“You want permission to leave the village?” The captain rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully. “You’re actually asking permission?”
I make a face at his attempt at humor and nod once, firmly. “Yes. This is… important. I don’t want you thinking I’m just running off to be difficult.”
“It’s not a problem.” He shakes his head. “I’m just surprised. That’s all.”
The cramped little office in the barracks is in poor condition, I can hear the wooden floor squeal under my feet and a shift uncomfortably. I’m eager to leave. “So is that approval?”
“It is.” He leans back in his chair. “I appreciate you letting me know, especially since you haven’t been very talkative lately.”
I glance away. I know what he’s referring to and I appreciate his discretion. This is just his way of asking me if everything is all right. I let my eyes shift back to him and I nod quietly. I want him to know everything is fine.
I actually feel excited, something I haven’t felt for a long time. It’s been almost a year since he died. It almost feels like a bad dream at this point. I straighten with pride, I want him to know I’m fine; I want him to sense my eagerness.
The captain smiles, just as I expected him to. He’s always been supportive to me despite the difficulties I’ve put him through. He’s been tolerant more than I deserve
“Thank you, sir.” I salute, even if it isn’t needed. I imagine he would do the same.
I turned on the spot and leave the barrack’s office. The rickety old building might not be much to look at, but it held the hopes of the inhabitants of Eswin, the sleepy little village I have come to call home. Everyone in the village had lost a loved one in the war against Dendarg and no one doubted the captain kindness for watching over them. I am actually the only person of fighting age in the village but I never felt out of place.
I sidestep a small group of children running down the hall. They frequently mistook the barracks for a small racetrack. No one ever complained though, this village was blessed to have so many children. In that way it was a rare gem in Geldbane.
The last child in the pack started to fall forward but I catch her with a hand under her shoulder. Little Mea was her name. She grins up at me and hurries after her friends undaunted by her close spill.
As I step outside, the cool morning air hits me. I can’t help but smile, the sleepy little village is so serene it almost seems like something out of a fairy tale. When compared to Torgmoore it was a paradise, but a small part of me missed the bustle of the city. I didn’t miss the daily struggles though.
I saw the smiling faces of the other inhabitants of the village, most of them rose early to greet the day. Most of them were thankful for the ability to do so. It was so easy to fall into depression in times like this, but the rising Son was a reminder that life went on. Any problems that I have with my life are overshadowed by the losses they face. Most of the inhabitants of Eswin are the elderly and all of them lost children of the fighting age.
It took seeing these people holding their heads high day after day before I accepted my own loss, and allowed me to progress beyond what could have been. It’s not like I’m not sad about what happened but I can accept it now. It seemed so strange looking back on a time when I couldn’t bear to pick up my sword and train. Now, I can’t imagine getting through the day without honoring him in that way.
I glanced back to the blade strapped to my lower back. It was my comfort. I wondered if it gave him the same security it gave him or if I am being overly sentimental. There was something real about having a means to protect myself; a means to protect others. He used to tell me, weapons were tools meant to protect, not kill.
I walk past the people of the village, waving casually. I don’t want to give them a reason to worry, so I’m even hesitant about training in front of them. I don’t want them to think there is anything to be afraid of.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to leave the village; it was just uncommon for me to leave it with permission. No one but the Captain knew that though. He never let people on to the fact that I had any amount of wanderlust. I would find upon returning that the Captain made up some sort of ‘mission’ to cover my departure.
That made be believe that he had faith that I would always come back. It empowered me. As overprotective as he seemed to be, he knew I was worthwhile. He didn’t need to ever say the words, he never would. I would make him proud.
It had been some time since I had made my way down the rough path that divided the Dragon forests. It makes me laugh to think I was ever afraid of it. It was true that the Dragons were ill tempered, an irate Green Dragon to the north and an equally hostile Blue to the south. There was no doubt they existed, they flew above their forests at time and their wing beats were heard even through the veil of mist that they seemingly produced. The sense of comfort came from the fact that they never hunted humans outside of those that foolishly trespassed on their grounds.
It is somewhat eerie that the Dragons didn’t even seem to leave their forests to feed. There had not been a sighting of the Dragons leaving their forest for well over a century. They had no affiliation to the country of Geldbane, but they were honored as the guardians of the nation. They even decorated the national crest, right down to their colors.
The walk up the twisting path that leads to the mouth of the forests is refreshing. Even if it is an uphill climb, it was a pleasant test of how much I have grown. This time I made the trip without so much as being winded despite my brisk pace.
My thoughts drift to the dream I had last night. It had been some time since I had seen the vision like dreams. I would walk into the clearing ahead and meet a stranger of importance. But that wasn’t the important part. I knew that if I didn’t heed this dream he would die.
I bring a hand to my chest, an ache under my hand. I can’t ignore this, not again. The dream was a foretelling of the future. This was something I can’t ignore.
A part of me is calling the act foolish. The dreams before were different, it was someone I cared about, someone I loved. Despite that this was no different. The connection was so strong and presented the same way. I hadn’t had a single dream like this since I caught word of his death.
Not again. I won’t fail anyone again. I didn’t care who it was. No one deserved to be ignored and no one deserved to die. It was someone lost and I am a guide. He told me many times, I have a natural knack for that.
I admit that I’ve daydreamed about a moment like this when I was a child. Back in Torgmoore when I had less than nothing I would dream that I’d meet someone that would take me away from my problems and protect me, but now I realize the only person I can count on is myself.
More so, I’ve found that above all else, I want someone to count on me. I don’t want to let anyone down but that is unrealistic. It’s one thing to be a soldier or a mercenary, anyone can do that, but I want to be a protector.
He was a protector. Not just for one person, but for a whole nation. He was Geldbane’s Sword, turning to the defense of a nation he loved.
I don’t need that much glory. I just want to serve that same role. That purpose it what pushes me forward, it’s what keeps me going. This is the chance I’ve been waiting for. This is the way I can redeem myself for failing to protect the one person that protected everyone else.
I hadn’t realized it but I had made my way deep down the path of the dragon forests. If not for the light mist hanging in the air I likely wouldn’t have noticed. The mist billows from the north, meaning it is from the Green Dragon.
There was nothing soothing about that, it meant the Dragon was moving doing Goddess knows what. I have no desire to meet a Dragon; the mist saps the desire to push forward out of me.
There is no harm in taking a short break. I let the mist wash over me. It’s harmless but I’m always hesitant to breathe it in. It makes me wonder if there is some effect that it has I don’t know about. The mist is cool to the touch and makes me shiver as though I am without a scrap of clothes. It is a mist of pure fear.
My ears picked up a noise; they were footsteps on the path. They were armored, heavy and foreign. It wasn’t uncommon for there to be the occasional patrol down the forest path, but they must have come across the city right after I left. Those made me feel a little bit uneasy.
I stand and squint down the path. The mist makes it hard to see but I can feel that there is one set of footsteps close than the others. I hold my ground, there’s no reason to run. They were soldiers, only soldiers had armor.
An image breaks through the fog. I rest my hand on my blade regardless.
“Are you alone?” The image spoke. He was an armored man clad in pale blue armor, the sign of Geldbane Elite.
My heart skipped a beat. I hadn’t seen that armor for some time, not since he left Eswin so long ago. I almost called out his name, but realized he was dead. This wasn’t a ghost; this was a real man in the flesh.
“You are alone? Correct?” The man said approaching slowly.
It was a scout sent ahead because he could move faster than a group. I was no stranger to this tactic.
I said nothing, his armor put me on edge. I couldn’t but think of my memories of him, the very armor he was so proud to don.
“I need you to come with me.” The man stopped walking. He was far enough away that his features were obscured. I can still make out the details of his armor. Even in this mist the son caught every glint on its sheen.
“Why?” I spoke uneasily, tightening my grip on my sword.
“I can’t answer that.” The man spoke again and took a step closer. “Just come with me.”
I took a step back to offset his progress. “I really don’t care who you are, if you don’t have a reason to tell me where I need to go and when, we have a problem.”
The man made no move to approach. He didn’t need to; he was successfully buying time for them by making me hold my ground. I considered running, he was lightly armored and could likely keep up with me. I had to take the risk. The motion was slight and gentle but he must have heard me start to draw my blade.
I was faster though. My blade lashed out of the sheath and landed clean on the side of his head. The backside of my sword collided into the side of his helmet as he started to draw. It was only a split second of time but being a leftie put me at the advantage. It also helped that I kept it on the same side of my good hand.
It took a second swing to flatten the man to the ground, but I was able to put more weight and power in that swing; he dropped like a stone. I wasted no time and started to run snapping my blade back into its home in one smooth motion.
It was not a moment too soon. The scout wasn’t that far ahead as the men behind him broke into a sprint to match mine. I had the sinking feeling that if I was as armored the same as them and refreshed from my break they would close in on me in no time.
But where could I run to? As soon as I hit the clearing I would need to run twice as fast to make it across before they spotted me, and that was if I could last that long. The path was long and would likely exhaust me with this thick mist.
In that way the armored men had the advantage over me, they would only be breathing in a quarter of the stuff thanks to their helmets.
I clenched my stomach and pushed myself harder breaking into the mist at break neck speed. I wasn’t sure what good it would do me but I felt putting distance between us was my only hope.
I had to squint to see it but there was a figure ahead. It eased my exhaustion as the memory of the dream overlapped with reality. Impulse washes over me as I reach out to him. Confusion is in his brown eyes as I grab hold of the scruff of his shirt.
I tense as doubt fills me, his skin is as brown as my hair, a pair of surprised brown eyes staring at me, his hair a dark raven is small curls nestled on his head. Rage fills me. A Dendargian, of all things, and I am supposed to protect him? Is this a joke wrought by the goddess?
I grit my teeth as I absolve; this changes nothing.
Only a moment has passed as I make my choice. I toss him to the roadside into the foliage. In the same motion I spring aside, sealing my fate and beginning the life I always dreamed of.
Or at least, I hope that’s the case.