Chapter 18

Morning rises in the cold village. I begin the day with breakfast and reading news about recent events in the Kingdom Mei provided me.

“It seems like father and brother will be heading into battle soon. The news hasn’t reached most of Heistorm, but many are aware of the tides approaching. Do you know what the numbers on each side are?” I speak to her softly. 

“My father has given me reports of the mass recruiting campaign made by Lord Valum. Both he and your brother Dunick have raised nearly ten thousand altogether. However, what they sorely lack is knights of any rank. Infantry is just numbers, not actual results.” Mei speaks in a harsh tone.

“We barely have a militia here ourselves. It is up to Eckhart to train the next knights for the front lines. This war can take more than ten years if we don’t aid them in this.”

“The Empire has numbers, and they have many commanders. This war won’t be in our favor for long.”

“Trust in my father and brother. Regardless of our situation, they are formidable commanders and warriors. If they can pull some impossible feats, it is them.”

“I hope that you are right. Speaking of which, your first day of training starts soon. Make sure you report to Eckhart by the field soon.”

“Sure, I’ll do that when I am ready.” A cold sweat runs down my forehead, and my hands begin to shake subtly at the very thought.

“Master?” Celia enters my room and notices the nervous panic across my face.

“It’s nothing, Celia.”

Without more to talk about, I put on my coat and dark blue cloak and headed outside. The snowy fields reflected the rays of light into my eyes. Slipping on my gloves, I hurriedly approached the open area where Eckhart stood, instructing another recruit. By the sound of his tone, the recruit was not following instructions.

“YOU DISGRACE OF A PILE OF FLESH! IS THAT HOW YOU HIT A BABY? PUT MORE EFFORT INTO IT!” Eckhart’s intimidating presence is quite a sight.

“Eckhart! I hope you are not treating the squires too harshly.” I speak while approaching.

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“My Lord.” Eckhart salutes to my status. “I’m afraid it is just a single squire. One that I am TRYING TO MAKE HIM LISTEN TO MY INSTRUCTIONS!”

“I can see that very well. May I-” I stutter briefly and look to see a familiar tanned boy wielding a dulled sword and shield striking a training dummy.

“Carlo? Is that you?”

“Ah! Caleb! My good friend! I didn’t know you would be.”

“DID I TELL YOU TO STOP!? CONTINUE DUMBASS!”

“Eckhart, please.”

“Hmph! Very well.”

I approach Carlo, whose hair is damp from the sweat building on his forehead. He seems to be working hard, but the shield in his hand is proving to be much more challenging for him to carry.

“I assume we are going to be training together then. Glad to know my fellow partner is a familiar face.”

“Well, what can I say? I am a handsome man!”

“Barely. Has hair grown down there yet, or are you trying to compensate with that sorry excuse on your face?” I say with a smirk, clearly making light of his efforts.

“Hey, at least I got hair on my face; it doesn’t make you less than a baby!”

“TANIOS! YOU ARE SPEAKING TO A NOBLE OF THE HOUSE YOU-“

“Eckhart! I understand the honor and dignity of a man of your stature possess. Carlo is only making the atmosphere welcoming.”

“With all due respect, sir, discipline is the foundation that makes us Knights far greater than most.”

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“I never said that it wasn’t. Carlo is a special case; I can see that his heart will prove his worth.”

Carlo is taken aback and shyly blushes at the comment. Hearing the conviction behind my words, Eckhart nods and respectfully settles back.

“But he is right about that, Carlo; speaking to me lightly can get you into trouble you don’t want. Keep it to yourself until our sessions are over.” Placing my hand on his shoulder, I give him a firm nod, and he also responds.

Eckhart notices the unique style of my methods of reframing discipline.

“Lord Caleb, did you read all of the texts of our sword arts?”

“I did indeed. The ten styles of Heistorm and the sacred arts as well. I can see why it can take one’s lifetime to master each and every single style.”

“That is why I will teach you two styles in the next eight years. Being a master of one or two is good enough to make you a great warrior. I have high hopes for you, my Lord.”

Eckhart tosses a training sword toward me. I catch it instinctively but stiffen when the cold steel falls within my hands. My grip on the blade is loose and frail.

“Then, I shall teach you the basics of each style and what it can achieve. We will find which ones call to you and hone them as best as possible. For now, show me your talents!”

Eckhart rushes forward. Holding back, he swings his sword into the air. A frightened look quickly washes over my face, and I barely raise my sword to defend myself. 

Clang!

The loud vibrating sound of the blade clashes with mine. The sparks flash before my eyes, and a vivid vision of a bloody field locks my body. Eckhart doesn’t stop his assault and pulls his blade back for a slash from the side.

“Defend!” He yells towards me as the blade reaches my shoulder.

I do nothing but scream as I fall back, the handle slipping past my hands and falling to the ground. The blade whiffs above my head, and Eckhart stops his attack after realizing my position.

“What are you doing? Pick it up! Never let go of your weapon!”

“R-R-Right…” Shaking intensely, I attempt to reach for the blade. The moment my fingers brush the handle, a flash of a sword bathed in blood floods my sight. Panic breathing, I feel the crushing weight of guilt pull me down. I try to pull my hands away from the sword, but the moment I do, I notice the intense blood stains across my hands and arms. Torn red gauntlets and the body of a dead girl in front of me, her head sits away from her body, looking right directly at my soul.

I stagger back with a worried pace. I reach up to figure out what I see as the painful memory that scars my psyche.

“YAAAHHHH!!!” A blood-curdling scream exits my lungs. I stare at the grim cold sky, and the flowing tears from my eyes stain my cheeks.

A rough hand grips my collar and lifts me to my feet. Eckhart stares at my face and looks at my crying face.

“This is no place to cry! What kind of lord are you if you cry! Pick up the blade and attack!” Without knowing the reason for my tears or violent outbursts, I shove away from him and fall onto my back, scrambling away from the pain and sorrow.

“No…! No, no, nonono! I didn’t do it…! I never wanted to…! Sensei… Sensei, why? WHY!!!” I stumble back and try to escape, but I fall over my feet and hit the snow. The rapid heartbeat in my chest rings my ears, and my whole body goes cold; a dizzying feeling overtakes me.

The sudden vivid image of the girl’s head twitches, and her mouth moves.

“WHY DID YOU KILL ME!”

The head jumps toward me and vanishes before I can react. Leaving my back in the world of reality. Intense stress and mental anguish force me to vomit. Strength leaving my body, I faint face first into my vomit. Consciousness fading, I barely see through my dimmed sight the image of my mother kneeling next to me, her lips moving, but I can’t hear what she says. Then the lights go dark, and the abyss overtakes me.

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