Dyer was still behind them, but silent now: he wouldn’t answer any of his captain’s questions, and Vansen had given up asking, simply grateful not to be alone. The twilight had grown thicker. The guard captain could no longer distinguish any difference in the thickness of the moss on the trees — could barely tell the trees from the darkness. The voices in the wind had crawled deep inside his head now, cajoling, whispering, weaving fragments of melody through his thoughts that tangled his ideas just as the thickening brambles tugged at their horses’ hooves, making them walk slower and slower.
“They are coming,” Dyer abruptly announced in the voice of a frightened dreamer. “They are marching.”
Ferras Vansen did not need to ask him what he meant: he could feel it, too, the tightening of the air around them, the deepening of the twilight gloom. He could hear the triumph in the wordless wind-voices, although he could still hear the voices themselves except where they echoed deep in the cavern of his skull.
His horse abruptly reared, whinnying. Caught by surprise, Vansen tumbled out of his saddle and crashed to the ground. The horse vanished into the forest, kicking and bounding through the undergrowth, grunting in terror.
For a moment Vansen was too stunned to rise, but a hand clutched him and dragged him to his feet. It was Collum Dyer, his horse gone now, too. The guardsman’s face was alight with something that might have been joy, but also looked a little like the terror that Vansen himself was feeling, a pall of dread that made him want to throw himself back down on the ground and bury his head in the spongy grass.
“Now,” Dyer said. “Now.”
And suddenly Ferras Vansen could see the road again, the road they had sought for hours without success. It was only a short distance away, winding through the trees — but he barely noticed it. The road was full of rolling mist, and in that mist he could see shapes. Some of the figures, unless the mist distorted them, were treetop-tall, and others impossibly wide, squat, and powerful. There were shadow-shapes that corresponded to no sane reality, and things less frightening but still astonishing, like human riders dimly seen but achingly beautiful, sitting high and straight on horses that stamped and blew and made the air steam. Many of the riders bore lances that glittered like ice. Pennants of silver and marshy green-gold waved at their tips.
An army was passing, hundreds and perhaps thousands of shapes riding, walking — some even flying, or so it seemed: teeming shadows fluttered and soared above the great host, catching the moonglow on their wings like a handful of fish scales flung glittering into the air. But although Vansen could feel the tread of all those hooves and feet and paws and claws in his very bones, the host made no sound as it marched. Only the voices on the wind rose in acclaim as the great troop passed.
How long was sleep? How long was death? Vansen did not know how much time passed as he stood in amazement, too moonstruck even to hide, and watched the host pass. When it had gone, the road lay all but naked, clothed only in a few tatters of mist.
“We must… follow them,” Vansen said at last. It was hard, painfully hard, to find words and speak them. “They are going south. To the lands of men. We will follow them to the sun.”
“The lands of men will vanish.”
Vansen turned to see that Collum Dyer’s eyes were tightly closed, as though he had seen some memory locked behind his eyelids that he wished to save forever. The soldier was trembling in every limb and looked like a man cast down from the mountain of the gods, shattered but exultant.
“The sun will not return,” Dyer whispered. “The shadow is marching.”
© 2004 by Tad Williams. All Rights Reserved
- Shadowmarch Origins: The Online Serial
- Shadowmarch Maps
- Shadowmarch Art