The great sea of militia marched, on horseback, out of the city gates that evening. Most of the men were poorly equipped, given only a weapon of their choosing and leather armor. Only a select few were given full metal plate armor, but Borus was not one of those lucky few. He wilted as he looked about the army. Their faces wore an expression of inhuman gloom that was unfamiliar to him. That night, he struggled to stay awake on his horse. Borus did not want to sleep, fearing ambush. He stared forlornly at the stars.
A red haired, mustached, heavily armored man with a thick accent, presumably a knight, noticed him. The knight approached Borus, keeping a respectful distance from him.
“Is something wrong, lad?” He asked.
“…” Borus looked down, refusing to make eye contact. He felt that this man was going to feign sympathy, and he did not want to hear it.
“I-If you don’t want to talk, I guess that’s fine.” The knight spoke, sighing deeply as though he suffered from loneliness, “Were all brothers united in this war anyway, and we choose to fight for our own reasons.”
“We!? What do you mean, we?” Borus glared at the knight, who met his hostility with shock. “I’m a draftee. I had no choice whether I wanted to partake in this war or not!”
There was silence. The knight’s face twisted in distress. Borus looked ahead, now avoiding eye contact.
“I was forced to abandon my family.” Borus grimaced. “Do you not know how that feels, abandoning those closest to you? I have a wife and a child at home. It would be a miracle if I ever return to them!”
More silence. Tears rolled down the knight’s face. Borus looked at him, slightly surprised.
“I… I’m sorry.” The knight said. “I’m just lonely. I wanted to talk to you to try to cheer you up. I did have a family, and they all probably believe I am dead right about now.” The knight continued, his story only getting worse. “When I volunteered for this war, my wife threatened divorce; she didn’t want to become widowed.”
The knight was now crying. Borus felt sorry for him, but did not show it. He wanted to give the knight empathy, explaining how he left Epsione and Aramis, but did not. He knew that this man has never known true love, and probably never will. Epsione understood the situation that Borus was in, but unlike the knight’s wife, accepted it, as heart wrecking as it was. This knight, much like Borus, had little chance of surviving the upcoming siege.
It’s not worth knowing a dead person anyway… Borus thought.
He then immediately felt disgusted with himself. What kind of monster was he turning into? Was he always this cruel? Borus decided to try to offer some form of empathy.
“Stay away from me, you cold blooded dastard…” The knight spat, riding away from Borus.
Borus sighed; he was now all alone, even though he had a opportunity at making a temporary acquaintance. The stars above him shone brightly as he unwillingly drifted off to sleep, firmly gripping the reins of his horse.
Borus’s horse whinnied loudly, suddenly waking him up. He looked around. It was the dead of night, and the moon shone fully in the starry night sky. The grassy plains around him were covered with a snowy white frost. There was the occasional soft crunch as the horse’s hooves navigated the snowy landscape. Cold wind brushed against Borus’s face as he saw that most of the other knights in the sea of militants were sleeping on their moving horses. Few were talking in quieted whispers. Borus, tired and slightly agitated, patted his horse’s neck softly.
“You really don’t show any mercy, do you?” Borus sighed. “I would be lucky to fall asleep again after that startle you gave me.”
His horse snorted, as if it understood every word.
Borus softly pet the animal behind its ear. Remembering the first time he met his horse when it was only a few weeks old. It was also when he met Epsione for the first time.
Borus was on a field next to a parish coming back home from an unsuccessful bartering session when he heard violent metal clattering coming from a shack in the nearby village. He took his sword, leaving his goods in the field, and went to investigate. He nearly gagged upon entering the building. There were rows of hanging flesh, dripping pools of bright red blood onto the white granite flooring. Domestic animal and game carcasses hung from hooks on the ceiling, much of them skinned completely and ridden with flies and larvae. The room smelled like decay, and blood bonded like paint to its interior. There was so much gore that Borus could almost taste decaying meat as he breathed in. In the center of it all was a bald, fat man, with blood staining his beard and clothing. He was a Butcher. He beat a cleaver upon a severed cow leg, spraying more crimson blood on the white walls. He had a cage next to him. Within it was a small, frightened foal. Its legs shook and it whimpered, tears flowing from its traumatized eyes.
Borus called out to the butcher, gripping the sword on his waist.
“Ho there! I am a Traveler, and I heard metallic noises coming from the fields outside. Is everything alright?” Borus waved to the Butcher who noticed him immediately.
“Aye lad, I am just doing some honest, good and clean work around here.” He slammed the cleaver upon the battered cow leg again. He showed absolutely no remorse as blood splattered upon his face and he smiled sadistically. “Don’t you just love the scent of raw meat?”
The Butcher breathed in deeply, chuckling as he exhaled, pounding his cleaver upon the mass of flesh before him, blood spilling upon his garments. The small horse to his side whimpered loudly, as if it were crying for help.
“Shaddup, you filthy animal!”
The Butcher kicked the side of the horse’s cage, the poor creature stopped whimpering, tucking its tail between its tail in submission. Borus’s face twisted in disgust. He had never seen such cruel treatment of an animal before.
“What are you going to use that horse for?” Borus asked.
“What do you think?” The butcher replied. “I am going to murder it and feast upon its insides raw. Young calves like these always have the tenderest flesh.”
“That’s what I thought… Hand him over.”
The Butcher screamed, glaring at Brutus. He slammed the cleaver into the flesh before him in rage, then tore the weapon out of the meat and turned towards the merchant.
“You heard what I said. Hand him over before I call the authorities, this goes against several laws in our kingdom!”
“That would make you a thief. I kill thieves.” Brutus noticed that the entire cleaver was soaked in animal blood; the steel had completely lost its original color.
“B-but.” Borus stuttered, no longer feeling calm, drawing his sword. This was the first time he fought someone other than a poorly equipped Highwayman wanting to steal his wares.
“Well, Well, Well.” The Butcher then said, raising his weapon. “The authorities make no laws against the murder of thieves, do they?”
The Butcher then charged, waving his cleaver around. Borus raised his sword, wielding it with both hands, and blocked a blow to his head. The Butcher screamed, following up by aggressively swinging his cleaver left, right, and left again. His fighting style was primitive. He did not look for any openings as he tried, with brute force, to shatter Borus’s sword with his strength. The Butcher raised the cleaver and swiped downwards toward Borus’s head. Borus jumped past his left side, knowing that he could not fully block such an attack, and immediately felt burning pain as the Butcher landed a hit on his right leg. Borus stumbled down onto the floor as blood spilled from his body, staining the ground an even darker shade of red. The adrenaline blocked most of the pain, but Borus screamed in agony anyway. He was unable to move his lower body. As the Butcher charged again, Borus yanked the carcass of a deer above him, and it fell upon his lap. He held the dead animal between the Butcher and himself, using it as a shield. Borus grunted in pain as The crazed Butcher smacked the carcass repeatedly with his weapon. Flesh and blood sprayed the room as the deer slowly became worn thin by the unrelenting blows.
It was humiliating at the time, but Borus cried for help, feeling that he could very well die by the hands of this maniac. Borus continued screaming. Eventually, the Butcher ripped the worn thin carcass from Borus’s hands. He slammed his foot into Borus’s chest, causing a loud snap as the bloodied rubber boot made contact. Borus began to vomit blood. As the metallic taste filled his mouth, he felt razor sharp steel sting his throat.
“Any last words, merchant boy?” the Butcher growled. Borus noticed movement outside the slaughterhouse. He saw a pair of brown boots as a young woman, presumably in her early twenties, stepped in, bow and arrow in hand.
“Wha?” Borus panted.
“Eh?” the Butcher bared his teeth, turning to the girl. “What the he-”
He was cut short as an arrow pierced his neck, coming out from the opposite side of which it entered. The maniac slumped and fell back, dead. The woman who saved Borus walked forward and looked upon him for a couple of seconds. She began to turn away, about to walk outside the building and abandon him.
“W… Please, wait…I… I’m dying…” Borus coughed up blood. As his heartbeat slowed, the pain upon his left side became agonizing. He struggled to retain his external composure. The woman stopped, turning her head slightly to the side.
“Why should I help you? You are not the first dying soldier I’ve seen.” Her words were cold, and they, along with her simple yet sturdy armored attire and physical attractiveness, confirmed in Brutus’s mind that she was a mercenary.
“I am not a soldier, I am a merchant. Please… I am not rich but I do have supplies. I left them in the-”
“They were taken. I saw some buffoons, dancing around like it was the first luck they had in a while, run off with your wares on my way here.”
“Uuuuugh.” Brutus moaned in pain as he became dizzy. The anemia, or loss of blood, started to affect him. “If you’re going to leave, just put me out of my misery first.” Tears ran down his face as Borus winced. “The pain… It’s unbearable. And…”
The woman kneeled to the side of him, putting a hand upon his chest.
“What are you-”
“Stay still, this will take a moment.”
Her hand lit in vibrant blue. Borus winced as bodily tissue replicated, healing itself. Tendons and bones snapped back into place, His heart beat quickly as new blood flowed within him, replacing that which was lost. His shoulder blade, torn in two after he fell upon the floor, snapped loudly as bone marrow repaired itself. The entire process of the magical healing seemed miraculous, perhaps nearly impossible and unreal. When the woman lifted her slender hand, Borus was perfectly healed, and his bodily temporarily shone in a strange hue of color. Borus sat upright as the woman retrieved her hand.
“Thanks. I thought you were going to leave me for a second.” Borus stated.
“Is that horse yours perchance?” The woman asked.
“The horse in the cage, does he belong to you?”
“No. I came in because I heard loud noises outside this village. I noticed the horse as I walked by.”
“Good. That means you didn’t steal him from me.”
“Wait, so the foal is yours?” Borus raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. I got him as a gift a couple of days ago.” The woman tilted her head saucily, standing back up.
“Who… are you?” Borus asked.
“My name is Epsione.” The woman stated. “And… I didn’t help you because I thought you were handsome or anything.I just wanted to make sure it was that Butcher who stole my horse, and not you.”
Epsione helped Borus to his feet and then went over to the horse’s cage, releasing it. The two walked out of the building together with the foal, Epsione leading the way, Borus a few paces behind, trying to think of words to express his gratitude.
Borus remembered the event like it was yesterday, he took it upon himself to never forget a single detail. From there, Borus and Epsione gradually fell in love, eventually getting married. Borus remembered how Epsione did not want to name her steed, since the battle horses in the kingdom had such a low life expectancy that she did not want to get too close to it. Ironically, the horse actually lived a long time since he was sheltered from combat and fed daily. Borus tearfully recalled his time with his daughter, Aramis, since she was born nearly twelve years ago. He was lost in thought, half asleep and blissfully unaware of his surroundings.
There was a sudden agonized scream as Borus Jolted upright. He breathed in shock as he was knocked from his horse, falling to the ground with a loud thud, colliding with another Militiamen’s mount.
To be continued in part 3…