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Chapter One

Thick mist swirled in slow, heavy clouds on the chill breeze, rising from the cold, standing water and scarcely thicker mud of the swamp. Somewhere above the mist, the sun crawled towards midday, burnishing the upper reaches of vapor with a golden aura that was delicately beautiful in its own way. All thirty of the mounted men were liberally coated in mud, however, and the golden glow did little to improve their tempers.

It would be the Bogs, one of the trackers growled, grimacing at the mounted troops commander.

Would you really prefer the Gullet? the grizzled horseman responded in an equally sour voice.

Not really, Sir Yarran, the tracker admitted. But at least Ive been down the Gullet before. Halfway, at least.

Sir Yarran grunted a laugh, and so did most of his men. Their last trip down the Gullet had not been a happy one, but the men in this troop were not so secretly delighted by at least one of its consequences. Yet the laughter faded quickly, for like Sir Yarran, all of them were unhappily certain that the mission which brought them to the swamps this morning had been sparked by an effort to undo that consequence.

Sir Yarran rose in his stirrups as if those extra few inches of elevation could somehow help his sight pierce the billowing fog. They didnt, and he growled a mental curse.

Well, lads, he said as he finally settled back into the saddle, Im afraid weve no choice but to keep going for at least a bit farther. He looked at one of his men and pointed back over his shoulder the way theyd come. Trobius, go back and find Sir Kelthys and his men. Tell him were pushing on into the swamp. He grimaced. If he cares to join us, hell be welcome, but theres little point his wallowing about in there, unless hes nothing better to do than freeze his arse off in muddy water along with the rest of us.

Aye, Sir Yarran. Trobius sal uted, reined his horse around, and went trotting off into the mist. Sir Yarran contemplated the swamp ahead of them sourly for a few more moments, then grunted resignedly.

All right, lads, he said. Lets be going. Who knows? We might get lucky enough to actually find something to track.

Aye, Sir, the tracker acknowledged, and urged his horse forward, picking a careful path deeper into the watery muck. And pigs may fly, too, he muttered to himself, and Sir Yarran glanced at him. Fortunately, his voice had been low enough Sir Yarran could pretend he hadnt heard him. Which suited Sir Yarran just fine. Especially because he was in complete agreement with the other man.

He watched the tracker and his two assistants making their cautious way deeper into the treacherous footing, then sighed and clucked gently to his own horse.

Prologue | Wind Rider's Oath | * * *