Afternoon, in the spring. Heavy clouds overhead diffuse the sun’s light into a grey wash. Rain falls, light and steady, as it has all day. As it has all week. The North Talabec Road has dissolved into thick mud.
A rider appears suddenly around the bend of the road. Klaus, a veteran guardsman, is drawn to the movement at the edge of the forest. He raises a hand to shield his eyes from the drizzle. Half a mile away. Black horse. Wheels around, twice, before the rider pushes on toward the gate. A fast trot, splashing through the muck. Weaving through a line of refugees in the road.
“Wilhelm.” Klaus summons one of the other guardsmen keeping watch as the customs men levy tolls and fees on entrants to the city. Wilhelm, tall, young, wisp of a beard steps through the knot of people and wagons gathered near outside the gate.
“He better slow down,” says the younger man, “someone could get hurt.” Everyone at the gate is now watching. They begin scattering to either side of the road. Fifteen feet away, the rider reins the horse in. It stumbles and the rider loses his seat. Falls hard, on his back, a loud smack and a big grunt as he hits the muddy earth. The little crowd is startled.