PART TWO: FIRST SURGE
The rain started during the night. When Sor shut his eyes sometime before midnight, gazing up at the sky, the stars had been winking brightly at him and the slender crescent of the waxing moon had been sliding toward the horizon. Shortly thereafter, the clouds had come scudding in from the northwest, bringing with them a plummet in temperature and a storm citizens of Devforth frequently referred to as an "Autumn splash."
Sor awoke with the falling of the first cold, fat drop on his face. By the time he sat up in his bedroll, it was raining steadily, and it didn't take more than a few minutes for the precipitation to become a downpour.
There was little a common soldier could do other than get wet. The high-ranking officers had tents, but everyone else was supposed to endure the rigors of the weather. Professional militia men were not to be disturbed by little things like long marches, blistered feet, and getting soaked in the middle of the night. Sor grimaced considering the sort of advice his unwanted companion of the day would have given him.
At least his unease about the coming battle was gone. Glancing around, Sor saw no evidence of the lieutenant who had come to his and the others' cookfire and taught them the value of singing and joking on the eve of war. Right now, that man was probably sleeping soundly beneath one of a dozen canvas pavilions.
Although he would never have admitted it, a part of Sor wished at the moment he was home beneath his parents' roof - warm and dry. If love meant making the kinds of sacrifices he had gone through today, he was sure it was overrated. The poets never wrote ballads about sore calves, muddy campsites, and wet bedrolls.
"Are you awake?" came a voice from out of the darkness nearby. It was a silly question, since Sor, sitting up, was obviously not asleep. He turned to see that another of the small group of recruits, a lad named Tui, had shed his blankets and gotten to his feet.
Tui was about a year older than Sor. He was good looking, with a lean body and shoulder-length fair hair, and sunny-natured. His parents were farmers although, according to him, his father was the son of nobles who had gone into hiding around the time of the purge. Sor didn't know whether to believe Tui about this or not but, either way, it was a harmless story.
"What is it?" asked Sor, also rising. He didn't see himself getting any more sleep in this weather. Used to curling up next to a fire on a night like this, the idea of rolling around in freezing mud lacked appeal.
"There's a rumor we may not be going on to Tsab tomorrow - the city has already fallen and we're on our way back to Vorti to defend her against an invasion."
"Who says this?"
Tui shrugged. "I heard a pair of sentries talking. They said a messenger arrived a few hours ago, and the pair that just rode in were also from the front. The lights have been on in the queen's tent all night, and none of the battle commanders have gone back to their own pavilions."
"They're planning," said Sor.
Tui shook his head. "They had everything planned beforehand. The only reason they'd be meeting this late is if they were changing the strategy. Mark my words, when we march tomorrow, it will be east, not west."
"And what does that mean for Tsab?"
"I'd think that was obvious. If we head for home, it means there is no more Tsab."
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