The March

After the Commander finished his brief address to the citizens of the village, he promptly turned and stalked away from the middle of the square.  

Another soldier who had been standing beside the prisoners stepped forward and bellowed a command in some language that Paul did not understand, and the soldiers turned as one.  Another command and they began filing in twos out of the square.  The precision of their movements would have been more stunning for Paul hd he not been in his uncomfortable predicament.

In any case he did not have time to gawk, as a spear butt pushed against his back and forced him to move along with the rest of his companions in the direction that the first two ranks of soldiers were marching.

A hole opened up between the first two rows of soldiers and the remainder, and the spear butts were jamming them forward into the gap.  The group of them shuffled along, trying not to be tripped by the shackles binding their ankles.  Having their arms trussed behind them meant a painful fall if they slipped up.

Paul had thought that they would be herded back to the large barn just outside the village where they had spent the night before, but as the group of them were herded past the path that led to the barn it became apparent that they intended on traveling farther today.

At first the group of them managed to get a rough sort of rhythm going even with the shackles around the ankles.  Nobody fell during that first stretch of road as they were all able to concentrate on keeping their feet shambling along at a decent clip.  It lasted a fairly short time before Paul felt out of breath.  He was not used to running long distances, and especially not with the heat of the late morning sun beating down as it was.  

Paswegin was the name of the village that he had called home.  He had spent most of his life working on the small farm just outside of the village.  The group of them headed directly East and he had heard from merchants that if you stayed on it that it would lead you to the ocean, though he had never travelled nearly so far as that.

The village was long behind them when the villager in front of him stumbled on some unseen obstacle and then fell heavily forward when his attempts to regain his balance were stopped short by the shackles on his ankles.  Paul stopped dead in his tracks and barely managed not to fall forward himself.  He would have helped him up had his arms not been lashed so tightly behind him.  He had known Mark all his life, and he had never seen him look so miserable as he tried unsuccessfully to gain his feet.  

Paul heard a bellowed command and the entire company came to a halt.  Another bark brought two soldiers up beside Mark and each hoisted under his arms and yanked him to his feet.  Paul leaned over and drew breath into his lungs desperately.  He was very glad of the rest.  He glanced sideways at the soldiers beside Mark and noticed without surprise that they didn't seem out of breath.  

He noticed a pair of of legs march up to him and jerked himself upright at the terse suggestion of one of the soldiers standing near.  He found himself facing the commander, and resisted the urge to drop his eyes from that cold blue stare.  The man met his glare and the moment dragged on for many swollen seconds.  He regretted the hoarse breath that was whistling in and out of his nose, which he knew would wreck the impression of cold malice he was going for, but he stared nonetheless. 

The commander said nothing, he jut quirked his eyebrow and twitched and turned to take a few steps down the line and bent slightly to look at Marks legs.

"This will not do." He said with irritation.  "Reegan!"  A Soldier from the ranks behind him jogged up and saluted rigidly to the Commander.  "See these shackles off and water these..."  he waved his hand absently toward the lot of them.  "We will not be able to use them if they cannot walk."

Paul found his eyes following the man as he walked away toward the train of packhorses that were being led at the back of the column.  He found himself contemplating him just as the side of his face exploded in pain.  

The hard packed road slammed what little air he had out of his lungs and the subsequent kick he received in his middle left him face down writhing in the dirt for breath.  

He tasted dirt in his mouth as he gaped like a fish and wheezed.  He could feel more than see the man that had delivered the two blows leaning over him.  The man watched him for a few minutes as Paul fought for any purchase with his lungs, before standing straight again.  "Hmph!  When I saw you trying to stare down our commander I thought for sure you must be insensitive to pain, but it seems I was wrong."  A chuckle rose from the soldiers in earshot, but Paul didn't care. 

He laid on the road for a short while as his breath came back to him.  He had thought his head had hurt before, but now it was an agony, and his entire middle felt tight and shaky as he levered himself back up to his feet.  The one who had hit him had moved back amongst his peers, but Paul would remember him for later.

Three young soliders came running up from the packhorses with waterbags as their legs were freed from the shackles.  Paul drank thirstily as they dribbled water into his gaping mouth.  It was not near enough to quench his thirst, but it was enough to wet his mouth and scratchy throat.

The commander returned to stand in front of them, and they did not need much urging to stand straight and orderly as he began speaking.  

"Your legs have been unbound so that you will not hinder our march.  I will not let you hinder our march more than you already have.  Do not attempt escape.  I cannot afford time to have my soldiers chase after you.  If any of you attempt to flee I will execute the lot of you.  Do not doubt me."  

He nodded to one of his men and that one bellowed more orders and they found they were marching ahead again.  It was easier without the shackles, but before long they were trotting quickly again and Paul was regretting the glare that had gotten him kicked in the stomach.  Each breath was an agony, and it felt like one of his ribs was piercing into him with every step.  His world became the rasp of his breath and the agony of each step as it jarred his head and his body.  

The End

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