Saturday, September 5, 2015

Red As Any Blood--Part 18

Kessler stared at the ruined camp.  "So..." he began awkwardly, and then sighed.  "How did this happen?"

The man before him glanced away. "Well, sir, to answer that, I'd need a witness, but... all the men who were working here fled, and the guards were all killed.  We think."

"You think." The captain rubbed the bridge of his nose.  He'd had a pounding headache when he woke up this morning and coming out to look at this was only making matters worse.  "Why don't you know?"

"Well, sir," muttered the man, "we haven't found all the bodies yet.  So we don't know if they're all dead, or only most of them are dead."  He coughed.  "A lot of them are though."

Kessler decided to let that line of questioning reach an early end.  "And the workers are gone?" he said.

"Fled into the hills," said the man.  "Though they might be dead to, for all we know."

"So why don't you go look for them?" muttered Kessler whose urge for another bottle of the local beverage was becoming quite overwhelming at the moment.

"Well, sir, we really don't have the men to," came the answer.  "If we send them out, that leaves our base in the local town vulnerable, and that means we could lose... well, everything."

"So, we can't do anything more than a cursory investigation," said Kessler with a grim nod.  "And the lumber gathering?"

"More or less stopped, sir," answered the man.  "The workers are all fleeing.  They know we don't dare chase them now.  So, they all run out the woods and hide."

Kessler was trying to figure out how this could get worse, when Bres appeared at his shoulder.  "So... any interesting finds?" he asked.

"You mean aside from the fact that we apparently can't investigate our men getting butchered," muttered the captain, "which is making the situation worse as people realize that we can't investigate our men getting butchered?"

Bres bit his lips.  "Wouldn't dwell on that one."  He coughed.  "Look--I know to you a Prince's Man is a Prince's Man, but there are... levels in our organization.  As I report on you, men report on me, and if their reports and my reports fail to impress the Governor, then it leaves me vulnerable... and you vulnerable..."

Kessler's need for a drink was growing rapidly.  "What are you saying?"

Bres turned away, his little ratlike face looking quite unhappy. "This is an uncertain time.  A time when some seek to advance quickly.   They look for opportunities.  Like the failures of others. You didn't not find the man who went missing in the attack. Now more men are missing, and the entire purpose for our being here is threatened."  He leaned forward.  "Do you catch my meaning, captain?"

Kessler nodded, his throat supremely, horribly dry.

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