"Milords!" Ben called, "Milords!"
The brothers turned around to see five soldiers running towards them...empty handed. "I thought I told you to not come back unless you had the rangers," Michael growled as they stopped in front of them.
"We – we found – them. The – the rangers – we found them." Ben panted, hands on his knees.
"Where?" he asked sharply.
"No more than an hour's ride from the Gathering Grounds. All of them and the two that escaped are there."
A cold grin spread across Michaels face, "You've done well," He dropped his arm across the soldier's shoulders. "very well," Slapping him on the back, he pushed him in the direction of the tents, "You and your men should get some rest. We leave in an hour,"
We are all set then. "Daniel! Are you ready?" Michael called from across the clearing. It was the darkest hour of the night, when the moon and sun were both gone from the sky. The five soldiers that Michael had sent away from the castle had returned with news. James and Shayden had been found, and they were with all of the remaining uncaptured rangers. These men were too easy to fool. He knew their secrets and tricks, and there was nothing these rangers could do about it.
Michael watched Daniel slip on his old mottled green and grey cloak. His brother looked unhappy, like he was very deep in thought. "Daniel? Are you alright?"
Daniel nodded and handed Michael a spare cloak. "Here, Brother, put this on," They rode ahead of their party reaching the rangers in a little over an hour. When they were able to see the rangers, Daniel asked hesitantly, "A-are you sure we have to do this, Michael? Isn't there another way?"
Ah so that's what had been troubling him. "No, Little Brother, I'm sorry."
Daniel took a deep breath and nodded, "Alright let's do this."
The current watch did not see them, nor did they hear them. Daniel's silent and unseen movement skills were only second to Crowley and Gilan. Once behind each of the three rangers, he took his Saxe and knocked them out. Satisfied that they were out cold, he gestured for Michael to join him. They ghosted from ranger to ranger until they were all unconscious. The dangerous work was done…
James groaned as he woke up. Why would he fall asleep in such an uncomfortable position? He was leaning against a tree. He hadn't fallen asleep while he was on guard had he? No. He quickly dismissed the thought. He hadn't been woken up for his shift yet. He moved to get up but his arms and legs refused him. What the? His eyes snapped open, and even though it was completely against his training, he gave a startled cry as he took in his surroundings.
Daniel and Michael stood in the middle of the clearing. The Rangers' weapons were in a pile near their feet. He himself was at the edge of the clearing. His wrists were tied behind him and his ankles tied together. Around him were the other rangers. They sat back to back with their ankles and wrists tied. They were tied so the ranger's left wrist was tied to the right wrist of the ranger at his back and vice versa. Right to left and left to right. He saw Gilan and Will, Shayden and Colin, and all of the remaining rangers and apprentices. Not a single one had escaped.
"You're awake." It wasn't a question.
His gaze swung back to Michael. He nodded. Around him his friends were beginning to wake. They struggled weakly against their bonds, still not fully awake, before giving up. "How?" It simply wasn't possible to catch this many rangers unaware. They would have, should have, woken up.
Michael shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm not sure why you didn't wake up either. I assume it was because all of you subconsciously felt safe with Daniel,"
Daniel looked down guiltily.
"You have caused me much trouble, James," He stepped forward, and two soldiers brought James forward.
James hissed in pain as he was dropped on his knees. "What was that for?" He protested.
Michael ignored him. He circled the young ranger studying him thoughtfully. "What should we do with you, young James?"
"How about you let me and the others go," James continued to look forward.
"Hmm no. I don't think so. I think I'll kill you now. One less ranger will not make a difference,"
"What do you hope to achieve?!" James asked desperately. "You cannot seriously believe that by killing us you will gain the loyalty of the people. What about the king? His knights? What about the entire kingdoms army! You cannot honestly think that you will succeed in taking this kingdom for yourself!"
Michael stopped in front of James again and nodded seriously. "You are absolutely right, James, but it was never about the kingdom. I simply want you dead. The kingdom would be an added bonus. You and the rest of these filthy foresters killed my younger brother. But first," he stepped forward with his throwing knife in hand, "I want you to suffer," He slashed a shallow cut across James' cheek causing him to flinch. The cut stung badly.
"Michael!" Daniel exclaimed, "You promised!"
He frowned slightly before he turned on his younger brother. "What?" he hissed.
"You promised you wouldn't make him suffer,"
What? Daniel still cared for him?
"He is a traitor, Daniel. Why can't you see that?"
"No." Daniel argued, "I understand it has to be done, but why does he have to suffer? Please, Brother," he pleaded, "For me can you make it quick?"
Micheal's frown deepened, but he stepped back from the young ranger and slid the knife back into his belt. He turned and walked slowly towards the pile of confiscated weapons. His hand trailed slowly over the pile before he drew Gilan's sword.
"This is a nicely crafted weapon, Ranger Gilan," Michael observed as he hefted the sword in his hand. "I think I'll keep this one,"
"You have no right!" Gilan protested as he yanked on his restraints.
Will grunted as the ropes rubbed against his already chafed wrists. "Gil, please, it's doing us no good. Calm down," he pleaded quietly to his friend.
Almost immediately Gilan began to calm down. He didn't want to hurt Will.
"I'm afraid I have every right, Ranger Gilan," Michael smirked. Then he turned back towards James. The man prowled forward swinging the sword in a wide arc not once, but twice feeling the balance of the sword.
As Michael continued to study the sword, Daniel watched his apprentice. Well, he probably lost the right to call James his apprentice when he had left him alone all those years ago. Daniel shook his head. That didn't matter to him, because to him, James would always be his apprentice.
James had grown. The scrawny young boy he had once known was no more. James was a fully grown, handsome, young man now. This wasn't right. My poor boy. He thought sadly.
James looked utterly defeated and hopeless. He was still on his knees in front of Michael. His head was bowed and his shoulders were slouched. The cut on his cheek continued to slowly leak blood that slid down to his chin before dripping onto the ground. Daniel realised that James had accepted his defeat, and he had accepted the fact that he was about to die. There was nothing that the young ranger could do about it.
But he could.
Michael drew the sword back ready to run James through, and the young man shut his eyes waiting for the inevitable blow. Every single one of the rangers were protesting. And then, he thrust the sword forward.