Ned moved while carefully navigating across the path over the wetlands. He kept a steady pace while looking through the lens. A green-blue haze led the way. The moon was bright, so anyone ahead could be seen well in advance. His feet squelched in the sodden grass and he slipped. Moving slower in order to stay upright, he heard a noise and froze.
Thumps and splashes ahead grew louder. Then movement. It was fast. Ned slid into the swampy waters and lay still, holding onto a clump of grass. Earth pummelled and Ned moved so low into the water his mouth was submerged. The quagmire pulled at his legs. A horse shot into sight carrying a rider. The dark shape sped past, toward Malaxia.
Ned jumped out of the water and looked both ways. The horseman was disappearing into the night. He focussed through the instrument and the path ahead was lit up. There was still a risk of traffic moving in both directions, but an even greater danger of troops in pursuit. Time was running out. He needed get through the swampland.
Ned stood on the path for a moment, listening intently. All was quiet. He held the instrument out in front and began to walk. The moonlit gleam showed the way and he moved faster. Up ahead, he could make out the tree line rising up. It meant dry land and an area perhaps safer than being exposed in the swamp. He slowed down for a more careful approach.
Ned felt it before he heard anything. The path beneath rumbled. Swinging around, looking through the hazy lens, he spotted them. Horsemen moving quickly from Malaxia. Ned stared at his feet and the edge of the swamp. He ran. Breathing heavily, the end of the swamp was nearing. But, afraid the riders may be able to see him, he dived to the edge of the path. Ned skidded on his front and entered the water. Frothy bubbles rose to the surface and drew his attention as he grabbed some grass. The noise and vibrations grew louder. A contingent of troops on horseback sped past. Ned counted the horses as they slowed and came to a halt on the solid ground just ahead. He wondered if they were looking for him. Gruff voices could be heard. At least they had not spotted him. The men dismounted and led the horses to others in the darkness. They grasped each other’s forearms. If Ned had carried on, he would have run straight into them.
Ducking low, he looked through the instrument. Moving in the stench of the water, he grabbed tufts of grass growing at the side of the path. He edged his way forward. Reaching ahead, he felt firm ground. Ned pushed the instrument into the murk below until he felt the mud suck it downwards and into the depths. It was gone. But it had served him well.