Bran O'Brian crouched among the hedge-groves, his dagger drawn as a man approached his position. Bran could smell the stench of oil and urine before the man came into view. He crouched low holding his breath as the man drew closer. The man's armor clanked in the darkness as he went along his business. Bran's knees began to ache and his fingers grew numb form the cold, still he waited, silent and still as a stone. He knew his job and he performed it well. When the man was three paces past Bran's position he stalked forward matching the soldier's movements, hiding the sounds of his steps within the others. As soon as they came to a stop, and the man began to turn, Bran stood up from his position and with a quick stroke of his dagger ended his life.
He quickly caught the body and drew it over the hedge, dumping it to the ground and adjusting the hedge to hide its passage. Saying a quick prayer over his enemy's corpse, Bran moved forward to the next sentry. With silent steps he crept up to the man's position. He was not as careful as the previous sentry, he was looking down the road, casually leaning against a tree as he cleaned a pipe with one hand and dug in his pocket with the other. A quick stab into the man's side as Bran covered his mouth was all it took. Bran lowered him to the ground, as he wondered if the man had any family.
It did not take long for Bran to eliminate the other men he encountered. Once his task was completed he let out the call of a Woodlark. Slowly shadowy forms emerged from the misty woods. Men and animals, a troop of forty men passed him, the last of a group of a hundred Irish conscripts, ragged, tired and torn. They had been sent down with a much larger force of British soldiers to fight the French. The Army was routed and the English had failed to establish a foothold. Now Bran and this ragged band of survivors made their way east along the French coast hoping to find a way home.
Thinking of home caused Bran to think of his family farm, of the wife and three small children he left behind when the British conscripted him to fight on this foreign shore. He had no idea why they were fighting, other than they were sent to attack the French. He was angry at the British for pulling him and his countrymen forcibly from their homes and families to fight and die in someone else's bloody war. Above all he just wanted to get them all home.
Not all of the men were Irish conscripts, some like Eric, his Captain, and Brans second Corporal Peter Bryan, were English Regulars, and then there was the Scottish highlanders, only three remained of the sixty that were brought; The MacDougall brothers: Artair the older, and Cailean the younger, and lastly Sionn a wispy fox like man who was the best scout Bran had ever met.
Sionn ran past Bran and with a nod of respect and took point as the band of survivors crossed the field and once again disappeared into the woodlands that dotted the countryside. Bran shook his head as he took up the rear position, ensuring that everyone was accounted for and that there was no sign left behind of their travel. He never understood why the captain had made him Sergeant of the scouts. Or why the day scouts accepted his leadership so readily, he was not a soldier, he was simply a farmer and hunter.
It was after the failed battle that he was elevated to his current rank. Bran and two other archers had found The Captain, along with the few surviving Sergeants, still fighting several French troops, they were struggling to hold their position and Eric was gravely wounded. Corporal Bryan wanted to move away from the struggle, using the skirmish to cover their escape. Bran did not agree, but had to follow his superior's orders. As the trio sunk past their commanding officer, the man behind Bran tripped over a corpse and fell into the skirmish. Bran immediately stopped and made to help the man as Corporal Bryan continued on. As soon as the French soldiers saw the two, a few immediately broke off from the fight and headed their way. Bran unslung his bow and gave the fallen archer some cove fire, his first shot taking the French Sergeant in the eye. As his companion righted himself, the two filled the area with deadly fire. A few seconds later Corporal Bryan returned and added his arrows to the fray. The French infantry were not ready to deal with the three archers and attempted to withdraw. The British Sergeants used the distraction to quickly finish the enemy in front of them. Later as they met up with more survivors and made the first nights camp, the corporal attempted to admonish Bran for disobeying him. It was Captain Eric that came to Brans rescue and much to everyone's surprise named Bran as the new scout Sergeant.
The sound of the bodies of the dead sentries being carried into the woods by the MacDougall brothers brought bran back from his reflections. They were stripped of all valuables and gear and dumped, by the two scouts, a ways from the main path of travel.
Once again Bran said a prayer over the departed men and their families, before continuing on with the group. He and Sionn continued to hop positions every time they encountered any areas that may reveal the survivors passage, the lead scout quietly eliminating any witnesses and evidence of their passage while the rear scout moved forward to take the point. He regretted every time he had to kill someone especially civilians, and at Eric's urging the group had to stop twice to allow innocent families to pass instead of quieting them.
They traveled like that for most of the day until one of the other Sergeants indicated to bran that the captain wanted them to find a suitable location for them to camp and hide for the night. It was Sionn who noticed the outcropping and small cave that could be used by the band. It was far enough off the road that they could even have a few fires and not attract unwanted attention.
As they began to set up camp Corporal Bryan and his night watch emerged from the few wagons the band had managed to acquire. Bran walked up to the Corporal to begin the evening changeover "Corporal Bryan, The morning-"
"I don't need your report conscript." Bryan retorted as he turned his back on Bran "You and your collection of rejects can get your rest, the real watch is on the job."
Bran watched as Bryan and his scouts walked away, a few laughing and adding their own comments on the quality of the day scouts. "Why do you let him get away with that Bran?" Sionn asked as he walked up to his Sergeant and friend.
Bran turned and walked away from Sionn, his shoulders slumped and his head down. "He is right, I am not a Sergeant, I am just a hunter. Get some rest we have a hard day to tomorrow."
Sionn frowned as he watch Bran, he crouched in place for a few seconds, his eyes going between the laughing night scouts and his retreating Sergeant. He then stood up straight and headed for the command tent.
On the third night of hard travel, Bran helped the group set up camp and did his daily changeover with Corporal Bryant. "Yeah, yeah whatever Irishman, I know my job leave me to it." Corporal Bryan hissed as Bran attempted again to give him the nightly scouting assignments. "You may have been named Sergeant by the captain, but you will never out rank me, conscript."
Bran simply shook his head and slinked away from the laughter of the night scouts. As Bran sat for his evening meal a messenger arrived to inform him that Eric had asked for Bran to attend him in the section of their camp set aside for the injured. As he approached the wounded and his Captain, he was nervous and filled with trepidation. Eric did not look good and it was rumored among the men that he was getting worse every day. "You called for me Captain?" Bran asked the man who lay bleeding in the cot in front of him.
"Bran, Good..." Eric stated between wet blood filled coughs. Bryant and his scouts have reported in and there is a large band of several hundred French soldiers blocking the road ahead ... they have set up a fortification and are checking all travelers. It is more than we can take on in a frontal assault ... We are forty against hundreds ... I am dying and so are these others. We will not survive the next few days let alone the coming battle. These men are yours now for the leading ... show them to their destiny."
Bran looked at his Captain in shock. "Sir, I am no soldier, I am an Irish conscript. Back home I was a huntsman and a tracker, not a warrior, why-?"