Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing two parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or Beginnings.
I dreamed of Laza last night. Who amongst us doesn’t? Since we all went singing off to war, we’d all thought of her, and wanted her to be one of ours. Her beauty, her courage, her intelligence, her excellence with the blade, who wouldn’t want her for his wife? Well, except for Beaumont with his Emily.
We had been granted our leave of the army three days ago, for a full two weeks. There was myself, Paul Farms, a youth of seventeen. The youngest of my cousins, and the last, twelve year old Brandon, called Bran. His brothers died nobly in the Battle of Tranquility’s Gap, and it clouded his young face. The news of our shore leave had brought the first smile to his face that I had seen since their death, and it had remained plastered on his face ever since.
There was Beaumont; strong, handsome, and self-confident. He was the eldest of us that remained, and the war had brought him up from being a shaggy simple farmhand to a proud warrior with a high topknot. Of all of us, it was only his easy, simple smiles that still remained. There were twins Derrick and Beric, whose spirit and courage was admirable, though their conversation left much to be desired. Smithers had been our farrier’s apprentice, the only tradesman amongst us. I’m afraid to say that his thick hands and skills at the forge had been spent less on spearheads and sharpening swords than shoeing horses. And then there was dearest Laza, our priest’s daughter. She wasn’t the best priestess, but she was perfect for me.
This was all that was left of our village’s youth, after we marched out to fight the Servants of the Seven Fingered god two years ago. Brianna was coming with us too; she had no place to go. A peasant girl who had disguised herself as a boy, she had acquitted herself with honor in the Battle of Tranquility’s Gap, as the only person to kill one of the fearsome “Black Stars,” horsemen covered in black plates of metal. As such, she was allowed to stay in the army and keep the armor of the man she slayed. Although she had been permitted to stay in the army, her presence was tolerated and not much else until she fell into our group of survivors. And Emily of course, Beaumont’s little blonde camp follower that he had insisted on bringing. It was almost sickening how much they were in love.
It was Smithers that had brought us here. His great-uncle had owned a little dugout on the beach with a well, and with the ocean nearby there would be no want of food. I looked out at the sea for the first time in my life as we rolled over the dunes, and gasped. The sun was setting, and it’s rays shown through a wave like a torch through a tent. I wondered if anything could be so calming.
“Smitty,” Beaumont clapped a thick hand onto Smithers’ back, grinning his lopsided smile. “You did good friend!”
Smithers tried to suppress a smile. “It’s no trouble. No trouble at all.”
The cart hopped over a rock. Derrick was driving, and his brother Beric was sitting next him, and he wasn’t the smoothest driver of our two tired mules. As the wheeled vehicle passed off another rock of significant size, those of us in the back were jolted hard.
“Watch your driving Derrick,” Laza belabored him. Her sharp brown eyes seemed to bore a hole in the back of Derrick’s head. “I haven’t been anywhere near as concerned with the wine as since you’ve taken the reins. If all this shatters from beneath me, I will see to it that you will not have a good night’s sleep for the duration of our stay here.”
“You’re the one who wanted to sit on it,” I pointed out.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know why Paul,” She blew one of her bangs out of her face. “We would already be out, Brianna and Beaumont would have drunk it all already.”
“Hey, it’s not easy being the strongest guy here,” Beaumont smiled at Emily and flexed an arm. She giggled, and slid closer to Beaumont.
“You may be the strongest guy here Beaumont, but you are most certainly not the strongest here,” Brianna jabbed at Beaumont’s pride and flexed her own arm after rolling back a sleeve of chain mail. She leaned over, and the heavy black plate armor she was sitting on shifted under her. Suffice to say, there was no comparison.
Bran coughed. “Ouch.”
“Hey, we all know of your valor Brianna, but I do think that I do hold the honor of being the strongest of our company,” Beaumont brought his hand to his chest. Derrick brought the cart down a small sandy path, out of the grassy dunes and onto the beach itself.
“We could arm wrestle to decide,” Brianna grinned wolfishly at her beleaguered opponent. Beaumont began to protest, but I stopped listening. Laza’s side of the cart turned, so that her back was facing the ocean, the sun seemed to be caught in her hair. The colors of her clothing glinted with a well brushed sheen. I was sure I would never see anything more beautiful.
Laza’s gaze snapped to me. “Careful boys, you’ll get sand in you mouths.” I blinked. I heard Bran’s mouth clap shut.
“The sunset is just beautiful is all,” I said poorly.
“I’m sure it is, when I’m what it’s framing,” A hair came down in front of her face. She flicked it back into place with disgust. Every bit of her must be perfect. She insists on it after all. The moment passed, and the cart continued plodding through the sands.
Smithers pointed over to a bank with a smile, his meaty finger stretched out over Bran’s head. “There’s the dugout!”
We all turned to look at it. It was a small thing from the outside. Ghostly wisps of grass grew upon the roof, and a little green door with chipping paint greeted us. The well stood by the door, and a small flowerpot filled with weeds stood by the stoop. A small chimney poked it’s head up from the sand. Derrick brought the cart to a stop in front of the door.
“Quaint,” Laza said, as Beric hopped down betwixt the mules to grab their halters. We emptied out of the wagon that had brought us so far, each of us dragging some bit of luggage. Smithers trotted up to the flowerpot, and bent over. His hands dug amongst the weeds.
“You need any help?” Bran asked, his young face inquisitive.
“Nope, I’ve got it,” Smithers produced a rusted key, his fingers now encrusted with dirt. He brought the key to the door as Beaumont, Brianna and I all pulled the army issued tents out of the cart and into the dust.
Click-Clack. The door opened. The small dugout was now ours. Smithers went on in. It was to belong to the girls I knew, so I made no move to place any of our stuff in it. Laza and Bran followed to get a better look at inside, whilst Beaumont and Brianna made a show of rolling of the well stone for Emily. Bran followed Smithers inside. “Wait for me Smitty!”
I swung my pack onto my back. The old rusting dao that was my sword clattered against the clasps of my bed roll. I needed to clean it now that there was sand around. The mail consisted of the heaviest part of my bundle, but I was glad that I wasn’t wearing it. Even with a beautiful breeze going, it was still fairly hot.
I looked up at the sun. It was around the sixth hour in the afternoon.
“We need to pitch camp soon,” Derrick said, as he came around to the back of the cart.
I nodded to him and called out, “Hey Bran! Come help me with our tent!”
“Coming Paul! Just let me help Smithers with this fishing stuff!”
“Fishing stuff?” I yelled back. “What type of fishing stuff?”
“The type that you fish with, stupid,” Laza said cheekily from the doorway. Her nose was wrinkled. “The whole place smells like brine. Thank the gods we’re not drinking THAT.”
We all laughed, a good hearty laugh, that we hadn’t had in a long time. Bran emerged from the dugout, holding a large yet crude net. He tossed it on the ground. “We’re going to have to clear all this stuff out guys. The girls are going to need a place to sleep in here.”
“I for one haven’t had a roof over my head since this whole war began," Brianna said. "I appreciate it, even if it does smell like spilt guts.”
“And you would know about spilt guts, Brianna,” I said with a smile.
She erupted in laughter. “I suppose I would, Paul. And I’ll see the color of yours before evening if you insinuate anything else.”
“Is that a challenge?” I countered, setting a stance and puffing out my chest.
“Ten pence on the ugly woman!” Beaumont called out as he grabbed Emily’s hand and dashed for the shoreline as fast as he could, letting out a wicked laugh as he ran. “Mwahahaha!”
“You’re dead to me, Beaumont!” Brianna sprinted after them, in a fit of playful rage. I laughed so hard I cried. Laza sprinted off after them, and then Bran, dropping his fishing spears. I left my pack and ran after them too, racing with Bran to catch up with Laza, whilst trying to catch my breath from laughing. Beaumont and Emily dashed into the surf, screaming with laughter, Brianna on their heels. As Laza’s hair was whipped in the wind, and once more caught the sun’s going down as she dashed into the water, I knew. It was going to be a great leave.
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room