The scream came from somewhere up ahead.
Fara froze and looked around. The forest was a dark and oppressive fortress in every direction. It was hard to tell which direction the scream came from, or even who it might’ve been. It was brief, bloodcurdling and ended just as abruptly. It chilled Fara to the bone.
She moved forward a short distance through the underbrush and took up a position at the base of one of the more massive trees around, holding short bow in a half drawn position in front of her, she motioned Torrald forward in the direction of the slight ridge ahead.
He crept from his position, choosing his footing carefully as he crept forward, silent a ghost. The Murkwood was dark even during the brightest of summer days, the massive trees overhead blocking out most of the light, keeping everything below in a near permanent twilight. Though most stayed well clear of the Murkwood, even on such bright summer days, few dared venture forth into the Murkwood unless under the most dire of circumstances. The wood was rumored to be beyond cursed, considered by most to be home for the most vile of creatures.
The common folk avoided the wood entirely. There were few who dared build their homes within sight of the wood itself, except those that overlooked the occasional missing livestock in favor of living somewhere that met with few visitors, even the local ruffians and brigands avoided the settlements around the Murkwood. The military seldom visited the place, few willingly ventured across the wood’s borders to pursue those wanted of high crimes, and even then a chase was abandoned if it delved too far into the wood or if the light of day would run short, little as it was that could be had in the Murkwood. Rarely would those pursued and lost in such a fashion be seen again.
Fara thought she could feel the wood look at her in a way that made her feel like a mouse being watched by a cat that was making plans for its next meal. She watched Torrald peer over the rise, and glanced back to where the rest of her squad waited; each having taken cover as best as was afforded by the underbrush, each with bow half drawn and glancing about anxiously.
It nearly unnerved her when Roland gave the order to scout through the Murkwood. Though she held little faith in local superstitions, she felt certain that local superstition usually had some small grain of truth behind it, and while it may be that local livestock met their end from packs of wolves that roamed out of the Murkwood, she still would have felt better with another assignment.
“I still don’t understand why we’re here,” came the low whisper of her third, a small backwoods lad just barely of age named Tyssis. He would make an admirable squad leader some day, she thought again to herself, if he would stop questioning orders.
“We’re here because we were ordered here,” she kept her reply a whisper. “And because with the Fifth drawing north, the last thing Roland wants is a surprise contingent from Sevaris to spring a trap out of the Murkwood.”
“Those devils do deserve a place like this, though I still don’t expect we’ll actually find any of them here.”
“Oh no? What do you think made that noise just up ahead?”
Tyssis turned his gaze elsewhere and remained silent. She could see it bothered him just as much as it did her. Fara went back to directing her squad forward, keeping their movements silent and their progress slow.