Of rank and file

Having crossed the flat top of the hill, Fastred stopped. "Should be far enough not to see and hear anything."

All he got from his comrade was an indefinable grunt, but at least Héorulf seemed to agree, for he also stopped and turned round. Their view was blocked by the soft slope of the hill, the tangled shrubs growing on it only adding to the general obscurity. For a while they simply stood, leaning on their spears, harkening into the night around them, but nothing could be heard of the men that had passed them. Finally, Fastred spit on the ground.

"A bloody fine guard we make, sitting in this murk, and on the wrong side of that damned hillock to be sure. Théoden King will skin us alive if anything happens to the prince."

Héorulf only shrugged. "Grimbold is our captain and he ordered us out here, but Théodred is Grimbold's superior, actually the highest bloke up the chicken ladder, so we are out of any wrinkle."

"I wouldn't call it a wrinkle if..."

Impatiently, Héorulf threw up his hand. "Just stop peeing yourself and start thinking for once, you plonker. He's not alone. Both, Grimbold and Elfhelm are with him, not to say anything about the others. What should happen to them? And his orders were clear: We did not see them and we do not hear them. So stop yakking about it."

Fastred snorted. "Easy to say. But it beats me what he's up to out there. If you hear the odd noise. .. I just don't like the sound of that, no pun intended." He shuffled his feet. "I mean, why the fuck do they leave the camp? That's not natural. If they had some wenches with them I would understand, but.."

"Don't be ridiculous. There wouldn't be any odd noise in that case."

Fastred scratched the back of his neck. "You've got a point there. But what could it be then?"

With a long-suffering sigh, Hŕorulf turned towards his comrade. "What kind of a guard are you, Fastred? One could think you learned your job with the moles. Who did you see except for the officers? Put your two ounces of brains into motion: Why was Thorvald there?"

For a moment Fastred simply stared, and them he drew a sharp breath. "Béma's balls, do you really think Théodred is making good on his threat to slice him up?"

Héorulf groaned. "Dimwit! Would he leave the camp for that? If he wanted to teach the arsehole a lesson, he'd do that in front of the men to stop the buck once and for all. Nah, it's not Théodred having a dance with Thorvald, mark my words. Didn't you see that Bard was with them, too?"

Fastred blinked. "The Eastfold bloke who barged in when Thorvald mauled Gaerwolf's shoulder?"

"Wouldn't know that there was a second Bard." Grumbling under his breath, Héorulf shook his head at his comrade's thickness. "You see, that bloke barged in as you said, and therefore the jury scrubbed the wrestling finals."

"I know, but why..."

"Goodness, a brick is smart compared to you!"

Bristling, Fastred glared at his comrade. "Well, clever clogs, if you know it all, why should that be the reason why..."

"Can't you think for once, Fastred? How high were the wagers on the winner of the wrestling competition, huh?"

Again Fastred scratched his neck. "Don't know, but surely not exactly chicken feed."

"Right. And how much do you think the Marshals have put on their respective fighters?"

"How should I know?" Fastred hesitated, his comrade's suggestions slowly sinking in. "You really think they are having their own finals because of the bets they're having up?"

Heoŕulf nodded. "I bet my weekly booze rations against your empty knapsack. Why else should the Marshals of the Mark and the two blokes that have been disqualified from the wrestling competitions meet outside the camp with nothing but a handful of chosen men for witnesses?"

Fastred sucked his teeth. "That certainly would be a fight worth seeing. What a bloody pity that the prince positioned us that far away."

Héorulf gazed up the hill. "Well… Once we really keep our traps shut, I see no reason why we should not risk an eye or two. We can sneak back here when we hear them coming back, can't we?"

Grinning, Fastred hefted his spear and started to trudge uphill. It probably would be rather an ear than an eye they risked, dark as it was, but sure being the earwitness of an illegal fight had a ring to it that made it worth the occasional disobedience. And sometimes it even was a boon to be saddled with some smart-arse like Héorulf.