Don't Eat the Foliage -- Part Three
The first thing Megan and Buba saw upon entering the tent was Brand, face down less than a foot away. Buba rushed over to his side and knelt down. "Brand? Brand?" He gently rolled Brand over and blinked.
"Oh, that's cute. Who're you supposed to be now, Brand? A rejected prototype of Harry Potter?" Megan blew a sigh from her lips and joined Buba at Brand's side while she admired the dark red mark, shaped roughly into a lightning bolt on his forehead.
"Brand?" Buba gently shook him again, the urgency growing in his voice. "Wake up, Brand!"
"All right already. I'm awake, mom." Brand murmured.
Buba looked down at himself, then at Brand. "Last time I checked it was impossible for me to be anyone's mother."
Brand slowly opened his eyes. "Uh... Buba?" He looked over at Megan, puzzled. "What's going on?"
"You tell us, Brand." Megan replied. "We found you on the ground like this."
As he sat up, dizzy at first, the red mark on his forehead faded away. Buba glanced at Megan who offered a small shrug. "Okay?" Brand asked. "I guess I..." he looked back at the cots in the back of the tent. They were at least several feet away. "Uh... rolled out of bed?"
"That's one long roll." Megan commented. "You don't remember what happened I take it."
"Not in the least. I went to sleep on the cot, then Buba is pretending to be my mom."
Megan and Buba stood. Buba helped Brand to his feet. After a moment of adjustment, Brand shook his head. "How weird." He gave Megan and Buba a once over, then asked. "So, what were you two up to?"
"Exploring mostly." Megan answered. "It looks like some kind of refugee camp out there. These people clearly lack the common sense to bathe and clean their clothes."
"Oh! Brand..." Buba reached back and pulled the guitar free from his back. "Look what we found." He offered it to Brand.
"Hmm." Brand smiled, accepting the instrument. "Wow. What is a guitar doing in a place like this?" He rested the guitar on his leg and played a few cords then fiddled with the knobs and repeated the process.
"Seems there were others here before us." Megan said then lowered her voice a little. "Others that have died."
Brand glanced up at that. "Oh? Well, too bad for them." He winked at Megan. "They weren't us and we won't die."
The frown that formed on Megan's lips missed Brand, as he was already looking at the guitar again. Buba noticed it, however, and really didn't like the attitude Brand just displayed. "You can't be so sure of that, Brand."
Brand dismissed the idea. "I'm sure." He paused. "You pick up anything else out there?"
Buba was going to say something more, but Megan cut him off. "Just some little wooden cube. Humoring the locals. It's nothing."
Nodding in reply, Brand finally stopped messing with the knobs on the guitar and smiled. "Ah, there we go. Perfect."
"Anyone home?" A deep voice bellowed from outside.
All three looked up in unison and frowned. Their eyes were all locked on the tent flap as it opened and a small man, no taller than three feet, stepped in. His face was covered with a full bushy beard that didn't do a very good job of masking the rosy coloring of his cheeks. He looked very much like a miniature Santa Claus with the exception of the rags he called clothes. "Greetings travelers!"
"Uh... hello," Brand replied. "Who are you?"
Megan just watched and Buba had to crane his neck down to see him.
"Heh, heh. Right to it, I see." He extended a small but strong hand to Brand. "The name is One-eye." He winked at Brand.
While Brand just looked at the hand, Buba rolled his eyes and stuck his hand out to accept the offering. "I'm Benjamin Bufford Bleu but you can call me Buba on account everyone does."
As the two shook hands, One-eye looked way up at Buba with a wink. "My, my. You are a big fella, aren't you?"
Buba blushed. "This is Brand and Megan."
Megan replaced Buba's hand. One-eye smiled. "And you, lovely as they come in these parts." Again he winked, this time at Megan.
"What do you want?" Brand asked abruptly.
Confusion looked back at Brand as One-eye rested his hands at his side. Buba cleared his throat. "Don't mind Brand. He's a bit cranky when he gets up from his naps."
One-eye nodded knowingly and winked. "I'm here to show you three to the dining tent. I also have a few things to talk to you about in order to help you get better aquainted."
Brand eyed One-eye, then asked rather rudely. "Why do they call you One-eye?"
He grinned broadly. "I wink a lot." A wink punctuated One-eye's response. "Well, shall we?"
The food tent, located clear across the camp, was filled with people. Tables both long and short were lined up in several rows. A crowd of people was lined along the far end of the tent, moving slowly toward the serving station.
Brand and company followed One-eye over to the line and they waited.
"Might as well tell you some things while we wait to get out meal." One-eye said casually as he peered up at the others and winked. "You should all be aware of the rules of the camp. We wouldn't want anything bad to happen because you didn't know, right?"
"Right," Brand muttered, rolling his eyes.
"The first rule of the camp is-"
"No talking about the camp!" Brand blurted. It was a little loud and people glanced back at them. Megan slapped Brand on the shoulder and glared.
"Why wouldn't we talk about the camp?"
"Don't pay attention to him," Megan said. "He's being an ass. Go on, please."
One-eye winked at Megan. "As I was saying, the first rule of the camp is no weapons. You can have whatever you want in your tent but that's where it stays. Second, no physical fighting. If there is a need to fight, take it to the dueling circle." He waved a hand toward the tent wall next to them. "It's out back. That's also where they train."
As Buba listened, he also looked at the people eating and waiting in line. Ever since he'd gotten to this camp, he'd felt something strange but could never figure it out. That was until now. It bit him like a snake hiding in his pocket. "Everybody is happy." He blurted out.
All three of his companions turned and looked at him oddly. He could feel the blood rushing to his face. "Uh, sorry."
"What do you mean, Buba?" Megan asked with a gentle voice.
"Oh, look around. I noticed it when we explored earlier. Nobody here appears unhappy. They all seem completely content."
"Living in filth and poverty," Brand snickered. "Yeah, I'm sure they're happy, old man."
Before Buba could reply, One-eye asked: "Why wouldn't they be, Brand? We live in perfect harmony here; everybody gets along, we all share in the work, nobody goes without anything."
"Except a bath," Brand shrugged. "I'm looking around and from my eyes this is a crap hole. How anyone can be here and be happy is beyond my imagination."
"Brand, why don't you shut up?" Megan said, her eyes narrowing. "Some of us are interested. You can keep your asshole mentality to yourself. Okay?" She then smiled at Buba and nodded to One-eye. "Go on."
As the food line moved forward slowly but surely, One-eye continued. "Anyone is free to come and live here but they have to contribute to the community. Be it via skilled labor, helping out where needed, or learning a new craft that will later enable them to give back to the community."
Brand stood and listened, sulking, with his arms crossed. "We ain't doing shit." He was about to say more, but the shockingly violent glare from Megan caused him to rethink that decision.
"Actually, you three will be expected of this as well. Adara will speak to you on it personally, so I don't know what exactly she has in mind."
"What happens when the rules are broken?" Buba asked, casting a sidelong glance at Brand. If Brand noticed, he ignored it.
"Violators are expelled from the camp. They are given enough food and water for a week, a map, and some survival gear. They are never allowed back in."
"Where's the nearest town?" Megan asked.
"On foot, it'd take a healthy person maybe eight days to journey there. That's assuming all conditions are perfect."
Megan and Buba both nodded. They'd already started preparing for that in their minds. Brand stepped out of line and shook his head. "I don't need this." He murmured to himself. He started to walk away from them. "I'm not hungry. Catch you later."
They watched him walk along the line of people behind them. One-eye looked up at Megan and Buba. "He'll come around. We've had some really bad people come in here, far worse than him, and they adjusted all right."
As they got closer to the food, Buba and Megan glanced at each other. There weren't entirely sure about that. One-eye clearly didn't know Brand as well as they did.