Homeward

Arcturas gathered himself together and stood. Woodenly, he moved back and forth across the battleground looking at the dead faces. He thought to say some kind of goodbye to men he'd counted as his brothers, especially the ones he'd known well, but he found he didn't recognize them there with their waxy, crusted faces of shock, horror and pain.

His closest friend, Kelus, had been the toughest and smartest soldier he had known, a man who had stood aside for no one, with a lusty heart, a foul mouth and a deep resentment of half-hearted leaders, half-hearted men. Kelus did not smile at Arcturas, nor wink at him from where he lay atop his slain foes and underneath the one that had gotten him. There was no crude joke, nor harsh and wise lesson of the soldiering life, no bitter complaint. Whatever it was that lay there looking like his friend, was plainly not. It was a cold and stiff mockery and it was already attracting flies.

Arcturas scouted the area and scavenged what he could. His Commander had been reckless entering this valley and the men had suspected an ambush lay in wait for them long before it had happened. Arcturas hoped to find the Salasian encampment; perhaps there was food, wine, fire, perhaps even some shelter.

He followed a trail left by the ambushers and before long found a camp where some of them had obviously stayed. Several half-covered pits were dug on a line overlooking the valley below, boot prints plainly visible walking between them. Crouched in one, Arcturas turned this way and that to see if there were other Salasian positions he could see, but there were none. As a precaution, he spent some time following the trail that led to this observation post from above, but saw no sign of reinforcements. 

When it was clear that nothing on two legs would disturb him for in the immediate future, he gathered what food and drink there was and piled some blankets together. He dug out a corner of one of the pits with his hands and started a fire in there. Sitting at the back of the pit insulated in blankets, he soaked up the warmth  and took a much needed rest.

The End

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