The trees were happy to help.
My mother had sent a pair of hunters from the Hollow.
Word spread that the men had come in through the lake, the hunters arriving in a canoe with their rifles and a pair of dogs.
They’d moved in quickly, ignorant of the trees and what they represented. While the men were careful not to leave a trail, they failed to pay heed to what was going on in the distance.
Slowly, the trees moved to fill in the gaps between themselves. Young and old, the trees made a wall around a large glade, and as the men and dogs crossed it, the trees tightened the circle.
A path was left for me, and I moved up it with all the care and silence the Abenaki had taught me as a boy. While I had my Colts on my hips, I had my Spencer in my hands. I had Martha with me, an old hound dog who’d seen more horrors than most men and lived to tell the tale. Her tail wagged back and forth as we moved, her nose to the ground.
“They’re talking dogs, Duncan,” she announced, tail fairly whipping to either side. “They might listen to reason.”
As I reached the barrier created by the trees, the wind shifted and carried mine and Martha’s scent forward to the hunting dogs, both of whom stopped and looked our way. The trees ceased their movement, and it was then the hunters realized their predicament.
I set my rifle in the crook of a tree to steady the barrel and took aim at the man on the left.
“Boys,” I called. “Why don’t you set those rifles down and move on with your dogs?”
The men swung towards my voice, and the dogs, as Martha had hoped, crept away.
They were reasonable hounds, after all.
“The bounty’s too high on you, Blood,” the man on the right replied. “Your mother’s offered a fair price for your head and the heartwood of any tree who interferes.”
I took my target’s head off and set my sights on the man who’d spoken. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder with the slow confidence of a killer and died a moment later, his brains exiting the back of his skull.
As his body slumped to the ground, the trees parted, and I slung the rifle over my shoulder. With Martha by my side, I went out to the bodies.
My trees needed to eat.