The next morning is clear and bright. It’s still right at freezing which is actually a good thing, the sled won’t get bogged down in the meadow. I’m clearing it out and preparing it for travel when Sybil, holding Luanna, comes around to where I am. “Lily….mama say’s break…” she stops mid-sentence when her eyes fall on the sled. I quickly glance and confirm that the sheet is still in place, covering the bodies. “That’s them, isn’t it.” she states in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Yes” I sigh, “that’s them.”
“Why do you have to take them back? Why not let the wolves have them. That’s what they deserve.” she seethes. The baby is picking up on her emotions and starting to fuss.
I go to her and take Lulu out of her arms, soothing her like I did my little brother when we were kids. “The garrison commander needs to know what happened to the men so I have to report that to her. It’s best that I return the bodies. Also, it serves as a reminder to any others who might consider following their lead. This is what happens to deserters and murderers.”
“Why would they do that? Micha was a soldier there. He would never think of that.” she scrunches her eyebrows as she considers the lumps under the sheet.
“The garrisons take volunteers like Micha as recruits. They also take in convicted criminals who are offered the opportunity to serve to repay their crime. Usually they are low level thieves or something along those lines. I can’t imagine they would make the offer to more dangerous criminals. I don’t know for sure, but maybe these guys had been given a second chance, too bad they wasted it. Their return, dead on a sled, will make a statement to any others.”
She turns to me solemnly. “You made a rhyme.” I chuckle and shake my head, turning towards the yard, I can smell breakfast now. “I do it all the time.” I give her a wink. “Let’s eat.”
Breakfast is a happy affair, we put the seriousness of the situation behind us last night. Emme packs me up food for the next 3 days, it’s quite a distance between the ranch and the Griff Mountain Garrison. Wyn hands me a large tin of tea, I open it and take a whiff….elven tea. This is amazing and enormously expensive. I open my mouth to protest and before I can she lifts an eyebrow and mutters, “Don’t even think about it.” I just nod and grin, putting it in my pack. The men say goodbye first, they are taking horses back to Micha and Emme’s farm to herd their cattle in. They’ve been left to wander these last few days. I say goodbye to all the girls and set off dragging the sled. At the last minute I thought to get some firewood from them, the meadow doesn’t have a lot of trees and limbs laying around, and since I’m pulling a sled anyway, I might as well make it work for me.
I make it a full day without any problems. The temperature is staying low, so the snow is firm and the sled works well. I retrieved my snow walkers before I left the Abner place so I’m not impeded by the deep snow. I make it 32 miles my first day, I’m a third of the way there. I build a decent fire and have tea, dried meat and cheese for dinner, along with some rolls that Emme packed for me. There is no cover out in the field, but I don’t want to sleep near the sled. I dig into a snowbank on the side of a little hill and use my waterproof cloak as a windbreak and fall into a light sleep.
I’m up early and the weather has gotten bad. It is blowing and snowing hard. I stoke up another fire and take the time to have some tea to warm up and some cold sausage before I’m off. Mid morning I hear something coming up behind me and before I know it I’m being pounced on by 3 of the wolves that got away from me before. One knocks me down [crappy initiative roll] but hardly does any damage, I manage to kill it straight away while dodging the bite of another. The third one barely scratches me which puts it within arms reach of my sword, so I make sure it eats it. The last one standing decides that I’m not worth the trouble and it takes off into the heavy snowfall, disappearing quickly. The weather slows me down considerably and I only make it 25 miles today. I stop when I see a small stand of trees in the meadow. I decide I’d rather turn in early and have a tree to climb up just in case more wolves come along.
It’s really cold sleeping in a tree in a snowstorm, and I wake up stiff and barely rested. The next morning the weather remains the same, but no attacks came in the night so that’s a positive. This morning I decide to have a decent breakfast and since I’m in trees I’m able to make a really nice size fire. I use the sled as a windbreak. Tea, oatmeal and ham for brekkie. I’ve got to eat plenty now because I don’t plan to stop again until I reach the garrison. I finish, put out the fire and start hauling the sled again. At least it is sloping all down hill now, I’ll be making good time today.
The weather is no friend of mine. More hard snow, but the wind has let up some. Visibility is still only about 8 feet in any direction. I keep having to stop and brush the snow off the sled and bodies. I didn’t do that yesterday and I realize that was one major reason why I didn’t get as far. I thought I was just getting tired, it didn’t occur to me the sled was actually getting heavier [what can I say Intelligence is Lily’s dump stat….so sad]
It is past dark when I arrive at the Griff Mountain Garrison. This is a large fortress. It’s one of the original garrisons left from the Horde War. So it is much larger than some of the newer ones, like Three Rivers to the east. There is a tall palisade wall with guard towers, a reinforced gate, a couple of barracks, a mess hall, main office with officer quarters, a blacksmith/armory and stables. There is also a small tent city inside where merchants and travelers can sleep/stay, small livestock pens, and a bar. It is bustling with soldiers and civilians alike. It’s the closest thing to a city you will find in the far northeast.
As I approach the guarded gate I am met by a soldier who introduces himself as Sgt. Peka. “Ranger Lilykai Kodel,” I step back a bit to let the rope that’s around my waist go slack and step out of it. I then hand the rope to the Sergeant, “I believe these three deserters came from here.” He looks over my shoulder to the lumpy mass covered in a sheet behind me and I see his face harden a bit. My guess is that he knows that if they’re coming back dead, delivered by a Ranger, there was more trouble than just deserting. He focuses back on me.
“Commander Temakos has been awaiting your arrival. I have orders to escort you to her office immediately.” He hands the sled rope to one of the guards and tells him to deliver it to another Sergeant on duty and turns to walk me to the Commander’s office. It is about 8:00pm and I’m surprised that they are awaiting me at this hour. I wonder if they’ve had a watch out for me for many nights, I’m not on a fixed schedule, but even still….I’m running behind. Can’t help but think I must be in some trouble for something, I would ask the Sgt., but he doesn’t seem to be the talkative type.
We get to the office and Sgt. Peka opens the door and announces me, “Commander, Ranger Kodel has finally arrived.” Yep, I’m in trouble….
I enter the office behind him. The first thing I notice is how incredibly warm it is, there is a blazing fire. Then I see the commander, she stands from her desk and introduces herself. “Commander Corhana Tamikos.” She is taller than me by a head at least, and very fit. We both have the same color hair and length, hers in a ponytail, mine in a braid. She’s probably in her 30’s….late by my guess and the couple of gray hairs I spot. She takes a moment to size me up with her very alert brown eyes, before offering me her hand. I go to take it, glance at mine…wipe it on my pant leg, shrug and shake hers. She briefly lets the corner of her mouth tic up in a stifled grin.
She turns from me and calls to someone in a side room. “Martume, she’s here.” A man comes through the door. The most striking thing about him is the mismatched patchwork weird robe he’s wearing. It’s looks like a cross between a mage robe and a bathrobe. And I’m leaning more towards bathrobe. He’s old, all white hair sticking out everywhere, and a long white beard. And he’s eating….a banana.
Before I can figure out who he is or what’s going on Tamikos goes all commander and shout’s us into attention. In spite of the fact that I am in a completely different branch of the military and technically she is not my commanding officer at all; I snap to attention without thinking.
“Ranger Lilykai Kodel, effective immediately you have earned the rank of Sergeant. Congratulations. Additionally, you have been given a special assignment. Let me introduce you to The Royal Observer”
OK, well I guess I’m not in trouble. I give the weird old man another long look. Or maybe I am.