Remember playing in the mud when you were a kid? Remember how fun it was? The mud squishing through your toes, your fingers. Smearing it on your face and in your pal’s hair. It was a sign of freedom when you’re a kid. Freedom from your parents, freedom from chores and responsibilities and church-day fancy dressing.
I tell you what, it’s a bit different when you are covered in mud because that is the only way to stop the enemy from seeing and killing you. Freedom’s an illusion only the very young get to enjoy.
There are different types of mud. Bet you didn’t realize that, did you? There’s the mud that’s basically just wet dirt, earthy smelling and rich. Reminds you of planting time when you were younger. Then there’s the sort that is sticky, and slimy. It oozes better, and is harder to get off. And if it dries, it turns to clay on you. Then there is the kind that is full of moldy things, half-rotten and full of droppings and mushrooms. Smells like what you’d expect.
Of course, it was lying in this last kind for half an hour that had me musing on properties of mud. Anything to take your mind off the stench. Anything to distract you from thinking about what you’re lying in.
You learn to ignore little things when you’re a soldier. Itches, for example. Can’t be distracted by an itch, that’ll just get you killed. So, you gotta just grit your teeth and ignore it when a fly walks slowly across your forehead. The nose is ok, you can quietly blow air out of your mouth to make it go away, but there’s nothing you can do about the forehead.
So I lay there for half an hour, ignoring the fly on my forehead, waiting for the damned enemy to show up so we could get with the killing. Now, I’m not a normally violent person, but after lying in mud and shit and mold with flies walking across my forehead which I could neither scratch nor shake off for thirty agonizingly long minutes, I wanted to kill someone. Sometimes I think that’s the entire reason our sergeants stage these kinds of ambushes. To get us in the mood.
Finally, the sound of leather creaking, harnesses jingling, and feet both booted and bovine thumping. They were here at last.
We waited while they looked around. We waited while they unhitched the oxen and let them water themselves in the small gully across the trail. We waited until the majority of the guards felt they were safe, and began relaxing in whatever shade they could find.
I turned my head slowly, oh so slowly, to look over at Jehnks. But still, he didn’t move. It was a joke around the squad, that during an ambush, you never quite knew if Jehnks was asleep or dead, right up until the moment he began to move. And then, if you weren’t looking right at him, you might miss it. So, I looked, and Jehnks didn’t move. Almost, I reached out to touch him, see if he really had died this time, when suddenly he was on his feet and moving forward. I was 3 feet away, and I heard not so much as a whisper of cloth.
Our sergeant was kinda scary sometimes.