of battles and riddlesMature

The feast was the real mystery, wasn't it?  The heart of the matter, as it were, Seres reminded herself.  In the complicated light of dawn, with the fog of sleeplessness weighing down her eyelids, she had begun to see things.  Little things, here and there; scattered like petals between words and glances, glimmering in the pause between hand gestures and scowls.  They left as promised, exactly one hour after he demanded she prepare, but the trip was nothing like she'd been ready for.

They rode at breakneck speeds for hours; she received no horse of her own and was forced to share his mount.  His stallion, larger and fiercer than the others - though the others were frighteningly over-sized with endless tendrils of steam pouring from their nostrils, - gave her the chills.  At first, she thought it was the spark of intelligence that flickered behind his copper eyes, but the longer she watched Eitri strap the packs to him, the more she realized it was something else.  Something wordless and unnatural that crept up her spine like cold fingertips.

Seres received no clue about the battle they entered at a full run.  She was given no weapons, but she was treated no differently.  Eitri twisted her around without warning, forcibly dismounting her a few yards away from the fray, and allowed her to tumble to the ground in a heap of skirts and accidental cusswords.   Without a word, he was gone - his stallion once again at a full gallop, a splintering war cry bursting from his lips.

The battle soon spread, encompassing her even though she stumbled for her footing, and the first time an axe swung at her without heed for her captivity, she realized the mess she was in.

His men were trained warriors.  Each one an army in and of himself, but none greater than Eitri.  This fact was not for lack of trying - even at only twenty-eight summers, he had trained more men than both his brother and father combined.  Trained them, challenged them to master his teachings and best him.  He welcomed the challenge, offered prizes and glory, but none could match him.  Though battle was their shared life and he took to it with as much fire and fury as any, there was always a brief pause in their discourse; a subtle fear that kept their tongues fat with terror-laden patience, careful of their words lest they upset their King.

He hated the line of separation, hated it enough that he ignored it at any given availability.  He treated his men as equals to him, even if they kept him at arms length.

Their conquering tours were hard, ceaseless strings of battles - but it was the life he offered his men, and they willfully followed him.  Eitri was no fool; he knew most troops traveled at a leisurely pace, taking a few days to make a few dozen miles, but his troops were nothing such as that.  Not time-wasters or lollygaggers.  They were strong, sturdy; they trudged onward when other men collapsed of weariness and thirst.  His men knew hunger as their brother, knew death as their father, knew pain as the gracious kiss of their mother.  They stopped for nothing.  They rode the best breeding stallions in his land, they wore the finest armor; they forged their own weapons in their own fires, they scoured the blood from their hands on their own time.

His men were warriors.  He demanded that his women be, too.

The End

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