II

The day’s ride towards General Putwet’s camp seemed very much to be the calm before the storm. Most of them generally ignored her and she found herself riding alone. Commander Borut favored either riding alone or to discuss military business with his officers while he rode. And though she occasionally saw Adela, the woman regarded her now with hostility and resentment so approaching her would be impossible.

About an hour before nightfall, they made it to the general’s camp. Then the storm hit. First they needed to set up camp. True to what he said, Commander Borut showed her how to unpack, and in the process, pack, the tent so she could help him when they needed to do it again. Then, just as before, he presented her this time to the general, who regarded her with the same distrust that Commander Rousin had, made a few questionable comments to Commander Borut and then dismissed her like before.

Somehow, he also managed to bring her the small town about a mile away and buy several different colors of material for dresses and several other items for himself. By the time they made it back to the camp, all Jacey wanted was to find a place to sleep.

The next morning, he woke her early to tell her that he would be gone all day, left breakfast on the table, and would see her tonight. Still feeling exhausted, she mumbled a response and fell back asleep.

That day in camp passed rather lazily for her. Since she learned the order and place of everything in the tent, she could straighten it as need be, which wasn’t much since they just set it up. She needed to find the location of both food and water for while she was here. The camp now seemed overwhelming in size and took her over an hour to walk, although she did finally find both.

She brought back her lunch with her and set to work promptly on another dress. Once she had a second one, she could actually wash the dress she wore. Only after she cut it did she move to the outside of her tent. Although she had a chance to watch the activity of the camp, her section appeared to be sadly deserted. Many of those who so proudly sported the twenty-two on their tunic seemed to have disappeared and only a few from other squads passed by.

Dark had long since fallen when Commander Borut finally walked out of the shadows. His hair clung to his head, wet, though if from water or sweat she could not tell. Dirt streaked his face and arms and blood had run down his arm in spite of a makeshift bandage.

Jacey stood quickly. “Are–are you all right?”

He nodded brusquely and went inside the tent. Inside the tent someone had placed a bucket of water. He plunged his hands into the water and tossed it all the way up his whole arms. He winced slightly as the water touched his injury but instead glanced around instead of at it.

“Can you please get me the soap from the trunk?”

Jacey looked through the trunk, found the soap and brought it back. “Can I see your arm?”

He did not look at her as he took the soap and began to scrub his hands. “It’s just a little cut.”

“Please.”

He shook his head and continued washing. “I need to get to the general.”

“It should only take a minute of it is nothing.”

He splashed his face with water, grabbed a cloth from near by and wiped off both his arms and his face in one smooth motion. Disgusted, he tore of the blood-soaked bandage, tossed it in the firepit Jacey lit earlier. Quickly, he grabbed another cloth from near by and wrapped that around his arm instead. “I shouldn’t be any longer than half of an hour.” With that, he ducked back out.

Jacey blinked, feeling like a whirlwind just blew through. Quietly, she went outside again. It seemed like in the few minute she had been inside of the tent everyone from Commander Borut’s squad had returned. Slowly, it began to dawn on Jacey that he had probably attacked another village that day. That would explain both how he had gotten hurt and why his men were gone.

Major Pauldor approached her and cleared his throat. “Ma’am?” he said in Aldroian, though still strongly accented.

Jacey looked at him.

“The commander asked for me to get rid of the dirty water in the tent for him, seeing how he hurt his arm and he didn’t really have much of a chance to clean it.”

Jacey nodded. “That’s fine.”

He ducked in there and came back out in a moment, almost carelessly holding the bucket that she had to drag half full. He smiled faintly. “I’m thinking for some reason you’re the little one I saw trying to drag this bucket across camp a couple days ago.”

Jacey blushed slightly. “Yes.”

“Well, that isn’t too good for you to do any more, seeing how… he married you. But, if you need any water ever, just ask anyone in the twenty-second and we can get it no problem.”

Jacey blushed again. After being so independent for so long, she hated the idea of having to ask anyone for that kind of help, knowing at the same time that she needed to do it.

“Honest and truly. We don’t mind. If the commander’s happy with you, then that’s what we want.”

Jacey wrapped her arms around herself. She truly did not know what the commander was happy with. He didn’t show her any emotion ever. Just a blank, dark face.

Jacey paused. Ever since that second day from Ketekey, she had desired a real bath but found no way she could without being spied upon and then also wearing dirty clothing afterwards. But now….

“Would–you mind refilling it about twenty minutes?”

Major Pauldor paused, then realization dawned on his face and he nodded. “Certainly.”

“Thank you.”

He walked away and Jacey stood there, watching the stars twinkle and listening to the noises around her. Compared to the night before, not many people spoke. They just trudged slowly around camp, finding what they needed, and saying as little as possible. For the number of people that surrounded her, the silence was eerie.

Major Pauldor brought back two buckets of water, one for herself and one for the commander. That way, he explained, if he didn’t quite get back in time, the commander still had his water.

As soon as he left, Jacey stripped and slipped into the cold water. She shivered slightly but forced herself not to concentrate on the cold. She had to be done before Commander Borut returned. Taking the soap from earlier, she washed quickly, though her hair rebelled against the prospected of cleanliness after so long. She was just tying up the dress when he pushed open the door, pausing in the doorway.

Jacey turned and smiled slightly. Her hair still hung in wet waves around her face. She looked at him and smiled slightly as she finished the final tie.

“Did it go well?”

He just looked at her, like he could not quite understand what she did. Then, he rubbed his face and muttered in Targoian, “Of course. How could I have been so mindless?” He shook his head and changed to Aldroian. “Well enough.” He took the dirty bucket, carried it out with his good hand and brought the other bucket back in.

Jacey sat perched on the table and watched him. “You–went on a raid?”

He nodded and pulled off his tunic, tossing it to the side. Once again, Jacey found it surprising the number of scars the man had, all crisscrossing his chest, some an obvious brownish-reddish slash while others were just a sliver of white. He plunged his hands into the water and splashed it up into his face several times. It seemed with each time he did, the tension in his back began to decrease.

“Can I look at your arm now?” Jacey said.

He looked at her and then it. Blood had soaked through it again, though not as badly as before. “It is no bother.”

“I think it is bad.”

He splashed some water onto his chest quietly, not looking at her.

Jacey sighed. “Are you just going to ignore me and hope I forgot?”

“Yes.”

She sighed again and got up. “I”ll only be a moment.  Honest.”

He rose and blinked at her. “I said I was fine. Why can’t you–” He blinked again. In the dim light, his face looked deathly pale.

She touched his shoulder. Sweat began to bead on his forehead the moment before he fell forward on top of her.

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