When everything was packed and stowed, Sarah found herself with all four tent poles strapped to her pack. She glanced at the Prince who smirked and then grimaced as he picked up his pack. Realizing that even he hadn’t escaped having other items added to his pack, she couldn't resist taunting him.
“The more the weight’s distributed around the faster we can go and the sooner you’re back at the barracks where civilization awaits. Right Your Highness?” Sarah smiled at him.
“The sooner we get there the sooner you’re back in skirts,” he hissed back.
Before Sarah could respond Jay’s voice came into her head. You have the Prince?
Oh Yes, she answered as Deer called for them to move out.
“We’re following the river to Fox Troop’s camp. We’ll spend the night there then head back double time to the barracks with extra protection.”
Good, he stated. We’ve spotted enemy scouts near us and have a potential camp location. I don’t think they are all there. Keep your eye on the lookout for an ambush.
You’re not going to go after the General? Sarah questioned.
No, we have a better chance of victory by making fortifications here. There was a short pause. Keep the Prince safe at all costs Sarah. If we fail he must live. Do you understand? His tone was strong and commanding.
Yes. Sarah swallowed.
As they walked Jay’s words repeated themselves in her head; better chance, if we fail. They did not sound comforting at all in fact they made her heart sink. When they stopped to fill canteens Sergeant Deer came about and spoke to each Hopeful quietly.
“Have you faced combat before?” he asked her, placing a hand gently on her shoulder.
“Not really,” Sarah replied, remembering the ambush in which she never got to fight. “I lost all my family to war though.”
Sergeant Deer gave her shoulder a squeeze. “We will prevail. Vervell always has. The Gods will help us.” Deer let go and moved off to the next Hopeful.
Probably asking them all the same question, she thought poor kids. Sarah knew what tragedies war could cause; the death, the destruction and hopelessness of it all. She only hoped what Sergeant Deer stated was true about the Gods. Her God certainly hadn't done anything towards stopping the war that had destroyed her world. Your world was beyond help a tiny voice in her head piped up. No, Sarah denied, it is never too late to save something if you really want to.
They were up and moving again, heading alongside the large stream they had just filled the canteens at. By the time the sun had set their group had reached Fox Troop’s Base Camp. Scouts milled about greeting each other as the Hopefuls gathered together. Sarah was asked once again to give her report which she did as best she could. It was received in nearly the same manner as it had been before.
Incredulous stares, outrage, and silent worry fueled the conversations of the night. Sarah wearily fielded questions struggling to not say more than she should. At last the order came to sleep. The Prince was placed in a center of Hopefuls and around them were the Scouts, who would be on watch rotation all night, in pairs.
“I still think there’s something in this for you if my father and I die,” the Prince hissed into her ear as Sarah set up her bed roll.
“Like what?” she wanted to know.
“General Wholawski probably promised you some fiefdom to rule over,” Marcus commented from her other side.
“You did enjoy his company for at least a week,” the Prince continued.
Joy, Sarah thought, they’re ganging up on me now. “Firstly I did anything but enjoy the General’s company. In fact I was rather glad I didn’t have to be in that man’s company much at all. Secondly I wouldn’t trust a promise that Man made even if it was in writing and thirdly,” Sarah looked about before pulling the two of them closer. “All I want to do is marry Phoenix and raise horses and that’s not going to happen if General Wholawski kills the King or you, your highness.”
Sarah let them go and completed her bed preparations.
“Get some sleep Hopefuls,” Sergeant Fox came by them. “You too your Highness,” he nodded to the Prince. “We want to be on the road before sunrise.”
“Do you want to die?” Reed asked concerned as Sarah pulled her covers up.
“What? Why?” she asked puzzled.
“That’s the second time I’ve seen you touch and talk to Prince Theodoso like that.” Reed was clearly flabbergasted by her actions.
“He could,” Aaron piped form the other side of her, “he could have you imprisoned, or, or beheaded.”
“Oh,” Sarah glanced to where the Prince was now sleeping. “I don’t think he will, or at least his father wouldn’t let him.” Sarah looked from Reed to Aaron. “He’s just a person like you and me.”
“He’s the Crown Prince, Smith,” Reed didn’t get her.
Or perhaps, Sarah thought, it's me who doesn't understand. “Well I don’t think I need to worry tonight and I can apologize later. It’s him we need to protect right now.”
“That’s why we’re going back to the barracks,” Aaron stated.
Sarah suddenly realized she was the only one who knew what Jay had told her. “Well I wouldn’t put it past the General to have people out looking to kill the Prince.”
God help us, Sarah thought as Reed and Aaron nodded and settled into sleep. In fact, she added to herself, make that Gods, mine and theirs. Rustling the trees, the wind soothed her to sleep.