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Falling-Chapter 1 (part 2)
The rest of my day passed rather slowly, as I walked through the camp, observing the many people milling about, going about their daily duties with all the enthusiasm of moss. For a while I watched the rest of the troops on the training ground from an overlooking hill, but that was just depressing, so I moved on. I walked down the brown dirt path that ran the length of the camp from one end, which was the training grounds, to the other, where the forge was located. I figured I would just visit Barret for a while, for lack of anything to do at the moment. I watched the spring leaves spiral to the ground around me after being knocked from their wooden perches by a sudden gust of wind. All was bathed in green light here, because of the thick overhanging foliage that helped to hide our camp from prying eyes.
I suddenly walked into something considerably more solid than a spring breeze, as I hadn’t been paying attention, and fell back, instinctively reaching out to catch the unfortunate person. I looked down into my arms and saw that I had bumped into Henna, one of the few other women in camp. She’s our camps head physician, a strong woman of 25 with shoulder length black hair and a long scar down her face that starts at her temple and disappears down her neck into the collar of her robe.
She’s the most mysterious person I’ve ever met. Very few people know any more about her than her name, and to keep their distance from her. She usually avoids eye contact and barely speaks, but there’s something about the things she does say that scares people into listening. No one I knew had ever seen her smile or act different to one person in preference. People didn’t mind though, as the last drunken idiot who made a grab at her ended up unconscious for a week for no discernible reason. Talk about creepy, right?
I started, realizing we were still standing uncomfortably close, and that I was staring. I quickly sidestepped her and continued on my way, thoroughly scared. Henna had made eye contact. We had never even spoken before, and she barely glanced at anyone, so why had she looked at me so intensely? I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that she was still standing in the exact same spot, unmoving. I shuddered, and continued on my way.
Eventually, the forge came into view, sitting there, cold for the day, as it wasn’t always safe to have smoke floating out in front of enemy troops. In fact, despite our precautions, several enemy platoons had had to… disappear over the years. It was really only luck keeping us from being discovered. It was a small tan stone building, with one of the few stone roofs in this camp, which consisted of Barret’s workshop and forge. I made for the small cottage so much like mine that stood off forlornly to the side of the forge, which was where Barret lived. Small and thin, the blacksmith’s home was just one a hundred spread through the woods, almost all the same.
I reached the small house and raised my hand to knock, but before I could, the door opened and I was face to face with Colin, the captain of the intelligence squad. A tall black-skinned man, he was powerfully built, with a shaved head and countless scars. His eyes seemed to be so dark they were black. He brushed past me, muttering a husky excuse me in his deep voice. I stepped into the house, afraid to make eye contact with the intimidating man, but I couldn’t resist turning to watch him go as I shut the door behind me. But he was gone, as if he had never existed.
I turned inquiringly to Barret. “What was that about?” People rarely received visits from the captain himself unless it was extremely urgent, or bad, news.
The old man lives simply, with barely any belongings that aren’t tools or clothing. His walls are bare, and the only things in his cottage are a table, a chair, a bed, and his sword leaning against the wall. His sword, as far as I knew, hadn’t moved from that spot in years, as Barret said that he was in charge of making the weapons, not slicing people up with them, and therefore it could stay right there until he was absolutely needed to fight again.
Barret’s a tall old man, with long white hair pulled back in a ponytail and a constant covering of white stubble on his face. He’s lost none of his height in old age, as his blacksmithing has kept him fit. His face is crinkled and dry-looking, but with thick smile lines around the mouth. Deep brown eyes sparkle with a mischievous glint from underneath bushy gray eyebrows, and are to the sides of a rather large nose. Today he’s wearing his usual outfit of a knee-length leather apron over brown pants and a white shirt that shows off his powerful arms.
He gave me a stern look. “Nothing you need to worry about, my dear,” he said in a voice that immediately put down any hope I had of convincing him to tell me.
“Oh, okay.” This was going to eat away at me. How frustrating. “Anyway, how are you?” In this humid spring weather his “old bones” tended to act up quite a bit.
His crinkled face broke into a wan smile. “Quite well actually. My knees feel fine today, which is a good change. How have you been? You haven’t been around here to see me in almost a week.” The twinkle in his eye told me he was just teasing.
I smiled shamefacedly, feeling a twinge of guilt. “I’m just a bit tired today and you know with all those new recruits that have come in this week I’ve been pretty busy.” It was a kind of lame excuse, but oh well.
“Busy helping your father or busy terrorizing? He raised an eyebrow inquiringly, a smirk on his lips.
I laughed. “Both, I guess.” It was true. Whenever a new batch of recruits came in, I made sure I was there to give a sword-fighting demonstration that involved some of the overconfident fresh meat. This helped show them not to mess with me, and also taught them to keep a level head on their shoulders, as even the most innocent looking person could be a deadly enemy. Taking two birds with one stone, if you will.
A voice I recognized came from behind me. “Oh, really? Those poor, poor recruits.” I spun around, startled.
Wes is a boy of seventeen, built but quite lanky at a height of six feet. He seems to tower over my height of five feet seven inches, along with Barret, who is even taller. Reddish-brown hair frames an angular freckled face with dark eyebrows that slant down towards his nose and contrast the color of his hair. They give him a very intense look that contrasts his carefree disposition. His most prominent feature, though, is his eyes, as they’re two different colors. He has one light blue eye, and one dark brown. Today he’s wearing his usual garb, an archer’s uniform that consists of a brown cloak over deep green pants and shirt. His bow and quiver hung casually over one shoulder as he leaned against the door frame.
“Oh shut up Wes,” I said crossly.
Wes leaned around me, speaking to Barret. “She has absolutely no sense of humor. How can you stand her?” I could hear the teasing tone in his voice.
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“Yeah, same here.”
I pushed a chuckling Wes and folded my arms over my chest, sitting myself in the one chair at Barret’s table. Wes ignored me and rolled his eyes.
Wes came over and sat on the edge of the table (Barret is one of few people with actual furniture). He reached over and pushed my arm playfully. “Come on, lighten up will ya?”
Barret leaned back against the wall, concern furrowing his brow. “Is something the matter? You seem a bit irritated.”
I quickly explained my unnerving encounter with Henna.
The blacksmith scratched his stubbly chin, thinking. “Hmmmm… I understand your concern, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Henna’s always been a bit odd.”
I turned to Wes. “What do you think of all this?”
He slowly raised his hands to the side of his head and wiggled his fingers at me while talking in a low ominous voice. “I think you should watch out or Henna’s gonna get you.”
I snarled, punching him viciously in the arm. “Ugh, why are you so childish!?” I pushed him off the table and he landed on the floor laughing. I sighed. “Maybe I am being a just a bit uptight.”
“A bit?” asked Wes, raising an eyebrow. I kicked him. He rolled away chuckling, and then stood up, rubbing his sore behind. He winked at me. I glared back. “And if I wasn’t so childish, who would balance out your middle aged-ness?”
I grinned at that. “You up for some practice?”
“If you’ll race me there.”
“You’re on.” I turned to the old man. “You coming?” I always enjoy crossing swords with Barret. Besides my father and brother, he and I are the best swordsmen in camp. He’s a master of technique, second back in his day only to my father.
He turned his back to me, and I barely caught a glimpse of the odd look on his face, part worry, part fear. He grabbed his pack from the bed, hastily shoving a few nondescript items into it, and swinging it around as he turned back to me so it hung off of one shoulder. “No thanks, I have some errands to run, and a council meeting later.” Barret, Henna, Colin, my father, and Roden, the master archer made up the council that governed the resistance.
“Oh, okay then,” I said, slightly disappointed. “Will you be at the troop orientation tomorrow?”
He raised a bushy eyebrow. “Of course. I can’t wait to see what new torture you devise for those poor boys.” I felt my face redden and he walked out laughing, leaving the door open behind him.
I turned back to Wes, becoming serious once more. “So what do you know about what’s going on? Because something is up. You saw that look on his face right? And when I got here I passed the head of the intelligence squad himself, who had been delivering info to Barret.”
He shook his head slowly, his brow creased in thought. “I’ve only heard rumors about some kind of killing out east, but I don’t know. I’ll ask around. Someone’s bound to know something.” His head came up, a smile on his face. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot.”
“I’m winning!” he shouted, running out the door. His long legs stretched out, grabbing the ground and throwing him forward at a breakneck pace as he headed for our private practice clearing.
I took off after him. “Not fair! Get back here you jerk!” Wes just laughed at me, disappearing into the trees. I ran after him, trying to catch up despite his significant lead.
A few minutes passed, and I eventually managed to catch up to him, both of us slowing into a jog of companionable silence. The forest rang out with countless sounds. Birds sang, animals chattered, the wind howled gently through the leaves. The constant noise of the camp eventually faded into the background. No longer could we hear the constant buzz of voices or the clash of steel on steel from the training grounds.
We finally reached our personal training area, a small paradise in the midst of all the chaos of our world. I stood on the edge of the clearing, surveying it. Wes had discovered this on one of his solo scouting missions a few months ago and realized how helpful it would be to me for my training. The grass that had once been plentiful was now worn away in most areas from the movement of our feet during sparing matches.
I walked over to the chest on the ground that contained all of our sparring materials. Flipping the lid up, I reached inside and grabbed two wooden practice swords. In a single motion I stood up and threw Wes’ sword to him.
I grinned. “You ready?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied, with an easy grin of his own, taking a ready defensive stance.
I lunged at him, ready and itching for a fight.
Barret watched them disappear into the forest from the trailhead behind the forge, then sighed and continued on his way. He raised his hand, massaging the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes for a moment. “Please, Henna, not her…” he whispered to himself. Barret turned and walked into camp. He had things to do.