© 2010, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
Eli hopped from right to left foot, trying to get some sensation back into his frozen toes. He had every stitch of clothing he owned on in layers and he still felt the bite of the wind.
They were sheltered just outside the main stable of the keep, a few dozen steps away from the top of The Wall. He was feeling nervous, but the cold was a good distraction.
His horse whuffed at him, the same dun he’d rode from the pier. The hostler’d told him she was assigned to him for the duration of his stay on the island and suggested that he not only get to know her, but that he make a point of caring for her even when he wasn’t on patrol.
“Best way to get an animal to trust you is to spend time with em, let them get to know you,” he said. “It’s important for the horse to trust you.”
Eli nodded to himself. It made sense.
Jaycn appeared as if out of nowhere, nodding his head away from the others. He lead his own horse on its strings and Eli quickly followed him. The older man lead him out of the stable and into the thick snow. Large, fat snowflakes were falling so thick he could barely make out the other man just a few feet in front of him.
“Okay, this is your first patrol. Your job is to stay behind me, watch what I do, keep your ears open and don’t get us killed,” Jaycn said over his shoulder. Eli wanted to laugh, but there was no humor in the other man’s voice; none at all. “Your horse knows how to get around up here better than we do, so let her do her thing. Trust her.”
That’s the second person to tell him that trust with the horse is important in the past couple hours. Absently, he patted the horses neck and she ‘whuffed’ in response.
Klen was suddenly there, speaking in a low voice to Jayn before nodding to Eli and moving back into the stable.
“Time for us to move out,” Jaycn said, mounting his horse. Eli did the same. “Stay close,” Jaycn added as he clicked his horse forward and started up the ramp. After a pair of heartbeats, Eli followed.
The snow was thick, the wind biting at it whipped over the crest of The Wall, causing him to reach for his scarf and pull it up to cover his ears and the lower half of his face. Blinking through the cold, he spurred his horse forward and onto The Wall.
The sky above was white with clouds and snow. The sound of his horse’s hooves changed from an almost hollow clop to something deeper and more ominous as she picked her way through the ice and snow. He was sure that sound was simply his imagination playing tricks on him.
Looking out, he saw nothing but a white, deep haze all around him.
“It’s there,” Jaycn said softly and Elias noticed that there wasn’t really any other sound up here; the rest of the squad were still in the stables and hadn’t even begun moving up the ramp. “The forest. Just behind that mist and fog. Waiting. You’ll see it before the weeks out. Most times you can hear it too – creaking. On the really bad days, you just feel it, like a pressure building, pushing in on you.”
Elias nodded again, eyes squinting. Hoping he had the time, he pulled the scope out of its case again, extended it and put it to his eye. Through the snow and mist, he could just barely make out… something. It could be a tree, but that scared him because a tree as tall as the Wall would be the biggest tree in the world. Imagining a whole island full of such trees just made him shiver.
“Best get moving,” Jaycn said as he turned his horse east. Elias followed him, fumbling to replace the scope in its case. “We look for anything out of the ordinary,” Jaycn reminded him. “Cracks in the wall, no matter how small, get reported to the Engineers. Anything green, shout your head off. Stick close. The rest of the squad will follow in a few minutes. Ready?”
Eli wanted to say ‘no’, but he nodded instead. Jaycn looked at him, face blank, then turned and spurred his horse forward. Eli followed.