This is part 2 of a story. Click here for Part 1
The sentries sat playing cards as they had done since their watch began before dawn. Every half hour they would get up and scan the countryside for anything unusual, but there was never anything unusual around Honorwatcher Outpost. Hutt laid down his cards and said, “That’s it, Femo! Ale’s on you tonight!” Femo replied, “I suppose you are getting tired of buying mine all the time.” They laughed, and gathered up the cards. “I suppose it’s time to work,” Femo said. They got up and walked away from each other along the wall of the watchtower. They each wondered to themselves, “What’s the point,” but the commander would have them cleaning the privies if they didn’t at least go through the pretense of carrying out the watch.
As Hutt scanned to the south, he noticed smoke – lots of smoke. “Femo! Come look at this!” Femo came running, saw the smoke, and said, “We need to report this. Now!” Femo ran down to the commander’s study. Commander Shai was reading some paperwork, and looked up annoyed at the interruption. “Since when do you deem it acceptable to barge in unannounced, sentry.” “I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a large fire to the south.” Commander Shai looked at Fema thinking this was a tale sure to be a manifestation of too much ale the night before. However, it would do him good to get away from requisition orders and inventory reports.
Fema led the way quickly up the watchtower, and Hutt snapped to attention at the commander’s approach. “Sir, it’s getting larger!” Commander Shai looked and indeed the smoke in the distance was immense. It was probably just a forest fire, but it did appear to be very near Pitmerden village. “That does appear to be a large fire. I will send Lieutenant Jaim with a squad to investigate. Good eye, boys.”
Commander Shai headed to the barracks to find Lieutenant Jaim, and informed him of the smoke. “Take a squad, and see what’s burning. Be ready to lend any aid to Pitmerden,” Shai ordered. “Yes, sir!” Lieutenant Jaim answered, and mustering his squad, he headed south toward the smoke. It was an 8 hour march to Pitmerden, and they were not going to make it before dark. None were looking forward to dealing with a fire after dark, but they were all willing to do whatever they had to do to keep the fire from the village. After all, protecting the citizens of Saveteron was their sworn duty, and their honor rested on it.
They marched along the river so as not to walk into the forest as it burned. By late afternoon, they all began to see from the position of the smoke, that it was not the forest. “Men,” Lieutenant Jaim said, “it’s looking like the fire is much closer to the village. They do not burn their fields this time of year, so be on your guard.” Everyone was poised to battle thinking that perhaps pirates, or a neighboring kingdom’s faction made a run on the village. It was very good farmland, but that was all. Lieutenant Jaim could not fathom why anyone would attack such a small village, if that was what had happened.
It had been dark for about 2 hours when they spotted the village from the river. It was now clear that the village itself had been burned. Each mad drew his sword, and prepared for a fight as they cautiously approached. As they reached the village edge, there was no sound except for smoldering buildings. As they silently crept in, the light from the buildings was just enough to display the carnage. Every living thing had been slaughtered, and all of the buildings burned. “Remain alert. Whoever did this might still be here. See if there are any survivors,” Lieutenant Jaim ordered his squad. They spread out in groups of twos to search the village, and Jaim held out very little hope of finding anyone who might have survived. He had seen few battles, and his men fewer, and never had he seen anything like this.
“Lieutenant! Over here! I found someone still alive!” Jaim rushed over, and found a young man bloody, but still alive, if just barely. As they examined him, they assessed that he needed serious care, and they did not bring a healer. The squad all reported back finding no other survivors. Lieutenant Jaim said to his squad, “I want to investigate the area before we head back with this young man. We’ll make camp by the river, and tend to his wounds tonight. As soon as it’s light, I will send most of you back here to look for any clues. Let’s move!”
They made camp as ordered, cleaned the young man up, and dressed his wounds. They held watch in 2 hour shifts with half the squad on each watch to get some rest. They would need it for their search, and to head back to their outpost. They needed to get the lone survivor to a healer soon, but needed answers, too.
The next morning, as soon as it was light enough to see, Lieutenant Jaim led most of the squad back to the village. As bad as it looked the night before, it looked even worse in the light of day. “A senseless massacre,” Lieutenant Jaim said to no one in particular. As they searched the village and surrounding area, they noticed prints heading back towards the mountains. No doubt that was where the attackers came from. “Sir, do you suppose those old tales we’ve heard are true? That cave creatures really do live deep in the mountains, and they did this?” Jaim wanted to dismiss that question as foolish speculation, yet he was asking himself the same thing. “I don’t know,” he answered, “but there aren’t enough of us to go searching the mountains for caves. Maybe if the survivor lives, he call tell us what happened here.”
The squad hurried back to their outpost as quickly as they felt they could safely move the survivor. They arrived just before midnight, and Lieutenant Jaim gave his report to Commander Shai as his men took the survivor to Laicha Sharna, the healer. “Men, women, children, and even their animals. Slaughtered. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jaim reported to Shai. Commander Shai stood silently looking at the fire, but with a look that told Jaim his thoughts were hardly on that fire. Finally the commander spoke, “I will send word to King Loll immediately of what we know, and will send scouts right away to track our killers. In the meantime, you and your men need rest.” Lieutenant Jaim replied, “Yes, sir,” and went to the barracks for a fitful night of sleep. It would be some time before he would rest well.
Laicha looked over the young man, and said “I can’t believe he is still alive. I think I have all of his wounds patched up, and I’ve applied enough herbs to regenerate a horse. But if he doesn’t awaken in the next day, he isn’t not going to make it. He’s lost a lot of blood, and needs to drink.” The young man looked deathly pale, and Commander Shai said to Laicha, ” I keep expecting each breath he takes to be his last. Poor lad. If he does wake up, he’s going to get a fresh blow when he finds out he is the only one of his village left.” There was nothing left for any of them to do but wait. Wait on the scouts, wait on word back from the king, and wait and see if their only eyewitness will live.
To be continued
Click for Part 3