He was tired, and hungry. But most of all, he wished to change his past. Things left unsaid. Words better left unspoken.The endless white stretched before him, like burning fields of snow. It ate away at his eyes and his feet, searing and rending. His cracked lips bled profusely for lack of moisture.
Above, a fiery serpent bore down on him, its one, great eye ever present.
It gazed deep into his soul, searching out the desires, the very fears of his heart. It laughed in his face, spat blazing darts. And he was afraid.
The prospect of death had never frightened him. To die was honorable. But then…not like this. No man should have to die out here, alone, without comfort or care. Unfortunately, he was not a man, not yet.
Behind him followed his shadow, tracing each of his steps, growing ever shorter as the sun gradually reached its climax.
For him, this was to be the end.
His spirit was mine.
The walls of the tent shifted and wavered, as if heaving a great sigh, and a man entered.
For a moment, Argaes’ mind became excited, but the feeling quickly faded when he turned, realizing it was not who he had been eagerly anticipating.
‘General.’ The soldier stated, coming to attention and sharply saluting in the traditional manner. Dressed much like the rest of those who made up the ragged camp, he wore thin, light colored material. High boots to protect against thorns and other dangers on the ground. His half plate armor chinked as he moved.
A small cape, draped over his left shoulder, signified his rank. The crest of the Horn emblazoned on the sage tinted material.
‘You have news, Lamarr?’ The General asked, the other sensing the disappointment in his voice.
‘I do, sir. I have seen to all the preparations, and the men are at the ready. When you give the order, they will move.’
‘And what of the scouts?’
Lamarr shook his head. ‘They have not returned yet. But I am sure that the storm will have delayed them, some.’ The last part was added quickly. An attempt to reassure his commander. It seemed to have little affect, though.
They stood in silence for a few moments before Lamarr took a courageous step up to General Argaes, resting a caring hand on his shoulder. They had been companions since the beginning, and friends for longer, and he understood well what was going through the other’s mind.
‘I would not worry about him. He is young, but he has a good head. Just like his father.’
The General looked up, a bit of a smile fading into his lips.
‘I am not so sure about that.’ He said, questioning, not for the first time, his decision to let them come. The one...there was nothing left which could be done for him. But now, he did not wish to risk the second as well.
‘They will come.’
‘I know.’ Argaes said, acknowledging Lamarr’s concern for him. The man stood a bit longer, then excused himself, leaving his commander to sort through his scattered thoughts.
Oh how he hated them!
They haunted him, like nightmares, frozen in this waking dream. At times he was unsure which were reality, and which were only a figment of his imagination. Perhaps they were one and the same? Who could say? But he could not tear his mind away from the boy, the struggle it would be to track down his family. If he had any.
‘By Aster!’ The General swore vehemently, surprising himself. He was not one to use such language, but then, such times deserved as much.
‘I am strong, and learn quickly.’ The boy had said, his chest puffed out, chin angled towards the heavens in a determined manner.
After having looked him over, Argaes had to agree with him. It was evident that he had spent his childhood working on a farm. Days and months and years toiling in the sun, and the work showed in the corded muscles and thick tan.
‘How old are you?’
‘Seventeen, sir. Soon to be eighteen.’
Even before the answer was given, the General knew it was a lie. The boy was tall for his age, to be sure, but he was young. Far too young. And naive. Ahh, but age came in more ways than just years.
Perhaps it was this which first caused me to be intrigued. It is not often that I turn my eyes towards the realm of such a lowly mortal. They are so boring.
General Argaes was prepared to turn him away as he had for so many others. But there, just for a moment, he saw something in the boy that he recognized in himself, many years before. He also understood the deep desire that must have been set in his heart. As a young child he would have dreamed of going away to war. As a growing child, he would have felt the need to bring honor to his name.
Farming was surely not an honorable trade.
‘Can you wield a sword?’ The General asked, finally, folding his arms and biting down on his lip as habit required. One of a few he had been unable to break.
‘Yes sir! As good as any man.’ The boy exclaimed. Words which undoubtedly meant nothing. Unfortunately for him, though, he would prove different.
‘We shall see.’ Argaes said, passing his final decree. It took the boy sometime to realize what had happened, but once he had, his face brightened and he nearly embraced the man. But regaining control of himself he straightened his shoulders.
‘You will not regret this, sir.’
The General sighed, and swore once again.
The regret was beginning to sink in now.
For the third time he swore, cursing the sands and the winds and the sun. He never had liked the desert, but this was the first time it had truly beset upon him. It seemed that it was destined to claim his life, the lives of his men. And if not in their entirety, then several years, at least.
Ahh, but Hadaarass has served me well through the years. Thousands of miles of endless, wasted plains laid desolate by the gods once, long ago. There is little death, and no decay, as life is sparse. What little there is, is hard, unruly, and dangerous. Wild beasts roam the landscape in search of food. Wild men prowl in search of a bounty. And the beast of a sun scavenges all that is left.
The storm was the only thing worrying Argaes at the time, though.
It had already taken one, and he vowed by the Five that it would not take the other.
A noise stirred him from his restless sleep and Argaes shut his eyes tight a moment before rising to his feet. The world around him had grown quiet, and dark. Night had fallen upon them, which was welcome, as it brought endless shade and escape from the heat of the sun. The men would be catching as much sleep as they could, though many would be as restless as he, preparing themselves in body and mind for the hours ahead.
Four men entered the tent then, saluting sharply as Argaes acknowledged them with a nod, failing to truly recognize them for a brief moment.
‘Kantos.’ The first and oldest of the four said. ‘You seem a bit tired.’
He knew only one man who called him by his first name.
‘Brower! When did you return?’ he asked sharply, a bit irritated at himself for having not noticed who they were. He glanced along their short line, checking, as any commander would, that each were safe and unharmed. But for the forth, it was far more than the concern of a military leader.
‘Just a few moments ago, actually. Lamarr told us that you had been waiting, so we came here as soon as we could.
The General’s mind was able to rest a bit, at last. And after all that had happened, it was welcome.
Five days on the march, three wasted in waiting for the raging storm to settle. One life lost. All put in the path of danger. What had started out as a simple military exercise was quickly becoming a career ending disaster. One that Argaes could not afford.
But then, could anyone?
‘You had trouble?’
‘Yes, a bit, I suppose. Nothing that Kora and I could not handle, though.’ Brower answered, looking at the man farthest down the line.
‘Aye. I do believe the child will be having nightmares for awhile.’ The young man added in agreement.
The group chuckled amongst themselves but Argaes did not bother asking what they found so funny. It was most likely not worth explaining. It irritated him a bit, though, as he wished that they would not treat such matters so lightly. The one, to be specific. This mission, while relatively unimportant, meant much to all of them.
And for himself…it could mean everything.
But he knew Brower well, and the man, while perhaps childish in some ways, was as good a soldier and as good a scout as any he had met before. And the General had met his fair share.
‘Whatever happened, I hope that our position was not compromised?’
The four shook their heads in unison. ‘No, none of them saw us, except the child, and I doubt that it was old enough to understand.’ Brower assured him, and Argaes could trust his word, so he did not worry.
‘Good. Tell me what you found.’