Neither was too proud to display their eagerness to aid their people. Especially in front of one another. Without a word, each bent down to gather up a portion of the scattered potatoes, tossing them into the basket as they went.
Starr and Raye had been watching one another from the corner of their eyes. Sizing one another up. They couldn't be too obvious about it. They were not supposed to be enemies. But envy was hard to resist, considering the reputation each carried with him. Full blown competition between them would not have been good if they were supposed to work in the same vicinity, much less work with one another.
Yet it was difficult for each to ignore the relative merits of the other.
Starr had a reputation for speed and technical skill on the battlefield, something Raye always lacked. Though Raye could hold his own with raw power, his parents would always mock his lack of agility. When this was picked up by his schoolmates, he would fly into rages of shame and destruction.
No one dared mock his clumsiness or brutishness these days. Not because these weaknesses were gone, but both because those around him had matured, and because he had earned their respect.
Starr, on the other hand, envied Raye because of his success off the battlefield, something he was never personally able to hold on to for long. Raye commanded a vast army, whose loyalty and love for their lord was something Starr could only dream of.
Not only was Raye a formidable foe personally in battle, he had already reached a position where he no longer needed to do his own fighting. Standing beside Raye made Starr feel inconsequential, like merely one prized suit of armor amongst a vast arsenal.
Neither Starr nor Raye were able to reveal their own feelings of inadequacy. They both had too many personal admirers for them to admit their insecurities. They were both too proud.
While their admirers might debate among themselves who was the better man, Starr and Raye mainly worried about one another, unsure they could work together, unsure they could discuss any semblance of strategy without seething with anger and unspoken resentment. They could see the day would come when the issue would be forced, but they feared things would not go as they wanted.
They wanted the same things, the same good-natured camaraderie, but were unsure if their own egos would even allow it. It wasn't something they could talk about, not with war on the horizon. Yet something had to be done within the protocol of war if they were going to be expected to be on the same side, to work well together.
And so they could not eye one another directly - that would mean acknowledging the tension that had no clear resolution. They circled one another in a peculiar dance - not one of enemies, but also not one of allies - both aware of the other yet neither making any direct show of noticing what was going on, magnifying one another's fear of humiliation when the other was present.
It was then that the basket of potatoes spilled from a market stall.
When Raye picked up the last one, Starr offered him the basket, and Raye dropped it in. They looked at one another for a moment, nodded without smiling, and returned the basket to the potato merchant.
The next day, they were discussing plans and tactics on the battlefield as if they had just met, and also as if they had always worked with one another. They wouldn't mention anything that happened before that day on the battlefield. When the horns called them, they would ride down the same hill, in the same direction, under the same flag.
It had started to rain.