After receiving the letter from Morwen via Traven, Shade packs up his belongings and weapons and, with Cala in tow, heads down the road to Southfort. He manages to get a local fisherman to take them to the beach and headland described by Morwen. A short walk inland, and he finds the camp.
Clearly, it isn't a town yet – the group has only been there about a week, but there is an orderly circle of tents with a central wood-roofed cooking and eating area. The nearby field has been cleared of underbrush and a makeshift pen has been built. There are also rows of racks with fish and some kind of meat drying on them.
You are brought to the central area and introduced to Tal, a clever-looking black haired woman, and Odkirk, a bearded man with thick shoulders and a close-cropped hair. They are both young, about Shade's age, and look weary, but happy to see you.
They expected your coming, and are very glad that you were willing to help. A smaller tent has been set up for you and Cala and they tell you that you can get started the following morning.
Shade will get to his tent, lay things out, set Cala to cleaning up their weapons (because it needs to happen), and then go for a walk and see what's being done.
After that, he'll go back and talk to Tal and Odkirk and say:
* Look, I can teach people to fight, but it looks like you could use more than that. So, what do you want from me? I used to be a gravedigger — it's not pleasant work but it's necessary, and eventually you'll need a place for the Raven Queen around here. Also, I can dig a mean posthole as well, if these tents are going to turn into more permanent things.
* About teaching — I'm going to need some clear ground as well, so anybody coming is going to be clearing land too. Don't want to break ankles first time out — and I'm not sure you want people swinging sticks around where people are working. Just want you to be clear on that.
* Cala is with me. She has trouble, I won't hesitate to break out the sharps; also, if she /is/ trouble, let me know. She's young and I made myself responsible for her after bandits killed her family by doing the bandits. So that's that.
Work seems to be broken into several areas.
Several people are heading to the lake with nets and fishing spears.
Several people are preparing food in the central area and hauling water for what appears to be a load of laundry.
Most of the men appear to be at work preparing the cleared field for planting, and the rest of the people are putting in a large garden plot near the tents.
Odkirk and Tal are sitting at a newly-made table in the central eating area, and motion to the bench when you arrive. They feed you and listen politely.
When you finish, Tal glances at Odkirk. "I'm going to let you take the lead on this, Od. I've got my own learning to do, and we desperately need to learn more about the forest and lands hereabouts, so I'll take care of that."
Odkirk nods and focuses on you. "We can use every pair of hands, no doubt. But all the hands in the world won't help us if trouble comes upon us and we can't defend ourselves. We are here because our village was destroyed by Imperial troops. Most of the trained fighters were killed during that attack. We know how to farm, how to hunt, somewhat, although we are used to dry, dusty land."
"We have all agreed. All of us will learn to fight, at least the basics. Those who prove skilled at it will learn more. We will not be helpless again. If you are willing to train us, we will work hard and learn as much as we can. We can't offer you anything other than respect and your keep at this time. Otherwise, any help you can offer us is appreciated. There is much work to be done, and you don't seem like a person who will take their ease between training.
"You will have 2 or 3 students each day, we have decided. We can have them stay with you for some days, or rotate them, as you prefer. Perhaps you can start by clearing some ground near the tents to train in?"
He glances over to your tent and Cala. "She will be safe here. Will she be working with you, or would you like us to find some tasks for her?"
Shade takes some time to think about it, before he goes on.
"That makes sense. I just want shelter and food, for now. In time, I want to learn to hunt, too." He touches his Transported tattoo. "After all, I live here now, I should know the place I live. Got someone that knows the land? That can be the payment — knowledge."
"In general, I want the students for class in the morning and afternoon for a week at a time. Everyone needs to rotate through a few times so that they can think about things before coming back again to learn more. It's not an instant thing at all."
"Also, I will set aside one day in seven for people who want to learn more. It'll be more open, and there might be some extra bruises."
"At the beginning, I will set to clearing, but let's make sure everyone knows that part of the training will be making the space right at the beginning."
"I've brought what I could, but we could use a few more blunts. If there's a woodworker I can talk to, we should get some wooden swords and spears made up. Also, if there's someone who works leather, we could get things that are more like peoples' machetes going too. That'll be practical."
"For now, Cala'll work with me. If she needs more to do, I'll let you know."
If there's nothing more, he gets up to wash his own dishes and start clearing a practice yard.
The first week goes relatively well. It is soon decided that the village will be called "Refuge". Two young men and one woman make up the first group that Shade works with. They clear a practice area without complaint, and pitch into the training with the sort of focussed intensity that marks the truly dedicated.
None of them are particularly skilled, but they are young, fit and hard workers. The woman, Ershka, seems singularly driven to excel, and after the first week she is clearly the most talented of the three. On the final "optional" day, she and Odkirk are the only ones to show up, and she takes her bruises with a tight-lipped smile.
She asks permission to stay on through the next rotation, and Odkirk says he will defer to your opinion on it. Odkirk himself and another woman are slated to start the training the following week.
During the course of the week, you also help out with getting fencing up for the truck garden, begin erecting wooden posts to frame in some of the tents, haul water and begin digging a ditch around the village center, with the eventual goal of putting up a palisade.
Cala proves to be surprisingly helpful. She grew up in a farming community, and although she does grumble that she "thought I got away from all of this when my bloody village disappeared", she actually knows a fair bit about the woods in the area, to the point where she can point out poisonous or hazardous plants, and identify edibles in the surrounding woods.
Towards the end of the first week, a bearded middle-aged man in rough work clothes (picture Pat Rothfuss if he lived in the woods) emerges from the trees. He introduces himself as Dunwick, walks a circuit of the village, muttering to himself. He then asks to speak with Tal and Odkirk. They invite you to sit in as well. It appears that Tal and Odkirk consider you the "military representative" on their little Council.
Dunwick takes the cup of water offered him and begins slowly, his voice gravelly. "The little Eldling lass, Morwen, asked me to put my head in and see how you were faring. I keep an eye on this stretch of county, more or less. He also said you could use some instruction in our Way," inclining his head to Tal.
"You've made a good start here. It's a well-chosen spot. Good earth, clean water, a protected bay. I've done a sweep of the area, and found nothing terribly dangerous close to you, but these southern forests are a wild place. Owlbears hunt along the fringe of the forest, and are most active just after nightfall. There are also panthers and great spiders that hunt the forest, particularly after dark, as well as bears and enormous apes. Those are only dangerous if you cross their path unwittingly."
"There are also areas of this forest – none too near you, that contain ancient ruins. Those places are dangerous haunts for ancient guardians and the unquiet dead. I wouldn't approach them, if you I were you. Further, there are a few enclaves of the Fey, who guard their borders, and although they aren't always hostile, it's best to treat them as if they are."
"Lastly, there are several tribal groups in this forest. The Azharak are a green-scaled people descended from the ancient dragon-kin. Dragonborn, I think they are often called. They have villages further to the south, where the forest starts to thin out into the grasslands, but their hunting parties range deep into the woods. They are aggressive and fierce, but not mindlessly hostile, if approached with caution."
"There are also scattered nomadic tribes of Feyren. Wild elves, the Colonials call them. They wander the deeps of the forest, and they are only hostile if the encounter large-scale destruction or mindless harm to the woods. I know some of their scouts and hunters, and I will ask one to visit you to open relations. They are perhaps the best suited to teaching you about the surrounding forests. My time would be better served working with young Tal here to improve her skills."
"Finally, there are a reclusive sort of reptile-folk that are rarely seen. They appear to be able to shift their coloration to blend into the forest, and are very quiet and stealthy. I don't know much about them, but I know they hunt with poisoned darts and prefer to keep to the high branches of the trees."
After all of that, he sits and waits expectantly. Clearly he thinks you will have questions.