The smell was foul.
The island was small, no bigger than an acre or so, but it was big enough for men to die on.
I’m still not sure how many were there, although I’m fairly sure as to how it all played out.
When I pulled the canoe up to the shore, I heard a dog snarling and snapping, and in a few minutes, I knew why.
The dog was tearing at a corpse, digging out the bones and working toward the marrow as they were wont to do. There were a few more corpses lying around, but they’d been picked over by the birds and the dog himself. When the dog saw me, I raised my hands to show they were empty.
“It’s your meal,” I told him. “I’ll not try and rob you of it.”
I doubt he understood my words, but there was no mistaking my tone. He knew I didn’t want his food, so he sank down into the filth of the corpse and set about his meal.
As I passed by the dog and his dinner, I looked at the ground to see what had happened.
Near as I could tell, there’d been a hell of a fight.
I saw the tracks of a dozen men, and then they split up. It appeared they’d taken sides over some issue, and there were three men to one and the remainder on the other. I could see the dried blood and the bits of bone scattered about the dirt, the fire that had burned itself out. Some men had dragged themselves off to the scrub brush that covered the island, and when I went to look, I found bits of bones and stretches of flesh. Here and there, a face peered up at me, their eyes dull and glazed. They were lucky the birds hadn’t found them yet.
When I walked back the way I came, the dog was gone. A trail, left by a dragged bone, led off into the brush.
For a short time, I considered trying to bring the dog home and setting fire to the island. Neither would work, though. Most animals, once they got a taste of human flesh, preferred it above all others. More importantly, the island wasn’t quite right.
It stood too close to the Hollow’s shore, a sure sign that the island might vanish at any moment.
I turned my back to the island and made my way to the canoe.
It was early still, and there were more places to check for my mother’s soldiers.