Sarah followed Jason to the camp fire and he began to go over the details of her task. He focused on teaching her the signals and communication methods she was to use, specifically ready and abort. If successful, Phoenix troop would meet her and they would rest in a similar cave before heading home. If aborted, Sarah would have to find a way to leave the camp on her own.
Sarah seriously hoped it wouldn’t be aborted. To say she was nervous would be an understatement. Scared to death, would be much more accurate. Especially after Jason warned her about the men that would likely be in the camp. Then he had the audacity to tell her to get a good nights rest. Sarah looked up at the ceiling of the cave, praying to the Gods that she had made the right choice.
Jason woke her early the next morning and Sarah dressed in a mix match of clothing. Most of what she wore came from the Bowers, but she had to leave the sword in Jason’s care. It felt odd now to only be carrying a dagger. They set out just as the sun was rising. Jason accompanied her till noon, leading the way. Neither of them said much. They stopped at the edge of a clearing, through which a stream meandered.
‘The camp is about a four day travel upstream,’ Jason told her. He clasped her arm, as she’d seen him do with other scouts. ‘Good luck. May the Gods bless this mission.’ he said.
Sarah nodded as she returned his clasp. ‘May the Gods bless the mission,’ she repeated. She was scared stiff and couldn’t let go of Jason’s arm.
‘Our scouts will be around,’ Jason said as he gently pried her hand from her arm. ‘I know you can do this.’
‘Right,’ Sarah murmured as she watched him disappear into the woods. Standing for a moment, she took a deep breath and turned to face the stream. She was alone, and for the first time it was not just because she was a stranger in a strange land. At first, she wanted to run, as if hurrying would get this over with quicker. Sarah forced herself to slow down, there was plenty of time and running wouldn’t keep her thoughts at bay. Instead she slowed her pace and looked at the world around her. Find food, find herbs, follow the stream, she repeated to herself.
Sarah was skinning a rabbit, the first she’d caught in her two days of travel, when she felt a sword point at her neck. She froze, knife poised ready to make the next incision.
‘Friend or Foe?’ a gruff voice asked in a thick accent that sounded German to her. She felt the sword push harder. ‘Friend or Foe?’ the voice asked again.
‘Friend,’ Sarah managed to squeeze out. The sword left her neck and the man stepped out in front of her. He used the broad side of his sword to lift her face to examine it.
‘You’re a woman,’ he said and two more men appeared from the shadows. The knot of fear in Sarah’s stomach squeezed harder. The first man she could have probably handled, but all three of them was out of the question. She swallowed her fear and looked into the speakers eyes, as if daring him to question why a woman was out in the woods alone.
‘Would you like some food?’ she asked indicating the rabbit she was skinning. The man smiled and sheathed his sword. He and the two other men sat down across the fire from her. They watched her silently as she finished preparing the rabbit. She ignored their whispers, which she couldn’t understand anyway, as she pulled herbs from her pouch.
It felt like it took forever for the rabbit to cook, but finally it was done. Sarah tasted it before she handed out portions to the three men. There really wasn’t enough to go around, but without a soup pot, there was nothing else she could do.
Sarah slowly ate her portion, observing the men deal with theirs. The first man took a bite and smiled. The second two took more cautious bites. Once they’d all tasted it they finished it rapidly. After finishing the three exchanged glances and had another quiet conversation. Something seemed to be decided and the three stood up.
‘Come with us, we have work for you,’ the speaker told her as the other two began to extinguish her fire. Sarah cleaned her knife and put it away. Realizing it was best to follow them willingly, she hoped they would be taking her where she wanted to go. Picking up her pack she followed behind the first man.
They traveled for two more days and Sarah cooked whatever they gave her. Everything met with approval. Finally they arrived at the main camp. Unless there were two enemy camps, this was where she was supposed to be. Sarah ignored the stares and the comments as the three men lead her into the center.
As they approached the largest tent Sarah could hear someone yelling. Everyone in the vicinity was trying their best to ignore it, so Sarah did the same. At least she pretended to ignore it while she listened.
‘Your father placed YOU under MY care and you WILL do as you are told, or I swear I will tie you up as a prisoner!’
‘You,’ an angry young voice began but it was interrupted by a loud slap. A short moment later a man strode out, anger clearly showing on his face.
‘Perhaps we,’ one of her escorts began quietly as they stopped by the tent the man had come out of. But it was too late as the man stopped in front of them, examining Sarah.
‘What is this?’ the man demanded angrily, looking at the leader of the trio. ‘I thought I clearly stated no women were allowed in this camp!’
‘A new cook, General,’ the leader stood his ground, while the other two took a step back. The man turned his attention back to Sarah. Sarah studied him through half closed eyes, knowing this was not a man she should confront.
‘Where did you find her?’
‘Two days journey southwest, Sir.’
‘And she was alone?’
The man took another step closer to Sarah. ‘For your sakes I hope you scoured the area well.’ he lifted her chin to look at her face. ‘We can use a cook,’ he stated clearly, as if she might have trouble understanding. Sarah's neck hairs bristled. ‘What I don’t need is a whore distracting my men.’ Sarah looked up at him trying to keep a check on her anger. ‘Do you understand?’
‘I am not a whore,’ she stated firmly, holding his gaze.
‘Good,’ he said, ‘because if I catch you seducing one of my men, your life is forfeit.’
Sarah’s eyes narrowed. ‘Perhaps their life should be if they try to touch me.’
Their eyes stayed locked, till he let her go with a harsh laugh and stepped back. Sarah sighed internally, so much for not confronting him. ‘Fair enough,’ he said and turned to the leader of the trio. ‘Show her where the ‘hearth’ is and let the camp know they are not allowed to touch.’ The man strode away. Sarah glimpsed a boy peek out from the tent as the trio led her off.
The camp ‘hearth’ as the man had scathingly put it, consisted of a large fire pit. There was a pot sitting on its side, and a deer on a spit. Already over cooked by the looks of it, Sarah thought. A scrawny man sat in front of a tent whittling a stick, now and then stopping to lazily turn the spit. He looked up at them, his expression conveying a ‘what now?’ feeling.
‘You’re relived,’ the leader of the trio said, ‘we found a real cook.’ He indicated Sarah and then the three of them left. The man by the fire picked up the sticks he’d been whittling and left as well.