The Camp

Posted: May 2, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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Shan had decided that they would make camp on the Norasburg side of the river.  They would have had to stop for the night regardless and crossing the river would not reduce their travel time enough to make any real impact.  They were moving into an unknown, potentially unsafe, situation in Shan’s mind and one more night on safe ground would boost morale and only have a positive impact on her mission.

Shan spent the evening staring into the fire.  She could hear the muffled conversations of the men who accompanied her.  The wagoners quietly prepared a meal at the fire while tents were set up by the soldiers.  She knew there would be more soldiers patrolling the area around the camp and sentries would be posted to ensure safety throughout the night.  Across from her the lumberjack sat silently, his eyes downcast.

She wanted to take the evening to get her head together.  Shan knew they would be heading into an uncertain situation.  The only thing they could be sure of was that there was potentially an entire camp that had been killed.  The logger had fled before he could gather any useful information so they were heading in to the situation effectively blind.  She needed to be prepared for anything, it would not do for her underlings to see her caught off-balance.

If she could quiet and still the worry and uncertainty in her mind she could bring herself in line so she could commune with the Goddess.  Communing with the Goddess would be her a sense of serenity.  Serenity of her mind would bring calm to her body and actions.  Her calmness would relax the servants that accompanied her.  There was little that couldn’t be solved through clear, unemotional thinking.

It was a process she had been taught as a child.  Part of her spiritual lessons learned at the foot of the previous Guiding Light was how to prepare her mind for communion with the Goddess.  To create a blank slate in her mind in preparation to receive Her Light.  To look at events from a distance, from beyond the emotional landscape of the situation.  She was taught to be aloof, distant, clinical, analytical, detached.  She was taught to operate from intellect over emotion.

“Illuminance,” Abeth’s voice quietly interrupted her thoughts.

Shan glanced up from the fire to see Abeth offering a bowl to her.  She accepted the offered food and watched as Abeth filled another for himself.  She nodded in thanks as he sat down to her left.

“What are we expecting, Illuminance?” Abeth asked after they had eaten.

“We know only that there was an attack on a logging camp.  We think there was only one survivor,” Shan answered as she watched the logger across the fire from her.  “We won’t know for certain until we arrive.  We don’t know who the attackers were or how many of the camps were attacked.  We should go in prepared for anything.”

“I’ll make sure the men are on alert.”

“Excellent.  We leave at first light.”  Shan rose and retired to her tent.

They arrived at the logging camp just after midday.  The sky was clear and the sun shone down warm and bright on their journey.  The woodsman displayed an increased level of nervousness as their trek brought them closer to the logging camp.  The man’s growing unease migrated first to the wagon drivers before it infected the soldier escort.  Shan and Abeth were the only two of the group who showed no outward sign of anxiety.

Shan could understand where the anxiety was coming from.  They were just minutes away from the camp when the sounds of nature vanished.  They entered the circle of tents to the sounds of hoof beats, creaking wagons, and their own footsteps.  The camp was devoid of any signs of life.

Shan waited as Abeth divided his troops; half to guard the perimeter, half to scout the nearby forest.  She noticed that neither the drivers nor the woodsman were willing to dismount with her.  The soldiers, although visibly on edge, performed their duties as instructed.

The centre of the camp looked as Shan expected a large, albeit temporary, camp to look.  It had been built at the forest’s edge, it hadn’t been there long based on how few trees had been chopped down around the camp edge.  There were three paths that exited through the makeshift wooden barriers that surrounded the numerous tents that were the only buildings in the camp.

She walked toward the largest tent in the camp.  The wagons had stopped in front of it, the three paths into the camp met to form a worn circle at the camp’s centre.  The trodden dirt provided a central point to the camp.  There were tents spread out all around which provided the homes for the camp’s workers.  The largest tent provided a dining area with what passed for kitchens located just behind.

There were tables and benches filling the internal space.  The tables were empty, the benches bare.  The place had been cleaned after the last meal served and showed no sign of being used after.  Without thinking about it Shan’s hand drifted to the war-hammer at her side.

“Where is everyone?”  Abeth wondered in hushed tones as he entered the tent behind her.  “Where is the noise of the camp?”

Shan glanced in his direction.  He was controlled, calm, the only outward sign of discomfort was the hand on his sword’s handle.

“Even a logging camp should have some support staff.  People who cook and clean, who wouldn’t be out in the trees,” the soldier continued.  “We should be smelling the evening meal being prepared.  There should be people hurrying around to get everything ready before the men return from the woods.  We should hear the horses.”

“Something happened,” Shan replied.  “We need to check the other tents.”

The tents of the camp were close together only broken up by the occasional campfire, all long burnt out.  The horses would have been tied up between the trees on the forest side of the camp.  The overall silence of the camp suggested no horses remained in the area.

“The horses were probably taken by the attackers,” Shan offered as they approached one of the tents that served as sleeping quarters.  She knew there wouldn’t be much in the tent; a bedroll for sleeping and a pack for personal belongings.  The camps were for work and there would be little in the way of comfort to be found.

From the outside the tent looked worn but in one piece.  The interior told a different story.  The occupant’s bedroll was torn to pieces and drenched in not-quite-dried blood.  Evidence of more blood was splattered across the dirt and walls of the tent.  The blood was all that could be found of the tent’s occupant.

“They’re all dead, he told us,” Shan murmured as she shifted through the torn bed.

“No one could have survived this much blood loss,” Abeth agreed.

“So where is the body?” She questioned.

“Captain!”  A call came from outside the tent.

“We have guests,” a soldier greeted them as they stepped out of the tent.  He directed their eyes to the trail that led to the forest.  Coming toward them, surrounded by soldiers, walked a group of unknown people.

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