Time for saturday? Time for more fiction? Say it ain’t so! For this story I wanted to mix an origin story, with a first contact story. Plus I want to introduce the third ‘star’ of the Tri-star. This is the first scene of the story, with an old warrior who can’t deal with his new lot in life.
Warning: Silly fantasy names.
The war started with an old man crying. His name was Raynard, Raynard Ramcoil. He wasn’t so much old, as too old for the greenhorns around him. Young men and women drinking to forget the day of labor behind them.
They sat around sturdy wooden tables older than they were, and they drank deep from overflowing tankards. There were the Pickscur boys, with their faces covered in the dirt of the mines, their horns nothing but small blocks of bone laid flat against their heads. They boasted loudly about some woman they never met.
There was Mal Sootcurve, a massive boy who took such simple joy in being around his friends, that he ignored the possibilities his life had to offer. The boy was smart, stronger than two men crushed together, and had a heart that moved anyone he spoke to.
Cathy Roughbone was angry, due to some mixture of the terrible drinks put before them, the new miners who bothered her at her table, and the loud voices that shook the room.
Raynard though, he was just sad. Despite the voices all around him, the stories of a hard day of work, of families back home, and beauties they were yet to meet, he couldn’t drown out one voice in his ear.
Oh lord Mayen, six-horns strong,
On this day our hearts are wronged,
Through the cracks of rock’n stone,
A bright & terr’ble light has shone.
It was the pollard twins. Anne and Devin Bellpoll. They stood at the front of the room, their faces reflecting their inebriation through sweat and swaying. They sang an old song, too old for anyone to sing. It only survived in the hearts of the poor, like the Bellpolls, and fading warriors, like Ramcoil.
Oh lord Mayen, who knows best,
When will your children earn their rest?
Blood for crimes we never caused,
Lost kings to black and horr’ble claws,
“Why you crying old man?” Jamie Pickscur said as he struck Raynard on the shoulder, “They finally putting you out to pasture?”
“Quiet,” Raynard hushed the boy with a finger.
But a Pickscur doesn’t abide being silenced. His face twisted up like he was overtaken by a terrible stench. Jamie looked to his brother, and then back at Raynard.
Oh lord Mayen, king of all,
We submit we have stood tall,
But when your wrath returns again,
We beg, forgive our father’s sin,
“I’ve had just about enough of you old man,” Jamie was pointing, his eye twitching, “Can barely lift an axe, but you’re always acting like you’ve got gilded horns and shit diamonds.”
“Jamie,” Mal said over his table, and many eyes in the room turned to see the longhorn speak, “Just leave’em alone you sod.”
Raynard couldn’t concentrate on them if he wanted to. The next part of the song was already with him, carrying him to distant battlefields, and wounds that turned to scars. He could hear the battle cries of comrades, and the screams of those who wouldn’t make it. He could remember every detail, the weight of his axe, the chafe in his leathers, the smell of mud and blood on metal. He could remember everything except what they gained.
Oh lord Mayen, six-horns strong,
Hear your mighty children’s song,
Watch our hearts, and watch our way,
Know the Traitor’s debt is paid.
“Eh,” Jamie spat on the floor, then plinked a knuckle off of Raynard’s left horn, just missing an old chip, “The old man is just broken. Just like the rest of his lot.”
Raynard blinked back a tear. He turned on Jamie before the boy could get up from his seat. His hard hands wrapped around Jamie’s throat, his thumbs squeezed tight just above his apple.
Jamie croaked in surprise. His arms flailing as Raynard gritted his teeth and growled, squeezed tighter and tighter. The others at the table jumped to the boy’s defense, pulling at Raynard’s arms, trying to peel him off finger by finger. Shouting rose in the room, smaller fights erupted with little excuse.
Raynard could see the fear in the Pickscur boy’s eyes, that fear of a pointless death. The boy’s eyes darted around, looking for some escape that he had yet to figure out. He fought against the reality of his situation, the creeping realization, he was on the edge of mortality.
“Raynard!” Boomed a voice over the room, “Let him go!”
Raynard closed his eyes. He could already feel his fingers go loose. Still too weak to disobey an order.
When he finally let go, he found his arms pulled back, and his body held tight against Mal. He was turned to face the mine chief, Thom. The man was just older than Raynard, years that Raynard could count. He limped into the room, the peg on his right leg knocking against the floor with every step.
Mal whispered over Raynard’s shoulder, “I’m sorry, Ray.”
The crowd cleared for Thom’s approach. The man managed to look in charge, despite the effort every step took him, and having no weapon to his name but a leather-bound notebook. He kept his shoulders straight, and he carried his dirt with dignity.
“Really Ramcoil?” Thom said as he got close enough that their difference in posture became all the difference in the world, “The Pickscur boy?”
Raynard looked to the floor, “I’m sorry, sir.”
“He tried to kill me!” Jamie screamed, “He should be warming a stockade, not carrying an axe!”
Cathy swatted Jamie over the back of the head.
Thom didn’t look to Jamie, his eyes bore into Raynard. Anytime he tried to look up, he was met with that glare.
“Today,” Thom said, “I have to agree.”
Raynard shook his head. He made a mistake, but he wouldn’t go down without explaining himself.
“It was stupid,” Raynard said, “But sir, the anniversary is tomorrow.”
Thom opened his notebook, “As if I’m not aware. Which is exactly why you won’t be going in tomorrow.”
“No one should be going in,” Raynard growled, trying to stand up tall before realizing Mal still held him tight. He pulled himself free from the grip, and looked around the room, “We can’t work tomorrow, not that day.”
Thom’s expression changed, though Raynard imagined the kids would miss it. That look in his eyes, Raynard knew it from the mirror. It was a memory, flooding to the surface. Then Thom blinked, and it was forced back once more.
“Somehow,” Thom said, “I think the king would disagree. In fact, we are reopening the Old Howler.”
“Ah shit,” Jamie grumbled, “Can I take tomorrow off too?”
The Old Howler was a smaller mine. It gained its nickname for the deafening sound near the entrance when the wind hit it. The shrill noise carried inside, echoing down the chamber and making it disorienting to work in. The mine had a history of bad incidents, deaths, structure collapse. It was closed when supports inside the mine started to buckle, and stayed that way for over a year.
“We need every hand we can get,” Thom said as he looked around the ragged room of miners, “Now everyone get some sleep, dawn won’t wait.”
They grumbled, clattered plates and cups, and collected themselves before their journey to the bunks. Everyone kept their eyes away from old Raynard. They chose to walk past, leaving that gap of space between him and them as if contact would make them just as guilty. He sat down at the table, his fingers trembling and his chest burning. He felt like a fool.
“What’s wrong, Raynard?” Devin asked.
Raynard looked up in time to see the boy sit down at the table. It was hard for Raynard to hide his disgust at pollards. Their heads were flattened smooth, whatever scars from the removal of their horns were typically hidden under their hair. Devin in particular had long brown locks that he wore thick, better to hide his shame.
“I saw you,” Devin said, his eyes darting between Ray and empty chairs, “During our song.You were so sad.”
Raynard shook his head, “I was just remembering the past. Don’t you worry about it.”
Devin squinted his eyes. It was the kind of shy reaction you expect of someone like him. He would do anything to avoid a straight look at Raynard, even if that meant closing his eyes as they spoke.
“I…” He stopped, and looked back toward the door, “I kind of already am. Worried that is.”
“Devin,” His sister shouted from the exit. They both turned and saw her lean her head in. She looked frustrated. “Come on, I don’t like waiting.”
Devin pointed to Raynard, “I’ll be right there, just having a chat.”
They could hear Anne grumbling from there. She left, and they were finally alone.
“You used to fight, right?” Devin asked.
Raynard wasn’t an expert at idle gabbing. Maybe he used to be, it was hard to remember.
“You always move like a soldier,” Devin said with a nervous chuckle, “A sir here, stand tall there.”
He turned on the boy, “Its called being respectful.”
Devin put his hands up, “I get it.”
“You don’t,” He replied, “none of you do, is the problem. You’re all too young to remember a thing.”
Raynard moved to stand, but Devin squeezed his hand over the old man’s. Raynard stopped, but he had to fight against his first instinct. He would have put his skull through the poor boy’s, laid him out in the blink of an eye and dealt with the consequences after. At least, that is what he would have tried, who knew if it would work at his age.
“I knew a lady,” Devin said, “Old lady, she remembered. Said times were different before the fighting.”
Raynard slipped his hand free, and stayed standing, but he didn’t leave just yet.
“Before the crown, we remembered our mistakes.” Raynard said.
“Mistakes?” Devin said, his eyebrows rising.
Raynard shook his head, “We shouldn’t work tomorrow, no one should. So many young men, of all sorts, died to make life that much better, to return to the way of Mayen. We failed, but mark me, we will be punished for our ignorance.”
The words came out like fire, but they only confused poor Devin. The boy was oblivious, to the cosmic balance, to the holy might he spat in the face of, to all of it. Raynard stomped to the door, unsure what to do but rest his old body until the dark day passed.
“Ray, wait!” Devin shouted out. But Raynard ignored him, passing out into the warm evening air.
It was fine. They could do their work on the day of the destroyers, on the day of the traitor. They could dance on those graves, Raynard wouldn’t stop them. His heart would remain clean.