When the courier, newly arrived from near Confluence, handed her message to Massape, Fairbolt inwardly groaned. "Dag?" he asked.
"What makes you think that?" Massape asked, studying the message.
"Because half of the messages we've been getting have been about him," Fairbolt growled. "Remind me to bring this up to the camp council when we meet again. Dag causes far less trouble when we can keep an eye on him." Dag had said he was going to try to find a solution to keep problems like Greenspring from happening again. Dag's solution seemed to be to stir up everyone involved and see what rose to the top. He was getting very sick of seeing letters from Amma Osprey from Pearl Riffle.
Besides, news from anyone that far into Raintree would be filtered through one of the larger camps before anyone in Camp Bearsford heard anything about it. News about something like Bonemarsh -- not that he wanted another Bonemarsh, absent gods -- might come from a camp near the border, but not somewhere nearly on the Western Levels.
"Turns out, you're right," Massape said. "Put a peg in the wall for Camp Captain's Intuition."
Fairbolt unfolded the letter, grabbing a seat inside his office. "Let's see what trouble he's gotten himself into now."
He recognized Dag's cramped hand, made even more so by the choice of writing materials. It looked like he had salvaged any scrap of paper he could find, up to and including something that looked like it once had been packing material, to write the... it looked like a report. Which meant that it probably was urgent enough, since he remembered having to put up with Dag complaining about writing reports. Not to mention, if he couldn't find the time to wait until he got to a larger farmer town or Lakewalker camp to get paper, then it probably didn't bode well.
"This better not be another malice," Fairbolt growled to himself. Raintree wad still trying to move patrollers around to cover Bonemarsh, and as one of the largest camps in Olena, Fairbolt was sending as many patrols as he could spare to cover their part of the border. Not to mention it was coming into winter, where patrols were far more likely to run into a snowstorm than a malice, sometimes with equally deadly results. He wished he had a couple more people from Luthalia, who were used to bad winter conditions, or at least seasoned patrolled able to remind the youngsters to take the precautions.
Massape brought in some tea. "You remember there's talk of a camp council," she said.
Fairbolt groaned. "What now?" He remembered the last camp council, the one where Dag had dropped the bombshell, making an issue that he already was complicated much worse. If the man hadn't had a point, Fairbolt would find it much easier to be mad about it.
"Oh, Rig is trying to get the stud fee back on all the foals Shadow sired. Also claiming it's Omba Redwing's fault that the damn fool horse got loose in the first place," Massape said.
Fairbolt stared at the report. Surely whatever Dag had found would be more interesting than several candles' worth of arguing about horses. Maybe he could pretend he lost track of the time. Except, he wouldn't, because it was his duty, damn it all.
He skimmed part the date, and the location, except to note that the courier was prompt, and that the location was so far down the Grace as it came into the Gray.
While traveling down the Grace, on flatboat captained by Boss Berry Clearcreek, and accompanied by Fawn Bluefield, Whit Bluefied who Fairbolt guessed was one of Fawn's farmer kin, several other boatmen, and patrollers Bar Bluejay Pearl Olena and Remo Lynx Pearl Olena, was met by two farmer boatmen offering to guide us through the rapids. One showed signs in his ground of beguilement, with the other being recognized by Clearcreek as having gone missing last fall. We detained them and I broke though the beguilement, and here Fairbolt remembered the previous report from Dag, circulated on the cause of farmer beguilement that had started a strong discussion between Hoharie and some of her more senior assistants on whether what Dag had observed was right. He continued reading.
The beguiled farmer gave testimony to a gang of river bandits waylaying shipping along that part of the Grace. From his statements I was able to glean that the leader was a Lakewalker renegade and here Fairbolt nearly put down the paper to swear. "That's not going to help your case, Dag," he said to himself. As long as he stayed away from the camp, most people seemed content to forget that Dag had ever done something like bring his farmer girl back there. If news got out about a renegade that had tried to turn bandit lord, people would start up with the idea that any Lakewalker living alone would try to become a lord of the surrounding farmers. Dag turning back up -- if he ever did -- wouldn't just bring back all the old arguments, but that one as well. But, if there was a renegade, then at least they had someone to deal with it, before the surrounding farmers took it out on nearby camps. He hadn't heard of any trouble down near Confluence with farmers, absent gods be praised.
From his statements I was able to glean that the leader was a Lakewalker renegade who had taken over a normal bandit gang. Boss Berry and I waited and gathered several other boats heading downstream and put together a raiding party on the camp. And here Fairbolt skimmed past an account of the battle. We were able to kill or capture all bandits, with none dead on our side. The boat bosses and I agreed that the captured bandits would be left to them, while I dealt with the Lakewalker. Fairblot flipped back to see how Dag had captured the Lakewalker renegade alive. He didn't mention it, save that the renegade had attempted a counterstrike on their boat, and had been felled, with one crewman hurt. He frowned. If he had Dag here in person, he would have gotten the full story from him, if he had to drag it out. But, he couldn't question the report to give up its secrets, only the writer, who was well on his way to the ocean. He also wondered how many of the wounded farmers Dag had healed. More of a mess.
The Lakewalker was styling himself 'Crane', and from his story, I reckon he is from the Crane family in Log Hollow Camp. I didn't get his first name, but it could be looked up. Crane was a patroller banished for giving camp stores to his farmer lover and their children, Fairbolt paused to wonder if it was possible for Dag to dig himself deeper. The case in Log Hollow was the last thing people wanted to remember. It had been ugly all around, by anyone's account. He took to supplying her from hunting, but seemed to find the life less than ideal. His lover died of fever, and he placed the children in the care of his sister and left. He took to odd jobs, but eventually turned to gambling and thieving. After killing a farmer who caught him at his act, he set out on the river to leave Olena, then ran into the bandit gang.
The victims of the bandit gang were mostly farmers, though we did find supplies from Lakewalker narrowboat. Testimony from Crane showed it was a couple that had been killed by the bandits -- I sent the goods on to the next camp to be identified and claimed by kin, except for a bonded knife. Fairbolt's eyebrows raised here. A bonded knife whose owner had died without sharing would be of no use without a maker to rededicate the knife. He could understand wanting a primed knife, though the camp those two Lakewalkers hailed from might begrudge the loss of it. But what use was a knife that was not only unprimed, but could not be primed without a knife maker?
Here the handwriting grew less scribbled, more deliberate, as if Dag was carefully trying to pick his words. A she read, Fairbolt found he couldn't put the report down, despite the unbelievable contents. 'Dag, you didn't.' But... yes, he did. It totally fit with what he had said he was going to do, and reports from Pearl Riffle. As my claim of the salvage, I asked for the knife and the priming of it. I was able to successfully clear the knife of the old ground, and rededicate it to Crane. Crane agreed to share, rather than be hung with the rest of the bandits. The dedication and priming of the knife were done under the witnesses of the crowd that had fought against him.
Hopefully, the lesson in what we are repaired the damage of seeing what a Lakewalker could do when fallen to the bad. If the people know what groundworking can do in the wrong hands, let them see what we can do in the right hands.
Submitted by Dag Bluefield
Fairbolt just sighed. "Well, what do you expect me to do about that?" he said. The camp hadn't been ready to accept Fawn among them. Finding out that Dag was spreading every Lakewalker secret to any farmer that would listen would give even those most comfortable with farmers pause.
Though it must have been a hell of a show. Few Lakewalkers had the kind of ability to be knife-makers. To be able to do it in front of a crowd of farmers, with their raucous grounds, rather than in the middle of a Lakewalker camp, left him without words. Cumbia Redwing had wanted her other son to be a maker, everyone knew that. Perhaps she should have been careful what she wished for. Some maker Dag was turning into -- healer, knife-maker, and working something bigger, that Fairbolt thought even Dag didn't know what it would turn into.
And, yet, there had been no backlash. No backlash yet, though the people of Raintree -- and probably everyone along the river, his patrollers included -- were going to have to deal with the results of his tale. Who knew how the rumors would get magnified. Fairbolt suddenly felt tired with the thoughts about how tales could spread, and he suddenly regretted his vote for a moment. If only because it would have contained Dag. Maybe.
No, it wouldn't have. Dag had as much as said so. The question now, was would Dag really prevent another Greenspring, or would he just doom them all? Because the status quo was clearly not an option here.