Wain worked on the fire and James started breaking out some of their provisions for the evening meal. It took him longer than usual, because he frequently stopped to watch the well across the road, but finally the fire was burning cheerfully and they feasted on toasted bread and cheese.
“I’ll take first watch tonight.” James swallowed before he spoke. “Tomorrow we’ll scout the fort and see exactly what we’re dealing with.”
“Brigands.” Wain snorted, “We’ll have to kill them.”
“I hope not. There are a lot of them after all. It would be better if we could talk them down. Convert them or something. Perhaps they are enthralled by their sorcerer.”
“Do you think he’ll shoot fire from his stick.”
“I don’t know.” Sir James admitted, “The Church has forbidden study of runes and sorcery.”
“Huh. Well, the last one was easy enough. You distract him and I’ll shoot him.”
“We can hope it will be that simple.” James felt his sense of impending doom growing stronger.
The last vestiges of twilight faded from the sky.
“Wake me when it’s my turn for watch.” Wain started to get into his bedroll.
The sense of danger exploded in James head like a meteor. The ponies reared and whinnied with fear. The previously still night howled with a sudden wind.
“Arm yourself!” Cried James, “We’re under attack!”
Wain looked around desperately, trying to identify the source of the rising panic in his chest. It reminded him of when they had fought the vampires, but there were no vampires here. At least, there were not supposed to be any. But it was too dark, the little light from the new moon was no use and the stocky barbarian could not spot any foe men. He ran to the ponies.
Sir James drew his sword and fire blazed along the length of the blade. It’s flickering flames cast a dim light about him but, like his friend, he could not find the attacker. A black lance sank into the ground, right by his boot, missing him by a hair’s breadth. A dark spirit perhaps? He prayed for light.
Wain didn’t know who or what was attacking them. But he did know they had been completely surprised and he was going to get them out of there. He pulled himself onto his pony and grabbed the bridle of Sir James.
Something struck the pack pony and it screamed, falling to the ground and flailing its hooves. Wain ignored it and goaded his pony towards the burning blade that his friend carried. Then brilliant white light exploded over the scene like a lightning flash, and there was a horrible rattling scream. The ponies seemed to calm a little and Wain guided them over to Sir James.
“Did you kill them?”
“I don’t think so.” Sir James was looking everywhere at once, “Just drove it away. A dark spirit of some kind.”
“It killed the pack pony. Think it will come back tonight?”
“Probably.” Sir James growled, “I’m not very eager to go hunting it in the dark. There is a forest, a few miles to the northeast. Let’s head that way.”
“Dark spirits don’t like forests?”
“No.” Said James, “But I felt it’s presence lingering every since we got close to that well. What do you think the skull was a warning of? Hopefully I stung it enough that it will be content with the thought of driving us away.”
“I never thought I’d see you leave evil alive.”
“I’m not.” James glared, “We’ll just come back in the daylight and kill it then. It’ll be weaker.”
“Right you are, oh captain.” Wain handed him the reins to Doubting Thomas. “I’ll just saddle up.”
“Make it quick.” Sir James followed his own advice and they were riding for the forest quickly indeed.