The Long Retreat No. 85

By midday, he felt as good as he ever did—physically, at any rate. He wondered: how much of his decision to leave did the poison account for? Some, no doubt: the poison’s effect on the mind was more severe than the army’s physicians had thought. Other patients had died too soon after showing the first signs to discuss the precise nature of the symptoms.

Ultimately, though, the answer was, “Not enough.” He had always tried to be different—to be better than others who carried the diviner’s coin. Clouded mind or not, he had failed. He had let his friends, pursuing his own peace by playing the safe bet at the expense of their peace on a longer shot. Fundamentally, he was gambling either way. He should have sought their counsel, and when they told him they wanted him to stay, he should have heeded them. Water under the bridge, as unfortunate as it was. He wondered if they might forgive him. They were, after all, better people than he.

A day’s worth of fast marching should have tired him out more than it had. Perhaps the miracle plant which brought him back from the edge of oblivion had helped. Perhaps he could find a telemancer to bring him here later in search of seeds.

The roar of the river came as a surprise, but only for a few moments. He came to the usually tranquil stretch of water where the road ended, and it confirmed his suspicions. The army had magiker with power over water, and those who could control earth and stone. Turn a tranquil river into a raging torrent, build a bridge over at the end of your new road through the wilderness, and confound any enemy who might try a crossing elsewhere.

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