Your name is Carth. You’re a bastard, aged boy. You are an Errant-for-hire on campaign with the army of Gorian the Giant on his quest to take the Throne of Thorns from the Nine Contenders. Ask daily when you will receive your next payment. Refer to the scrolls next to this one for an index of items, words, places, people and locations.
* * *
The next morning, the three of you collected your provisions—corn, corn and more corn once again. You stopped in that same alley where you rejoined Jerim and Barric. If you happen to wake up with a taste like ashes in your mouth, you’ll have a small understanding of the ordeal it was to swallow that bile.
“War’s a bitch,” Jerim said, “What did they do to this food?”
“Might be the seasoning,” you suggested.
Barric giggled, sending pinkish corn-juice dribbling down his chin. “You think they have the coin to season this shit, boy?”
“Might be someone thought to use a heap of soil,” Jerim suggested. Yellow filled the gaps between his teeth. “Perhaps they needed a light garnish.”
Before you or Barric could respond, you three noticed a boy staring at you from the other end of the alley. He looked like a skeleton; he’d only a shadow of skin and a face that pocketed deep-sunken eyes that couldn’t remember to blink. His tunic was torn and he was caked with dirt and dust. One side of his red hair had been matted down and crusted with dried blood. Whether it belonged to him or someone else, you couldn’t say. He had only one leg, and leaned on a makeshift wooden crutch for support.
Jerim shouted at him; and then kept shouting until the boy hopped over to you. He tried to teach him the name of his pike, but the one-legged boy only held out cupped hands, saying the same word over and over, as if he couldn’t hear Jerim. The word was foreign, it’s meaning discernible. “Food,” he was saying. “Food, food.”
So Jerim laughed and dribbled some corn into the boy’s tiny hands. Barric closed the boy’s dirty fingers over the corn and said something you didn’t understand. Then the boy hopped off, plucking the corn into his mouth.
So Jerim laughed and dribbled some corn into the boy’s tiny hands. Barric closed the boy’s dirty fingers over the corn and said something you didn’t understand. Then the boy hopped off in search of others, plucking the corn into his mouth.
You asked Barric what he said, ignoring Jerim’s rhythmic chanting of, “One leg…one leg…one leg…” as he stared blankly into space.
“I told him to be careful—made sure he knew not to let anyone see his food—” Barric stopped to smack the back of Jerim’s head. “Stop staring!”
“By the Nailed God, that’s a boy with one leg!” Jerim said. He turned you then, grinning. “Some poor soul forgot to sharpen his blade.
You decided you’d had enough of Jerim, and went off to forget him. But he and Barric followed you, reasoning it was dangerous to leave you alone for very long. I happen to agree. Though they bickered through the whole walk until you found a river just outside the city. It looked like the best spot to rest for a while.
You sat there and watched your reflection. You put your feet in the river contemplated everything you’d read from me. Thoughts of a siege rattled through your mind. You bunched up your cloak, dark as night time. You wondered what might happen to Barric and Jerim. You thought they had been as brothers to you. You racked your brain for some god to pray to, but nothing came. You even checked your index—sifting through all the gods I told you about. You didn’t recognize a one of them.
You realized then that you didn’t—or perhaps couldn’t believe in such things. Gods? Fate? Comforts. Do you think this is happening for a reason?
You didn’t have much more time to contemplate this, for you heard Barric shouting and Jerim rising to his feet. You three rushed back to the city.
“The Crow’s army is here! Lohainn has arrived!” Jerim said. You followed his pointing finger where swarthy men were marching on the city with spears and shields in their hands.
Amidst the confusion, you lost your friends for a moment, until Jerim seized you by the back of your cloak and pulled you toward him. “Don’t wander off, Carth! What did we tell you?”
There was no time to answer, for black riders of House Rautha came in atop horses, racing through the camp, shouting orders in a foreign tongue. “What is it?” you asked, “Is it the—”
“It’s my folk, boy. I sent them out to scout ahead,” Ser Barric of House Rautha said. A riders came dashing through the streets, all with the same ink-black skin as your friend.
There were scattered shouts a language that you didn’t know. Barric shouted back in the same tongue. He approached one of the horsemen from the side, petting the horse’s mane. Once the beast was at ease, he exchanged a few words with the rider.
Even you could understand there was an urgency in his voice. Barric pivoted to face you and Jerim, “House Vale’s forces are coming upon the city. They’ve taken to arming their damned peasants.”
Jerim hefted his spear. “Draw your sword, Carth,” he urged.
Barric turned and said a few more words in the alien language to the rider, who nodded assent, gathered the rest and rode off.
“Ready your weapons,” Jerim was shouting. “Riders will be attacking the flanks. Men-at-arms, with me! Form phalanx!”
You King Gorian standing atop the city walls looking like some great statue. He held a longaxe in both hands, but at that distance it was difficult to discern how large it truly was. “Bowmen, stay atop the hill. Shoot the center of the Vale lines! Do not shoot the flanks!”
Jerim shoved you forward. “Move, Carth!” he said. “Let’s go!”