“Fear not,” Marcus said. “Beasts have no mind. But we are one mind.”
I shook my head, and would have questioned him. But Jerem Cozak gave an order, and Marcus joined Jerem in getting the Never-born into formation. This was not our usual long and trailing column, but three spread apart, flank from flank, with wide gaps between. I followed Jerem Cozak’s short column down the center. Marcus and Julius spread the rest of the Never-born on either side.
We marched. Julius had taught me that this was the formation desired for infantry taking a long and difficult approach toward battle. Now I saw why this was so, as a column of more than three hundred Never-born responded to the commands of each of them, and flowed right or left around a field of boulders or copse of trees – but never so far that one column could not move quickly to aid another.
For a long time there was only the tramping of steel on grass and ground and gravel. Down, and down, and down we marched. Or I should say the Never-born marched. In the rear of the column, I resorted to the shuffling jog to which I had become accustomed. The front of my thighs burned, but that ache, at least, was now familiar. Our shadows lengthened through the afternoon.
When the sun reached the line of peaks behind us, the first mastodons trumpeted. They had seen the last of the light glinting on our armor, or scented us when the cooler winds of evening came downhill. Soon came a din all around the lake, as the mastodons communicated news of our intrusion. I reminded myself that these were not the warring mastodons of the veilmen of Sepira. This valley had not been found or trod by humans since the time of the first Faith, four hundred years before.
But my cold black wave of dread returned. Abruptly and with shouted commands, the whole formation pivoted to face the dark line of a forest to the south. We had been flanked. Marcus and Julius and Jerem spread the columns out. We made those four ranks which, I have learned, only ever face a charge of mastodons.