Several frogs croaked to each other in the nearby stream and the trees bent and swayed in the breeze. The tents also flapped, but luckily Marcy and Dervon were so exhausted the sound didn’t keep them awake. A light mist of rain had returned shortly after Ravel and Prynda had taken over the watch.
Ravel took the time on watch as an opportunity to be alone. He kept on the move, circling the camp constantly, only returning to the campfire to refill on coffee.
“You’ll become a coffee addict,” Prynda whispered, when he once again returned to the fire.
“I’m afraid I think I’m already caught by those clutches,” Ravel whispered back. “Besides, I need something to keep me awake with all these late night watches.”
“You do seem very chipper for not getting much sleep for a number of nights,” Prynda replied.
“Ah, you see, coffee is the answer,” Ravel stated.
With that, Ravel stood up again and headed out into the shadows once again. Ravel enjoyed night time. People and animals alike went to bed, and Ravel finally had some peace and quiet.
Ravel had always been observant and alert in nearly every situation. Even as a child, he tended to catch onto things faster than the people involved. If there was an argument, Ravel would know the reason and the feelings of both sides. His parents said it was a gift, but the older he became, the more Ravel felt that it was a curse.
Most people, even if you have the answer they need, won’t listen. It’s like an instinctive reaction to become defensive and lash out at the one who’s merely trying to help.
There had come a point when Ravel had decided that he was over the constant sound of the world. He needn’t try to save people, when they don’t want it. So now he just watched, he knew what would happen and he let it happen. Why try to mess with fate? Why try to change?
However, trying to break a habit had turned out to be impossible. Ravel still got throbbing headaches when around large groups of people. As a boy, a party had left him bed ridden for a week, with a severe headache and shakes. Ravel had lied and said it must have been a reaction to some food. The truth was, that he couldn’t stop analysing everyone’s actions and words. Even after the party had finished, he still thought about everything to the finest detail.
Ravel shook his head and jogged on the spot for a moment.
There I go with my thinking again, he thought in annoyance. If my brain could just stop thinking, that would be appreciated.
“Are you okay, Ravel?” Prynda’s voice interrupted.
“Perfectly okay. I’m just getting the blood flowing,” Ravel replied.
“If you need to warm up, just come sit by the fire for a moment,” Prynda said.
Ravel ignored her and continued on his rounds, walking away from her. Prynda followed a couple of paces behind and kept alert as she peered through the darkness. Ravel felt her eyes switch to look at his back and he ignored it. As she continued to look at him, her eyes filled with curiosity.
“I’m not nervous about fighting undead,” Ravel said, breaking the silence. “I’m just being vigilant.”
“Huh, how did you know I was-?” Prynda responded in surprise.
“Your face was covered with the question. Why am I constantly pacing around the camp and avoiding the campfire? I’m taking my guard duty seriously,” Ravel interrupted.
“Why aren’t you nervous about fighting skeletons and necromancers?” Prynda asked.
Ravel paused and glanced back at her. He shrugged and continued walking.
Ravel had come across a skeleton before, and as far as he felt, they were his preferred opposition. Skeletons do not think, they don’t have feelings and instead, blindly follow orders. They are merely soldiers sent to kill, nothing more, nothing less. As for necromancers, they were just sorcerers who can summon soldiers from corpses. Their bones and flesh can still be wounded and broken like any other living creature. Beside, with no flesh and fat between his foot and their bones, it made a much more satisfactory ‘Crunch’.
Prynda followed for a couple more steps and then turned back to the campfire. She must have received the answer she had been looking for and Ravel was left alone once again. Droplets of water dripped from the leaves above him, landing on his head. They were like a cool, refreshing medicine and Ravel tipped his head up to welcome the feeling on his face. He let out a long sigh and dipped his hands into the warmth of the belt around his waist.
Ravel inhaled, but what he smelt resulted in his eyes flicking back open and gazing into the darkness. He lent forward and listened, his eyes shifting from place to place. He took several paces forward and his nose almost twitched as he sniffed the air. Sure enough the smell of dried blood, similar to the previous night, drifted into his senses.
Ravel was about to step forward and investigate when he heard Prynda curse from the camp. He instead walked back into the area illuminated in the light of the campfire. Ravel noticed that Prynda was cradling one hand, while pouring some water into a bowl. She lowered the cradled hand into the water and cursed again. Ravel lent against a tree trunk and raised one eyebrow at her. Prynda looked up and saw him watching her and she waved the uninjured hand at him.
“Silly me, burnt myself on the coffee pot,” Prynda explained in a whisper.
Ravel shook his head at her, causing her to look down in embarrassment. He then rolled around the tree trunk so he was back in darkness. Ravel took a deep breath again, but there was no sign of the smell from earlier.
Perhaps it was just his imagination, or because of the lack of sleep. Ravel knew neither of these were the answer, but as long as nothing attacked him this second, he didn’t need to run into the darkness. He continued on his rounds while Prynda tended to her injury.
Ravel strapped the saddlebags onto his horse and gave a last second sweep of the campsite. Everything was spotless and the campfire had been dowsed in water. The sun had only just begun to make its presence known in the thick forest, but the group needed an early start.
The other members of the group had already sharpened their weapons over their night shifts. Prynda had handed Ravel a sharp dagger as they had begun to pack up.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” Prynda had said simply.
I’m more likely to stab myself with this thing, Ravel thought.
Ravel ran one finger over the edge of the blade gently and then dropped it into one of the saddle bags. He then mounted his horse with one movement and waited for the rest of the group. Dervon took a moment longer as he had strapped on extra armour that morning.
”Come on, old man, we don’t have all day,” Ravel said, wrapping his reigns around his hand.
Dervon responded by reaching up and pushing Ravel roughly on the way to his horse. Ravel almost fell off the saddle and clutched at the pummel trying to stay on. He managed to pull himself back into the saddle by which time Dervon had mounted his horse.
Dervon urged his horse into a trot and led the way forward. Prynda and Marcy followed quickly and Ravel waited for a moment. His horse shook its mane, wanting to follow, but Ravel kept it reigned in. The others rode ahead, oblivious to his halted position. Ravel waited patiently, watching as they crossed the clearing with the burnt hut. They kept going and Ravel’s horse moved impatiently below him, giving a quiet whinny.
This is far too easy, Ravel thought. I can just turn and ride away and they would be oblivious.
Ravel waited a full minute after they disappeared into trees on the opposite side. He slumped in his saddle and his horse gave up and began to graze. Ravel yawned and watched as the mountain man, from the previous day, entered the clearing. The man looked over his ruined crops and mumbled something. He then turned to his burnt hut and grumbled again.
A clatter of hooves distracted the owner from his grumbling. Dervon re-entered the clearing and he gazed across the clearing hastily. Dervon’s eyes finally found Ravel and he glared angrily. Ravel waved at him and urged his horse forward.
“The hell are you still doing here!” the mountain man yelled, before Dervon could speak. “I thought you were going to go and deal with the undead problem.”
“Yes, sir, just came back for something we left behind,” Dervon replied, nodding his head to the man.
The man began to grumble something about the group’s incompetency and Dervon’s jaw clenched. He glared at Ravel as he sidled up to him on his horse. Dervon turned his horse in a sharp circle and clicked his tongue. Dervon’s horse surged into a gallop and Ravel gave his horse its head and it followed. Several chunks of mud sprayed up as they galloped. Once they were a safe distance away, Dervon slowed his horses stride and fell back beside Ravel. He reached out and slapped Ravel on the back of the head.
“Why didn’t you follow the rest of us? You idiot,” Dervon asked angrily.
“I just wondered how long it would take for you guys to notice I was missing,” Ravel replied casually.
“We thought you had run away. I was willing to let your lazy ass go but Prynda insisted that we come back for you. So I said I’d fetch you back,” Dervon said, shaking his head.
“Alright, she obviously thinks that I’m a needed member. Although I think you guys are fine without me, she doesn’t have as much trust in your abilities,” Ravel said, watching for Dervon’s reaction.
“Nah, she just doesn’t want to lose her meat shield,” Dervon returned quickly.
Ravel bowed in acceptance of his winning comment and then noticed that they had caught up with Prynda and Marcy. Marcy raised her eyebrows but remained silent as the two men joined them.
“Are you ready now, Ravel?” Prynda asked flatly.
Ravel responded with a simple nod and Dervon shook his head and smiled. They began to move on, but after fifteen minutes, Ravel sensed something was off. No birds or animals were about and even the horses became nervous. Even as he thought that, an arrow slammed into the tree next to him.
“Everyone down!” Prynda yelled, dismounting with a swift movement. “It’s an ambush!”