Men of Clan Halese
-East Rivenian Woodland-
Soon enough though me and Tinus were walking through the shoddy and innocuous gateway that denoted the entrance to our camp.
It was a silly thing, something me and Redricos had erected to seem like perhaps a suspicious natural falling of branches to some, but to our trained eyes it indicated that we were drawing close to our hidden oasis in the grove.
I had never been sure why we bothered, even from here my ears already picked up wafting sounds of ruckus and my nose caught a stray gust of the smell of stew. It was hardly an inconspicuous place for a band of deserters.
I heard the familiar call below out from the still mostly invisible array of tents as me and Torian descended the mossy rock outcrop into the heart of the site.
It was a voice that always tended to send shivers of anxiety shooting down my spine, a tamber that all at once brought back any responsibilities I had put off to the forefront of my mind, a voice that always seemed to be holding me accountable.
“I don't know how many times I have had to tell you both not to go down to that damned stream, you were dispatched on a foraging mission.”
Redricos was an imposing figure when he was disappointed, he seemed to be the spitting image of our eldest brother, whose name frankly had escaped me at this point.
Hastor? Halian? Oh what of it. He was a cranky cunt and I wasn't exactly mourning the absence of his company.
“ We have not been down to the stream! We went out and gathered some peaches from that orchard over near Jeani!”
The words stung me and caused me to winge even as Tinus had said them, we were both still obviously damp, Tinus’s pants still clung to him like a prostitute trying to garner clientele.
We had done our best to dry off but the sticky thick air had kept the water well retained to our weighed down cotton kit.
Perhaps if I had managed to get a word out first I could have constructed a more subtle and elegant deception, but now it was too late.
I just stood there and braced myself for the inevitable chewing-out I was sure was to follow, but Redricos just stood his ground. His thin wispy amber hair occasionally caught a slight breeze, that being the only thing on him that moved an inch as his contemplative glare did not waver.
Finally after what felt like hours of his eyes surveying the scene before him, he let out some low mumble before turning away back towards the camp. Tinus seemed to take this as a victory, his face once again lighting up as he bounded into the grounds, losing a peach or two from his backsack in his glee.
I however slowly and cautiously approached my brother. I knew he wasn’t at all keen on my little excursions from the camp, but I thought perhaps I could make him understand.
I put my hand on his shoulder, started to mutter an apology, but he caught my hand firmly and turned to meet me, now wearing a much more obvious frustration he perhaps didn't want to show Tinus.
“You know i'm not even as upset that you keep doing this, its that i KNOW you keep doing this and that you keep pretending like you wont, AND that you keep dragging the other fucking men here from things i need them to be doing, acting like this is all some big joke.”
He paused for a moment, taking a deep sharp breath, trying to perhaps slow himself down, to retain some degree of composure.
That didn't last long however, soon enough I could see that a new enraging notion had begun to press against the dam, and I saw the floodgates of his fury opening back up once again.
“And honestly, is this what you thought things would be like when you talked us all in to fucking off from the Legion? Did you think we would all just sit in streams in the sun and eat peaches and pick dandelions and play with our hair?”
I knew he was right, I knew I was always playing with fire when I ventured out of the safety of our hidden place, I knew the sentence desertion carried with it.
But at the same time I knew we couldn't simply sit here for our entire lives, only glimpse outside of the confines of these trees being the occasional foray out to play bandit for scraps of produce.
I wanted to try to convince him, I wanted to try to give my point of view on things, but ever since I had talked my brother into desertion, it had been hard for me to feel right on just about anything.
“Im sorry, i really will try to stop, it's just-”
“It's just what? There can't be any more excuses at this point alright, I don't like coming across like Halane with these types of things, but we have to play it safe here or all of us could be at the gallows, not just you, think about that for once, think about a neck other than your own.”
That stopped me in my tracks a bit, not just because he had once again made a valid point about our position, but because he had actually remembered our oldest brother's name.
Red had always had the best memory out of us four, but gods, it had been years since we had seen him, Halane.
I had a vague image of him in my head. I remember some of his features, but all I could construct when I tried to piece the man together was a caricature, nothing concrete.
Redricos turned away from me again, leaving me sitting in the miasma of disappointment he had left behind.
As the night peeled in, it was hard to shake Red’s words. What had I really been thinking when I had dragged everyone off? Once the decision had been made it really was Red that took over the role as our leader, but in truth I was the mastermind behind our abandonment of the Legion.
When Jastor died in the War, I just felt like I couldn't bear to lose another brother. I told him we had to find some way back to Smaena, to our mother, or at least that's the velvet web I had spun for Redricos.
In truth I just couldn't stand it, the fighting, the blind obedience, the useless pomp and pageantry, it was a death cult disguising themselves as guardians and protectors.
Jastors death had been the last straw i think though, for both of us. It had been the event that had really convinced us of the folly of this entire Empire.
We had fought the enemy all the same, even as deserters there was a certain obligation to repulse the hordes of Undead and Wyvern-riders and cultists coming pouring out of the north.
But it had been on our terms, that was all that mattered.
We had battled and scrapped and thieved from the enemy, and done whatever it was we needed to do to get closer to home and further from the Legions.
The results of that had been decidedly less effective I suppose, maybe I would have lost less good friends had we just stayed in the Legion.
Maybe if i wasn't such a selfish coward we could have simply rode out our tours and been back home by now, not stuck shulking outlaws cowering in some damn Rivenian forest.
The stars overhead peaking through the leaves above were all I had to distract me from such thoughts now.
This is why I needed that stream, this is why I needed men like Tinus. If all I had were leaves and stars and a dying fire to sleep beside, what was the use?
It sometimes started to feel like my own thoughts were as real and true as the enemy we had been fighting all these years.
Like when all the distractions melted away they began to creep out from the spaces between the shadows, bows drawn, ready to execute the sad boy sleeping in the woods.