Though it is still dark when the man wakes, he was not supposed to fall asleep.
He could have dozed for a few minutes or a few hours, an unknown variable that may cost him his life. He inhales through his nose, dreading the scent of dawn. The sun will soon split the skyline into red and gold, and on this day, darkness is an ally.
He packs with haste and peers out of his tent.
A trained killer unfamiliar with fear, he makes an uncharacteristic mistake that will change the lives of everyone in his kingdom, and that of a boy he has never met.
His footfalls make no sound, but that does not comfort him.
His pursuers will be silent as well.
His tension eases as the morning wears on, and after an hour he is sure that he can take a break to check his inventory and sooth his dry throat. He squats against a tree large enough to hide his frame and opens his leather bag.
It is not comfort that makes him miss the inconspicuous snap in the distance, nor the feeling of security that makes him ignore the shadow that appears for only a second.
It is what he finds at the bottom of his sack that distracts him, letting his finely tuned senses slip. Apprehensively, he pulls out the familiar sphere that he meant to leave behind.
A whisper from the distance pulls him back and by luck, or an unlikely miss, an arrow shoots past his ear and hits the tree across from him. He does not need to look to know who shot it.
He will only be this lucky once.
His luck has run out too soon.
On his feet again, he is alert of everything that he missed seconds before.
Damn it! He screams internally, clutching the flat sphere in his fist.
Any move now, no matter how small, must be calculated or it could be his last.
He listens to the wind, the earth, the trees.
He focuses his eyes.
Takes a breath.