In the morning, Wilom was woken up to the sound of an argument.
Colonel Briar and Harie were standing by the remains of the campfire. Wilom was the first to have poked his head out of the tent, but he was not far ahead of most of the others. Yolin poked his head around, and so did some of the members of the other squad, but most of them pulled back into their tents immediately, not wanting to be caught snooping on the conversation.
“Sir,” Harie said. “Respectfully —”
“Nothing respectful about it,” the Colonel cut him off. “I’ve told you my reasoning on the matter.”
“I understand, sir,” Harie said. “But —”
“This conversation is over,” Briar said, turning away, back to the tents. “Right! I know you’re all awake and listening, and that means it’s time to get on the road! Get moving!”
As people started hurrying to move, Wilom wasn’t sure he would have heard, if it wasn’t for the Ferryman’s Knowledge, Briar telling Harie “And don’t forget — you’re still part of the army. You still have your rank. If you breathe another word of this to the others, I’ll have you court-marshalled so hard you’ll still be tied up in hearings by this time next year.”
Wilom had never seen the two squads pack up so quickly as they had that day. The new squads even matched Harie’s speed, and Wilom couldn’t tell whether it was because they were in such a rush, or whether it was because Harie was moving more slowly than usual. But nevertheless, they packed up and started moving away.
It was going to be hard to find some way to get everyone alone, and Wilom was finding it even harder to think of how to do it with the constant awareness that Harie was wondering if he had already decided to tell everyone, or if not, how he either find a moment to tell Wilom or whether he could convey it some other way.
Wilom kept trying to catch Harie’s eye to somehow convey that he should stop worrying, but Harie was keeping himself entirely focussed on marching and not attracting any more attention from Colonel Briar that he was never looking Wilom’s way long enough for a properly significant glance.
He ended up getting his opportunity at lunch time. Briar and Torcel, with a glance at Wilom and Harie, took the map aside and started having a whispered conversation about the correct approach for the next town. They were just far enough away that the occasional word drifted back, but definitely not enough for anyone not familiar with the content of Wilom’s conversation last night and Harie’s fight this morning to understand what was going on.
Wilom leaned over to the others and gestured for them to huddle around, trying to think quiet and nonchalant thoughts if Briar looked over.
Javrinnen, Firin and Yolin huddled a little closer to him, Javrinnen and Yolin sending longing glances over towards Briar and Torcel, wishing that Wilom hadn’t called them over so they could try and listen in. They were joined by only one member of the other squad, the others looking between Wilom and Harie and then deciding to stay back to see if they could hear the conversation between their COs instead.
“Everyone, there’s something you need to know,” Wilom said. “I had a friend at that last town, and I got tipped off after Colonel Briar was done reprimanding me. Looks like things are going to get more difficult in the towns closer to Marclorn. They don’t get as much contact from the Capital, and they’re likely to not be so favourable towards us.”
“They don’t get as much contact,” Yolin said.
“No newspapers,” Javrinnen said, and she meant it with a much different connotation than Yolin did.
“Why tell us in private?” Firin asked.
“I tried to bring it up with the Colonel,” Wilom said. “He thinks we’ll panic if we think we won’t be able to control the situation.”
The others gave him a long look.
“I just think you’ll panic less if you’re prepared,” Wilom said, filling in the gap in the conversation.”
“How bad do you think it’s going to get?” Javrinnen asked.
“I don’t know,” Wilom said honestly. “My friend is going to …” he stopped himself before he revealed too much “was, sorry. Was going to try and sneak me away, so I know she’s really worried.”
He worried for a moment that that might have been too much information — the others all looked immediately up at Colonels Briar and Torcel to see if they’d heard, and in his moment of distraction, while he was trying to think of how to fix the problem, Wilom said, “It’s alright — they’re too deep in conversation. They didn’t notice.”
Javrinnen and Firin, in particular, gave him hard looks after that one. He tried to breeze past it before they could ask another question. “Anyway — the point is that we might be in for some difficulty when we get there.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Yolin asked. “The Colonels …”
“Are making a plan,” Wilom said. “They … might not like working with inexperienced recruits, but they do know what they’re doing. Besides, it’s not going to help anyone if we go off and do something different while they run after us trying to get us back into line. That’s exactly what they were trying to avoid by not telling us about how bad things might get.”
There was a round of nodding.
“We’ll do as ordered,” Wilom said. “We just won’t be caught unaware if things don’t go well.”
Briar and Torcel moved, and Wilom sat back. They were about to finish their conversation.
Firin quickly started to say, “I’ll be glad when we can get back to the barracks. I miss not getting news every day.”
Yolin nodded. “It’s hard to be so far away from everyone. But hopefully everything will go quickly.”
“Alright, enough chatter!” Torcel barked, clapping his hands. “Everyone up! Anything you haven’t eaten yet goes back in your bag!”
Wilom had been so distracted that he hadn’t eaten at all. He closed up the ration pack and put it away.
Harie gave him a nod as they started, and he returned it. He’d warned them. He’d get to the next town and they’d see what happened.
And then he’d be leaving.
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