Even the strong breeze could not break the still surface of the water. The waters, like my mind, seemed to be reflecting on things that were no longer.
“Roarin, was wondering where you went to. Thought you may have wondered off, in your senile old age.”
“I’d prefer the senility of age rather than the ignorance of youth.”
I had found Elum to be a surprisingly good company. At times he had shown wisdom beyond his years. What helped this matter was the humility showen in moments which would have torn other men asunder, both in mind and spirit.
As we took our time heading back to camp Elum appeared concerned.
“What troubles the boy who has no failures?” I asked, motioning to him. His mind might as well had been as far off as his gaze. Elum, realizing his hands had become preoccupied with a stone, threw the pebble and answered. “Will this venture be the one to finally rid us of the scourge on this land?”
“Aye, I believe it will. The Elders have summoned all that’s left of the Orders to travel South West of the wall. You know we are to meet up with the others shortly past nightfall, what troubles you?”
Taking a breath that seemed to return him from the journey of his mind’s eye, a hint of a smile crept along the side of his face, “I just wish I didn’t have this abundance of ignorance. With your forgetfulness and my lack of directions, I recon we’d find ourselves East of the wall with the river over our heads attempting to smell the daisies.”
We straightened up best we could before we walked into camp. I discovered the men had the place buttoned up and ready to move. As Elum and I mounted our horses we joined the departing mass. Roughly five hundred souls where in our division, and for some unknown reason the powers that be decided that us two where the ones most suited to lead this bunch. Sure, I had some tales from past that gave good story around the glow of embers, but so did half the men my age. I suppose there weren’t too many of us ‘pros’ left. Elum and I made our way to the front. The tone of the men was better than I had hoped. Thinking back, I had had almost half a years rest at The Hall, North of the wall, when word came of my command. It took another three months for the men to come together from what was left of the various companies. The Elders had asked us to refrain from journeying through the inside of the wall, which added a few days to our arrival.
You could tell it was just before dawn from the chill in the air. We were close enough now that we should be able to hear the faint noises of clinking armor, tents being put away, the stirring of horses or the smell of burning wood, cooked food, not to mention the odor of thousands men fresh from traveling. It didn’t sit well with me. I gave the order to stop before we came upon the small grassy ridge
“Elum, I want you to gather a couple men to scout ahead.”
“Of course, do you think it odd too?”
I gave a nod and sent him off.
“I don’t like it sir.” Bolden said as we neared the ridge.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The birds sir, and the little crickety bugs along with all the rest of the noise makers. There’s nothing sir.” His voice trailed off, so as to treat sound itself like it had become a precious and sacred thing.
“Would you quit your whispering, you’re giving me the willies.” said Zeric.
We were about to peek over the crest when the wind changed briefly. Elum shouted,
“Everyone down!” Our chests hit the dirt, “We crawl from here.”
Burnt bodies scattered throughout the area, some in piles, others in pieces dotting the landscape. The ground was stained a dull rust color. I had seen carnage like this before- but not on this scale. We sank back behind the crest and all looked at the sky, an unspoken recognition made it seem a little less brighter. “Sir, what do we tell the men?” Bolen asked, Elum regaining his composure first. “We tell them nothing, at least not yet. Zeric, you and Bolen return and take a platoon each to survey twice as far as an arrow will carry around the camp. Tell the rest to dig in and prepare for shift watch. Bolen, you will also inform the currier to deliver this message to the Elders; The South Wes…”
“No! Do not send word to anyone. They clearly knew we were coming. We will search them out and finish our tasking as ordered, dismissed.” Bolen and Zeric picked up a light jog back to the men.
“What do you see old man?”
“An attack on two sides- the inside and the outside. I would gather that the enemy got a hold of a company, and put a good show on to get inside. Later all hell broke loose.”
“Would you like to take a stroll? I’m sure we could see more if we were out there.”
“Aye, that we could, but there is no telling if there is a watcher, traps or anything else that’s not conducive to our lives.”
I awoke and rushed outside, a hand pulled me into the shadows. “Sir, we’ve picked up movement on the outskirts that is headed this way, Elum is at the forefront awaiting them.”
“Thank you Zerif, a little subtly when getting my attention would be appreciated if this ever happens again.” I showed a quick grin.
Zerif nodded, “My apologies sir. In the moment as you know…” I gave him a pat on the back and headed in Elum’s direction.
“So what’s the trouble then? We have orders same as you.”
“Sol?” I walked out of the shadows.
From what I remember of Sol, he was a young prodigy of stratagem that worked with the Elders. If he’s in charge we were more desperate than I realized. “Is that your company?” “Yes… I thought you were dead.” Sol said as he gave me an odd look. “Contrary to popular opinion, not yet. Who said I was passed on?” “Oh uhhh, no one. I had just assumed- old age and all.” “Glad to see you haven’t lost your tongue for good impression.” I walked over and clasped his arm. “Your men are welcome to join us. I need to see you straight away, walk with me.”
“I see,” Sol stood in a corner staring down at the floor. “Well, good news for you is that there are three more companies running late. By sundown today we will be two thousand five hundred strong, give or take a couple hundred. Of all the companies you have seniority. I would like to take three platoons worth of scouts to see what we’re up against, do I have your permission?” Elum steps in close to me with his back toward Sol. “That over half of our company.” “I understand that. With Sol it is a lower risk.” Elum looks back at Sol twenty three or so in years, raises his eye brows and steps away again. “Yes sir!” “You have it, Sol!”
It had taken Sol’s scouts three days for all of them to return. Another full day was spent with Sol talking to each of them. A map I had seen a few days before was now riddled with markings along with sticks, pebbles, and small crudely carven miniature tokens of things which were yet to be explained to me. Myself and four other commanders stood around the map. Sol spoke up “many of you have been very eager and patient to hear what news there is concerning the enemy and the ‘end all’ plan.”
“So what did he say?” Elum asked after the meeting was over. “It was long winded. It boils down to sneaky flanking, some head on battles- and using a company for bait.” “Does that mean what I think it does?” “Yes. We are the company with the most veterans. We will be able to last longer than any other company here.”
A week had passed since we first made camp. Sol had done a tremendous job organizing everyone, and the other commanders had done their best to show him proper recognition despite his youth. I had gave the order to break camp, so as to give the men some small sibilance of a belief that we would return. Some lacked experience or fell short of understanding the gravity of the situation. Others knew full and well what the battle before them held. The prize beyond this door would hold hope for following generations- or a despair that none could see an end to.
It was as if a moment in time had been frozen. The animals remained still, no wind, no noise, even the sun seemed as if it had ceased to move.
“Let us get this over with.” I said to Elum,
He motioned his arm. As we neared the point Sol had suspected the ambush to take place I heard a noise that to the untrained ear would sound similar to armor in a hail fall, arrows.
“Shields up! Archers to the rise!”
They were coming from the West. Elum stayed in front with the first line while I made my way to the back near the archers. I could see through the men as I approached the final line of archers. Infantry of the opposing side had come up from a dry creek bed.
“Jiks, last line!” the elements went wild as the practitioners of free majik rushed to protect our flank. Thankfully Sol had seen fit to give us half of the Jiks.
A dust came up from the ground to linger in the air just in front of the enemy. Every time a shadow neared the edge it would be struck down by flame, stone, or ice. I heard a roar erupt from the front line, the volley of arrows had stopped and the men advanced.
“Archers, split and resume! I need twenty!” “Jiks, head high tower!” three Jiks turned and in unison lifted a flat of earth to knee height, the archers stepped on, another motion of the hand put a protective wall of dirt around it. The archers standing above the field were able to give us an advantage. The men sped through the two waves.
“Sir! Three more waves!” the archer pointed. “That’s right, show me everything.” I said to myself.
AAAGHHH! We could hear the enemy scream, as they were thrusted into the air, our archers made short work of them. Sol’s scouting team were full of Techs that had put circle traps throughout the field. I could hear Zerif shout “I counted five more approaching! Looks like all their players are out.” A good thing too, it looked desperate now. Outnumbered eight to one, and surrounded. One by one the other companies make their appearance and start picking off the enemies rear lines.
The faint yells of the few that were left, the rest of us look around. Covered in sweat, blood, and muck the fatigue from the day started to set in. My body became awareness of the nicks, cuts, and scrapes attained throughout the past few hours. Walking through the field of bodies and scarred land, I saw some of the greener souls that have made it are finding themselves unable to loosed their grip on the sword, it is- an awkward thing.
I find that all of the commanders have survived. A small circle of men have surrounded Sol in a show of gratitude. I felt a smile cross my face when I saw a man a bit more than twice Sol’s stature ruff his hair and yank him up into hug. I spotted Bolden approaching me with a solemn look “Sir, I have news that will not be to your liking.” we must have suffered more casualties than I had originally suspected. “What’s the report look like?” “I’d prefer if you’d follow me sir.”
I had walked next to Bolen for what felt like the breadth of the battle field, when I spotted a small group of men huddled together, a few had knelt next to… I picked up a jog which turned into a sprint the closer I came. “Elum.” I said to myself as I fell down beside his body- he was gone. Zerif “I’m sorry sir, we were up against a squad of Jiks. The last one got a lucky shot in.” “He said to tell you not to worry sir, he wouldn’t know what to do in the world that followed anyways.” Bolen relayed. “His last act was to give me this sir, I’m bettin it was meant to get into your hands.” Bolen handed a small flat round stone that had a mixture of red, blue, or green colors depending on how the light caught it. It took me to a memory of when Elum was still a boy, I would give him this stone to hold onto when I first went away to battle when I had to leave him in his mother’s charge. He had never mentioned the stone again, I thought it had been lost all those years ago.
I pulled him up by the collar of his armor to give a final embrace. The war was over, and the thing I had fought the most for was gone- my son had died.
Even the strong breeze could not break the still surface of the water. The waters, like my mind, seemed to be reflecting on things that were no longer. It has been many years since I have had need of a sword or armor. My mind, lacking the focus it once had, drifts from present, to past, and what little time is left for me here. Sometimes a whispering of Elums’ voice passes through my old ears. Just enough to call me back to those times-