Ned moved through the waters at the edge of dry land, away from the pathway. He hid in the swamp and silently looked at the hordes of men in the open land ahead. Merchants had amassed carts near the pathway over the marsh. They were herded into a line and those in the lead had already begun to make the final stage of their journey to Malaxia. Ned could see into the back of the nearest cart. The moonlight shone on barrels and boxes of wares ready to be transported in.
He wondered if his escape had been noticed yet. Everyone in the immediate vicinity seemed to be soldiers, merchants or Malaxian bureaucrats scribbling on manuscripts, arranging some sort of order. The carts slewed to a halt on the path. Shouts of administrators lulled as thumping and splashes rose from the swamp. It grew louder. Ned remained still and submerged as far as possible into the swamp. The awful rhythm could mean only one thing. He knew that noise. Soldiers.
Eight warriors, armed to the teeth, loomed into view. Kroll raised a fist in the air and they came to a halt. He growled at an official.
“You!! Come here!”
A meek man wearing an expensive cloak hurried over.
“Has anyone seen a boy come this way?”
The official scuttled toward to the merchants and a discussion broke out.
“Hurry up!! We haven’t got all night!!”
A soldier patrolled nearby. He was searching the edge of the swamp. He passed by Ned, who remained still, holding his breath.
A merchant strolled forward, puffed up with authority. “Look here, err… what’s your name?”
Kroll leaned forward and glared at the man. Soldiers detested merchants. While they fought wars, men like this got fat and rich. This merchant was far too self-important for Kroll. He grabbed the man’s coat and forced him closer.
He spoke menacingly. “Has anyone seen a boy around here?”
The merchant shook his head. Alarm struck the man when he realised who he was facing. Kroll cast him aside and the merchant fell in a heap.
“Right, get out of our way!!”