Todd called for the march two days after he had confided in Edwin. They had not spoken since and neither man acted like they had conversed at all.
The camp had the appearance of a band of savages, rotted by the bitter cold and harsh weather. The whiteness of everything was making Edwin start to feel sick and the blinding light it reflected from the Sun had given all of them an endless headache that felt like it was splitting their brains apart. When the order came to begin walking again, people had sprung up before Todd could even finish his sentence.
All around the camp people rushed to gather their packs together, tugging down crude shelters and hastily folding ice-coated sheets into mouldy bags. Fires were stamped out violently with half-laced boots and weapons were swung carelessly over backs or into scabbards. Some people talked fervently, eager to move on, bouncing around in their impatience. Others were much more solemn and silent awaiting orders and wondering what Todd’s next move would be. There was many more of the first type of person. The Alliance had good patience, but it had been greatly stretched in recent days.
Edwin checked over his kit with an analytical eye, carefully packing each item into his bag. He noticed his hands were shaking a little, but couldn’t decide whether that was from relief, apprehension or avidity.
Nayah bounded over to him, her excitement radiating off her like a flame.
“Are you ready yet?” she asked, tapping her bag repeatedly with her hands.
“Getting there,” said Edwin shortly, finishing up. He checked over his bow last, looking for signs of wear or rot. It definitely had seen better days, but it was made of good wood, supposedly enchanted for protection, and it looked like its old, reliable sturdy self.
They set out walking as the sun peaked in the sky. It was so low down at this time of year, like it had been weighed-down by the stresses of winter. Todd walked ahead, leading the way, with Jonathan by his side, silent as always.
The party was alive with whispers as they walked, like a thick swarm of energetic bees in the peak of summer. Edwin smiled at the thought – bees and summer… such a world away from this. He found himself longing for the pungent, thick sickly-sweet smell of pollen on his nose and the tickle of grass on his legs. He closed his eyes, pretending the snow under his feet was mossy soil, warmed by the sun. The sun fell on his face, painfully cold, but he pretended it was the chill of early morning when dew topped the grass and the birds sang. He turned the surrounding chatter into the music of the birds and the rustle of small animals through leafy green trees.
He managed to maintain this blissful state for five minutes, until Nayah crashed into him as the group halted abruptly. On the horizon, Edwin realised he could see faint jagged peaks, obscured by cloud and snow.
“You may have noticed we’re on the move again,” said Todd, grinning at the Alliance’s improved mood, relieved that the tension that had hung on to them had lifted somewhat.
“That’s where we’re headed,” he continued, pointing to the far-off mountains, “The journey will be hard, as it always is, but… I expect that this time we may be rewarded for our hardship.
Murmurs of interest leapt around the group. It was uncommon for Todd to be so optimistic. As Edwin was fully aware, Todd knew how destructive false hope could be.
“What sort of reward?” called out one of the louder and larger of the men, “In case it’s escaped your notice, I’m looking a little thin around the middle.”
“It would take you a hundred years o’ this to look thin around the middle, Tommy,” muttered a man next to him.
“It’s big bones, that’s what it is. Big bones need lots of feeding,” he patted his girth proudly, grinning broadly.
“Do not get too excitable men,” said Todd, “I am unsure of what is waiting for us up there, but with conditions like we have suffered of late I expect it shall offer better things than here. The march will be swift and painful. But perhaps all our feet need a little work and warming after the rest.”
“Rest?” snorted a woman, “Not sure I agree with your definition of rest there sir.”
Todd smiled, “Sorry to hear that, Cressida. I’ll be sure to hire some quaint cottages for your usage next time.”
“Yeah I’ll hold you to that one,” she said, patting her sword amiably.
They set off soon afterwards, carrying the light-hearted mood with them. People laughed, joked and danced along the snow, kissing and hugging. Nayah clasped hands with Aadam, showering him with her affections, to which Aadam happily returned. The Alliance buzzed with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.
But Edwin’s hands were still shaking. He could not help but think Todd had been too quick to share his plans, despite his earlier views on Todd’s secrecy. The energy and zeal that had so quickly knitted the Alliance together could just as swiftly shatter them to pieces.