The difference between a good person and a bad person is frequently something small, an incident where things are not going well, tempers flare, words get said, perhaps violence is started. Oh, there are more insidious ways to be a bad individual, but when a decent enough man or woman does bad things, it behooves society to make an example of them. That is what I have always been taught. We are all responsible for our actions. We cannot control what another thinks about us, or says to us, but we can control how we react to any slight or abuse.
We would reach the first farms on the outskirts of Broadmire before sundown. Folks from River Crossing had cousins here. The talk all that morning had been about catching up with seldom seen relations and seeing who joined up with Eronel when she rode through. Several folks were making wagers about the village chief, Laird, and whether or not he’d be locked in irons like old Danby had been.
Now, Danby, a proud and obtuse man who once saw to his own needs and desires above those of his village, laughed at those jibes. It seemed that the turn of the days, the events of late, and the change in the fortune of every man, woman, and child in the Tranquil valley had breathed a new spirit into the man. He did his part, no matter how menial, and did it with a smile and song. I honestly think he was relieved to have given up the mantle he once held.
Spirits were soaring until someone spotted the smoke on the horizon.
River Crossing had gotten off lucky. The first farms were burned out, animals wandering loose in the field and the farmer’s family butchered in the yard. They didn’t take any slaves here, just killed every one of them.
One of the women in Bardo’s squad ran screaming across the blackened field from the road, a wail of grief echoing across the scorched land. No one moved for a bit, just let her run ahead. Then Liz spurred her horse forward and caught up with the woman, leaping from her horse and catching the woman before she made it to the dead.
Ebith was her name, a woman who lost her one and only child to the pox just the year before. He husband had run off after that, joined the raiders for all she knew. But the family that had farmed this land had been the only family she had left in the world and they had been slaughtered.
It took a couple of hours to get her settled enough to stop screaming. There had been young children there, children she had doted on when she’d had a chance to visit come harvest each year.
Liz held the woman, let her rail and scream until she was spent. Gizela and Belle took the woman and walked her back to the wagons, supporting her from collapsing more than once.
Without a word, Danby grabbed a shovel and went to the farm house and began digging a grave. Before I knew it half a dozen other folks had grabbed spades and shovels and were helping him, sharing the chore.
Others went out to the fields and began gathering the animals. I was surprised that the raiders had let any of them live, but I guess once they’d killed the family, they moved on. Cattle and sheep would just slow them down.
No one talked about the smoke that clouded the horizon. No one wanted to think about the other farms, nor the village less than a league further down the road.
Once the family was put in the ground proper, I said a prayer over them, asking all my various gods to see that they reached the Far Shore, and that we made those who killed them pay for their sins a hundred fold.
People were upset and out of their elements. We had lost the carnival atmosphere. Emotions were running high and many in our little caravan had grown afraid. Oh they were also brave, but generations of abuse and beat down has a way of infusing the spirit. In a society like that, those who are strong rule those who are weak. It’s human nature. And the loss of this family, the wanton destruction and callous disregard for life had shaken them.
We moved down the lane far enough to lose sight of the farm and we made camp. I’m sorry it came to this, but those on guard duty were suddenly very attentive. The initial euphoria of rescue and release had been smothered by the old malaise of hopeless acceptance. Dinner was a sullen affair.
I thought of my most awful moments, the death of Meredith and more recently, Thomas the brigand child slain by orcs. Then I recalled the lament Bob had sung into the night. That song haunted me, coloring the world in shades of melancholy and grief. But it also proved a catharsis. Once the fires were banked and all who would sleep, bedded down; I stood on one of the wagons and began to sing.
I did not have his voice. He sang light a nightingale. But I knew the words, could carry a tune, and had a deep and abiding love that I was willing to share.
At first I faltered, my voice too quiet, my tenor squeaking with anxiety. Then Lilith joined me and I felt stronger for her harmony. By the time we finished the first circuit, our voices were mellow and strong. As the second circuit began, Liz joined us, her soprano adding a layer of light that brought tears to my eyes.
Just as Bob had, we sang the song through three times. When we finished, we climbed down from the wagons and went about our business. The others in our train watched us with open mouths and shining eyes. Several of them cringed in fear, their own demons a shadow on their heart, but most of them seemed relieved of some of their grief. And that was good enough for me.
You see, while I have many blessings in my life, I am acutely aware that many others do not fare as well. I set out to answer this dream quest, sure. But my true calling was to proved succor to those in need.
It was my honor to bring them a modicum of hope. It was my duty to provide them a moment of peace. And finally, it was my divine obligation to teach them a different way of seeing the world.