It was easy to forget, once we walked away, about what happened in that valley. At least, at first, we thought so. It was to be our new life, now we were on our own. We thought it would be… well, if not easy, then something we could live with… survive.
That night, though, around the fire there was little of the glib brave talk of earlier nights. Now there was none of that sense of adventure and feeling of being on the verge of a new way of life.
Of course, much of that talk had been bravado. A way of reassuring one another – and ourselves – that somehow we would get through these times, that we would survive.
It all changed that morning, standing there in the mist-shrouded valley with the bodies at our feet. Malcolm lay dying while we watched, feeling helpless. We’d killed most of them before they could draw a weapon, but Malcolm had stumbled. I saw him fall out of the corner of my eye as I tugged my blade from the neck of one of the guards. Because of that stumble his opponent had time to grab his axe, bringing it down across the back of Malcolm’s neck, despite Barlow putting two arrows into the guard as he raised the axe.
I’d rushed across, slicing through the guard’s unarmoured axe arm, then across his neck. By then, though, Malcolm was already dying and there was nothing we could do.
First, there was relief, then brief joy we’d survived our first confrontation as outlaws. Then we all turned, watching Malcolm choke on his own blood; none of us knowing what to do. Then we’d turned away, not wanting to see him amongst the dead littering the dew-damp grass All avoiding each other’s eyes as we each wondered what we’d become.