Ranger Buckskin proceeded to give Shadow Leaf a tour of the camp. The four tents in the far corner of camp did, indeed, belong to the new recruits who were in the field training. Shadow Leaf noted one of the tents was shoddily erected and a bit of a mess. The poor lad would likely find all his belongings, including the tent, balled up and pitched out on the plains somewhere.
Beyond the recruit tents were the recruit latrines, one of the few community services the recruits would need to perform. It was important to maintain hygiene so they would have the duty of occasionally relocating the latrines and burning off the waste.
On the opposite end of the camp stood the community well which pumped water from an underground spring. A significant distance beyond the well was a pocket of hot springs, a curious anomaly, but well used and appreciated. A minor grove of trees with a small pond was northwest of the camp, and beyond that a river running from the distant mountains and curving to the sea.
Ultimately, the Fist was a simple camp designed to force people to walk extended distances to reach their conveniences and luxuries. Hunting, fishing, and simply relaxing in a hot spring required a significant amount of time and effort, which was very different from an Elven camp–who lived in the midst of luxury. Perhaps the elves were so grumpy because they weren’t often allowed to enjoy those luxuries?
Shadow Leaf spent the next couple of days eating venison and telling stories. He found himself telling so many stories he considered buying a lute and calling himself a bard. However, singing stories bought friendships and with friendships came favors. The use of one of these favors provided him advance notice of Ranger Lord Shaeren being in sight of camp.
He sat upon Cur, bareback as usual, and waited for her small, distant form to grow ever larger as she neared until, finally, she came within speaking distance. Her expression was stoic, much to Shadow Leaf’s dismay. He always wanted to surprise her, to get some sort of response, but again, no such luck.
“Shadow Leaf, I did not expect you so soon.” She halted before Cur, her eyes not even hinting at any type of reaction: pleasant or otherwise. “How long have you waited?”
He released a quick breath, hidden behind a lopsided smirk. “Greetings and salutations to you as well. It’s wonderful to see you, Shaeren. What has it been three years? Five?”
Shaeren’s cheeks reddened at the friendly admonishment of a failed proper greeting. Though the chiding was courteous, he still remembered her sensitivity to any type of failure. “Four years this fall.”
Shadow Leaf shifted his focus to the young, red-headed recruit who still sat atop her horse. She looked comfortable on horseback, but the taut lines around her face hinted at a deeper truth. Tension raged through her body, as if she tried to present an aura of a ranger rather than just be a ranger. His smirk widened. The lass was posing. She’s trying to be Shaeren!
“So, this must be your first pup?” he asked Shaeren.
“It is.” She only spared the merest of glances toward the lass.
Ouch. “Off the horse, girl. Let’s have a look at you,” Shadow Leaf commanded as he dismounted. He wondered if she would do the same. The girl’s look toward Shaeren did not go unnoticed.
“Do as you are told.” Shaeren’s tone snapped like a whip.
The girl dismounted, struggling to appear as if she had done the deed countless times before. If anything, she presented about as much grace as a board. Anyone could see he made her nervous.
Shadow Leaf circled the girl for a complete turn before halting in front of her to grab up her hands for inspection. “Right handed, good. We won’t have to shove holy wafers in her mouth and cut off her head. That’s always a plus. Experienced with a bow, based on her predominant archer’s callous. That’s a nice break, though you’ll likely have to un-teach her a few things.” He let go of the girl’s now-trembling hands and continued his examination of her forearm and biceps. “Hmmm, not completely useless. Muscles are firm, but still pliable.” He placed the back of his hand to her cheek and face, “warm to the touch,” and grabbed a fistful of carrot-red hair, pulling down firmly enough to jerk her head back enough to gaze skyward. “Hair in tact.” He shot the female Ranger Lord a look. “Really, Shaeren?”
A full beat passed before her response. “Everything has its time and place, Vaga.”
Shadow Leaf stared at her, considering so many possibilities. . . . His gaze softened, as did his grip on the girl’s thick, braided cord of hair. “Not everything, Lea`Nella.” Shaeren’s gaze retreated, and the silence caused a shuffle to the girl’s feet. Shadow Leaf cleared his throat. “Para of House Albers, ward of Lord Henry Albers, was murdered in an attempted Regicide. She was mistaken for Lord Alber’s birth daughter and was cut down before her time. She was buried with love and gratitude in the family plot.”
Shaeren and Para’s heads snapped toward Shadow Leaf, illiciting a simultaneous, “What?”
“You, young pup, are, by far the liveliest dead person I have ever met.”
Para’s green eyes darkened as she shifted a lost expression to Shaeren. “What is he talking about?” Even her voice sounded breathy with confusion.
Shaeren blinked, once, and met Para’s seeking gaze. “Lord Henry has faked your death. You have no home to return to.”
The girl sucked in a breath, holding it as she stared, unblinking, at her mentor. Shadow Leaf felt for the girl, trying so hard to digest the information, and the implication: homeless. Again. His gaze flicked from Para’s ashen features–even her freckles seemed pale–to Shaeren’s matter-of-fact, and a bit cold, expression. “You want me to punch her in the face too, while we’re at it?” A reminder, shaming Shaeren in his own humorous and charming way, that the delivery was too cold. She, of all people, knew better.