Commander Ahtur sent the order throughout the camp at the dinner hour, calling for an all-hands meeting in the main hall at the 9th bell. Aside from a few sentries and the two teams on patrol, everyone assigned to the camp would be crowded into the hall for the unusually late gathering.
The time came and the hall filled, with every bench used and several people standing along the back wall. Ahtur and Buxton were on the low riser at the front of the room, the maps of the region behind them. The black dragon head hung in silence off to one side, the most prominent trophy mounted by one of the teams thus far.
Buxton called the room to order and stepped aside for Ahtur, who looked calm, intense, and perhaps a little downcast.
“Scouts, we’ve had a rough few days, and I don’t need to go over where things have gone wrong – we all know. I will emphasize a few things. First, we lost Krieg, who was a good young man. He would have made a fine Scout, I know. We all know of the concerns he expressed, and then we know, at least based on the accounts provided by the others on his team, what happened. You saw Sarick’s conduct yesterday, and watched, sadly, as Ti’Un lost his bearing and, ultimately, I was forced to demand his resignation. He is no longer a Scout, and has left for, hopefully, some place where he can get his head right and start over.” He paced a little as he talked, making eye contact with different Scouts as he did, sometimes pointing or gesturing for emphasis.
“You heard stories of an invading army, too, and that’s why we’re here now: so I can give you the whole truth, instead of what you’ve been hearing. You are all sworn to the utmost secrecy at what I am about to tell you, and you will all sign statements to that effect before we break for tonight…it’s that serious,” he let the heavy words hang for a moment.
“There is no enemy army to our north, or anywhere else around here. We’ve all heard of the reports of marauders in the south, and those are accurate, but aside from the peoples to north of the gorge, our sector is calm – safe, even. We can explore and work to expand the realm’s borders – we can do our job,” he said with a tone of satisfaction.
“There is no enemy army, as I said, but instead our forces have been forward-positioned to ensure our defenses in this sector. Those are our men, chosen from among the best of the army. You might have heard some of the scuttlebutt about troop transfers. Well, there’s your answer. But this isn’t something that can get out – the King has plans, form what I hear, and he’s keeping a lid on what’s going on. I trust him…don’t you? He’s served us well, and if he’s to continue with the good work he’s done, he needs our support – and our trust, even when we don’t know all the answers.”
Ahtur goes on for a few more minutes, speaking in generalities while he assures his men that they’re doing a great job, that the border north of their sector is more secure than anywhere else, and that the “higher ups” are impressed with the work they’ve all been doing. He concludes with a surprise, which he’s granting to them because of that good work: a bonus leave day for everyone over the next month, a Finder’s Bonus for everyone (gold!), and he adds slyly, as if it’s the result of his cleverness and devotion to them, that he’s got “extra rations” for everyone, right now.
With that, his men open the side doors and wheel in two great beer barrels, along with wooden cups. The crowd gives Ahtur a few “huzzahs!” and descends on the booze, while Ahtur and Buxton mix with the crowd and congratulate individual Scouts on their loyalty and good work.