The morning's sunlight began to pierce its way through the leaves of the woods.
Neil didn't feel as if he'd actually drifted off during the night. If he had it was only to dream of Tony Watt, his childhood sweetheart. The warmth of the day had slowly started to move across his face. He opened one eye and rolled onto his back as the rumblings of the early risers in his large party carried through the forest. He pondered over which method of torture would be used on the prisoners today, and just at that moment a bellow tore through the trees.
"TO THE HORSES," The voice cried. "NOLAN AND HIS SQUIRE HAVE ESCAPED."
Neil sat bolt up right and all thoughts of Tony scattered from his consciousness like mice in the presence of fire or like Eddie Davies when the tax collectors knock at his door. The fear of the prisoners escaping was like having his head plunged into a bucket of ice cold water. He had been the one responsible for securing them in their cell after last night's interrogation. He hastily reached out and grasped the hilt of his sword.
"Gary," he whispered to the motionless mountain of blankets besides him. "Get your arse in gear Gary."
The blankets remained motionless.
"THE HORSES ARE GONE," The distant voice thundered "WHERE ARE LENNON AND MEGSON?"
Gary, who had apparently missed the original commotion, speedily joined his friend in a vertical position. Neil had always been incredibly fond of Gary. He was one of the few people in this chaotic world who truly understood him. They'd both been in the service of House Bolton at one point or another and the two of them had both been ousted from the Macronfort for similar reasons of incompetency.
Gary was largely the reason Neil was in the service of his current employers, the Knight's Watch, and for that he would always be thankful. The sound of heavy footsteps could be heard edging closer to their position, Neil and Gary were torn between hiding under the blankets or fleeing. Both of these options were taken away from them when the incoming footsteps were attributed to the one person they feared above all others. The towering frame of Ser Zat, quite literally a knight, Knight, fully dressed in armour, emerged through the trees and blocked the sun as he stood over the cowering duo.
"So," Zat barked. "Which one of you did it? Which one of you betrayed us?"
"Wh.. Wh.. What?" Neil stammered. "B.. b.. b.. betrayed?"
"Yes Lennon, betrayed!" Zat snapped. "One of you two helped the prisoners escape last night and I want to know who."
Zat slammed his sword into the ground between Neil's legs, the edge of the blade grazing the inside of his thigh like a Robbie Savage tackle. Neil felt the sting immediately.
"I locked the p.. p.. prisoner away last night," Neil said whilst wincing through the pain. "But I'm absolutely su.. su.. sure that I secured him properly."
Zat seemed unconvinced. With a flash he extracted his sword from the ground, slicing through the first wound in Neil's thigh, causing him to yelp. Zat chuckled as he watched Neil squirm on the floor.
"Evans," Zat growled. "Freedman."
From behind the trees came two more towering figures, at least they were towering from Neil's position on the floor. Jonny Evans and Dougie Freedman hovered over him.
Dougie had few uses, but his hatred of House Bolton was enough to earn him a place in this small army. Jonny was a sellsword from over the ocean to the west. He'd become infamous in the clan for his defeat of the great warrior Stuart Holden. The two of them moved closer to Neil, grabbed him by the arms and lifted him from the dirt.
"Leave Megson," Zat interrupted Jonny and Dougie as they leaned down. "Actually..."
Zat grabbed Gary by scruff of the neck and plunged a knife straight into his chest. Neil felt he colour drain from his face. His stomach turned and he knew he was going to be sick. Zat let go and watched as the light from Gary's eyes extinguished.
"Let that be a final warning Lennon," Zat snarled. "One more mistake and you'll join him."
Jonny's expression didn't change in the entire exchange. He'd seen more war than the rest of the Knight's Watch combined. Few things shocked him anymore, not even the strange colour boots some of the soldiers were wearing nowadays.
"You, Lennon, are going to take Evans and Freedman and retrieve our prisoners before they manage to warn House Bolton of our plans of a takeover." Ser Zat commanded. "Do not return if you should fail me."
Neil hesitated for a second, but then quickly started gathering his equipment. If the horses were all gone, then there'd be no way of catching Ser Kevin and Jay before they reached the Macronfort. Jonny and Dougie watched, arms folded, as he fumbled around in the early morning light for everything he'd need for a doomed pursuit.
He thought he saw Gary's body twitch out of the corner of his eye, but assumed it was the stress of his current predicament messing with his head. Just as he dismissed it, he noticed another twitch. But this time it wasn't out of the corner of his eye, he'd seen it happen right in front of him. Was Gary still alive?
"Hurry up," Jonny barked at him. "I'd prefer to set off before we see nightfall again."
Neil shoved the last of his few belongings into a bag, stood up and nodded to Jonny that he was ready to go. He peered down at Gary once more, hoping for confirmation that he wasn't losing his mind, but received no such support for his sanity.
They turned and headed briskly towards the nearest edge of the forest. It wasn't a far walk and they could still hear murmurings from the camp as they reached the clearing. They stopped and looked out onto the field. It was covered in thick white snow. Neil placed his foot into the snow, but he didn't hear the crunch of fresh snow he'd hoped for. Instead it sounded like twigs snapping.
Suddenly he heard the noise again, but he hadn't moved his foot. It was coming from behind him and was drawing near with considerable pace. He turned on the spot and stared back into the trees they'd just emerged from. Jonny and Dougie could obviously hear it too, as they'd done the same. Before any of them had been able to spot who or what was charging at them, something launched itself from the trees as if from nowhere. It dived straight at Dougie and in the blink of an eye it had torn a hole in Dougie's throat. Blood shot out in every direction. It turned to face Jonny, who hadn't moved an inch.
"GARY?!" Jonny screamed.
Neil knew it couldn't be Gary. He'd just seen his friend die only minutes ago. But this thing looked exactly like him, except for his eyes. His eyes were white. Jonny had noticed this too.
"WHITE WANDERER!" Jonny roared as he lunged his sword towards the white-eyed Gary.
Neil had only heard legends of the White Wanderers, but here apparently was one in the flesh. It had batted Jonny's sword away with no care for damage it did to its hands in the process. This thing couldn't feel pain. It pounced and overpowered Jonny instantly, who quickly shared Dougie's fate. Neil was physically shaking, this wasn't how he imagined he'd die. He always thought Josh Vela would've been responsible.
"Come on then!" Neil thundered unconvincingly whilst drawing his sword.
The creature simply stared. Neil knew that if Jonny and Dougie had been killed with such little effort that he wouldn't even be a challenge for this thing. He slowly started to edge away as his brief burst of confidence faded quicker than Michael Owen's pace, but as he did he noticed a man standing where Dougie's corpse had lay. Dougie had the same white eyes as Gary. He was also missing vocal chords, but that seemed of little concern at this point. He then watched the recently deceased Jonny Evans rise from the floor as if nothing had happened. All three were now standing, looking at him across the snow.
This was his end. He never even got to tell Tony Watt how he truly felt.