You might be wondering why you’re feeling like your shoulder is burning. I can explain. I’ve told Albarran to remind you to read this when you awaken:
There was fog. Fucking fog. As if there wasn’t enough in the days before. And you had no idea when it rolled in. All you knew was that everyone’s nerves seemed balanced on a blade’s breadth. You awoke to Khalee shoving your shoulder—that’s not why you’re in pain. I’ll get to that.
“Wake up,” she hissed. “We’re surrounded. Too much fog to see a damn thing. Get your sword out. Our army is being followed.”
“Where are we?”
“We stopped to rest in a forest glade.”
Ser Albarran retrieved your sword and shield and shoved it into your hands. “We’ve no time to tarry,” he said. You noticed his hands were shaking.”
“We’ve been followed for three days,” Khalee told you. “Most like it’s the House of Em’s men.”
You could see figures through the fog. Or perhaps they were trees. I wouldn’t be surprised if you confused the two. It’s not beneath you.
“This can’t be my final stand,” Khalee muttered. “Where are my bare-breasted horse-women?”
You snorted out laughter. The air was sharp as blood, or pine.
The mist monsters was joined by fellow figures. You could see a single long claw extending from the middle of their hands.
One of them gave a shout, and they ran for you. Figures emerged from the grove, screaming and running.
You mimicked their shout, and heard bowshots whisper and javelins hurl. There were wet sounds like buckets thrown into wells.
You gave ground to one of the mist monsters, who swiped their long claw at you. You made a lacerating swipe back and the mist-monster collapsed. Your eyes stung with the sweat dripping down from your forehead and the clash of sword on sword. Your vision was colored with gray and red.
Albarran and his Housemen surged forward. One man on foot tripped, and the men on mounts could rein up before they tramped down on his skull. He didn’t even have time to scream.
You followed the throng of men, half carried as you turned along the flank. But you cut your way through the mist monsters, spilling hot blood with one hand and punching with the other, hand coming away bruised. You ran your fingers through sweaty moist hair and drew bloody smiles along throats you couldn’t see. You were slaying monsters, I assure you. Not men.
You could hear Khalee and could vaguely see her hacking at the mist monsters. She was chopping at them with her sword, churning through them with the composure of a tantruming child.
Even as you put your sword through a mist-man’s throat–or mayhaps it was his abdomen–you wondered how you knew what a child looked like throwing a tantrum. Did you have a child? Did you know any children? Were you ever a child yourself? Who’s to say you didn’t burst forth fully grown from your father’s head. It’s not as impossible as it seems. Khalee says it’s happened to the Nailed God’s cousin, once.
Albarran was charging with a contingent of riders. He let out one long wail. Whether it was a cry of war or tears you couldn’t quite tell. One of the horses kicked a man in the head as the mount churned up clumps of dirt. He’d gotten too close to its rear. Their stampede seemed to drag sticks and stones and men from the ground. You worried they might churn the ground into some fluid form you might sink into.
In the midst of that you felt a painful, sharp feeling as something slivered through the back of your shoulder and tore a hole through the front. There were sweaty fingers in your hair as you were jerked back, looking up at the sky as the mist-monster raised its long claw.
Before your attacker could make a clean strike, you seized it by either side of its head and dropped, bringing it down with you. The two of you rolled and punched and kicked and bit. If you have flecks of dirt or a taste like metal in your mouth, that would be from this struggle. You tore away part of his palm before he dropped his weapon and his flesh lingered in your mouth. You didn’t have time to spit it out until your hand turned on a slick stone. You struck the mist-man with it. Blood started leaking from its head as you kept striking like an angry child punishing a beetle. Then you spat its palm onto its face.
It had long since stopped moving, but you didn’t want to recognize it. Tears were coming down your face, and you were laughing.
Sometimes I wonder if you’re insane, Carth.
You fought off the last of the mist-men and the fog was lifted by the sunrise, when you rejoined with the Lord Crom-cil-Orm on his march.
He explained many of the details I’ve explained to you later in the day when he produced a needle with a piece of string tied to one end. To your amazement, through his repeated stabbing with his needle, he actually managed to close the wound you received in your shoulder. He later told you that he burned it while you were unconscious. You failed to see what purpose this served.
Apparently the men were mountain-raiders, belonging to no House. It was just the sheer bad luck that you were there, then.
So don’t start thinking you’re dying if you feel pain in your shoulder. You were just injured by monsters.
Nothing more than monsters. I promise.