With Honor, part 2

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Part 2

The sound of thirty horses pounding down the road made everyone in the village turn in surprise.   Slowing, the soldiers approached the smoldering remains of a building at the far edge of town.  The roof, likely thatched with straw based on the neighboring buildings, had been completely consumed by the fire.  Three of the four walls stood nearly intact, posts charred near the top.  The final wall looked as though something had taken a giant bite out of it.  Matthew glanced around as he gave the command to dismount; Hayes and Davis were already on the ground, the buckets in their hands telling of their assistance in putting out the flames.           

The soldiers quickly divided into their units.  Graham’s unit remounted and spread out, creating a perimeter around the small village.  Matthew and his soldiers began discussing the fire with the locals, interested in the cause.  While it could have been an accidental blaze, the appearance of the burned structure led Matthew and his lieutenant to believe it had been started by a torch tossed onto the roof, likely by the bandits they were here to stop.

As he walked through the village, Matthew was surprised at the locals’ reticence.  When asked directly about the fire, most simply shrugged and mumbled something noncommittal.  They were willing to discuss the building itself; it had been a community building, with stores of hay and fodder for the animals of the village.  During these milder months, it was mostly empty, but as harvest came on it would be filled with supplies for the winter.  Occasionally he heard comments of gratitude for the minimal damage.  More than one woman had said something about her gladness that the girls of the village were all safe.  There was also much discussion about the fate of the now-charred shed.  This Matthew mostly ignored; it was not up to the Army to decide who would be responsible for rebuilding.

The one thing that none of his soldiers could get an answer to was how the fire had started.  Frustration with the lack of response was leading to more direct questions, which was beginning to aggravate the people of the village. Matthew made his way around to each member of his unit, gently suggesting that they return to the center of town to reclaim their mounts.  Clearly, the fire had lit a fear in the villagers, and even the presence of the army was not enough to douse it.

As he returned to his horse, Matthew caught the edge of a conversation.  He paused long enough to hear, “The wolves have gotten bolder.”  Intrigued, he turned toward the group.  The movement was enough to startle the man who was speaking, and once he realized the sergeant was listening, he bustled off on other business. 

 Wolves were not typically a problem this time of year.  Matthew mounted and signaled his unit to head out, the man’s comment niggling in the back of his mind.

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