Rose for a Thorn

They were marching again the next day, stumbling through talus and half-melted snow on the mountain’s side. Though the air was chill, Keelath sweated in his armor. His arm seemed to have only cramped up worse through the night, and he had discarded his shield to use his sword in his off hand.

They came down off the side of the mountain in the late afternoon, the men cursing and slipping in weariness. Keelath was too sore to even try to sit down as they came to a stop and the more limber flung themselves down around him. He instead walked stiffly to the sergeant’s side, peering down with him into the vale that opened beyond their feet.

The sergeant said nothing, only after a moment slapping Keelath’s good shoulder and turning to join the other soldiers. Keelath felt a chill that had nothing to do with the mountain weather; usually the sergeant had some comment or another for him when the fighting was good. His silence spoke of more being wrong than just their weariness.

He could see green shapes moving down below, and suddenly he wished Tyrric was at his side. Tyrric had another year to age before he was eligible for the military, but he was eager to follow in Keelath’s footsteps and that of their father. Keelath had tried to convince him to apply for the officer corps instead; Tyrric had a wit and a quick tongue that’d serve him well as a deviser of tactics. Now that he has seen the full fury of battle himself, Keelath also hoped to save him from the front lines. Tyrric was hardy enough, but he was no rank-and-file, not by Keelath’s estimation.

In the end, the sergeant seemed to think this was as good a place to camp as any. As Keelath volunteered for the first watch, he heard the others speaking hopefully of a cavalry unit due to reach them by the next morning, as well as hopes the trolls wouldn’t notice they were here. Judging by the increased movement he saw along the valley floor into the night, Keelath wasn’t so sure, but he kept the gloomy thoughts to himself. The others needed all the hope they could get.

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