The herbs were very plentiful along the creek at the top of the waterfall. In no time at all her pouch was filled to the brim. If only she had time to dry them. How long would that take in the sun, she wondered. Sarah clambered back towards the waterfall. There was a dry rock there baking in the full sun. She set out some of her herbs on it before sitting in the shade.
The afternoon was warm with a slight breeze. Sounds of the birds and bees lulled her. Sarah was half asleep, lost in thought when she sensed someone approaching. Her eyes opened and she saw it was Jason. His face was grim and foreboding. Sarah studied his expression.
‘Meeting not go well?’ she asked after the silence had stretched into awkwardness.
‘We have a plan,’ Jason stated. Sarah raised her eyebrows. ‘It requires your participation.’
‘Me?’ Sarah stood, surprised. ‘But what could I do? I know so little that matters here.’
‘Come back to the cave.’ Jason said.
Sarah gathered up her herbs, which had not dried, as she had suspected would be the case. Oh well she’d use them tonight and they’d be fine. Sarah followed a silent Jason back down to the cave entrance. Going down was much harder than going up.
‘Of all of us,’ Jason continued, after she’d jumped the gap, ‘you have the best chance of infiltrating the enemy camp.’
‘Me?’ Jason nodded, Sarah shook her head. ‘I’m not good at lying, or hiding the truth.’
‘As long as you don’t mention me, or any other scout names, you’ll be fine.’ He didn’t sound very convincing. Not to mention he was turned away so she couldn’t see his face.
Her imagination began to go wild, until at last, very hesitantly she asked, ‘What exactly would I have to do?’
‘Become the camp cook,’ he said.
‘Um,’ Sarah looked at him disbelieving, ‘that doesn’t sound hard, but how will that help?’
‘Our enemy is known for his,’ Jason paused, ‘indulgences. We happen to know his camp needs a new cook.’ Jason finally faced Sarah. ‘You are a good cook, especially for making do without a kitchen.’
Sarah laughed, ‘I wouldn’t know what to do with a kitchen here if I had one.’ Jason frowned. She couldn’t help it though laughing was the only thing keeping her from crying.
‘Good food is one of his indulgences, feed one of his scouts, and you are bound to end up camp cook, if they know what’s good for them.’
‘And that helps how?’ Sarah asked.
‘Once you are the cook, we will give you a signal to,’ again he paused and looked away before continuing, ‘add something to the food.’
‘You mean poison them?’ Sarah asked her eyes wide as she stared, disbelieving, at his back.
‘No,’ Jason turned to her, ‘it is just something that will help our magic workers confuse them.’ He pulled two vials out of his pocket. ‘One contains the drug, the other the antidote, for your use.’ Jason held them out to her. Sarah looked from the vials to Jason and back, but she couldn’t reach out for them. Jason closed his hand around the vials and placed them back in his pocket. He turned away from her again. ‘I know you have sworn no fealty to my King, Sarah, and as such, I will not force you to take this assignment.’ He heaved a big sigh and shook his head.
Sarah stepped up to stand beside him, sensing that he was troubled. She struggled, not knowing what to say. So she did the only other thing she could think of, hold his hand. Jason turned to face her, taking her other hand in his own.
‘Sarah,’ he said, ‘you have come from a world destroyed by war, and now I fear I have brought you into one that is on the brink of war. I wish that I could have brought you here two years ago. But we are where we are.’ Jason hung his head. ‘What we have been tasked to do, what I have asked you to do, is but part of our King’s plan to keep peace.’
‘To keep peace?’ Sarah whispered.
Jason looked into her eyes. ‘Yes Sarah, to keep peace.’
This time Sarah turned away. Jason let go of her hands as she looked off through the falling water. War was the reason she was here. What he asked her to do seemed underhanded, but did the end, peace, justify the means. ‘The, the drug, what does it do?’
‘It causes those who ingest it over the course of a day to begin to see visions.’
‘And the antidote?’
‘It just counteracts the drug, in case you have to ingest some yourself.’
Sarah chewed her bottom lip. ‘And it has no other effects?’
‘And that’s all I have to do, become camp cook and drug them upon receipt of a signal?’
‘That is it.’
‘And it will keep the peace?’
‘If all goes well, it should.’
Sarah could tell that while being frank, Jason was leaving out a lot of what was going on. Then again knowing how politics could get, it would only hurt her head if she asked him to explain it all. Sarah suddenly snorted a laugh. Back home, she’d never wanted to be in the army. That’s why she’d chosen to go to college, majoring in what was considered an ‘essential’ degree, to avoid the draft. She knew the destruction of war and had lost her brothers to it. But no matter how much she hated war, she always supported those who chose to serve their country. Sarah turned back to face Jason. ‘Your King is now my King,’ she said. ‘If that's what needs to be done, and you’ve decided that I’m the one to do it, then so be it.’ Because, she added to herself, if war broke when she’d had a chance to stop it, she would never be able to live with herself.
Jason’s face showed both relief and worry. He pulled the two vials out of his pocket again. ‘Put these in your pouch. The clear vial with the X is the poison. The amber vial with the O is the antidote. You can use them like you would an herb.’ Sarah took the vials from Jason, examining them before doing as he asked. When she looked up Jason had moved to the back of the cave, where she realized the other Scout Sergeants had been waiting. He told them something. They all nodded and left one by one.
Griffon was the last to leave. Unlike the others he stopped by Sarah, ‘Gods be with you,’ he told her, ‘And if you need a place to stay,’ he looked at Jason before looking back to her, ‘there is an empty bed in my house, yours for the small price of cooking.’ He winked at Jason.
‘Thank you,’ Sarah smiled.
Griffon took her hand and kissed it again. ‘May the Gods be with all of us.’ He turned and left.
Jason put a hand on her shoulder. ‘You do not have to do this if you do not want to.’
Sarah looked at him. ‘I said I would and so I will. I’m not going to go back on my word after you’ve told all of them.’
‘You are sure Sarah?’
Sarah turned to face him. ‘Look just tell me what I have to do, okay. The sooner it’s done the better, right?’
Jason studied her for a moment before responding, ‘Gods willing.’ He moved his hand off her shoulder. ‘Come there is some food left, if you are hungry, there are a few things I need to teach you before you go.’