So...several days late, heres another First Line story. Pretty much the same rules applied as before, however I did have another agenda too. Mr P laid down a sort of challenge in response to the last one, namely that he'd like to see me write something where the main driving force of the story wasn't fear. The last two stories I've done this way have both had elements of fear to them, so I felt it was time to try to branch out and do something a little different. This one is the result.
Whats most interesting for me here is the way this story developed in my head. It started out as a ballroom scene, believe it or not. Also the ending was not quite as I thought it would be, and the motive behind those last lines were literaly created as I wrote them.
It was almost painful to look at her. It wasn’t that she was clumsy exactly, but neither was she graceful. Where the warriors around her fought with precision and the confidence of tightly drilled comrades, she soldiered on with more heart than skill. She’d carved out a small patch that was her own among the melee, her style of fighting unsuited to the shield wall tactics that her fellows were using. It was clear that she’d been part of that wall, but if she’d been separated by ill luck or by something she herself lacked, Arvin wasn’t able to say. Either way, his heart ached. He didn’t think she would last much longer.
That came as a surprise. The battle was desperate enough that he had his own problems. His shield and armour were dented and scarred and his arms were growing weary. The enemy were tenacious and skilled. The only edge Arvin could see was their lack of discipline compared to his own and those beside him. They surged forwards in ones or twos, not really coordinating their efforts and seeming more concerned with personal glory than the overall battle. That, more than anything else, was probably the reason she was still alive.
He was doing it again. His mind wandering. He caught his gaze seeking her out amongst the chaos, neglecting his own situation. She was still there, hunched behind her heavy shield and stabbing out from behind it, short, brave thrusts. At least she was holding her own. For some reason that made Arvin smile.
A heavy sword clattered off his shoulder and he stumbled back, swearing. He saw the eyes of his enemy glaring at him from beneath a heavy helm with a long nose-guard and hanging cheek plates. The two warriors exchanged blows, testing each other’s defences. Arvin felt almost saddened when he realised that his opponent couldn’t best him. He was brave enough, but his combat style was to individualistic. He was more or less on his own, while Arvin was flanked by his shield brothers. A flurry of efficient thrusts proved the enemy warrior had nowhere to go and he fell screaming.
She’ll go the same way. The thought was unbidden, and Arvin growled in irritation. He couldn’t work out why she was drawing his attention so. There were other shield-maidens with more ability and smoother grace fighting with him, women who seemed to dance through the melee as if it were a ballroom, forms and figures to take the breath away. He was hardly noticing them. Time and again his eyes were drawn back to that one lone fighter. He couldn’t work out why.
As he watched, her shield shattered under a brutal axe blow. She half-stepped, half-stumbled back, tossing the useless wooden fragments aside. At some point she must have lost her own helm, she shook her head defiantly and Arvin’s breath caught in his throat as her auburn hair glowed in the sun. She lunged under that swinging axe to bury her blade in the man’s gut. She was brave, there was no doubting that. She scooped up the fallen warriors own shield and called something to his companions. Damn, but she was brave.
It was all so pointless. That was the problem. That was the thing that Arvin couldn’t shift from his mind. He wasn’t even sure why they were fighting. As the day wore on, the battle ebbing and flowing, he became convinced that there was no need for it. They were struggling across this bloody field, fighting and dying for some reason so obscure that the Captains and Heralds all seemed dispirited by it. Most likely it was over some slight, imagined or otherwise. Arvin had seen his Lord sent out warbands and armies over matters that seemed nothing short of trivial. It was such a waste.
The enemy weren’t that much different, really. At least this time they were men and women, rather than the bestial things from the North. They fought with the same grim determination that Arvin saw on the faces of his comrades. No doubt they had the same issues with that stupid battle that he did. Did they know why they had been sent to fight? Had they been told? What honour was there then, in that?
Arvin’s sword arm ached and his shield arm was almost numb. His unit had broken another charge, the enemy soldiers crashing against the shields and stabbing swords like water against a reef. At some point they’d drawn back and called up their archers and things had gotten bad. Arvin’s shield wall had broken and the fight had devolved into a maddening throng where nearly everyone was a threat. He struggled to reach his friends, cutting down soldiers from the other side who were trying to do the same.
A spear tip crashed through his shield. A few inches lower and it would have impaled his arm. He struggled to pull away and was struck by the absurdity of it. He could see his assailant yanking on the spear haft, trying to get his weapon back into play. He felt like laughing. A sudden blade fell from his left, for a brief second he thought it was over and then the spear was broken, the blade chopping through it, and then the enemy soldier’s neck, and Arvin looked into her eyes as she nodded a wordless greeting. Her eyes were wide and deep brown.
Up close, she wasn’t that pretty. Arvin didn’t care. She glowed in his eyes. He could see grace in her that better soldiers had lost. Her movements as they fought side by side were not skilled, but they captivated him all the same. At some point she threw him a smile, during a lull in the battle, and Arvin was lost.
From that point on when he raised his sword, it wasn’t for his Lord, or for his comrades, or for his honour.
It was for her.