The wind howled softly, opening and closing the lower flaps of the housing tent. It lay tucked away at the edge of the tree line leading into the battlefield of Chimara. Small whistles of snores and creaks of men shifting in their bunks from time to time had been the only thing to break the wind’s low speech. Set aside the entrance had been a single candlestick melted down enough to hold itself up. Under the light of this candle, a quill had been scribbling a steady pace to calm one man’s mind.
Declan Williams had been called to service several months earlier in the late fall to take up arms against the White River Kingdom. He had heard of savagery amongst these people, but he had not yet faced a single one of these men, a truth which he was sure wouldn’t as true in the coming weeks. When the declaration of war was sent, an understanding was to be brought with it being that no army will fight until the first days of spring. Both armies had traveled for several months and, Declan knew the harsh bite of winter would soon be over.
He had been raised by the sword for the entirety of his life, but, just like his fathers before him, his heart resided by the beauty of the written word. Poetry and myth had been the foundation of which he had built his life. The natural flow of the words and the lessons they had brought him as a child and as a young man were lessons he believed no discipline of the blade could have taught.
As the winds continued to howl, Declan was working pensively on what he truly felt would be amongst his last few pieces of work. ‘May as well make it worthy of someone’s eyes, assuming someone will even have the opportunity to read it,’ He thought.
His mind had long since moved past the idea of desertion. Had he decided quickly enough he may have made it out of the kingdom in time to escape the grip of war, but, just as the others of the kingdom, he, too, had fears of what lies beyond the castle walls. Leave and face imminent peril, or stay and fight a war he never wanted. His grandfather had spoken of these wars time and time again. He would tell Declan the horrors of battle and how the grace of his writer’s hand had wielded a sword with more grace than that of a barbarian from the opposing kingdom. He would often leave Declan in the night with thoughts of what else could have been if his grandfather had decided to leave his kingdom in search for something better.
One winter’s night, when Declan’s innocence was still whole, he had asked his grandfather why he had never fled the kingdom in search of a life that would be more befitting of a writer’s way of peace and beauty. His grandfather smiled through an aged face and told him simply, ‘I know not what truly lies beyond these walls, but what I do know is that I can make an adventure my own only on the page. Once you decide to step into the open world, it can be only what it is meant to be: unknown but to the gods. I remain within these walls because it’s what my king asks of me in return for the safety provided by them. I wanted to make sure the world saw what I could offer, and there is no guarantee of that beyond these walls. I fought, and I wrote. Your father fought, and wrote as well. We did this so when the time comes, gods willing, you won’t have to face the turmoil of battle.’
Declan had many thoughts when the king had asked him to fight. The one that would stay still in his mind was that his grandfather had sacrificed many things, including his own life, to the service of their king, but what was to be made of it if he had not halted Declan’s fate of fighting just the same?
Just as Declan had recalled his grandfather’s words, a gust of wind ripped through the half- blown entrance and halted his candle’s flame. Declan lay still in the dark, seeing only the small gusts of smoke produced from his lungs. He left his bunk and edged to the entrance of the tent, being careful not to knock over his battle fittings. He knelt at the bottom of the tents entrance to pull the leather cord tight when he saw a flickering orb in the distance.
He squinted, seeing only a ball of orange in the darkness with a blue hue around its edges. He thought it would have been impossible to spot in the daylight of this storm, but in perfect blackness it remained the same as it made its way across the far ends of the battlefield. Declan had several thoughts, his most hopeful being that it had been a defector from his same camp that had decided to flee the war, but the latter was a fate that haunted Declan’s mind for a few brief moments. He believed the worst of these could have been the single orb starting to become more apparent, multiplying until the single orb had become several thousand. An ambush wouldn’t be likely. The terms of battle were taken serious throughout all of the kingdoms, but the possibility was still present.
Declan was sure the orange glow would soon vanish in the darkness and couldn’t help but wonder who should be caught in such a mess. Thinking as fast as he could, he turned and re-lit his candle. By its light he armed himself for the worst and fled the tent. Before leaving he pulled one of the oil soaked torches from the well in the center of the tent and marched on into the darkness.
Blankets of snow had coated the earth, and the blizzard outside had been more fierce than it had in the days passed. Declan struck his flint on the torch and held it high at the entrance of the tent. The casting brightness from his own glow had made the darkness creep back, but it had also stifled any remnants of the flame he had seen in the distance. Burying his torch in the snow and returning it to the well, he fetched another; this time staying it in his knapsack along with his works from the journey, writer’s tools, and that day’s provisions.
He squinted once more seeing the light fading slowly off to the east and bolted towards it. The wind was against his back pushing him forward, making it much easier to see in the midst of the darkness. The light had grown slowly brighter and brighter until he had seen what looked to be the outline of a single being wading slowly through the snow. Closing in, Declan started to feel the ground beneath him sink as the snow crept from the ankle of his boots to his kneecaps. His mind buckled for a moment, thinking of how it’d look if the armies were to fight in such conditions. He could only assume the army with taller men and horses alike to gallop through such a mess would be the victor in the war, if only sparing themselves the humility of dying from deep snow.
Keeping his eyes focused on the light, his mind followed behind accordingly. It grew brighter and brighter until it had vanished altogether. After a moment’s pause, Declan remembered seeing something very similar as a young boy when his father had shown him an abandoned cave in the forest outside of the kingdom. It was early morning and the sun was showing only its partial face. With a torch in hand, his father had walked up a small hill leading to the den’s entrance and the light seemed to vanish out of thin air. Upon closer inspection, Declan had seen the glow of his father’s torch giving small light around the mouth of the cave.
As he continued trudging through the snow, he started seeing the same hue along a scrambled outline. ‘The mouth,’ he thought. He quickened his pace and crept when he came within a few feet of the cave’s entrance.
Declan, pausing from the weariness of what was to be, remembered something his father had said: ‘If a man only spends his ventures on his way to battle, what keeps him hopeful that he will ever return? To know the glory in returning from battle, this man has to be willing to seek his own victory before seeking the victory for another. If he does not, he may never see the reasoning behind his king’s virtue because he has never had sight of his own.’
The mouth of the cave flickered. As Declan came closer to its entrance, an aroma began to fill his nostrils. Looking in, water ran down the roots that hanging from the ceiling on the farthest side. He could make out a small reservoir of water underneath the roots. Between he and it sat a man in heavy robes residing by a fire that was heating a kettle. He watched as the man in robes pull small sprigs of what looked to be rosemary from a pocket, breaking and crushing them within his palm tossing them inside.
This had distracted Declan from seeing what had resided directly behind the man in robes. Almost completely hidden in the shadows, it looked as though a man were slumped with his head tilted downward and to the side. Declan couldn’t take the chance of either of the men noticing him before doing something. Pulling his sword, Declan entered slowly, holding the hilt at the ready. The man in the robes, not shifting his gaze from the contents of the kettle, began to speak. “Harsh winds will be the end of us all, wouldn’t you say?”
Declan, reproachful, remained silent.
“Then again, many a men have died on those fields from a worse fate than the cold.” The man in robes shifted his gaze to Declan and smiled. “No need in feeling threatened, boy. I won’t be the death of you on this night. Please, come and join me. It may not be befitting of a king, but this stew should warm you all the same.
Declan changed his gaze from the man in robes to the other that lay slumped behind him. “I’ve heard your mercy, but what of his?” Declan dipped the tip of his sword in the direction of the other. The man in robes smiled, “I believe he’s found the only mercy this world has to offer.”
The man in robes stood and took a step backwards allowing the flames to illuminate the remains of a corpse in battle fittings. Its face had become sunken and nothing but hollow gapes remained where its eyes should have been. The emblem atop the shoulder plating of his armor bore the mark that was strange to Declan. He stared at it, just as it stared back at him.
Declan’s eyes shifted back to the man in robes just as his blade did so. “Who are you,” He asked.
The man in robes bowed in a sincere gesture, “Sir Simon Charleston, scribe of The North River Kingdom. I believe you and I have a lot to speak of.”