Chapter 2

Morning rose with me just prior to the wakening horn. Warden had insisted on sleeping under the stars last night, and had also made it very clear that it was less insistence than order. As well, she made it very clear that anyone who tried to dispute might find themselves mysteriously hurt, like the soldier who accidentally fell on a crossbow bolt and a knife. We were very quick to oblige her.

Not that I minded at all. The way the average soldier would carry himself in the homes of the innocent civilians of Seren was despicable. The Holy Sun has given us this mission; who are we to place such taxing demands on those we were charged to defend? Besides, sleeping beneath the open sky placed us under the benevolent eyes of the Sun’s children, the ever-watchful Stars. Their brilliant diamond orbs shone across the infinite celestial depths, proof that the divine powers of Alcis were indeed with us.

And the nights were cooler as well; the heat of the day and the heat of the day’s battle did not leave me yearning for the heat of the hearth.

By the time the horn had chanted its descant I had dressed and splashed some cool water on my face. Breakfast was simple – a simple stew and some hard bread to dip in it. Not fancy, but plenty filling. We had some downtime after breakfast before Warden would call us for a morning run, which passed a lot more quickly than I expected.

“Taris! Get over here, we’re moving already!” Warden called over. I donned my gear, as Warden liked to have us run weighed down by arms and armor, and joined the rest of our platoon. I was lucky – my armor was mostly padded leather with a chain mail standard to cover my neck, shoulders, and upper torso. My bow and arrows, being made primarily of wood, were relatively light as well. I didn’t envy Grant’s father, who carried a large iron waraxe, though Warden who wore a haubergeon beneath padded leather and carried more weapons than than two members of the platoon together definitely had the heaviest load. And always led the pack.

Today she seemed to be feeling more lenient; instead of a hard run like we had some days, she opted for an easy jog through the fields around town. Just as well. In fact, since the hard battling had started she rarely took us faster than a jog and never for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. When we got back to town, she had us cool down and rest. This was a little different – usually she had something else in store for us, be it training or some speech or perhaps we were assigned to work on the fortifications. I walked up to her and asked.

“Warden, what’s up today? Nothing to do?”

“Something’s coming, kid. I’d wager on another attack today, probably before noon.”

“That can’t be right. They’ve never attacked two days in a row, and we just had an attack last night too.”

“Want to put something on it then, kid?”

“What, a bet? Why not? No one here’s got any coin though.”

“You’re the best fletcher in the platoon, kid. If there’s an attack today, I want, say, twenty of your best crossbow bolts.”

“All right. So what do I get if there isn’t one? I’d be more likely to hurt myself with one of your knives than anything else.”

“I’m your sergeant, kid. I’ll owe you one, and you won’t regret it.”

“Sounds like I’m getting swindled, Warden.”

She laughed, a single mirthful syllable. “You’ll see, kid. My debt to you is worth more than you think – much more than twenty bolts. You in?”

“All right, we’re good then.”

We sat for a while on silence, her on a convenient rock and myself on the ground. I watched Grant and his father sitting a little ways away, talking amiably – as if they weren’t leagues away from home fighting for civilization in a bestial land. My own father was nothing compared to this man, who treated his son with such respect and friendliness. No, my father was just that – a father. This man was dad. And look, patting his son on the back, with a smile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my father – no, let’s just call him Kyr – smile at me.

“You’re a good kid, Taris.” Warden said suddenly. “So do me a favor, would you?”

“What do you need?”

“Don’t believe any of that ridiculous drivel they give you about this war, Taris. I know what I told you all. And to keep ourselves safe, it’s best if we keep saying them. But don’t believe any of it.”

“About the Entor? They’re little more than beasts, Warden – I know this! Are you testing me?”

“No, Taris. Just trust me, kid – the Entor aren’t all bad and we’re not all good. Remember it. No more on this; don’t want to be overheard.”

Warden’s words bothered me more than I wanted to admit. She hadn’t ever led me astray yet, but ‘yet’ can be a pretty important word. Coupled with that question from yesterday – why exactly were the Entor attacking anyways? – I had to figure it out, had to understand. Maybe I missed some detail somewhere. I started to sift through everything I could think of, from the criers messages about the attacks to all the things the commanding officers told us. I mused through all twelve rounds of the card game Warden put together and managed to lose every hand and win cleanup duty for the entire platoon for an entire fortnight. By lunchtime, I still had no answer.

“It’s lunch, Warden. Where’s your attack?”

“I’ve still got all afternoon, kid. You’ll see.”

#

It was mid-afternoon. I had put aside my thinking for the day and we were once again playing cards. I’d managed to lose a week of cleanup duty and was winning the hand when battle trumpets sounded. Looking around, I saw surprise and shock on most faces – two days in a row! they thought. No way this is real, maybe the lookouts are mistaken, I bet you it’s just a drill. On Warden’s face I just saw grim determination. Grant’s dad seemed wracked with fear, and from the way he kept glancing at his son I could tell he feared only for his son’s life. It must be nothing less than torture for him to be in the army with his son.

“You owe me twenty, kid! Tonight, and don’t forget it!” Warden called over to me as the platoon readied its gear. I grunted in response.

Minutes later we found ourselves with the rest of the army charging out of town to meet the Entor forces head-on. Seren was built without walls and what little we had put up wouldn’t last against even the most basic siege weaponry. As such, most of our defenses were traps and trenches in the fields and the rest was left to us – to fight off the hordes.

The army waited in the fields for the Entor to close the distance. After all, it was probably best to let the enemy hit our traps rather than charge into them ourselves.

Scattered cheering went up as the wave hit our traps. I didn’t. I have never relished death, and watching mindless brutes fall headfirst into spiked pits or impale themselves on hidden posts held no joy for me. I glanced at Warden, and though I couldn’t see how I looked myself we probably shared the same expression.

And then it was time to charge.

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