.” We all turned that word over in our minds as he went on. “You know what they do to deserters.”
We knew. It was a great deal faster and more sure than a posting in the Enchanted blasted Forest, but they said it was painless, which this posting wasn’t likely to be.
We finished our lunch in silence, but when we left the hut, we took the wrong turning.
“That’s our story if anyone catches us up,” I said. “Just a bit of trouble navigating.” We were still nervous at the thought of being caught by a patrol, which was the wrong worry.
Our nerves lasted until the first harpy attack. After that we were too busy to worry about the army. It seemed the creatures of the forest were a lot less bashful about attacking travelers who strayed from the military road. I began to wonder how many of the disappeared had started as deserters, and ended as dead as they’d pretended to be.
It was farther to the edge of the forest this way than the way we’d come in, so we’d have to hurry. Trouble was, we were under such constant attack that we couldn’t hurry. By an hour or two after lunch, it was plain to all of us—even Jock—that we weren’t going to make the edge of the Forest before night.
“Now what?” Shea asked. She would. Always expecting someone else to fix her problems, that one. We couldn’t take care of that right then. We were a team and we’d only make it if we stuck together.
“We find a place to hole up,” I said, just as Kora said, “We fight on through the night until we get out.”
Martin protested. “I heard there’s things out at night here that you really don’t want to me. Things that make harpies look like pet kittens.”
We thought about that. It might be lies told to keep soldiers from deserting the fort.
It might all be true.
We had no choice but to find out. There was no safe place to hole up for the night. No more huts, and any natural hole would surely be inhabited by orcs or dragons or ten-headed hydras.
It was nearly dark before we knew the extent of our folly.
“Keep fighting, move as fast as we can, and stick together.” It wasn’t a good plan, but it was the only thing we could do, and we all knew it, so I got no argument. We were too busy.
By dark every one of us was bleeding somewhere, and the attacks picked up. I put our chances of survival at less than 50%. Meaning I didn’t expect more than three of us to live, and I’d already picked out which three.
One of the flying werewolves got Shea before midnight. There was nothing we could do. We kept moving, and enjoyed the respite the feasting gave us.
The forest started thinning about the second hour after midnight, and I thought the rest of us might make it.
The harpies had other ideas. They attacked in force, with the flying monkeys darting between them wherever our guard was incomplete.
Martin went down under the assault, but he wasn’t enough. We broke into a full run, speed more important than battle.
We’d none of us have made it if I hadn’t tripped Tomo.
©Rebecca M. Douglass 2016