“A warrior is a man.” The captain said. He stood in front of the boys. 14 of them in a perfect line in the sand filled yard of the keep, the oldest of them 17 years alive, half the age of the Captain. He walked to where one of the young men stood, took the point of his rod and poked the soon to be man’s shoulder with it. The rod was made of ghost wood, an import from the north. It was banded for effect with an iron belt, small studs at each end, effective for a wooden weapon.
“A good warrior…” He said then brought the rod down on the student repeatedly until he lay unconscious and broken on the ground.
“…is an evil man.” Some of the boys had stepped out of their line. They looked at each other. Some whispered, others doubted. Some of the men stood still and waited as though nothing had happened at all. Ohern was one of them.
“Ohern.” The captain said.
The captain tossed the rod at him and Ohern caught it and then held it in the resting position at his side.
“Ohern, turn to your left.”
“Beat the man in front of you from awareness.”
“Yes Captain.” Ohern said. But it was not that easy. The boy next to him was older by a year. None the less he broke his formation and backed away. Ohern followed. He lunged and chased but the other did not give in and after three solid hits fought back, and fought back hard having given himself the permission violence gives any man, the permission to live. None intervened including the Captain. In the end Ohern stood. It was the hardest he had ever fought for something in his life. Though they learned together for a year more after that day he could never remember the boy’s name. Sometimes he would sit and think on it as though it would appear like the image of a meal or a woman. He thought of the face he could not see and tried to remember him as a man met, as others meet, where names are exchanged, shoulders clapped but it never came to him.
Ohern understood why in his own way. In all, he had been doing what he had been told by the person who he trusted to guide him into becoming a warrior. For Ohern it was trust of the Captain to reveal some greater outcome or lesson as words had little power over a boy without letters.
He thought of this now, so many years later, as he broke the fingers of the man who did his smith work. This is it, he thought. I must be willing to do anything to anyone, but what was that if it was not evil?
“Why are you here!”
“Your not telling me the truth Esul.” Ohern said. He had Esul, a younger and far stronger man twisted through grapple work into a very weak position. Off balance, both arms behind his back rendering them strengthless, belly down on a toppled weapons rack and with his free hand Ohern was snapping his tuberous digits though still with some effort.
“You gave two men an order to kill a few days ago.”
Ohern twisted and jammed an already broken finger. “Shut up now and you listen.”
“I know what you want! You won’t get it stupid! You think I don’t know what I’ve done! Get off of me!” Esul said, his breath was strained. “Let me up!”
Ohern thought for a moment then let the man up who he had committed to torturing only a moment before.
“You broke my fingers!”
“Don’t stand in my way Esul.”
“You’re a fool.” Esul said looking at his left hand now some mandrake, swollen and tight. It would take time, coin and pain to righ this wrong.
“I don’t-” Ohern started.
“Shut up and listen.” Esul shouted at him. “You can’t kill him. He is way past your cunning. He’ll have you sniffed out so fast well both die in our sleep. You think I haven’t thought of killin him? I knew Dane. What do you think I want, knowing the order for that mess came through my smithy? Huh? Where’d this streak of Light come from all of a sudden anyways?” Esuls face was red. His thick black hair had come out of its tie and was like a bush after a rain. His chest heaved for the air that baked around them in plenty.
Ohern tried to speak again but Esul hushed him so he could gather his breath. When he did he was sitting down. His injured hand on the bench, a clump of iron he was tired of working.
“He is gonna kill you. Thats alls gonna happen.” He had known Esul since he stepped off the boat in Brighton. “I don’t even think he is human.”
“Few of us are anymore.”
“You don’t know what I’ve gone through.”
“I am certain you haven’t been raped, mutilated and then killed.”
“I told you I had no way of knowing.”
“You knew, as you know now!”
“Your still in the Light! For what? Tell me what your gonna do about all of this. You gonna fly up the Brake cut the wings off that dragon? You gonna go clean the Stitchel road? Huh? Shit, why stop there, you’ll be wanted in the south for sure, I hear there is need for Divine interventions down there.”
“I will kill the man who ordered the death of my friend and his family.”
“He can walk in your mind” Esul said plainly.
“I won’t be talking with him.”
“I’m wasting my time. Why should I care if you don’t.”
“You would survive at what cost Esul? Tell me?”
“I would survive.”
“I will see him killed. I have no other concern in this life.”
“You didn’t even know Dane that well. I knew him. Shit, you and I are closer then you and he ever were and I am just your blacksmith.”
“Who is it?”
“Pah.” Esul waved him off. “Did you know he liked to hit Caye? Did ya know he was fuckin someone here hillside?” Esul waited for it to register. “A whore.” Easel said. “I am pretty sure old Leah’dah wouldn’t have smiled too wide at that one. Parting wicked flesh.”
“You won’t stop me.”
“Piss on you for getting me killed. That’s all that’s happening here. You already killed those responsible, now your gonna kill me.”
“No one made decisions for you.”
“Your not listening to me and you know it better then the rest of us.”
“I always thought you strong. A man of trust and strength. There were times I hoped in your aid and found it.”
“I have no sympathy for you. You’re a killer like the rest. You may even be worse then them.”
Ohern thought about what he said. Esul sat with hammer strokes of pain in his hand. The two men looked across the years and the room at each other.
“He is not due here for another week.” He said, looking at the mess their tussle had made of his shop.
“Damn it, your gonna have to help me pick up around here.”
“How will I know him?”
“He has the look of an assassin, but there are peculiarities to his manner. I do not know his name.”
“He doesn’t carry himself like an assassin, he carries himself like a warrior, He talks like a Sage and he has the presence and calmess like a priest, like a Leahdist.”
Ohern looked at him.
“You think I am being dramatic.” Esul rose and used his foot to begin moving weapons off of the fallen rack. Nothing had been broken. He could feel several places on his large belly and legs where he had been nicked laying on his toppled commissions.
“Give me a hand with this.” Esul bent to pick up the rack with one hand Ohern went over and helped him then squatted and picked up the weapons one by one, placing them in the rack.
“You’ll know him when you see him. Trust me.”
Ohern would have laughed if the circumstances were different. They would laugh most of the time he would visit the smith in his shop.
Esul looked at his hand. Then at his pipe resting in a divot on his work bench, a small dirty sac Esul used for storing his tobacco hung on a peg by the door.
“Well this is a bitch’s gambit.”
The two men sat in the shop and were silent. Ohern tossed him his pipe and sac of smoke. He lit it in the cooling forge.
Light from the afternoon came through the door of the awning wall and through the thick dark air. Small pieces of dust and filth were ignited in it as they appeared out of the dark of the room and moved through its path then disappeared into the black again. In the black the air was clean and empty but in that beam of light that came through the door the air looked so full that you could not breath it with out choking.