As Jason warmed with the rising sun, he quickly broke camp and walked the final league to where reports had said the rebel camp was set up.
He had a pretty good guess as to where he’d find the pickets and, as he approached, he cinched his cloak around him more. He’d already rubbed coal dust into his beard and hair to darken his carrot-colored hair and beard to a bituminous shade of auburn. The cloak would help hide his lean muscular frame and perhaps prevent recognition.
His warrior senses felt, rather than saw, the soldier following him from the hedgerow. He was a pro. He was very difficult to detect as he kept close vigil on the cloaked stranger.
He walked another 100 rods or so and the sentinels sprang from cover and surrounded him with weapons drawn.
“They’re good,” he mused, “quick turnaround from the time his approach had been detected, then a runner sent, the band retrieved and now he was surrounded by more than enough swords to take even him out in short order.”
“State your business,” their evident leader spoke with authority. Not in a tone that would provoke a fight, but definitely a tone not to be ignored.
“A traveler,” Jason replied, “traveling to Kandor to see the cleric.”
The leader, almost as tall as Jason with a stockier build, weighed this for a moment. His blonde brows knitted over sharp blue eyes that missed little. He looked a bit like the legendary Ivanhoe.
“If you pass this way,” Ivanhoe stated, “you must submit to a search.”
“Very well,” Jason responded. Another stocky, but much shorter rebel, probably a corporal following his sergeant's orders, approached quickly, but judiciously. His quick frisk was a little friendlier than Jason liked, but was efficient.
“A small knife,” the corporal said, “nothing more.”
After consideration, “Come,” the sergeant ordered, and waited for Jason to step before turning and leading the way. Jason was in the middle of a circle of warriors. As the walked, he saw a group practicing with staves.
“Again,” ordered their trainer. “Our opponent is highly skilled and outnumber us. We must be better if we are to defend the purity of our cause.”
As they walked a bit further, the mess was visible. The soldiers were sharing breakfast, laughing and sharing stories.
Off to the left, Jason spied what was probably the commander’s tent. It was well guarded by sharp lookouts.
Farther down still a clergy was leading morning prayers for another group of soldiers. Their cries to the Almighty were for purification of their souls and not for safety in combat or conquest of their foes.
As they reached the far end of the camp, the soldiers parted and allowed him to leave.
“We don’t want to see you around here again,” the sergeant stated. Jason went meekly on his way.
Jason thought about what he’d seen. The rebels were well-trained and well-commanded. They believed in their cause and were in excellent morale. Their eyes, above all else, shone with a dedication to what they were doing. This was not a rabble of complainers, but disciplined people fighting for their cause.
When he returned, he would recommend that his king take their objections seriously before moving to action. It would not do well to engage these rebels lightly.