Lamoral Trueshot snarls at the cloud of dust descending from the distant hill, and curses the conscription banner the riders fly in vain pride. May the Kaenon protect his family from this madness.
He stands on the porch of his stead at sunset and prays that the lord’s soldiers will pass his home, but they turn towards his gates. He steps forward and drinks in the sight of Ilmarli, his son, as he practices his shieldcraft Esera, his sister, who dances around him in circles, hurling pebbles and dirt at him, which Ilmarli deflects with aetrane threads, and Lamoral smiles at their joyous play. Ilmarli is gifted with magic, but not yet skilled.
“Get inside, both of you,” he commands, and their play seizes immediately.
“But father—” Ilmarli stops when Lamoral raises hand.
“Inside and shut the door.”
Right before Ilmarli enters the stead, the first rider thunders through the gate, into the yard, a wraith against the setting sun. Lamoral exhales long and hard.
War has reached his home, and the lord wants him, his bow and his son on the field.
“My son stays home,” Lamoral says.
The soldiers shackle them and lead them like mules, as his wife and daughter watch.
It is dark and morning dew clings his boots, as Lamoral looks at Ilmarli, who swells with boyish pride in his beautiful robes, the runes of his craft woven into the wool in lilac and silver threads. Lamoral smiles at the boy, who is brave because he is young.
Lamoral has bested death and knows better. He ties a bracelet of braided leather around his son’s wrist, a good knot, then traces a rune of warding on it. A faint sparkle of aetrane energy seeps into the leather. It is not much, but anything helps.
“You stay out of harm’s way, you understand?” he says.
Ilmarli grins. “Not easy to do upfront, is it?”
“Don’t be a fool, boy, they get killed first. You fall back to me.”
“We’ll see each other after?”
Because Ilmarli averts his eyes, Lamoral cups his chin, stubbled from a rough week, with one hand and locks his gaze with his son, then pulls him close and hugs him, not wanting to let go, but has to when the horns blare and their fellow Ileyev form up. Shields at the front, Strikers at the rear.
Across the field, the Owric horde does the same, as wall of bronze armor and spears, gleaming in the light of dawn.
Lamoral whispers his incantation, as he traces the runes worked into the body of his bow. He watches the Owric horde trot downhil, then break into a run, holding their line as only trained warriors can as they rush his army with leveled spears.
He gets three shots off before the lines crash, bronze clattering, soldiers wailing, killers grunting and guts spilling as green fields turn into black mud, drenched in blood and bowels.
Lamoral watches their line buckle under the onslaught, and presses forward. He must get to his son! Every arrow counts as he enters the deafening fray. He is cut and bruised and sprayed with hot blood.
Where is Ilmarli?
Where is his boy?
Then he sees a mangled body wrapped in frayed silver and lilac, trampled beneath bloody boots, and eyes that once shone with admiration for him now made dull by a bronze blade.
Lamoral screams and a spear pierces his gut, and the last thing Lamoral sees is the half-moon blade of an axe swinging down at him, held by a grinning owric, and the blade strikes as an arrow takes the owric in the eye, and with his last breath, Lamoral curses the Kaenon for forsaking his kin.
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