So there it was, stretching out before us like some long green wall. The men looked at one another, as their horses grew restless. We all knew what was there; what the forest was said to contain. People from the villages had gone in there and not returned. Usually, what happened to the peasantry was no concern of those of us who lived in and served the Manor, but now we had a new Lord.
'New Lords is always trouble.' It was old Menich who said it, but the wise old heads in the barracks – and you don't get to be old in the barracks unless you have a lot of wisdom... or luck – all nodded their agreement.
Me, I didn't know anything. The new Lord had been away with the King on one of his foreign wars while I trained. I'd hardly ever seen the old Lord either. He had been too old to get out of bed most days and we left to ourselves most of the time. All of us carrying on the old day-to-day routines, more for want of anything else to do than for any other reason.
There had been the old Lord's young wife, but that was something I'd kept to myself. Now, though, as soon as the new Lord arrived, they'd packed her off to join the Dark Sisters, to live out her days long with all the other inconvenient women.
The new Lord had sent out a patrol with his bailiff, to do something called an audit. Apparently, a way of finding out how rich he was, how much the rest of us could pay in tax and how many sheep, cattle and wives each man in the Lord's new fiefdom called his own.
That patrol had gone – over a week ago – into the forest and never seen again. That was why I was here, newly promoted to captain and the first to be volunteered by the older – and wiser – captains to go looking for whatever remained of the bailiff and his men.
I sighed, took a deep breath and – hoping my men would follow me – rode off into the dark wood, probably never to be seen again... unless I was very lucky.