Harding squatted next to Blue-Eyes and handed him a heel of dry bread.
'See anything?' he asked.
Blue-Eyes shrugged. 'Not much. Reckon I saw movement in the pass, couple of hours ago, but this damn fog ain't making my job any easier.' He sniffed at the bread, frowning. 'We got any butter?'
Harding snorted laughter. 'Bread's all we got, and there ain't much left of it. Be thankful for what you get.'
'I'd be more thankful for a prime cut of beef,' Blue-Eyes said, chewing reluctantly on the weeks-old bread. 'Roasted on a spit, maybe. Smothered in rich butter.' He stared dreamily out into grey depths of the misty forest. 'Fat sizzling on the coals,' he murmured, Harding forgotten.
His heart beat like a drum against his rib cage, blood rushing through his head like a river. He was shaking with fear, excitement and impatience, one hand clamped around his axe like a vice, the other gripping his round shield. Through the mist, he could see the line of dark shapes moving through the valley like a great snake.
Soon, the chief would sound the charge. Soon, the Northwind tribe would descend from the mist like wolves falling upon sheep, and the White-Spear tribe would be no more.
He started as something hit his forehead. For just a moment, he was certain that it was an arrow. I'm dead! He thought. The battle hasn't even started, and I'm fucking dead already! The drop of water ran down his face, dangling from the tip of his nose. He stared cross-eyed at it for a moment before it dropped off. He looked up. Rain.
'Shit,' he whispered.
The chief had sounded the charge too late. Harding knew this even as he ran screaming down the hill towards the White-Spears. The rain had driven away the mist too quickly, and now White-Spear arrows were picking off men all around him. They had already formed the shield-wall, spears pointing at him like accusatory fingers. Harding ran as fast as he could. He had to close the distance before-
He was on the ground, staring at the . He blinked, confused, and tried to stand up. He gasped as pain shot through him like lightning. Breathing hard through gritted teeth, he lifted his head to look down.
One arrow jutted from his chest, another from his gut. He almost passed out from the sight of the.
'Shit,' he muttered. 'Shit. Shit.'
Someone charged past him, heavy scale boots clanking and rattling, and Harding tried to stand again. The pain was too much, and he fell back onto the wet dirt.
The drops of rain fell like hammer blows on Harding Redhand's bruised and battered body.
He could hear sounds of battle not far off; the clash of swords and shields. The thump of axes biting into wood and steel and flesh. The rapid series of twangs as someone let loose a flight of arrows. The screams of men. Harding wondered who was winning.