SWORD OF ICTIS (After the Fall, book 2 )
On the Southern borders of the Great Marsh, life moves at its accustomed pace. Twice in every day the slow implacable fingers of brackish water reach far inland over the drowned farms and villages.
To the West, at the mouths of the many tributaries that drain into the delta, razor-leafed reeds higher than a man sing their metallic song in the fresh sea breezes. Further offshore the seas break and endless wave-scoured beaches guard the shoreline from trespass, with quicksand and riptide.
Away from the coast the landscape waxes benevolent under a ripening sun. It is a fertile and beautiful land, full of plump wildfowl on mirrored pools and murmurous with birdsong and the lazy hum of insects.
Hallivick Baddon patted the sweating neck of his midnight-black stallion and gazed over the salt marsh. Screwing up his hooded eyes against the unseasonable heat-haze that danced and shimmered he tried to get a hint of detail in those far blue hills. The humid air twisted and distorted the images, beguiling his imagination, but nothing was certain.
A cold rivulet trickled down Hal’s spine, despite the sticky heat of the day and with an inward shudder he turned his grim mount away from the deceptive landscape and back toward the cluster of crude huts that was the summer camp of the marsh-men.
Hal rode brooding and erect, clad in a loose fitting shirt and trousers with his killing sword hung across his back. The black and grey cloak, trademark of a temple swordsman, lay in folds behind his saddle.
While the horse moved easily, soundless except for the muffled creak of leather and occasional spatter of iron shod hooves in the mire, Hal dwelt on the dream that had plagued him these past months since the massacre at Truda.
In the dream that increasingly fretted his self-disciplined mind it was evening. Stagnant pools reflected the pink and blue of sunset on their still waters. A pale shape drifted close to the surface, surrounded by weed and straggles of hair. The face of the drowned man looked indignant, surprised at its fate. A bubble of gas burst from the parted lips and the body sank quietly into the turbid depths, the delicate ripples fading away to pink and blue stillness once more.
In the faint blue distance, hills seemed to float like islands out of the trackless marsh. Behind those indistinct outlying fingers, a more distant line of hills formed the first ramparts that even in a dream state Hallivick had recognised as the Northlands. This was where his mission for Abbot Veryan must take him. What troubled him was that the face under water in his dream was his own.