Bastien bolted upright from his bedroll, the furs wet with sweat. He rubbed a hand over his face. So much blood. It had been a long time since he’d had one of these dreams. But this one was different. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it just didn’t feel like the dreams he had during the war. He collapsed silently back into the wet furs and immediately regretted it when the cold, clammy hairs bunched up against his skin. The rest of the men in the tent slept on, for which Bastien was grateful; he didn’t want to have to answer any questions right now.
He turned his head to look over his shoulder to the entrance of the tent. One tent flap had been tied off to the side and he could see that while it was still dark outside, the pale fingers of dawn were already beginning to reach tentatively into the clearing just outside the tent. As quietly as he could, he grabbed his shirt, boots, and a linen cloth and slipped into the chilly pre-dawn to get ready for the day. There wouldn’t be much time left to sleep anyway.
After a quick splash in the nearby creek, Bastien was even more awake than he had been following the dream. The icy runoff from the mountains up north almost immediately plunged into the thick forest, never quite able to absorb any of the sun’s warmth on the long journey to the Ragged Coast.
With a start he realized today was the day he would leave for home. The dream had so unsettled him that it had slipped his mind. Disturbing as it had been, it was promptly forgotten as Bastien began making his departure list in his head while heading to the camp kitchen, where the cook and his boys were already hard at work preparing a hearty breakfast for the logging camp. His stomach grumbled.
“Hey, Falco, any chance I can get breakfast early?” He tried looking as hungry as possible as the old cook wiped his hands on on a cloth and eyed the much younger man critically.
“Already told ya Bastien, gotta wait for the rest of the crew,” he said, throwing the cloth down onto a ironwood slab supported by stones as he pulled out a large pan and cracked some eggs into it.
Bastien switched tactics. “Come on, Falco, I’m heading home today. The sooner I’m done, the sooner I’m out of your hair.” He waggled his eyebrows hopefully.
Falco chuckled. “Well, when you put it that way…” He produced a plate already brimming with eggs, fried potatoes, and a slab of boar meat. “I knew you was leavin’. Can’t have ya losin’ strength on the trip home.” Bastien grinned and swiped the plate.
“Thansh, Balgo,” he said, mouth already stuffed with potatoes and eggs. Falco shook his head and laughed.
By the time Bastien had finished his food, the other men in the camp were making their way out of the tents in various states of dress and alertness. Wasting no time, he dropped his plate and fork in the massive wooden tub filled with semi-clean water and hurried back to his bedroll. The skins were still slightly damp, so he hung them outside the tent as he packed his knapsack for the day-long hike it would take him to get home. He finished and said goodbye to the few friends he had in the camp, returning to find his bedroll was mostly dry so he rolled it up and tied it to the bottom of the leather knapsack and swung the pack onto his back. Moments after getting collecting his pay slip he was on the road.
A few other men were also leaving early, and Bastien fell in with them, joking and ribbing each other over whose village had the prettiest girls. But at every fork in the road their group got smaller, and soon Bastien was walking alone. He still had hours to go but after the long hours of walking and talking he was ready for some solitude. Birds called to each other in the trees and the air was thick with the smells of ironwood, the decaying leaves that carpeted the forest floor, and the flowering vines that draped many of the trees in a deep green natural robe. He breathed deeply and detected the faint scent of pine. It was peaceful, and as the dream struggled to push itself to the forefront of his mind, Bastien began singing an upbeat fighting song, then moved onto another as he finished.
Hours passed alternating between silent contemplation and Bastien’s rough singing voice. He was weary, but upon seeing the rotting remains of an old wagon on the side of the road that had been there as long as he could remember, he had to contain his excitement and broke into a light jog. Soon the edge of the forest was opening on a few thatch-roof buildings surrounding a small central square. It had only been a couple of weeks, but he was happy to be home. He waved to the few people still out and about in the dying light of dusk and made his way down the small road – little more than a trail, really – to his father’s house.
When he arrived he instantly knew something was wrong. The door was ajar, prevented from closing by his mother’s bare foot. He dropped his pack and ran, bursting through the door. The air inside was rich with the smell of blood, less than a day old. His mother lay in a puddle of her own blood, her head almost severed from her body. His father’s body was in worse shape and exhibited the tell-tale signs of torture. Then he saw the crumpled body of Asha, his nine-year-old sister.
Bastien fell to his knees, numb and aware of one thing: the dream had felt different because it was different. He hadn’t realized he’d dreamed the death of his own family.