[Author’s Note: I got busy for the rest of the day on the 2nd, and then all day on the 3rd, so I’m going back and writing those days up after the fact, so the numbering may get a little strange. Let it suffice to say that the number is what matters. So this entry is meant to be a continuation of the second day of travel, and when I compile all these later, there won’t be any weird numbering. If you haven’t read the first part of Day 2, please read that first.]
The guy I talked to was a large man who was probably in his fourties. Grizzled, with salt and pepper in his beard and what appeared to be hard won lines of experience in his face. He was lantern jawed and while I wouldn’t call him muscular or trim, he was clearly fit in the way of those who make their living physically. He was intimidating before he even spoke and more so when he did.
“What do you want, son? I’m busy.”
“Just wanted to know if there’s something I should be doing.” I was trying to stand tall and… I don’t know – more formally?
I saw the corner of his mouth twitch in a way that might have been the barest beginning of a smile. “Aye. Walk yourself out fifty paces away from the caravan, and walk around its entirety. Then do it again. Eyes out – away from the wagons and the people. If you see anything out of place – yell. Loudly.”
A few minutes later I was doing as he’d instructed. I saw a few of the other, equally inexperienced ‘guards’ doing the same thing. I wondered if they’d talked to someone like I had, or just assumed that I knew what I was doing.
I also got a few glimpses of my new dog friend darting around from cover to cover, with her eyes always on me, but still far too nervous to approach me directly. It made me smile.
The caravan itself is both wide (when the road permits) and long. I would estimate fifty or so wagons with an average of three people to a wagon. Plus horses, riders, and folks who are walking alongside, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we exceeded a hundred or a hundred twenty people on this trip. There’s quite the variety of merchants, too. In some ways, we’re almost like a mobile village. It impresses me, if I’m honest. It feels good to be a part of something so… grand.
It didn’t take me all that long to walk the perimeter twice and return to the warrior I’d spoken to originally.
“Back already?” he grumbled.
“Do it again.”
So I did. In fact, this time, I walked the perimeter four times. Most of the other younger guards had stopped by the time I finished. I would have gone around again, but enough of the caravan had risen, prepared for the day, and started moving that I thought it better to just keep pace alongside those who were making forward progress.
Here in the open grasslands north and west of Port Birchorf, there wasn’t much to see. Or, at least not much that I haven’t seen before. It lead to a bit of boredom, so I found myself looking for my little four legged friend.
She was moving with the caravan, but stayed well out of the way of horse feet and rolling wagon wheels. She kept mostly to small underbrush until I would move beyond some distance that only she knew and then she would dart to some other shrub or rock and again hide with a single eye peaking from around corners to survey me and the rest of the caravan.
So it went for hours, while my feet and legs bemoaned my decision to join the caravan and the miles passed beneath them.
When we stopped for lunch, I shared a bit more of the dried meat with my little friend. I noticed with some sadness that you could see her ribs through the skin of her flanks. She was darkly colored and I would call her a mid-sized dog. Not big, but not one of the little things that royals seems to adore.
After lunch, she spent a good deal less time behind cover and mostly just walked with me, but still keeping whatever she deemed a safe distance.
We continued without incident for the remainder of the day, eventually stopping for the night on a long, low rise. With the land around being mostly flat and grass covered with only sparse trees dotting the horizon, I could see why the The Grand Financier chose the spot. You could see for miles until the sunlight drained from the sky. Even then, you could see for quite some distance just by the light of the stars, as long as you weren’t in the center of the camp where the light from cooking pits and torches would blind you when you turned away from them.
So I kept myself to the outter edge of the group. I looked outward. A part of me longed to join the others. To meet my fellow travelers and hear their stories. To know why they were taking this trek.
But I was hired to protect the caravan, and the dangers wouldn’t come from the interior. They would come from out in the grasses. Bandits on the road, wandering monsters, or even just hungry predatory animals could take a toll that I was hired to prevent.
I took a good deal of pride in my choosing this over what I wanted to do. It gave me a sense of duty, and I sincerely valued that.
When I eventually rolled out my bedroll and laid down to sleep, the vast majority of the camp was silent. I could hear the insects buzzing about and the crackling of embers in the heart of the camp. Dew had risen onto the blades of the grass around me. It was supremely peaceful, my body was exhausted, and my eyelids had grown so heavy that my head began to bob while I sat upright. It was past time for rest.
I woke with a start.
Kneeling beside me was the guardsman who had instructed me to walk the perimeter. The sun was at least an hour or more from rising.
“Up and at ‘em son. I’ve some work to do, and I need someone walking the perimeter.”
“Yes sir.” I was still half asleep despite my heart pounding from the surprise awakening.
He rose and walked back towards the rest of the caravan. I threw back my blankets and did a rushed job of packing up my bedroll before starting my patrol. The cold, damp early morning air made my muscles ache all the more, but I didn’t complain. Then again, there wasn’t anyone to complain to other than the guardsman (I really needed to ask him his name or rank or whatever) and I sure as the nine hells wasn’t going to complain to him!
I kept walking the perimeter as the smell of eggs, bacon, and fresh coffee wafted out to me. It started my stomach churning and complaining, but I kept walking. I’d been asked to look out for everyone else, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be distracted from that. I could always eat some of the fruit from my pack later.
I would find that I didn’t need to though. It wasn’t long before I saw a familiar face walking out to meet me, carrying a plate with breakfast on it.
“Take a moment, boy. Have something to fuel you.” He handed me the plate which was heaped high with eggs, bacon, and a large crust of bread.
“Thank you sir!” I managed around mouthfuls of the mana.
“It’s nothing. What’s your name, son?” I noticed that his eyes were scanning the horizon as we spoke. Watching for enemies, or did he just not want to watch me eat?
“Morgan, sir. Morgan Winterstone.”
“Well met, Morgan Winterstone. What made you select this for your first grand adventure?” His eyes continued to scan the horizon and I decided that it was because he was looking out for danger.
Thinking about my used armor and sword, I couldn’t help but ask “How did you…?”
“How did I know it was your first time? Heh. You smell green, son. You have the air of someone who is actually excited to be here.” There was a genuine smile on his face as he said it.
I could feel the blood rush to my face. “Oh.” was all I managed to get out before remembering that he’d asked me a question. “I’m not sure, honestly. I’ve seen many a posting like this one, but I guess I just saw that there were folks who might need protection and I wanted to help do just that.”
His head turned and his eyes seemed to take me in for the first time. “That’s a good reason, son. A very good reason.”
When I was done, he took the plate from me. “Relax and get off your feet for a bit. We’ll be headed out soon, and the sun’s up enough that the risk has dropped a bit. I hope the pup appreciates the bacon.” My face flushed again at the fact that he’d seen me palm the last of my bacon for the dog. Then he turned on his heals and disappeared among the wagons.
Before long, we were on the move once more.