The morning had dawned again foggy and cold, with crispness that hinted at the end of summer. Grogg Cellos looked at his men, a small army of sixty. His soldiers were gaunt, with fatigue weighting on their limbs. A sigh escaped his lips. He was pushing them hard, felt bad for it, but couldn’t show any compassion in front of his men. He looked at them one last time, before turning his gaze forward and ordering them to resume walking in the mist.
They had to advance. They had to keep advancing. They couldn’t stop. Their destination was still very far away.
His hands went into the grip of his trusted sword. It was the family heirloom of some gobathien noble he killed in a fight. That was one of the hardest fights he had in his youth. He shook his head. It wasn’t the time for memories. He had men to lead.
Fernart approached him with his horse in tow. He whispered in an almost inaudible voice, so that no soldier could hear.
“So what will we do now?”
Grogg looked at him from the corner of his eye. Fernart was the second son of an upstart noble family. He lacked the arrogant nature the fallen nobles were known for. He was an amiable and attentive man of tall stature, but the skirmishes they faced at the border made him a bit colder, and this long march took away from him all of nobility’s grace and elegance. His face had become haggard, his fiery hair unkempt, and his eyes red and swollen.
“We’ll keep on marching forward.” Grogg responded with a similarly hushed voice.
“But it has been five days.” Fernart grumbled. “Never did I hear of a mist this big anywhere close to here before. Those are supposed to appear after a month’s travel! And look at these mountains around us! If I didn’t know better I would say we’re in the mist peaks!”
His voice has grown a notch. Grogg sent him a glare, and said:
“Do you have any other options besides keeping on going forward? So what if we are in the mountains of mist? It only makes us lose a few weeks’ travel, or is it that you’re scared, soldier?”
Those words struck home, as his comrade’s face grew solemn. Grogg did his best to ignore him, wearing his impassive mask again.
The breath of man and horse mingled, steaming, in the cold morning air as Fernart slowly opened his mouth. His voice was surprisingly calm:
“You understand what I mean. Aren’t you feeling that pain in your head too?”
Grogg kept his mouth shut, thinking deeply. His comrade took it as a sign to continue:
“I heard some soldiers yesterday. They were talking about how this land near the border shouldn’t have any such mists. None of them can remember what around here should be like.”
Grogg looked at his eyes. They were full of fear of the unknown. He looked then at his other side. Some rare violet flowers adorned their path. Nobody in this group knew what they were but him. Meriata. Those rare flowers could only grow in the misty peaks. He decided to stay silent about it, as it would only induce more panic. He looked back at Fernart.
“So, if we can’t remember what this land should be like, should we stop advancing? We need to report to the king”
They had to report to the king the tribes’ situation. Fernart grew silent again. He furrowed his brows, deep in thinking. Grogg decided to cheer him up.
“What if we’re in the misty peaks? We survived a fight against three hundred warriors last week. And it was eight times our numbers. There is nothing in those mountains that can even come close to threatening us—“
Fernart had stopped in his tracks, a look of utter panic on his face. He asked with ragged breath:
“How can we survive against an army eight times our numbers?”
Grogg looked back, confused. His second continued:
“That battle seemed even between our side and theirs, so how could we hold our ground? I don’t remember you using any complicated strategies.”
Grogg lifted his hand, signaling his troops to stop. He frowned, looking over them. Forty soldiers. What his friend said made sense. How could they survive that battle? Something felt off, like a missing piece of puzzle. He tried remembering. Nothing. He tried harder, and his mind started throbbing, soon becoming a headache, the same one he felt whenever he thought about what this land should be. He could feel some missing chunks of information in his head.
Should they stop advancing and look for the origin of this discrepancy? His thoughts became jumbled. He tried organizing his recent memories. He, with those thirty-six loyal soldiers, had set out from the capital two months ago. They were to survey the lands in the south, as they had got reports of the warring tribes making alliances and approaching the south borders. The moment of their arrival, they had to face over three hundred warrior that were waiting for them. His men fought hard. Some of them died, but most survived. His headaches got harder. Something was missing. He ignored it. They had retreated, as he had gotten information the king must definitively know. A question surged into his mind.
What was that information? How did he get it?
Panic took hold on him. He searched every cranny of his mind ignoring the worried look on Fernart’s face. That information was the result of the lost lives of his men. He had to remember it. He had to bring it to the king.
He heard again his comrade’s voice.
“We must be over thinking. We have been lucky to have survived such a battle. And those barbarians were unorganized, so we must have exploited some weakness of theirs. In such a battle, even if they’re ten times our numbers, there may have been a chance to turn tables on them.”
They both knew that Fernart’s words weren’t realistic, it was nothing but comforting words to stop him for trying to remember, but Grogg was grateful that his friend was ready to swallow back his earlier worries just to stop him from suffering. The soldiers were looking his way. Some of them had the same pained expression he must be having at the moment. They may have been trying to remember too.
He focused again. He had to remember. It was too vital. He tried to remember. What did he have to remember?
He suddenly felt lost. He looked back at his men. Ten men, not enough to patrol the borders. Not even a noble to accompany him. He shook his head. Did the king send him on a suicide mission? How could he only notice now?
He stood alone. His headaches grew stronger whenever he tried thinking. He shouted.
He couldn’t remember what he was doing here, alone, in the misty peaks. It was a dangerous place to enter alone. He looked around. Some weapons of all sizes were littered across the ground. Did a battle take place here? Yet there were no traces of blood or carnage…
His headaches grew again. He stopped thinking. A single thought surfaced in his mind, more important than his current situation: He had to advance. He had to keep advancing. He couldn’t stop. His destination was still very far away.
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