March 02, 2019

Sunlight streamed in through the window, warming Fylkir’s bare shoulders. The sun was a rare sight, and its warmth a rare feeling. But it didn’t matter. He didn’t look out the window to appreciate the sun, even if it might have been the only sun he saw in months. His evenly cropped, black hair had a shine to it, and like the warmth in his eyes, his dark skin also glowed golden.

Fylkir stared blankly at the folded uniform on the bare mattress. The frame of the bed looked small and askew without the furs and blankets tossed across it. The uneven brick walls emanated with cold, prickling the scarred skin on his back.

The Dinwatn barracks had been built in the past two years, in a hurry. Since his father's death, King Corran the Fourth had built more military training centers than ever before, all over the kingdom.

Many called the King a superstitious, delusional child—believing that the gods’ wrath had cursed Noriannd and that every neighboring kingdom secretly  war against them. Fylkir had never met the King, but if the General's words were to be trusted, the rumors were true.

Then again, General Haften thought the famine and darkness was caused by the Aruels, and that sacrificing a girl on fire into the endless depths of Dyp Garthul to symbolize the fallen Adron Queen would bring balance back to the North.

Fylkir didn’t believe any of it. Everything was nonsense and magic mattered a lot less than everybody said it did. Magic would die just like the gods.

He touched the dark blue fabric. It was stiff, coarse almost. The uniform had never been the most comfortable to wear, but it had grown on him like a second skin. A bit scratchy, but it covered the real, scarred skin that he’d fought so hard to forget.

On days when he wished he could peel his real skin off, the uniform covered every memory, every tear and trauma.

Dust floated around gracefully in the room as Fylkir shook and folded the clothes he would have to leave behind. The musty smell of rotten wood beneath the floorboards was almost tangible, hanging thick in the air. Now, he was wrinkling his nose at the stench, but Fylkir would miss it in the mountains with his nostrils frozen.

He spread his arms in a stretch and then threw a wary glance over his shoulder.

A heap of new clothing laid at the end of the bed. Fylkir grabbed a tunic that looked soft, but it made his skin crawl. He pulled it over his head and let the laces hang loose.

Holding his dark blue uniform up in front of him, he shook out the creases, and angled the stiff fabric in his hands so that the sunlight caught the metallic thread and iron buttons with blinding flashes, leaving dark shapes floating in his vision.

A tall shadow fell over the room as an ashy cloud covered the sun.

Fylkir folded the jacket again, swiftly out of habit, but savoring each fold. He placed it back in the pile, and looked across the small room.

The walls of his temporary bedroom were bare and the wooden floor swiped earlier that morning, before he’d headed out to train the new recruits. When Fylkir left for Larnham, some other soldier would sleep in this room. But probably never with a sword under the pillow.

Fylkir brushed his knuckles lightly against the cross-guard of his sword. It laid in its sheath beside the neatly folded uniform, and a rush coursed through him as he curled his fingers around the grip.

There was a knock on the door.

“Yes,” Fylkir muttered, eyes still on the sword. He tucked his hands in his pockets and turned to face the young recruit in the doorway.

Fylkir begun tying the lacing of his tunic. “Yeah?”

“General Haften requests you,” the boy said, his eyes still glued to the floor.

Fylkir went stiff. He dropped the laces.

Glancing sideways at the uniform, he asked, “Where?”

The boy dared raise his gaze to Fylkir’s knees, but that was it. His voice was small and he hid his hands behind his back. “‘Washing room, barrack four. Right now,’ General said.”

Fylkir drew a breath, grabbed the dark blue coat and pulled it on as he walked to the door. The boy vanished. Fylkir shook his head slowly. He pulled the door closed after taking one long look at the sword on the bed, knowing it wouldn’t be there when he returned. Entering the hallway, he cursed under his breath.

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