The diseased mire stretched on in every direction: a vast expanse of rotting plants, slime, and stagnant water full of creeping, crawling life. But the midges were the worst; they swarmed the procession of tired, slumping men, pricking and stinging wherever they found exposed flesh.
When the group passed by a low hill, Herre left his horse’s lead with one of the other men of the company. Swiftly, he crested the hill and--once at the top--scoured the horizon until he spotted a small cluster of specks trudging north through the mire.
With energy renewed, Herre hurtled down the slopes of the hill and caught up with the men of his company. He pushed through them to where their lord stood.
“I see them still, my liege,” Herre answered, unable to conceal the pride in his voice.
The lord was a stern man, gray-haired and pot-bellied, yet of great strength. He was a Kerel, a noble who ruled according to the old customs of the Sorfolk: just and with steel--unlike some of the coin-counting, silk-clad men that polluted Adelfán.
Presently, the lord turned to look out over the mire and asked softly, of no one in particular, the question that was on everyone’s mind:
“Will they march through the night, or will they rest?” Unsure of whether or not his response was required, Herre kept his peace. “If they rest,” the lord said, “so may we. Yet if they march, I fear we shan’t ever catch up with them, and all of this will have been in vain.”
Herre creased his eyebrows and stroked his sparse beard, eager to look contemplative.
The lord paid him no heed and stood lost in thought for a moment. Finally, he shook his head. “We needs must rest,” he said, loud enough for all to hear. A collective sigh of relief came from the ranks. “We continue for a while longer, while we have the sun’s light still. Then we make camp.”
Herre stood torn in doubt. It was not the decision he had hoped for, nor was it the decision he had anticipated. The Trow were nocturnal beasts: it was not likely they would rest when the sun had waned, for that was when they were at their best. And while it was true that the men and the horses were tired, they had made good time, and to stop now was to lose the quarry.
“My liege,” he said, careful not to sound disrespectful. “I fear we should lose them if we rest tonight.”
The lord rested his stern gaze on Herre. “Indeed?” He said.
Herre nodded and repeated the arguments he distilled from his internal dialogue but a moment ago. They sounded less convincing now, as if they had been toppled by the might of the lord’s bushy eyebrows, which had risen at Herre’s speaking up.
“Well,” the lord said, “that may all be, but the men must rest. But I appreciate your counsel.”
And that was that. The lord led on, and Herre was left with oozing ambition and damp armpits.
And yet, as he so often did, Herre jumped over his disappointment and found opportunity. For Herre was an optimist: he saw solutions where others saw problems. And right now, a solution took shape in his mind’s eye.
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