Through the dark tangle of branches, Red could see the enemy approaching. They’d not spotted him yet, but they trod cautiously, sensing that they’d crossed over into territory that wasn’t necessarily theirs. While the two sides had yet to draw a firm line between their lands – tensions were too high for any form of negotiation – they both knew where the boundaries were considered to lie, within a few metres at least.
They’d grown in skill, Red noticed. Where previously their scouting parties had comprised the weakest and most expendable, and consequently the noisiest and least adept, members of their crew, they were now led by at least one experienced member, who could keep the rest of them in line and train them up.
They were drawing in now, their glassy eyes bright and alive in the dappled light of the woods. He watched carefully as they scanned the ground and the undergrowth, noticing with dismay how the leader’s eyes flicked up to check the trees. He’d been careful to warn his crew not to flee straight to the trees if spotted; their new look-outs, set high on the strongest branches, were a vital advantage that they had over the enemy and one they couldn’t afford to lose. They’d been able to get closer to their camp than ever before, watching from lofty positions as the enemy troops went about their nefarious business.
An ear-splitting crack broke the silence and the party hit the deck. Red froze where he crouched, resisting the urge to flatten down against the ground, knowing that even the slightest movement could give him away with the enemy just feet away. Despite the peril, he was pretty sure they wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to take him out. Another crack rang out, then shouting.
The crouched figures scattered like mice. Red knew that this was one enemy he couldn’t face down alone. Time to retreat, he thought, as he sank slowly back into the darkness of the undergrowth. His eyes still on the path ahead of him, the hand at the back of his collar came as a surprise. With a bitter laugh, he thought was how many times he’d told his rookies to keep watch all sides. To expect the unexpected.
Red, you amateur…
* * *
Red winced. The light above him was blinding after the twilight of the woods and the clatter of the plate as it hit the wooden table in front of him pierced his aching head. His hands, down by his sides, were still gritty from the forest floor, and he curled them into fists, testing their strength. Right now, his platoon would be regrouping as he’d taught them, hiding any traces of his capture and planning a careful rescues mission. He had to stay strong. He would not break.
He looked up at his captor, her cruel words interrupting his thoughts.
“Derek, I said eat your potatoes. And if I catch you messing about in them woods and lobbing shit at Mrs Singh’s kids again, there’ll be no football for a week.”
The plate of lumpy mashed potatoes and gravy in front of him steamed ominously.
There would be no mercy.