Men marched at double pace, chattering quietly amongst themselves. Most were battle hardened, having seen the darkest sides of war and death throughout their short years.
For Kora, though, it would be a first.
Normally he would have been at the front of the group, being younger and faster and far more excited than most, but his mind was weighed down by heavy thoughts. His father being the most prominent.
‘Kora.’ He had said as they were leaving the tent. The tone of his voice had changed, and he spoke differently than he had before when he was addressing the men as their commander.
He turned back around, catching an apologetic glance from Brower before he exited the tent.
Argaes sighed and shut his eyes. ‘You should not call me father when in the presence of the men. How many times must I tell you?’
Kora looked around and shrugged, confused, as he should be. ‘There is no one here.’
General Argaes had to agree to that, but then, he was not required to. He knew that his son understood what it was he meant. ‘It does not matter. I only wished to speak with you about the mission.’ He said after a moment of gaining control of his emotions.
‘What about it?’ Kora asked, folding his arms and leaning against a support.
‘I am concerned about you and your…capabilities. It is your first, after all.’
‘Well, yes. But everyone must start somewhere.’ He countered. ‘And I have not disappointed in training, otherwise you would not have let me come in the first place.’
‘Training means little in the heat of battle. Only experience can save you.’
Kora sighed and straightened himself, looking into his father’s eyes. ‘If this is about Mardon…he was too young, we all knew that.’
‘You are not so young yourself.’
‘I am nineteen father! Older than you were the first time you….’ His eyes fell to the floor and he shifted his feet uncomfortably.’
‘The first time? The first time I killed a man?’ Argaes asked sharply. Kora nodded, clenching his teeth to keep them shut and soundless. ‘Circumstance required that I do so. There was no backing down, and it was his life, or my own.’
‘Yes, and I am your son. Fighting is in our blood.’ He took a few steps forward, his eyes brightening. ‘You do not know how long I have been waiting for this day, to prove myself.’
‘Do you? Truly?’
The question shocked Argaes. Of course he knew! He had the same thoughts, the same desires as a young boy himself. The need to be proven a man, it had driven him to do things which he now regretted. He understood very well.
At least, he said as much.
Kora found it hard to believe, though, and questioned it with his eyes. ‘You do not think I am ready?’
The General’s mouth opened, as if he were prepared to answer, but he quickly realized that he was lying to himself. It angered him, and he did not understand why. Unfortunately, the feeling showed in his features, and his son did not fail to notice.
‘I do not understand.’ Kora said, pursing his lips. ‘There are several fighters amongst the men who are younger than I, and less experienced.’
‘Age is not the point. Besides, you have already completed your original duty.’
‘Then what is the point? You can not hold me back forever, father.’
‘That is not for you to decide!’ Argaes cried suddenly, his anger rising. ‘Though you say it, I fear you have forgotten that I am your father, and you are bound by duty to obey me. When I speak, you listen. When I give an order, you obey. There is nothing else.’
Kora was shocked, to say the least, though it was not the first, or the last time that his father would speak to him in such a manner. He cast his eyes to the ground, avoiding his father’s blazing gaze, and mumbled quietly to himself.
‘Not anymore.’ Were his words.
‘What did you say?’ The General demanded strictly, speaking as if to a young child. But Kora struggled to answer with words. It was not that he did not have them, or that he was unwilling to tell his father what was on his mind. It was just…. He shook his head and growled through his teeth at the man standing before him.
‘Tell me what you said, before I am tempted to send you back.’
With a fist clenched tight in anger and the other gripping his heart to suppress its feelings, Kora spat the words out, thick with venom. ‘And you seem to have forgotten that I am your son, and of age. At any moment I can leave our house, your house, and the house of our forefathers. Your name will no longer be mine. And there will be no honor!’
And there was silence in the tent, though two raging storms threw themselves against one another.
Threatening to send the foundations of the worlds crumbling to their knees.
Though their argument had taken place several hours before, it was still fresh, and very vivid in his mind. And while Kora marched at the end of the columns, it only helped to add to the fuel of his growing fire. It showed in his eyes, burning brightly with hate and malice.
He could not understand why his father would treat him so…differently, than the rest of the men. He always demanded that Kora treat him as his commander and leader, so why then would he not be treated as a soldier?
It was all so confusing, and to him, it meant only that his father was stubborn, and selfish.
There was a slight movement at his side, and Kora was startled to find a person there.
‘Aldren! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?’ He asked, only partially joking. The fellow soldier nudged him in the side, falling into step with him.
Though he was several years older than Kora, he was the newest recruit. Perhaps that was why he had befriended Kora in the first place. Perhaps because they shared something in common.
‘Well, you could have called my name at the least.’
‘Does it matter?’ Aldren asked, laughing lightly. ‘So, I heard this will be your first battle? Are you excited?’
Instantly Kora’s attitude faltered. Yes, he was excited, but for all the wrong reasons. But how could he say that? Rather than stir up more trouble, he simply nodded. ‘Aye, very much. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time.’ It was not a lie, to be sure, and he wished that it would come sooner, so that he could get it over with, prove to his father that he was capable as any man.
‘You are not worried? I know I was the first time I was called to fight, though it was not exactly a military exercise.’
‘Well, I suppose I am just a bit. But I have been training for so long I do not see what there is to be worried about. If I keep my head and remember what I have learned, I should be able to hold my own.’ Kora answered thoughtfully, assuring himself once again that he was qualified for this. He had done very well in training and during skirmishes, though not as well as Mardon. He voiced his opinion to his friend, who gave a half a chuckle.
‘Yes, he was a good swordsmen. And look where it got him.’
They walked in silence for awhile, both thinking about the same thing. It was not that Mardon was not smart or clever, a good swordsman had to be, but he simply did not have the experience which can only come with…experience. Undoubtedly his body would have been found by some wandering scavenger. Life through death. Such was the way of the wild.
But Kora did not second guess himself.
Perhaps because he truly was ready for the challenge ahead. Perhaps because he was so determined to prove his father wrong. Either way, it did not matter to him.
‘Just keep your head on a swivel.’ Aldren said, offering up a bit of friendly advice. ‘These barbarians are not much good at fighting, but they will do anything to survive. They are worse than animals. Absolutely no honor.’
Kora nodded in agreement.
But then…he was not so sure.
War. It is such a funny thing. Do you not agree?
I would suppose not, for to you it will be bloody, and painful. But blood is nothing when you have tasted as I have. And pain?
When you are beyond feeling, beyond thought or emotion or desire, then you will understand. But for those men, it was life in every aspect of the word. For some it was nourishment to their driving hunger. To others, it was a way out of poverty and depravity. And for one, at least, it was the means of salvation.
Unfortunately, I do note believe that he understood the meaning of the word.
But to me, war was a gift, for it brings such trophies. And how I love to display them on my wall, all beaten and bent. There are only two things which I have ever known to break the soul of a man. War is, of course, the most prominent and understandable. But the second…I know little of such things.