Chapter 32: Scarred
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-32-

Rumdroll wove through the milling crows as he paced in the street.

He arrived at a tent and peered in through the entrance.

Now certain that it was the right tent, he went in.

Someone lay on a bed with a blanket over them, head resting on their pillow while turned to their side.

Rumdroll went to a bed next to them and sat down. He stared at a head covered in black strands, and far more grey strands than he remembered.

“Feeling unwell, kid?” Rumdroll said.

There was neither an action nor response.

“Heard from your friend, Sord. Said he found you out cold at Valor's hut and moved you here.”

The bed was still.

“Something you wanna tell me, kid?”

Silence returned to the tent.

Rumdroll scanned the tent. It was a volunteer’s model tent, wide enough to fit ten beds inside. Trunks nested to the bottom of the beds,  some beds had clothes strewn atop them. One wooden block next to each bed.

“You can lay there then. I’ll be here for a while. Today’s a rare free day.” Rumdroll said.

There was no response.

“Word is some volunteers are gone,” Rumdroll continued, “And so are many of the grass sacks and sickles the grass pickers use.”

“Asked around and it seems my friend Murlock the watchman saw them with a ranger at night.”

“Know anything, kid?”

The silence resumed.

After a moment, Mark slowly turned over and stared at Rumdroll.

“What are you here for…” His voice was feeble, his eyes red and the bags under his eyes dark.

“Just checking in, kid. The watchman said it was too dark to tell which ranger.”

Mark kept looking at Rumdroll.

Rumdroll scratched his head.

“Well, kid, I’ll be blunt, even after all we told you ya still screwed up.”

“But,” Rumdroll continued, ”I’m also here to tell you to get off your butt and walk. Every rangers’ screwed up before and will screw up more. You ain’t alone in that. Get back up and keep riding.”

“I’m not a ranger Rumdroll,” Mark replied, “Never was. I wore the clothes that one night and it was to fool people. I’m an idiot who was too stupid to realize it.”

Mark turned his face away.

“Well, there’s that.” Rumdroll sighed and hung his head, then raised it and looked at Mark..

“What happened that night, wasn't your fault kid. They would’ve found another way, or done the same thing another night.”

“They were bad company, kid. Scammers and cheaters the lot of them. People noticed and started watching them. So they tried to rake in a big haul before making a break.”

“It’s not your fault kid. They fed you lies and led you on. You got a good heart, don’t hate it because you were fooled. Think me callous but they asked for what happened.”

“And if they weren’t?” Mark replied, turning to Rumdroll.

“If they weren’t bad people, would it be my fault then? If they were good people, would I still be faultless?”

Mark rested his forearm over his eyes as his tears flowed.

“It’s the same, Rumdroll. It’s all the same.”

“I screwed up. I led them there. I could’ve stopped them. I could’ve found another way, a safer way. I couldn’t care less if they were murderers or envoys. That kind of thing should never happen to anyone.”

“I screwed up, and now they’re all dead. I should be dead too but Valor saved me. And he could’ve died there, all because of me.”

“I’m not riding as a ranger again, Rumdroll. Never again.”

Rumdroll stared at Mark, sighing as he hung his head.

After a moment, he raised it to look at Mark.

“Why won’t you, kid? Is it because of those people? Is it because of Valor? Or is it terror?” Rumdroll asked.

Mark was silent for a moment, then he replied.

“All of them, Rumdroll. All of them.”

Silence loomed like a grim pall in the tent.

Rumdroll slowly stood.

“If you feel guilty, Mark, go out there and live. You must live, Mark. Atone and live."

Rumdroll turned and left the tent.

Mark shook as his tears flowed.

-

The days passed with no further news about the missing volunteers. It was simple to hide; the watchman kept his silence, a ranger heading out at night was normal, and people didn’t like them.

They chalked it to them running off to wherever before they were caught. The grass pickers filled their numbers with other volunteers and went back to pick grass with new tools. 

Few knew the truth, and it affected no one.

No one but Mark.

Mark never forgot, even after he finally left the tent.

The events of that night were seared in Mark’s mind, and he never forgot them.

Be it awake or fitful sleep, they haunted him for the rest of his time in the barricade.

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