The arduous hike back to camp had sapped Harren of almost all of his strength. The Zarians had hidden their base well; the only path leading to it was extremely dangerous; the company was forced to climb the steep rocky slopes on all fours, like dogs, more than once when they became too severe to walk upon. At least the day was starting to warm as the sun was beginning to rise. Still, Harren knew the sun’s bright rays would fail to penetrate the growing mass of black clouds above: just looking at them as they swirled together into a dark vortex in the bleak winter sky made him want to shiver. There was something strange about them, moving in a way that seemed to defy nature… they almost appeared to have a purpose.
Now, the 2nd Company glided into an opening, before them stood the towering wooden gates of the immense palisade that ran the circumference of the camp. Harren could have sighed aloud with relief: they were finally entering friendly territory.
Stationed over the broad gates, the gate captain sprang into action on seeing the group of blood-covered men and women appear before his eyes. He started barking orders to anyone who could hear. Soon, the hive of activity caused the gates to lurch suddenly into movement. They creaked slowly open, creating a gap just wide enough for the 2nd Company to slip through without even slowing their advance. Briefly, the powerful man gave a quick salute before throwing himself at the heavy wooden wheels controlling the gates. The other men closed in, pushing against the thick cloth-covered handles until they were finally able to overcome its mighty momentum and start turning the mechanism back the other way. It wasn’t long before the entrance to the camp was sealed firmly shut, confirmation of their safety booming through sparser woods of the Karan camp as the weighty wood crashed shut.
Harren dismissed his troops, but he knew he would be seeing their grim faces in the not too distant future. The morning was still young and even though the camp would already be alive and buzzing with activity, many would still be yet to wake from their gentle slumbers. For the soldiers, sleep was their only escape from the violence that plagued their existence. The 2nd Company would gather in only a few hours to resume their gruelling regime. Everyday they would train and, as much as Harren wanted to collapse into his bedroll, he knew that today would not be an exception. However, whereas he and Ylessa would make an effort to catch some vital sleep, resting their rattled bones, the others would set about mending armour and cleaning weapons. Harren wondered if they ever slept.
Anxiously pacing before them, on old man looked to have been waiting for a rather long time for their arrival. Running rampant with furious disarray, the wrinkled man’s hair jutted out at bizarre random angles.
For him to be in such a state, he had to have something really important on his mind: there was always something.
Harren and Ylessa saluted, as was standard protocol, “Grand General-” Harren began to speak but it didn’t last long at all.
“Cut the formalities Captain, what took you so long?”
The wrinkled old man made his worried state all the more evident by blurting out the question. Head of all military procedures, the Grand General clearly thought the 2nd Company’s progress important enough to interrupt his work.
“We searched for the presumed forward base as you asked, Grand General. It is a fair distance south of here; further than we had anticipated but still too close for us to be sleeping peaceful nights.”
His brow wrinkled further as he frowned in frustration. For the experienced man to worry about just one thing was making Harren sweat. There was something that the Grand General didn’t understand. He spoke out for his concern: “But if they were able to sneak past our borders undetected, why set up camp so far away? Especially where the forests aren’t as dense. It is almost is if they want us to find them…”
Harren had been thinking the same thing ever since the attack. However, although the recent actions of the Zarians – much like those today – were rather strange, Harren thought it better to continue with the report rather than aggravate the busy man further. “We tried to investigate the camp but we were ambushed by Zarian soldiers who then raised the alarm. After fighting our way out, we decided it better to report back than to continue the attack without proper planning.”
Harren was wrong, now the Grand General’s eyes bulged in horror. He looked as though someone was stepping on his windpipe. He stuttered as he tried to force the words to leave his mouth: “A-an ambush? Were they – did you? -”
“We sustained no casualties, Galbraith. The Zarian bodies have been well hidden and will not be found for many days, if at all. There are still enemy soldiers in the camp but whatever their operations, they will be hindered; we should attack tonight before they have time to reinforce their losses.”
This was better than music to the old man’s ears. Rare as it was, a grin broke out across his face as his shoulders sagged with relief. After quickly congratulating his officers on a job well done, he turned and hurried off. As he departed, he called back over his shoulder, waving his hand in the air in an off-handed manner. “Do whatever you want Captain, I suggest you rest in the mean time.”
Harren liked to see him smile. Hearing a report from the second company was probably one of the only brakes in his full day. Harren looked down at Ylessa and squeezed her hand. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, returning the affection, but only pulling away enough for just their noses to touch. Harren smiled before trying to back away, but Ylessa held him close by grabbing the shirt on his chest. She pushed herself up against him and gazed longingly up at him. Harren’s eyes played host to a number of different colours; it was the uniqueness of such an outlandish trait that Ylessa had come to love. He was hers and hers alone; one day, they would be together forever – at peace, and without and interruptions or concerns.
As her eyes flickered between his, Harren once again took in her beautiful face. The hazel colour of his eyes turning to a light blue as it moved further out, the colours of his eyes further increased by the occasional yellow fleck – Ylessa lost herself. Harren could feel his love’s sweet breath warming his pale face; he waited another wonderful second before slowly kissing her soft lips. The kiss was tender and made Harren hunger to be with her again. Privacy was hard to come by in times of war.
Bringing his left hand to her waist, the other he cupped to her face as she pulled away. His thumb gently stroked her face, holding each other’s gaze again as they shared the bliss of the rare moment.
He loved her more than life itself.
Now Ylessa placed a hand on his toned stomach, feeling the muscle beneath his shirt. She brought her left hand up to her face and placed it over his. The moment seemed to last forever as all of Harren’s problems seemed to simply fade away.
If only anything were that simple: Harren knew that he needed to be doing other important things but then again, he never wanted to let Ylessa go.
She was so beautiful; she was his life.
“Come on; let’s head back to the tent.” He finally forced the words. Ylessa’s eyes slid shut as she nodded: she knew that he was right in saying they should, but it didn’t mean she had to like it. Slipping an arm round each other’s waists, the couple strolled off back to the main camp. They didn’t see the point in rushing; it could be hours before they made the officers’ quarters: every soldier they pass along the way wanting a story or to eat their breakfast with, probably, the two most famous people they had ever met in their lives. The only person better known in the whole of Irn was the Emperor Kara himself… but the respect wasn’t quite the same as that received by the Captain of the 2nd Company. However, there was something sinister in the air, something that annoyed Harren deeply; it scared him too. Rumours. Talk of wizards, magic and treachery – the very thought made Harren sick. Wizards had been dead for thousands of years – and treachery? The Captain of the 2nd Company would be hearing nothing of the sort right under his brother’s nose.
Harren sighed, as tired as he was from the exhausting day’s hard fighting and arduous hiking, he full well knew that he would not be getting any sleep any time soon. The journey to the tents aside, Harren still needed to write a full report of the day’s actions and write up a plan of attack for the Grand General’s approval. Though his bones ached, there was much to do – there was always something.
Further and further the pair weaved their way through the organised camp. Though it was very early, the sun barely stirring from underneath its starry blanket, the camp was alive with soldiers carrying out their routine tasks: eating, repairing equipment, delivering messages and socialising. Everywhere they went, most of the soldiers – regardless of how busy they were or what urgent task they were attending to – managed to stop and perform at least a hurried salute: the more experienced and older members of the army accompanying their respectful gestures with a slight nod of their head whereas the newer recruits would simply stare in awe and astonishment.
Harren shivered. The chilled wind refused to relinquish its icy grip as Harren pulled his wolf pelt mantel tighter around his shoulders. Ever since the strange clouds had appeared, the weather had been acting in an unusual manner. Winter, though it was, it was never this cold this far east. Harren was lost to his thoughts, each step he made passed with little note as he and Ylessa continued upwards towards the officers’ tents.
A voice stripped Harren of his worrying thoughts. Then another, and another, until Harren looked up and realised that several soldiers surrounded them, each standing tall; a fist clenched tight in salute. They were all so young; they’d probably never seen a battle before. It saddened Harren to see such innocent life wasted. Though he himself was still very young, these soldiers were nothing more than boys.
“Captain Harren.” A weak voice called from his right. Harren turned to meet the soldier, only to be buffeted by a heavy gust of wind. Walking forward, the Captain shielded his face with his forearm.
“It’s an honour to meet you Captain Harren.” Now Harren became aware of someone pushing their way to the front of the gathered recruits. When he finally burst out in front of Harren, he blushed and gave a shaky salute. It was unusual for the soldiers to actually stop the Captain. Normally, Harren could pass almost unhindered through the lower sections of the camp, but then again: maybe that was why the child was so nervous.
“Thank you soldier… your name?” As if suddenly remembering himself, the boy of no more than seventeen quickly straightened and held his head high.
“My name is Fahra Jenkins, Captain: Private of the 6th Company!” His training had been old fashioned; whoever had taught the new soldier still believed in strict discipline when addressing an officer. The rule was not enforced so much now, especially after a soldier had spent a few months in camp, however there were still those who believed it necessary in order to live in times of war.
“Fine Fahra,” Harren continued, trying not to show how cold he was or how impatient he was to be on his way again. “Maybe someday we can eat and drink together, but for now I am tired. Take care and stay alert soldier.” Harren gave the last words with a slight nod showing respect as he stared deep into his innocent soul. The kid probably couldn’t even wield the heavy swords that were issued as standard to the low ranking soldiers. Although intended to keep his promise to Fahra, he had no intention of doing it soon. Whenever he wasn’t next busy, Harren would be catching up on much needed sleep.