7. THEY'RE ALL SOLDIER BOYS

February 23, 2019


Fylkir was only ever good enough with a sword in his hand. The blade was a metal extension of his own flesh and bone. A part of himself he’d learned to not live without.

Metal clangored. The swords pulled apart. Mist uncoiled around Fylkir and his opponent as their feet worked against gravel, balancing a dance of shields and swords that would've fit better in a theatre than on a battlefield.

He clenched his jaw, sword swinging up with a sharp swish cutting through the air. A blow of careful precision, the range of movement close enough, and far enough, for the boy soldier to counter it.

The round shield met Fylkir’s sword. Arms wobbling, the boy flicked his hair from his eyes and swung the one-handed as another attempt at an attack. But with one fast sweep of Fylkir’s hand, the sword s clashed.

There was a loud, pronounced sigh behind them. “At ease.”

Captain Weshin unfolded his crossed arms.

The soldier dropped the shield and sword in the dirty, gray snow and braced his hands on his knees. He panted heavily, steam rising from his mouth in the early morning breeze.

Dinwatn lay under a thin layer of snow and mist, slowly dripping into the dale from the surrounding mountains and ridges. The villagers were still sound asleep. They had learned to not be bothered by the king’s horn in the mornings, or the loud soldier boys running about. As long as there was a camp of soldiers in Dinwatn, the Aruels wouldn’t dare come close.

After the most recent attacks, that was all that mattered.

Fylkir had only been in the village for days, and the boys already hated him almost as much as Fylkir hated training them. But he would rather be there than running General Haften’s errands in Hordrigg. That was why he’d pretended to be drunk with Weshin that night to get him to choose Fylkir to train the newest recruits.

“Enough of this,” Captain Weshin muttered as he snatched the sword off the ground, disappointment set deep into his wrinkles. He balanced the sword effortlessly in his callused hands. There was no chance that boy would never pass.

Fylkir blinked slowly as he pressed his own sword into its sheath.  He drew circles on the wooden hilt with his thumb. It was covered in coarse carvings of serpents and symbols of gods that had forgotten him. Fylkir studied the recruit, lips a narrowing line. His blond hair curled in the moisture from his forehead and a light, milky-looking mustache dusted his upper lip. He dried sweat with the back of his slender hand and kept his eyes to the ground.

The Captain went on, “You are a disgrace to our forefathers.” 

Gyles, Fylkir’s half brother, would be around his age now. Fylkir spent most of his time in the ring, distracting himself with fine blades and training new recruits in the Norian army. He had forgotten many things, but never his siblings.

Time only dulled the pain. He could no longer feel the belt snapping against his back, or the blood trickiling from the wounds. This new pain ached to the very bone.

Sometimes in the dark of night he allowed himself to wonder, but most days he fought to forget. If seven years ago, before ever leaving, he had known it would hurt like this… He still would’ve left.

Fylkir grabbed the boy’s shield from the ground. He handed it to the boy, who avoided looking in Fylkir’s eyes, and scurried away as fast as he could with the shield in his arms.

The other boys snickered and gloated.“Dismissed!” Captain Weshin called out in his low monotone voice without looking at anybody in particular. Reluctant and slow in their steps, the new recruits meandered up the low, round hill with boyish cackles.

Captain Weshin scratched his escaping hairline. Fylkir buried his chin in the collar of his coat.

“You’re requested up there.” The Captain cocked his head toward the barracks and tents.

Fylkir nodded and walked with long strides up the hill, away from the training grounds. His brows were lowered and he drew a hand through his hair. It had recently been cut, and was so short that it couldn’t possibly be curly, but he couldn’t help pressing the hairs down against his head with both hands.

He bent his head back, facing the sky. His breaths rose in white clouds of steam. He remembered a time when clouds in the sky used to be white, too. Now they were dark and gloomy, full of ash and covering the hills in shadows. Fylkir sighed deeply before walking up to the General’s tent. 

General Haften wouldn’t be in Dinwatn for long, and while Fylkir had expected to talk to him at some point, he hadn’t known it’d be this soon. He’d been grateful for some distance from him, hoping that he wouldn’t be needed in Hordrigg again.

He shifted his weight at the entrance and cleared his throat. The General was wearing his dark blue coat, and Fylkir was not.

Fylkir always stood taller when he wore the Norian uniform. It was his dignity. A second skin, but whole, instead of the scarred skin hidden beneath it. And now he was in front of General Haften in his training attire. Wool-lined brown leather and clumsily stitched patches he’d sewn himself. Vulnerable.

“Ah, yes. Fylkir.”

With a nod, Fylkir stepped forward. The snow from his boots melted down into the slits in the carpet woven from dry reeds. He lifted his gaze from his feet.

The General hastily organized his makeshift desk. It was cluttered with papers and piles of objects Fylkir tried not to stare at for too long. Wooden household items, pieces of jewelry and clothing that looked like it couldn’t belong to a man of his standing.

“Nice weather, eh? A dead goddess’ beautiful gift to this god-cursed world, those clouds,” the General said, not looking up from his yellowed papers. He compiled them and threw the crumpled pile on the chair behind him. “But you’re here because I need to send you to Larnham.”

Fylkir nodded again, although the General wasn’t looking. There was no Norian guard in Larnham. The soldiers there were replaced every now and then, but Kámwech had forbidden any military posts since it was so close to the border.

God-cursed Larnham and their stinking thieves. It was the playground of smugglers and robbers galore.

“You’ve been training the new recruits?” General Haften asked.

“Yes, sir.”

General Haften circled the table. “Or would you rather travel with me?” the General asked, although he knew the answer. Fylkir had tried to get away from him for months. It couldn’t go unnoticed. The General stepped forward, and Fylkir did his best to not step back.

He fiddled with his sword but kept his eyes on Haften. “I’ve only been here for a few days. I haven’t even learned the recruits’ names,” Fylkir said. “What would I do in Larnham?”

The General walked back behind the table, shoving the pile of things onto the floor in frustration. He seemed to be searching for something particular, but couldn’t find it.

He studied a map with narrowed eyes. “The robbers are wreaking havoc, as usual, but there’s also a group of rogues now.

“I don’t know if they’re Aruels or working with the enemy, but you’ll figure it out.” Haften leaned with his hands on the table and huffed a bitter laugh. “Funnily enough, the soldiers I send keep showing up headless on the castle’s doorstep. It’s embarrassing the king and it’s got to stop. You’ll leave all your things here and ride to Larnham tonight.”

Fylkir took a slow step backwards, about to leave, but the General kept his eyes on him. “If you get your hands on her, bring her back alive.” He smiled crookedly. “Preferably with both hands still attached.”

Fylkir’s gaze darkened. He lowered his face and turned around with a slight nod.

The general sighed. “The reason you’re not getting what you want is because you still think they’re people.” The General sat down.

Fylkir turned around. He looked at Haften silently.

General Haften continued, throwing the map into the pile with the other papers and searching for something else. “The Aruels… They are not people. We’re cursed because of them. The gods won’t favor a Norian King when there’s Aruel scum infesting our lands. Do anything else than what I tell you, and you’re a traitor.”

“The gods are dead,” Fylkir said, remembering the General saying so himself.

Haften stood up and crouched down to the floor. He picked up a heap of clothes, then pushed the pile into Fylkir’s arms. Fylkir furrowed his brows at Haften eyeing him up and down. “You can’t go there looking like that. You’re dressed like those pretty soldier boys. And you should stop shaving.”

It was the first time General Haften properly looked at him during the entire conversation. Fylkir beheld the sloppy folds and wrinkles in the clothes he was holding. A musty smell filled his nostrils. “How long am I supposed to be there?

“You’re going to do what you’ve done so far, but much better,” the General said.

Fylkir met Haften’s eyes. 

“You’ve been faltering lately, Fylkir. You’re no longer helpful.” Haften’s eyes had always been piercing blue and cold like ice, but Fylkir had never felt the coldness so sharply before. The General crossed his arms and leaned his back on the table.

“And you should know that I never assigned you the task you have because I think you’re a good Norian, or even a good soldier. You know why you’re so good at what you do. Well, was. The past few months you’ve really just been worthless to me.”

As if a blade of ice pressed against his throat, Fylkir swallowed hard while his eyes stayed on Haften’s. The General looked at him for a moment, face expressionless but somehow threatening. Then he led Fylkir out. “You know where to go. I need the girl with the flaming hands. The one we’ve been looking for.”

His voice was quiet, almost a whisper in Fylkir’s ear. “I already have your secret. Now you keep mine. While a girl with fire in her blood can be sacrificed to the gods and bring Noriannd good fortune, even without her hands, a man without hands is just a waste of space.”

Fylkir glanced back over his shoulder. The General was back inside his tent and the fabric was rolled down to cover the entrance.

The earth below him had gone silent. A chill crept up his spine as he gazed darkening afternoon clouds, thick and gray, grow on the sky. Fylkir stood rigid and unmoving. A dead goddess’ beautiful gift to this god-cursed world, the General’s words echoed in his head. 

The clouds covered two moons, blackness sinking down as night fell. The stable's lights burned, bright golden in the looming darkness.

Fylkir started toward the barracks, arms holding the pile of clothes tightly.

Fylkir had been providing the General with Aruels for months since he begun using his senses for his advantage. But lately, he’d become deaf to the sounds of the Itkah in their blood. Either he was the last Aruel, or his Itkah had withered away. He didn’t know how to find that girl General Haften needed.

He furrowed his brows, shouldering the heavy wooden door open.

Could his Itkah have withered? Could that happen? Why hadn’t it happened sooner?

He’d only ever heard of Aruels going mad or their Itkah erupting in explosions it went unused for too long. He’d felt the itch of it, the tensing of his body and blackening of his vision. But could an Itkah die?

If Fylkir’s Itkah had in fact died, he could never find the girl.

All these years he had fought against it, fled from his clan and started over—only to become imprisoned by it again. Fylkir’s fingers curled around the hilt of his sword. He leaned against the door and breathed tepid air, warmth seeping into his bones.

One last Aruel, and then he’d flee. Then he’d be free from Aruels, from Norians. He’d be gone, and this war would never touch him again.

But he couldn’t betray the throne, not when it was his only redemption. He couldn’t afford to be abandoned by every god there was. Noriannd was all he had left.

No.

He was on his own.





Fylkir was only ever good enough with a sword in his hand. The blade was a metal extension of his own flesh and bone. A Raveling Night by E.M Redshaw
Fylkir was only ever good enough with a sword in his hand. The blade was a metal extension of his own flesh and bone.
A Raveling Night by E.M Redshaw





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