The Great Conflict, and the world, has ended. Magic is forbidden so that the world can heal. I believe it’s stolen your memories, too. Which is why you and I are keeping this journal. You, reading this tomorrow, and me, writing this today.
Remember this if you can: your name is Carth. You are a warrior, aged boy. You are in the service to the Warlord’s clan in his mission to restore order to the Realm. Ask daily for your payments. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.
* * *
You were almost speared during your river-bath near the village you burned yesterday.
A few dozen warriors joined you, rolling and splashing in the river. You finally had a chance to scrub away the grime choking your skin. You, to your limited knowledge, hadn’t known the sensation of clean skin, and the feel of it was almost overwhelming.
Your ears were so full of water, however, that you didn’t hear the trample of horses’ hooves until someone had shouted “Cavalry!” and warriors down the line of bathers echoed it, scrambling to the riverbank. Warriors were reaching for their gear. Spears, pikes and sheathed swords. No one bothered to put on armor. If a company of monsters had found you, you were all as good as dead.
You had just drawn yourself, naked, to the banks of the river as the mounted men reined up.
Their commander’s skin was blacker than his horse’s fur. So dark it was almost purple. There were three others: two flanking and one behind him. You tilted your head at the commander.
He was reaching for his own blade when you threw the point of yours yours up to his horse’s head. “Stop this!” you shouted. “Lay down your arms!”
The men about you grimaced and winced. “Are you in charge here?” the commander asked.
For all you knew you were–so you told him, “Yes!”
“Then what in the name of the Nailed God do you think you’re doing?”
You looked down to the river and then back at him. “I’m…taking a bath?” you said it like a question. You had no idea why this would upset him.
Naked, armed men laughed at that. It was an honest truth, if a little simple. Then again, you’re simple. So.
“You’re upstream of the watering place!” He fumed, “Do you expect my horses to drink from the same water you lot have been washing your asses in?”
This might shock you, Carth, but being naked and dripping wet in front of black riders in full raiment does not inspire much dignity. But you clung to what little you could and said, “Do you know who you’re speaking to?” Or something just as stupid. You didn’t even know who you were. Why would they?
“At your word, I’m speaking to the leader of this company—though I can’t say it shows at the moment.”
“If you’ll give me a moment to dress myself, mayhaps I can make a better impression.” There were scattered smirks down the line of naked men and a few grating noises like someone holding back laughter.
The commander rolled his eyes, “Once you put on your armor and your fine regalia, I’ll start calling you commander and captain. Until then, have your men lay down their arms before I decide they’re greater fools than you! Now stop fouling my horses’ drinking water—you’ll make them simple!”
You grinned. Perhaps it was the fact that you’d no idea the danger you were in, but a joke crept up on the fringes of your mind.
You had overheard warriors’ complaints while you bathed. You had taken a mental note of names and places I’ve since written for you in your index. “A thousand pardons,” you said. “I’m fresh from Ükardhi, far south.” You hoped you were pronouncing that right. “I had upstream baths there and never a problem with those lot turning simple from drinking the bathwater.”
You had begun to laugh. The mounted man’s mouth twitched as he tried not to join in.
And then he was laughing, too.
Later you would discover that this man was named Desmon. One of your two friends.
You’ve got two friends, see: Desmon Harcourt (a black rider: the large, rippling container of barely-sheathed muscle), and Aos Varangyan (the yellow-haired woman with a latticework of scars and a longsword). It was Aos who told you this by the cookfires at night.
“Why didn’t Desmon say something?” you asked. “Why put on such a show in front of everyone?”
“You were naked and pretending to be the captain of a regiment!” Aos sniggered. “Everyone wanted to see how that would play out. He would have been passing up a better opportunity than the Warlord’s discovery the monsters’ hideaway. Can you blame him?”
You decided you couldn’t, and laughed with her.
When the laughter died down, you noticed that Aos’s smile did not reach her eyes. She took a long pull of her drink. Her breath reeked of honey. “Are you okay?” you asked.
“I just wish your brother could’ve been here to see it,” she told you. “It’s been a hard week for all of us.” Her hand fell on your shoulder and then tightened. “I’m sorry.”
You needn’t concern yourself with that, Carth. I’ve fixed your records. No need to worry.
Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron