Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)
TITLE: A man of worth
By mick dawson
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Barrand sat by his campfire, sharpening a captured Vindavian sword with a whetted stone. Although in his mid thirties, the Nusallean appeared almost ten years younger. Holding up the blade, he saw a black haired and bearded face on the flat surface. Its edges glowed almost white in the reflection of the flames.
His “axe brother,” a younger man of twenty, attempted to make conversation. It seemed on the whole, he had nothing to say, but nerves drove the young man to speak. It was never unusual the things a man said on the eve of a battle. There were always regrets, there were tears and sometimes songs were sung of better times.
Satisfied with the edge, Barrand re-sheathed the sword and looked over the hill. Hundreds of fires similar to his littered the landscape. Across the Pentraca River, the Vindavians did likewise. Sighing, he stretched, leaning back on his elbows against the hill.
“I have heard the others speak of you bitterly for using a Vindavian sword instead of the traditional Nusallean axe,” said the younger man.
“It was to be expected Yornan,” muttered Barrand wearily. “I at first meant only to keep it as a trophy, but it feels “right” in my hand. Drink with me?” he asked, producing a wineskin, from beside his sleeping furs.
Yornan shook his head, spurring Barrand on to gulp greedily.
“Why do you never seen perturbed to meet with the south-men Barrand?”
“I have been fighting wars as both a soldier to the king and as a mercenary for foreign kings since I was fourteen.”
“Aye, I lied about my age to join the first war with Vindavia.”
“Do you have any regrets?”
“None that I can think of.”
“I regret that I may not see my wife again. We were wed only last harvest. Were you ever in love?”
“I was,” grunted Barrand. “For quite awhile, I was close to a girl of my village.”
“She gave her heart to another. Who can blame her though? He was the smith’s son. Jogan was his name. He was much more handsome than I, heavier of frame, brimming over with confidence; not to mention that he had a trade. When he set his eye on her, he became closer to her inch by inch until I felt like the third friend politely tolerated. It was then that I left to join the army for the first time, before I lost her completely.”
“Do you still love her?”
“Aye… I do,” Barrand uttered softly.
“Then why did you not fight for her affections?”
“How naïve the youth are,” he muttered. “She desired another. You cannot force anyone to love you anymore than you can force the petals of a flower open.”
“But why do you continue to love her if she does not return your affections?”
“I suppose that for some of us, Yornan; that is as good as it gets. Hers is the face I see each morning in my mind’s eye. She is the reason I rise to meet another day. It is a pleasant thought that I hang onto,” he said, covering himself against the cold.
“I understand your thoughts. I think on my wife in the same way since I was conscripted. When did they conscript you?”
“What; are you mad? We may very well die tomorrow. Do you hope to die by Vindavian steel?”
Barrand chuckled for a moment.
“It is not quite that way. I agree that it is not worth existing in a world without love, but I joined for a different reason. An unknown god has given me a gift for killing.”
“A sad gift,” conjectured Yornan.
“Perhaps, but that is the reason I fight other men’s wars. Back in the village, I was shy and silent. Most considered me a fool. No one has fond memories of me from where I come. It is different on the battlefield. Only there can I win any respect.”
Barrand smiled faintly.
“It is only in a time of war that I am considered a man of any worth.”
“Then you do not fear tomorrow at all?” asked Yornan as Barrand nestled into his furs and closed his eyes.
“No,” smiled Barrand.
A few moments passed as Yornan watched him. Soon deep rhythmic breathing came from the veteran; the smile remained on his face as he blissfully slumbered.
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