The guardsman looked at him with a wry twist to his lip. Rogan did suppose that a begrimed and unshaven woodsman in worn leathers styling himself ‘Imperial Lord’ was amusing at that, but he was glad to see Jack take it in humor. In his experience, far too many Americans were overawed by pedigree, no doubt due to having none of their own. If Jack thought it funny, more’s the better.
“We need to move,” Nam announced, tension in her voice telling of things she saw beyond the woods. Rogan put his hand on the pack, and looked at Jack.
“Shall we have him try to walk?”
Nam clearly didn’t like the idea, but Jack nodded. The man was game, so Rogan took his side.
It turned out they should have listened to her. The guardsman may have been steadier on his feet while they stayed in one place, but once he moved any significant distance, his balance suffered almost as much as before.
Rather than demanding a return to the previous arrangement though, Nam simply stayed with him, sometimes keeping a firm grip on his arm. It made for a slow go, and he still tripped often, but with them having already covered most of the way to their new destination already, it was acceptable.
After passing through a wide lowland and fording a small river, they crested a low hill to see, beyond a small hollow, a treeless hilltop just beyond. At its summit crouched a low stone wall. Rogan left the path and walked toward it.
Nam asked him, “Is that your ‘redoubt’?”
“Aye. It’s more of a breastwork, but it defends in all directions. Seems somebody fused the soil of the upper half of the hill into stone before the structure was built, so no trees can take root near it. Good sight lines. I couldn’t stop before to check within, so you should scout it before we get too close.”
“Ooe is already on her way.”
A short while later, she turned her head in distaste. “Somebody… dropped incendiaries on the last occupants. Scarce remains but clothing, but…”
“Aye. We’ll hold a burial for whatever’s left while we wait for Fionna’s team. Nothing alive up there now?”
“Nothing large enough to worry Ooe.”
The remains turned out to be three Ilidi humans, which surprised Rogan. The old records showed the final invasion to have been almost entirely war beasts. These must have been Ilidi observers that found themselves cut off, but the uniforms were too burnt to confirm their ranks.
“I do not know any Illidi prayers,” Nam worried as Rogan cut shallow pits into the fused earth with a cutting flame. “Do you suppose Gireidil prayers are appropriate?”
His Ijin had the answer to that, which he passed along. “Althem says that’s what the Gireidil side would have done for them, had they found them.”
Nam pursed her lips and nodded. “These must be friendly fire casualties. If they had been fighting Gireid, our side would have known about the bodies awaiting burial.”
Jack wondered, “They would stop to bury their enemies, in the middle of an invasion?”
Nam answered, “Even the body of your worst enemy is sacred, Jack. That is the way of our kind. We would have buried that war beast too, back at the castle, but we are not equipped to deal with something that large. All we could do for him is report it and hope our people can do something eventually.”
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