Spring Planting, Prowler’s Day 17, Year of the Lion number 427
I know it’s been several days since my last journal entry. Frankly, I’ve had nothing to write about until this evening.
Two days ago, I discovered an amazing feat of human engineering. After leaving the forest and traversing the tall, thick grass for a day and a half, I came to an odd clearing. This clearing was long and narrow, stretching both east and west as far as my eye can see. I could see how it wound around hills as it cut through the plain. I knew the word for it, as I’ve heard travelers use it, but this was the first time I’d seen it. It’s called a road. More than just a pathway or trail, it’s been cleared. The ground is set with flat stones to keep the brush from growing in it. The whole point is to make travel easier for wheeled carts and horses, so they don’t have to slowly forge through the natural grass. Like I’ve been doing for the past month.
I wasn’t sure I liked the road, but I will admit, I made much better time as I made my way west.
But today something was different. Just after high-sun, I saw a faint plume of smoke rising near the horizon. It was dark grey against the blue sky and the sparse, puffy-white clouds. As I approached, the smoke faded until finally, whatever was burning burned no more. I came over a small rise and could finally see the source. By this time it was mid-afternoon. Several dark shapes, including the burned remains of a wagon. I approached cautiously. When I got there, I found two dead horses, three dead humans, and the still smoldering wagon. Two of the humans and both horses look to have been killed with arrows. The third human’s gut had been split open by a sharp blade of some kind. I could find no weapons other than the broken arrows, nor could I find any supplies. However, a chest of some kind was on the wagon. Open. Inside was nothing.
I thought the dead humans deserved some kind of proper burial, lest their bodies be desecrated by scavengers, though I was surprised they weren’t circling yet. Insects had started buzzing. Unfortunately, I don’t know their customs, and I wouldn’t want to do something disrespectful. And finally, the thought occurred to me that if I disturbed them in any way, those that did this would be alerted to my presence. If they weren’t already.
The very thought that I might be being watched was alarming. I crouched down and skirted to the edge of the road. Here, I could see the foot tracks. Humanoids wearing heavy boots tracked through this area, both coming into and back out of the clearing. Lifting up, I scanned the area. Nothing was moving except the waving of the grass in the gentle breeze. The peaceful aspect of nature was a stark contrast to the horror of death just a few yards from where I stood. A single tree on a nearby hill struck me as a good place for a lookout. Staying low, I crept toward it. Sure enough, there were recent tracks around it. Someone had been up in the tree; I could see the scrapes and scratches in the bark from where they climbed up and back down again. Yes. An ambush. Someone with a bow could easily strike down one or more people on the road. Allies hiding in the brush would jump out, kill the rest and take whatever they wanted. Bandits. Marauders. Brigands. Thieves. There were many names for the desperadoes that hunted and preyed on the weak and unprepared.
I left the area, certain I didn’t want to try to find them, and more certain I didn’t want them to find me. I covered my own tracks carefully and continued my journey west. This time I stayed off the road while following its course through the plains. Even after the sun set, I continued for yet another hour or two, just to be sure. Near a small creek, I found a shallow cave. This shelter would suffice for the night. No fire, but just enough moonlight to sit and write these words.
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