Amidst a war that has spanned lifetimes, a young warrior must fight to save his friends and his country from ruin at the hands of a merciless enemy. However, if he is to succeed, he must somehow come to terms with a destiny he never knew he had...
Everything was drenched. The scrubby grass on the roadside was dripping with rain and the winding dirt road between the barren fields had become a river of mud. Deep puddles filled the ruts in the side of the road, gouged out by the wheels of the traders wagons that passed this way during the summer. Monstrous black storm clouds crouched in the sky and the rain, like millions of tiny silver arrows, hammered relentlessly into the sodden earth. A damp veil of mist clung to the waterlogged ground, spreading itself lazily across the surface of the puddles and slithering up the fenceposts on the roadside. The road itself stretched on endlessly to the horizon without even a single tree on the way to provide any cover from the downpour.
Ankle-deep in the muddy road, Gwythryn cursed. He had been walking since dawn, just before the rain started, and hadn’t seen a dry spot since. His clothes were drenched and the heavy travelling cloak, intended to protect him from the worst of the weather, had become little more than a useless soggy weight hanging off his shoulders. Even the insides of his boots were starting to get soggy as he plodded reluctantly onwards, ignoring the strands of dripping hair that clung dejectedly to his forehead. His hands completely numb with cold, but he could still feel the irritating burn of the swollen blisters on his ankles.
This was his third day of walking. Late autumn was not a popular time to travel anywhere, let alone across the moors, dales and muddy fields of the North Riding. But, as he had already reminded himself many times before, when your liege-lord called for you, you had to obey. No matter what the weather.
Then again, he thought, I'd sooner be drenched than face an angry Bragan. Blisters I can cope with, but I doubt there's a remedy for a caved-in skull.
Gwythryn smiled wryly; his grumpy master would be furious when he came back in this state. Bragan was old enough to be Gwythryn’s grandfather, but he was just as fierce and short tempered as he had been all those years ago when he had first inherited the lands from his father. Unfortunately, he had also inherited his father’s lack of sympathy for anyone besides himself, resulting in explosive fits of rage, of which Gwythryn often found himself on the recieving end. At least it’s only me this time, he thought, I don’t think the men could stand up to that sort of abuse after what they’ve been put through.
For three months, Gwythryn and his company had been embroiled in skirmish after skirmish, fighting off wild Skathain barbarians from the borders of their homeland. Their enemies had been determined, the battles vicious, and the foul weather, cramped conditions and lack of fresh food had taken a heavy toll on everyone involved. In fact, they had hated their time on the borders so much that even the prospect of a three day march home to Longhall hadn't dampened their spirits.
Thankfully, a few hours into their trek they had met a passing farmer in an ox-drawn cart travelling the same way as them. Taking pity on the exhausted troop, he had offered to let them ride with him to Vale, the small town situated in the valley just below Longhall. Gwythryn had managed to scrape together enough money to pay for all sixteen of his men - most of whom were barely able to walk from sickness or injury - to ride with the trader. However, after he had paid for his men, he had not had enough money left over to secure his own passage or to borrow a horse for the journey. He had known that the walk would not be pleasant, but this agonising slog was beyond even his worst imaginings.
At first Gwythryn had tried to keep to the roads, but that was easier said than done in the maze of winding dirt tracks and byways that littered the northern countryside. In the end he had taken a far wilder route during which he had been beset by difficulties ranging from steep hills to treacherous valleys and labyrinthine forests to endless stretches of moorland. He’d even run into a pair of bandits once, although thankfully they had decided not to risk attacking an armed soldier.
None the less, just in case others were less discriminate about thier targets, Gwythryn had taken to sleeping up trees at night. The experience had been amusing at first, but after several unexpected collisions with the ground on a particularly windy night the novelty had soon worn off. Not to mention the weather, which itself brought a whole new meaning to the word "abysmal".
At least I'll get back in one piece, he thought, trying to remain positive despite his aching feet and empty stomach. The rain can't last forever can it? I'm sure it'll clear up soon ... or at least, I hope it will. Not that I don't feel honoured to fight for my country, but I really would prefer not to get soaked in the process.