'I'll call for the physician.'
'No! Just . . . just get some salve and bring it here. I'm not infirm. And I wasn't moaning. It was the cot.'
The boy took a pose of acceptance and backed out of the tent, shutting the door behind him. Otah let the netting fall closed again. A tent with a door. G.o.ds.
The first few days hadn't been this bad. The sense of release that came from taking real action at last had almost outweighed the fears that plagued him and the longing for Kiyan at his side, for Eiah and Danat. The northern summer was brief, but the days were long. He rode with the men of the utkhaiem, trotting on their best mounts, while the couriers ranged ahead and the huntsmen foraged. The wide, green world smelled rich with the season. The North Road ran only among the winter cities - Amnat-Tan, Cetani, Machi. There was no good, paved road direct from Machi to the village of the Dai-kvo, but there were trade routes that jumped from low town to low town. Mud furrows worn by carts and hooves and feet. Around them, gra.s.ses rose high as the bellies of their horses, singing a dry song like fingertips on skin when the wind stirred the blades. The feeling of the sure-footed animal he rode had been rea.s.suring at first. Solid and strong.
But the joy of action had wearied while the dread grew stronger. The steady movement of the horse had become wearisome. The jokes and songs of the men had lost something of their fire. The epics and romances of the Empire included some pa.s.sages about the weariness and longing that came of living on campaign, but they spoke of endless seasons and years without the solace of home. Otah and his men hadn't yet traveled two full weeks. They were still well shy of the journey's halfway mark, and already they were losing what cohesion they had.
With every day, most men were afoot while huntsmen and scouts and utkhaiem rode. Hors.e.m.e.n were called to the halt long before the night should have forced them to make camp, for fear that those following on foot would fail to reach the tents before darkness fell. And even so, men continued to straggle in long after the evening meals had been served, leaving them unrested and fed only on sc.r.a.ps when morning came. The army, such as it was, seemed tied to the speed of its slowest members. He needed speed and he needed men at his side, but there was no good way to have both. And the fault, Otah knew, was in himself.
There had to be answers to this and the thousand other problems that came of leading a campaign. The Galts would know. Sinja could have told him, had he been there and not out in some Westlands garrison waiting for a flood of Galts that wasn't coming. They were men that had experience in the field, who had more knowledge of war than the casual study of a few old Empire texts fit in between religious ceremonies and high court bickering.
The scratch came at the door, soft and apologe
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