Excerpt from Bad Places

“How did Linton pick this forsaken spot to camp?” Jonmarc asked. Usually, the caravan chose an open meadow large enough for the performance tents and trader’s stalls, with room in the back for the tents, wagons and lean-tos of the crew, plus their horses, cook fires, and the moveable blacksmith’s forge. When they were performing, the meadow also had to be close to well-traveled routes and several towns or villages in order to bring in plenty of customers.

Trent shrugged. “Nice and flat, out of the way, not likely to get us into to trouble with anyone. And there’s a village not too far up the road where we can buy provisions. We’ve camped worse places.” He paused. “Not much traffic on this part of the road. I saw a single rider earlier today, nothing since then.”

Northeastern Margolan was not as thickly populated as the southern half of the kingdom. The ground was rockier, the grazing lands sparser, and the weather colder. Since they had left the Midlands, towns and villages had been smaller and farther between. Farms looked poorer here, and even the taverns and inns they passed along the road seemed down on their luck.

Maybe Jonmarc shouldn’t have been surprised, given all that, when the caravan found a large flat open space dotted by small hills. There was a clear stream nearby for water, a stand of trees for wood, and good pasture for the horses. They had arrived that morning and the camp was still busy setting up. But something about the place made Jonmarc uncomfortable. He felt on edge, as if they were being watched, yet no one else was around for miles. That bothered him too, the isolation of the place. He kept his thoughts to himself, since his opinion of the caravan’s camping spot was of no importance to anyone.

After a morning in the forge, Jonmarc headed toward the cook wagons to bring back lunch. The caravan sprawled out across the grassy meadow. Without the need to put up the big performance tents and the avenue of food vendors and merchant’s stalls, the group pitched camp quickly, gathering their tents and wagons around the central area where the small team of cooks set out their fires and cauldrons.

Jonmarc could smell roasting meat and vegetables. Lunch was likely stew, since it made the most of whatever meat was cheap and whatever vegetables were at hand. Most of the time, the caravan’s cooks served up food that was edible and warm, which was all Jonmarc cared about.

“We shouldn’t be here!” The raspy voice turned heads and brought frowns. “We’re all in danger! This is a bad place. A very bad place.”

Jonmarc turned as Alyzza, one of the caravan’s hedge witches, stalked past with the zeal of a prophet. Her gray hair fell long and tangled, and she was stoop-shouldered, with a lined face and stained clothing. She leaned on a gnarled walking stick, but her step was quick and sure and her eyes flashed with anger. Many in the caravan thought her crazy, and perhaps she was, but Jonmarc had seen her power and knew it to be real.

“Danger!” Alyzza shouted to any who would listen. “We must leave before nightfall. We are not meant to be here. This is a bad, bad place.”