There was a blade of grass right up against his nose. Each slow, shallow breath Groll took, blew the blade of grass away and back again against his nose, tickling it.
He wanted to sneeze and knew he couldn’t.
It would be his last sneeze if he did. Groll knew that.
Now there was some bloody insect crawling up the blade of grass. Groll hoped it wasn’t the sort of insect that bit or stung. As far as he knew, this was the closest he’d been to any insect without killing it. He watched it, fascinated. All those legs, how did it know which one to move next? He watched the insect, its feelers waving around less than a finger’s breadth from his nose. Drawing closer as each of Groll’s slow breaths made the blade of grass quiver as though in the gentlest of summer breezes.
Groll had his own blades too, the sword, Stormsinger, and his killing knife. Both lay in easy reach of his hands. His fingers opened, stretched and touched the worn leather of the grips. The blades had grass covering them so that no glint from the summer sun could warn….
Groll heard them, the clink of metal, the muttering, and the scuff of marching boots on the dusty hard ground where no rain had fallen for weeks.
To the left of him, Groll heard and felt the tension.
No-one said anything. No-one sneezed, no-one farted, no-one moved. Although Groll knew, they all must want to do one or other of those things. They all knew anything at all like that and they would be dead.
They could all be dead soon anyway. But at least they would die fighting, the way men should die.
Groll felt the shudder go through him, deep down into his stomach and beyond. The ice of fear, he knew it too well. His fingers reached for the reassurance of his sword, even though he knew he’d need his dagger first.
Groll shifted his head slightly. He was under the low overhang of a bush, thick with summer foliage spreading down, almost touching the dusty path where the soldiers, the enemy, would march.
Then the enemy were there.
Groll watched the first boots pass, then a long gap, then some more. He let them all march on past him. He tried counting, but he ran out of numbers.
Groll glanced off down the path and saw the last of the soldiers, a man limping, struggling to catch up. Groll saw the man’s boot, ragged and worn, the sole falling off.
Groll reached, grabbed. He pulled and the limping soldier fell to the ground with a yelp and a grunt as the air exploded from his lungs. His last ever breath.
Groll was up and on the fallen soldier before he knew what he was doing. Scores of his comrades poured out from the undergrowth after Groll, each falling on the nearest soldier.
Groll’s blade flashed as other blades flashed too.
Groll wiped the blood from his killing knife and reached down to take his sword from the ground as his eyes searched for his next target.
It was then that Groll realised he was screaming, yelling some wordless noise.
He saw an enemy, sword raised coming for him.
Groll raised his own sword, Stormsinger, as he screamed again, charging into the fray.