Three boys slowly made their way from the rocky outcroppings of their homes into the lowlands, where it was rumored a Witch dwelled near the marshes that sat stagnant. She plied her trade with any willing to bring her food, as she was rumored to have a ravenous appetite that she alone could not satiate. The boys had heard the stories of her for nearly sixteen years, and now that they were approaching adulthood they felt they could venture out into the darkness of the night, away from the safety of their village, to see the Witch everyone feared.
Jacob, the oldest of the three carried a rifle with him, a single shot rifle designed to take down buffalo. It was old and worn from much use in the West where his father had come from, but it still worked. The brown-haired lad carried a satchel that contained, among the food and water they would need for their trip, fifteen extra rounds for the rifle and an entire roasted lamb. The legends of this Witch pervaded every household and the tavern: they boys knew that if they wanted to ply her trade from her they would have to feed her first.
Brandon, the son of a blacksmith, was shorter than the other two with a wide nose and strong arms. His broad hands were covered in scars caused by burns, his forearms equally married. Across his nose, he bore a long scar caused by a knife, one made from bone that had been part of a knife that an Indian had swung at him during a brawl at the tavern three years ago. It had bled profusely and healed poorly, leaving an ugly wound that Brandon detested. The Indian had walked away with the rest of his troupe, retreating into the forests of the Great White North for the winter; Brandon had never gotten revenge for his wounds.
The final boy was named Thomas, and he was the son of one of the town hunters. He was lithe and nimble, and had learned from his father years before the way of the wild: he knew how to speak the local Indian tongue, how to use a bow, how to track and animal, and how to tend to a campsite. He wore simple clothes, unlike Brandon’s heavy breastplate and Jacob’s old leather jerkin. He bore few scars and walked with pride for his chosen profession. He was really just along to guide the other two to the Witch; he was along mainly for the sense of adventure!
After all, how often does one see a real life Witch?
“All right!” Thomas said as he led the other two through the woods south of their settlement. “The lowlands are a day away, with the marshes another half day at most. If we take our time we’ll arrive in the Witch’s domain a few hours after dawn.”
“Are you certain of that?” Jacob asked, checking his pouch once for his bullets. “I mean, aren’t we going through Black Hand territory? I mean, isn’t there a way around all of this mess?”
The Black Hand was a small tribe of Indians that dwelled within the lowlands though nobody was certain where their village was. A fierce tribe, they traveled in groups of five unless on a raid. They only used their skills in archery when hunting wild game; when they knew White men were around, they preferred their kutluva, a specialized type of wooden glove that covered their left forearm that formed a flint spear. This punching dagger was serrated, and could easily sever limbs, as well as heads, with a single stroke. They would creep upon their adversaries, stalking them for miles if need be, before striking in one fatal attack. With five Black Hand Indians armed with these daggers, they were a force to be reckoned with.
But Thomas wasn’t worried. “It’s winter,” he explained. “The snow will come soon. They’ve retreated to their village, wherever it is, to live off their stored foods and safeguard against perceived threats. We’ll be fine so long as we don’t stumble across their homes.”
“You’ve been to the lowlands before, right?” Brandon asked, pulling his traveling cloak a little tighter around his broad form; the mere mention of winter made his scars throb with pain. “I mean, you told us over drinks that you’ve hunted around there, but how close have you come to the marshes?”
“Very close,” Thomas said as he gazed up at a tall tree, smiling at the crows watching them from high above. “My father stopped us as we drew near her territory, making us turn back. He’s seen her, but from a distance.”
“What does she look like?” Jacob asked, stepping up to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with his friend.
Thomas shrugged. “He’s never said. Though he saw her at night, so he may not have seen her very well, or at all. It could have been an Indian.”
“Or one of her guards,” Brandon supplied.
Both Thomas and Jacob looked at Brandon with quizzical looks. “Guards?”
“Yeah, when I was little a man rode into town on a white stallion, cloaked in red garments. He delivered raw iron bars and a dozen ingots of gold to my Pa, asking him to make swords and shields for him.”
“How many did he make?” Thomas asked.
Brandon smiled. “Well, you know how my Pa can make the forge sing… he was able to push out thirty fine swords and thirty wooden shields with iron reinforcement. The man returned with a cart and loaded it up, along with the taverns supply of ale, mead, and whiskey. My Pa said the town was dry for a month before more could be delivered from the coast.”
“So she has a militia armed with swords and shields?” Jacob asked, confirming what Brandon had said.
Brandon shrugged. “Maybe? The man hadn’t given a number, merely asked Pa to push out as many as he could.”
“So she could have thirty armed guards, not counting the man in red, at her disposal. She hungers for meat to an almost insatiable level and can grant wishes? That about sum it up?” Thomas asked. The other two nodded, to which Thomas clapped his hands together with a smile. “Alright, then this should be one hell of an adventure!”