As the sun was approaching the horizon, the company moved off the path—which had transitioned into a wooded area on both sides—and began to set up camp. There was a small clearing a little off the road, surrounded on three sides by a dense line of trees, which would lend enough cover for the night.
Legs shaking from riding through the day and with all his adrenaline leeched away from the battle earlier, August slipped off saddle, landing on the ground with a hard thud. He took the reins of his horse and led it over to one of the toughs of water the servants were setting up. A somber mode settled heavy on half the company’s shoulders, while the rest conversed like nothing happened. Absently, August registered Aldrich inviting all the captains to his tent for a toast in honor of the outcome of the skirmish. Meanwhile, August’s own mind flashed to the kids being dragged away, forced to sit next to five covered bodies of fallen soldiers, before being shipped back to Varis.
Servants bustled about, setting up tents, while some of the soldiers set up targets and dummies for training practices. The smell of food wafted through the air and before long, cooks trailed out of their tents carrying large platters to each tent set for the four teams and one for the military officials.
As August made a move toward the one assigned to his team, he caught Ronan trying to get his attention from his position by the fire in front out front, but August’s mind was too numb to talk. Instead he waved Ronan off and ducked into the tent. The tent flap slapped down behind him as he faced the space in front of him.
It was spacious, larger than his childhood hut, with a table set for five in the center, bedrolls laid out on one side and supplies on the other. The rest of the team were already at the table; Finn and Soren were fighting over a chicken leg—even though Soren was already eating from another is his opposite hand, while Cade was sitting quietly, digging eagerly into a pile of potatoes. August could not help but chuckled a little at the scene as he took a seat beside Finn. He filled his plate, before snatching the chicken leg from Finn and Soren. Both called out in protest but made no further move to argue.
Once the blanket of silence fell back over everyone, thoughts of those children returned to the forefront of August’s mind. His appetite ebbed away from him.
“The first battle is always the worse,” Finn said, taking notice of August’s disposition. “You’re taking it better than I did. I cried for a few hours, too frozen in fear to clean my sword. It’ll get easier.”
“Why should it be easier?” August countered, a bit too harshly. He cleared his throat, but continuing a bit more quietly. “What makes what we’re doing right?”
“Because those with magic are cursed. They shouldn’t be a part of this world,” Finn said. “They’ve slaughtered plenty of our people too. You think they pardoned children? They killed them along with everyone else.”
“It wasn’t always that way,” Cade said, voice quiet. “Varis was built by magic users. They were seen as gifted, until the first war hit.”
They all knew the story. The war between Segrelia and Varis. It had destroyed any trust between the two major cities of neighboring countries. That was until the Queen came to Varis. Tension still existed but it was this mission that was supposed to solve everything. Taking down the major magic camp still in existence would open trade back up between Varis and Segrelia.