“A good scout is a dead scout.”
Wili had heard it on his second or third turn. And it had stayed with him. A dead scout is a good scout, because at least a dead scout had managed to find the enemy. A bad scout would be one that failed to find the enemy, and led his fellows into a trap.
It was a depressing philosophy, but Wili could not help repeating the phrase to himself a hundred times a turn. A good scout is a dead scout. Above all things, he wanted to be a good scout. Perhaps not above all things. Deep in his heart, Wili knew that he wanted one thing more. He wanted to live. And that was where the problem lay.
This turn it was a mass of forest hexes, two turns march from Idlesmere. There were enemies in the battlespace. Of course there were enemies in the battlespace, there were always enemies in the battlespace. But this turn the higher ups seemed quite certain about where the enemy was. In these forest hexes. Somewhere. Send in the scouts. Wili and his mates, transported here at great expense, riding in a Dwigible, saving their move for arrival. From up above, Wili had a great view of the landscape, and used his natural ability to estimate the size of their own forces. Maybe three hundred units were heading up the road to the forest – Infantry, Cavalry, great hulking beasts every so often. The army was strung out on the road, stack limited if they wanted the movement bonus. And they did. Commander Lord Dunkin was in a great hurry to meet the foe. Hence the Dwigible. And the extra stack of scouts, ready to go skulking in the woods and hopefully get killed encountering the enemy.
Wili did not hear the plan for himself, but simply followed the instructions of the stack sergeant. One by one the scouts would enter a hex, search it, carefully, thoroughly, and then head back to the boundary, where they would communicate their discovery or otherwise through a simple set of hand signals. It only cost move to enter or leave a hex. Moving around inside was a free action. Sometimes it cost move to do a really thorough check of a particularly dark grove, or a tumble of lumber. But this was to be avoided, Wili knew. Save your move. You might need it.
The next hex was a light forest hex. Not as many trees, less cost to enter, fewer places to hide. Less bonuses for forest capable units, more open space for archery. Wili got the nod, and stepped over the boundary, watching where his feet would touch the ground. A good scout is a dead scout. But to be killed by a pit-trap or trip-wire? That was not the mark of a good scout.
The hex was empty. There were some tall birches, and a scenic pond in a small meadow. But of enemies there was no sight. But there was a smell. Wili slowly drew his leg back into the shadow of a tree, and stood perfectly still. There was a smell that had no place in a light forest hex. What was it? Tangy. Brown. Shaving cream. Leather? Was it leather? Wili tilted his head and closed his eyes. Yes, it was leather, a worked product, something that would not occur naturally in a wilderness hex. But something that could be used to make a saddle, or a harness, or even some kinds of armour. It would have to be processed in a village or town. It should not be here.
Wili spent two more move. He was running low, now. The turn was coming to an end. His stack sergeant would know he had spent the move – there was some kind of natural link there. Hopefully it would alert the sergeant and his superiors that there was something odd about this particular hex. Hopefully they would not send another good scout into this hex until Wili was sure what he had sensed. Wili spent one move on increasing his stealth, and the second on increasing his senses. It would improve his chances of success at hiding and spotting. But there was nothing to see. Wili made his way around the entire hex, flitting from tree to tree, scanning every blade of grass, and searching the branches above him for any sign of…, well, of anything. Nothing. Not a sausage.
It was taking too long, Wili knew. He was holding up the advance. The entire stack was waiting for him to clear this hex before they moved on, and the Army was waiting on the scouts before they could move into their attack positions. There was nothing here. And yet, Wili knew there must be something here. He had smelled it.
Wili made his way back to the tree where he had smelled the leather. The aroma was still there, not strong, not overpowering, but clearly there. Where? There was only one part of the hex Wili had not examined minutely. The meadow, with the scenic pond. Wili had looked at it, certainly. But he had not stepped out into the clearing and walked to the water’s edge. If there was an enemy in this hex, Wili would become very obvious to them once he left the shade of the trees. It would be an easy task to cut him down. He would most likely never even realise it had happened. Decision time. Would Wili be a good scout, or would he be an alive scout?