Another step, then another. Just walk. Don’t think about the smell or the blood staining my cloak, continue. Just walk. He thought dazidly. Elenora, poor woman, stumbled on a few paces ahead, trying to carry the armor they had scavenged while he bore the body of the late Sir Gale of Chaeyor, her husband. “James,” Elenora called to the boy where he stood on the other side of Renstone ford, “come, and aid us.” Her voice was hoarse, so different then its usual musical sound. So many tears and thirst on the ruined fields betwixt warring Chaeyor and Goalaet.
James, sensitive boy that he was, quickly realized that something was terribly amiss and hard work would supplant whatever comfort he might give his poor mother.
He leapt down and dashed through the shallow stream and took the gauntlets and armor from her trembling arms. Erick’s knees buckled, his hands losing their grip on the hilt of James’ sword and teetering back.
With a clatter of his scale mail, Gale’s mutilated form rolled off his back, sword and all, striking the scorched dirt. Elenora turned, her expression asking what else could go wrong this day. James seemed to notice the body, for the first time taking his attention from his grief sick mother. No explanations were necessary, he simply returned the armor to her with a word of consolidation and walked over to help his mentor.
Erick took the legs at the ankles while James took his fathers wrists, plainly seeing that one hand was gone, despite the gauntlet Elenora had bound to the stump. No words, but it was plain the boy was only now comprehending that the lies his uncle had told him when he threw them out had come true.
The two Chaeyorians rocked gently where they sat on the long grasses, wracked by sobs, the man they had both loved dead before them, the spear hole still visible. Erick sat also, his expression stony as he cooked his ration for the day. Mourning Chaeyorians rarely ate until the departed was buried with the proper rites. Poor boy, to lose such a fine father before he even reached manhood. the man mused grimly. A frog somewhere nearby croaked, even his voice seeming to contribute to the gloom as the suns last light faded from the western sky.
The sandy earth was soft though it still contained enough clay to form clumps. Not that it mattered terribly when all he and his charge were using was swords. Both worked mechanically, until a hole, roughly seven feet long was excavated and Sir Gale’s body was lying, cleansed of blood and ash in his grave. Erick dug out some sheep hide and his bedraggled quill and began scratching out the words his lady dictated in her choked tone. He briefly prayed, asking for comfort for these two and for the will of the King to be done, though he couldn’t fathom this matter.
“So much pain,” he murmured to the dead man as he and James began shoving the dirt whence it came. “I haven’t a clue why he died, Lady, but I’ll find out, I promise I will.” She barely seemed to hear his sympathetic words, only staring red-eyed at the ground.
James stacked the last stone atop the mound of stream rock they had piled over the grave to honor the fallen warrior. It was done now, though the hour was late, Elenora continued to keep her vigil long after her son and companion had fallen asleep.
Three days had rolled by the small camp on the edge of the Renstone rivers narrow source. Both Elenora and her son were eating the bland food disinterestedly now, though Erick guessed Elenora would have left most of the bread lie had her son not been so adamant that she feed herself. She would still keep her vigil, crying occasionally before the cairn of stones. James was listless, still seeming stunned by fate’s blow.
“I want to… begin my training now, Sir,” James stated, using the honorific Erick couldn’t bear to be addressed with. Not after…
“Very well then, first, stop addressing me as though I were a knight, some good man. Second, grab the gear we scavenged for you and let’s see how it fits.” The young man, not more than seventeen years of age, retrieved the shining short sword and set his shield by the bush as Erick instructed.
“First, this is not a wooden sword. If you hit anyone with this weapon it will cut, be deliberate. Don’t hurt yourself, alright?” the former knight said as he demonstrated whetting the blade with his own stone, watching the boy carefully as he copied his motions. James nodded, studying the Goalaetian man with his gleaming weapon.
“Have you ever slain a foe or laid siege to a city?” James asked, a bit of the remaining boyish enthusiasm creeping into him again. The exile shrugged noncommittally and got to his feet.
“Come now, enough staining our breaches with this foul grass. Strap on your plates and grab your shield. Let’s see what your former teacher managed to do,” Erick said, standing and drawing the dagger from his belt.
Erick swung his long weapon in an arc, briefly catching a ray of sunlight then bringing it crashing down on James’ upraised short sword. Locking the weapons he heaved against the boy, swinging his knife around to slash at the young man’s stomach. Up went the old Lupinite shield, deflecting the blow as James hurriedly backpedaled.
“Never leave yourself open. I’m no Chaeyorian, I hit hard, not fast and frenzied. Which reminds me…”
“…and most importantly, never get your blade caught like this,” the ruddy haired man said as he scissored the pair of swords, briefly forcing James off balance.
Quick as he was able, Erick withdrew his shorter sword and threw his hardest blow against his opponent’s blade near the diminutive hilt. The boy shied away as his sword flew from his grasp, nearly beheading him as it sliced through the late summer air.
“I see your point, Erick,” James said, looking up the length of his mentor’s sword, “that is not a good idea.”
“Still want to use one of those?” Erick asked, nodding towards the tenuous blade lying on the slope.
The boy simply looked away and shook his head emphatically. Did he know Erick wouldn’t teach him how to use the slender, fragile sword? Most likely.
“Shoulders farther back, boy! No, get a firmer stance, feet at shoulder width. Please,” Erick said as he impatiently tried to teach the left-handed boy archery with his right hand holding the grip rather than pulling back the string. As if that were not enough to deal with, James had never even tried firing a left-handed bow. What kind of tutors did his mother hire for him? The exile wondered yet again as the boy sent his shaft winging into the river.
“I bow to your experience,” James finally said after his third attempt to hit the patiently croaking frog on the opposite bank, “you pick the target.”
Both males knew Elenora had quitted her daily mourning by Gale’s grave earlier that day and was now watching them. It was better not to bring it up, not yet.
What mattered was her slow return to hope; hope for the man her son was growing to be. Erick had once been on the threshing floor of distress before, he had found his long course out, and now he could see his charges had found theirs. Erick turned his mind back to the conversation as James began asking about the fear of death. How he should cope with it.
“That’s no small answer, I’m afraid. Though, if it makes you feel any better I still quake before I fight. No sane man doesn’t, but… not letting it paralyze you is the real trick. We’ll talk more about it later, my nose tells me your mother’s started cooking again. Thank God for that,” he said standing up.
“Because warriors fight on their stomachs, right?” James asked with his signature grin. Erick nodded and turned north, toward the ford.
“That’s why I’ve never fought in the war. Couldn’t find a good cook; have you ever tried eating the swill men at war cook? Terrible beyond reckoning,” the joke he told seamed to work, if only a little.
Only 2 reveiws? This inspired me to make my own comic. Well, this and Saber Scorpions 'So You Wanna Be An Adventurer?' Brilliant work (As always) and my comic can be seen in the comic folder on my site. It's called 'The Claw Chronicles' And sorry for any blury pics.