Recap: A strange young man called Torchan materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin and Edana aren’t so sure.
“Doesn’t waste any time, does he?” Camlin sidled up to Edana as she surveyed the afternoon’s marching formation. The tribe had just resumed their weary journeying after a disappointingly brief midday rest. The stranger Torchan had been racing ahead of the Connarii all morning, gracefully dodging through the treetops while the villagers struggled in the dense undergrowth. The foliage masked his shameless state of undress, a fact for which both Edana and Camlin were greatful, though judging by the twittering of some of the younger, and not so young, female element, not everyone shared their reserve.
“Why are you complaining?” Edana narrowed her eyes and turned her shoulder to Camlin, pointedly. “The sooner this Torchan gets us out of this jungle, the sooner we can get around to finding our new home.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
“Don’t start, Camlin. I know what you’re going to say. It’s the same every time you open your mouth. Let’s just get out of here. I have no wish to stay and build a home in this steaming garbage heap.” Edana shifted uneasily, reaching to scratch at the raw marks where too many days’ march in the sticky humidity and stiffened battle-ready garb had conspired to wear weeping sores into her skin. She stopped herself with a visible show of effort, and Camlin realized it was probably for his benefit. Always trying to act tough. He shook his head.
“Edana, really.” Camlin scratched carelessly at a raw strip where his vest rubbed, affecting a light tone. “ It’s a perfectly nice place, for a jungle. Can’t you see the potential? We’d be able to grow anything here, and there’s plenty of wood for building, not to mention more metal than an army could use in a thousand years.”
“It’s not right.” Edana slowed and angled her steps, moving to inspect the right flank. “The plants, they don’t so much grow as strangle each other, fighting in this dripping air to survive. The wood rots as soon as it hits the ground. The metal, well that’s something different again. It’s the only thing in this place that doesn’t feel alive. It’s all dead; stiff and hard underneath its blanket of vines. Hungry.”
She settled one hand on the dagger strapped to her hip. “Something bad happened in this place, long ago. Can’t you feel it? The metals, lying twisted and bent on the earth – sunken into it - they didn’t just grow that way. Someone put them here, and then just left it like this. Like a forest of blades left to rust after a battle with no one left to bury the dead.Doesn’t the look of them put you in the mind of blood-”
Camlin barked a derisive laugh. “Don’t go soft on me now, girl. You’re sounding as spooky as that loopy kid sister of yours-”
“We can’t live here, boy,” Edana snapped back, “Everything’s wrong. The heat saps our strength, the heaviness of the air, it weighs down our shoulders, slows our movement, our breathing. The vines reach out to trip us, to stop us from entering further into the jungle. They’re trying to trap us.”
Camlin scoffed again, but Edana pressed on, hissing over him while searching the shadows. “The jungle does not want us, and we do not belong in the jungle. We’ve got to leave, to find a healthy forest or some good open seacliffs somewhere. This is not a place where we can live.”
She took a deep breath, then finally looked at Camlin. “Help me get us out of here. I am afraid of losing our people in this cursed place. The man, Torchan, spoke truly when he said that there was danger here.”
“Well, you do know how to ruin a man’s day, Edana.” Camlin said easily, though his jaw was tight and his face tense. “Watch yourself; some might take your words as a sign of weakness. And here I was enjoying the warm weather. You know, you’re almost as paranoid as that nutty sister of yours. The two of you must have run afoul of a witch when you were little. Honestly, you’re spookier than a cat before a thunderstorm.”
Edana gave him a withering look, opened her mouth, paused and closed it with a snap. She hooked a foot out and caught Camlin’s knee midstride and he stumbled, catching himself with hand planted in much of the jungle floor as she ran on ahead, storming through a thick curtain of vines, swatting it aside like a cloud of flies.
Camlin rubbed his arm and wondered what he’d said. She could be so sensitive sometimes. He’d just been trying to lighten the mood. For a moment there, she’d actually had him thinking he glimpsed traces of old blood under the vines and trees really were trying to trip them up at every step. She always had been persuasive, but this was ridiculous.
Lost in thought, Camlin almost tripped over Owen, who had quietly moved forward to walk with him. Owen had obediently stayed with the children after being excluded from the Connarii forces by his protective older brother. Camlin felt bad about the insult, but not bad enough to expose the boy to any danger.
“Problem, big brother?” Owen asked Camlin, darting a glance out of the corner of his eyes while jogging to keep up with his brother’s long strides.
“Nothing you need to worry about. Grown-up troubles.”
“I’m almost grown-up. I’ll be ten soon. I know about lots of stuff. F’r instance, I’m wicked good with a sword.”
“Oh. Oh, well then. I should just take your word on that, then, aye?”
“Well there, you see?”
“I could show you.”
“Uh huh. And who would you take on, little brother? The next youngest recruit is 12. He also has 40 pounds on you and a good six inches. You want a guard position? Very well; I hereby commission you to guard the nursery with your life.”
“Thanks a lot. I can just feel the love.”
Camlin stopped smiling. He also stopped walking. He gripped his brother’s shoulder hard, yanking him back midstride and shaking periodically for good measure.
“Look. It’s dangerous out there. It’s no thanks I’d be getting for putting a child out on sentry duty. You train hard, and in a couple years I may consider putting a real sword in your hand and letting you help out with the watch. Till then, don’t you go giving me any trouble. I’ve got enough on my plate without worrying about you. Soon as we get settled – on my word, I’ll get to the job of training you properly.”
“Uh huh… Why don’t I go ask Captain Edana if she’ll take me. Bet she knows a good warrior when she sees one.”
Apparently Owen’s patience had run out. He grabbed Camlin’s arm, trying to wrestle away from it with little success. Camlin tightened his grip and pulled the boy closer to prove his point.
“Warrior, huh? You’re not even a novice. And I’ll tell you this much; you try to sign on under a girl and no real warband will ever look at you twice. Not that she’d take you. Whatever else ‘Dana is, she’s no fool.”
“Maybe so, but she listens to Aislynn. Bet Aislynn’d put in a good word for me if I asked…”
“Mm. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that. You’ve been spending too much time with that girl. That sort of thing’s not good for a boy your age. You should be…”
“I should be training with the warriors.” The boy had both hands around Camlin’s, yanking to break his grip with no success. Camlin tired of his petulance, but Owen plowed on, ignoring the warning in his brother’s manner. “Since you won’t take me, I’ve got to be learning something from someone. Aislynn knows lots of things… maybe not about weapons, but cool things all the same. Forget it. I don’t need your help. I’ll become a warrior all by myself.”
Camlin blinked and loosened his grip. Owen wrenched away and was dodging away back down the line before Camlin could decide on an appropriate response. He’d have to pay more attention to his younger brother… later.
For now, Camlin decided, he’d occupy himself with gathering some of his friends together for a little talk. It was about time to stir up some like-minded fellows and see about herding this pack of sheep into a pen. No need to go tramping through the woods when they could all be living comfortably right where they were. It’d be better for Owen, for one thing.