The heat coming from the fire had eased Declan’s suspicions of Simon, but the idea that a soldier from an opposing kingdom could be cunning enough to simply say he had been a simple scribe stilled his approach.
“Trust ought not to come so easily, scribe, it is to be earned.”
Declan was testing the waters, hoping something would bite, but the scribe stayed his ground and sat back in his place, agitating the fire with a stick.
“Very wise speculation, lad,” the scribe said. His eyes cut from the fire and back to Declan still holding his sword at the ready.
Declan’s eyes held heavy concern atop fear, all dipped in courage and nowhere to place it; nothing but a young soldier with no place to go but the battlefield. “how do you propose I earn this trust, soldier of Granger?”
Simon’s eyes remained calm and steady, gazing back. Declan believed they could have contained nothing more than darkness for miles, but after a few moments he started to see that there was a genuine nature welling within them.
“Oh! an idea,” the scribe said, looking back at the fire and waiving his fire poker about, “why don’t I tell you a story?”
Declan shifted at this. No man since his father had told him a story of anything other than that of battles fought; stories coming from within the field camps. Declan had remembered, curled into his corner of the battle camp’s tent on many nights, that the soldiers had attempted to recall their stories of taking on a great many foe on the battlefield. Declan had hoped their footwork and swordsmanship were better than their ability to tell a story; if they stumbled over the battlefield as much as they had over their words, Declan felt none of them would last.
“You’ve earned my attention, but my trust is still. What story do you speak of,” Declan asked.
“Come sit down, boy, that sword won’t lend help to your ears.” Simon began stirring the kettle again as Declan sheathed his sword, stepping pensively over to the opposite side of the flames. He sat down, only able to stare into what remained of the dead soldier in the corner.
Simon caught his gaze. “Do you know what the symbol on that armor represents, lad?”
Declan paused a moment, and could still think of nothing. The symbol had perplexed him, shaking loose old memories, yet none of them had made the proper sense of it. He had seen the symbol before, but he couldn’t remember where.
He looked back at the scribe. His face had not been so different from the corpse that accompanied them. He eyes we’re sullen, his hair a mess, and his facial hair had no true color, gray and whiting at the tips. Declan thought the scribe was either telling the truth, or he was a veteran waiting on his chance to seize another kill. Only time, and the wit of the scribe’s story, would reveal the truth.
“I don’t,” Declan said.
“I won’t have any trouble finding a good story to tell, then,” the scribe said. “That soldier was one of the last soldiers to fight for the nameless king. Do you know why the king was given this title?”
Declan didn’t respond. He looked back at the dead soldier, trying to remember the stories his grandfather had told him. None of the stories resonated with him. He looked back at the scribe, “I can’t say that I would know. My grandfather told me stories of all of the kings, but I can’t recall ever being told about a king with no name.”
“It isn’t that the king didn’t have a name, lad. In fact, all of the kings under the title had very different names; no two of them were of the same bloodline. It was forbidden within the kingdom that bore the mark of the sovereign people.”
“Are sovereign people not supreme rulers,” Declan asked. His father had told him many stories of the kings who had ruled with ferocity had anyone ever questioned their direction when leading the kingdom.
“The people of the kingdom were themselves sovereign, under the rule of no one man, but guided by the nameless king and his elders. If the people didn’t agree with what the king was doing, he was to be relieved of duty and made one of the sovereign people, able to vote upon what should be done.”
The scribe retrieved one of two bowls that had been neatly laid aside the other atop a stone. He cupped the bowl and retrieved some contents from the kettle and offered it to Declan.
“How do I know you haven’t poisoned it,” Declan asked. The scribe pondered for a moment, then sipped the contents of the bowl, wiping his chin with his robe.
“mmmm, If it has been poisoned, I certainly couldn’t taste it,” the scribe said.
Declan retrieved the bowl and watched as the scribe grabbed the second and gathered more soup from the kettle. Declan thought that if the scribe was going to try something he would have done it already, or perhaps was already doing it. In the case of the former, Declan had nothing to fear; in the case of the latter, he was already dead and might as well enjoy his last meal rather than turn his nose up at it.
Declan sipped the contents of the bowl and felt the rush of warmth fill his stomach. The taste was as comforting as the thought of going home, and Declan thought if anything, it would do in lieu of the act itself.
Declan watched as the scribe sipped from his bowl and wondered if his thoughts had been the same. Then, peering at the corpse yet again, Declan asked “What happened to the sovereign?”
“The winds of this battlefield can tell you. My memory isn’t as it used to be, but, if I recall correctly, not all the surrounding kingdoms had the patience to understand such new ways of doing things. If the story rings true, two of the kingdoms united in order to overthrow the sovereign people and seize the head of the nameless king.”
“But if the king was nameless, and the people we’re happy, how did the kingdom fall so easily,” Declan asked.
“I never said the Sovereign Kingdom fell without opposition,” the scribe said. “If the stories hold, the first battles of Chimara we’re fought between the two kingdoms’ combined forces and the Sovereign Kingdom. This man,” the scribe said, looking over his shoulder, “may have been one of the last sovereign soldiers to see the battlefield and live to tell the tale.”
Declan gave a concerned look. “Who would he have told in a cave?”
The scribe gave a humble smile and continued to stoke the fire.
“My great grandfather claims to have spoken with him before he succumbed to his injuries. At least that’s the way he tells the story,” the scribe said. He continued to look into the fire as a child who had been caught doing something foolish, ashamed of their actions. “Everyone knew he had gone mad from age, but something about that story always seemed all too real. I still had my doubts, sad to say, until I found him,” the scribe said, edging at the direction of the sovereign soldier’s remains.
“How he described the kingdoms and its people were all too real. For someone like myself, especially, being young and naïve never helped the matter. When I told my father I wanted to be a scribe, he laughed in my face and told me that such a foolish tongue can get you killed in White River.”
The scribe held his arms outspread, “Yet here I sit.”
The scribe gave a solemn look back into the flames. “But — maybe my father was right. Even the scribes in White River must fight as soldiers. ‘A man who lives by the pen will surely die by the sword’. Something he once told me, but I never thought it would be so true in the end.”
“My grandfather told me stories of the battles fought here,” Declan said. “He often told stories of great men willing to risk their live for the sake of their kingdoms and the people within it. Sacrificing their lives, all in hopes of keeping their families safe from the wrath of opposition. I never had the courage to ask him why.”
The scribe looked at Declan with concern. “You wanted to know why it never ends, didn’t you?”
Declan continued staring into the fire. He looked up at the scribe with a intent smile. “Of course, why is it all necessary to take part in if the kingdoms simply regroup to do it all over again?”
“Perhaps,” the scribe said, “to the kings of a bloodline — it’s simply a game.”
Declan felt the scribe’s eyes upon him. He knew the answer to the question was true, but the confusion it caused was what kept him staring into the smoldering blaze.
“What can one man do against an army,” Declan asked. “He cannot fight them; he can only write his words and hope he isn’t at the front of the pack when the fighting starts.”
Declan saw a look of resolution and truth on the scribe’s face. The scribe stood and walked over to the corpse, examining it. He looked back up at Declan. “This man is the only man that I believe has fought for a worthy cause in generations. His beliefs died with him – beliefs that could keep generations to come from having to fight to the death for someone who cares only for the ploys of war!”
“What can any of us do about the war,” Declan asked. “All the people know is bloodshed and death. They don’t want to hear the history of these battlefields; they simply want to continue believing they’re the ones making history.”
The scribe, stooped examining the corpse, stood upright, “Being young and naïve won’t help either of us if we simply sit and wait to die,” He said flatly. “Dying for a spent cause seems like an awful waste, wouldn’t you say?”
Declan considered the question, and gave a brief nod. “Aye, I believe every man should die for what he believes in, but what are we to tell these men,” Declan asked.
The scribe returned to the edge of his seat. “We tell them that they are the sovereign people, numbers to a battle thirsty king, but real people to a nameless king. We are many, but they are only one. We are one people, and we should fight for that freedom.”
Declan considered the scribe’s words, understanding the density of what he had spoken they both spoke of. His father had always told him that a man should seek his own victory before fighting for the victory of a king. He believed his father’s words and saw the proof welling within the scribe’s eyes.
“How can this be done,” Declan asked.
“It’s not a question of how, it’s a question of when. When spring comes and the kings marched onto the fields of Chimara, we tell them the ways of the sovereign people,” the scribe said hastily.
A voice sprang from the mouth of the cave. A brutish man with the battle fittings of a White River hessian was lit by the light of a single torch and followed by a band of half a dozen men. “In the name of the king, I sentence you both to death for treason!”