Griever started to ask the Gear what he had meant, but the sight took his breath. It wasn’t like when he had found himself on Giant’s Cliff, watching the sun fall, or even when he had first been invited to the White Boar’s personal table and seen the mountains of food. No, this was the kind of sight that Hell was probably full of and parents scared their children with to dissuade them from joining the army. It was, in short, a sight Griever would never forget.
Bodies littered the entirety of Edmint Plains. The once slightly hilly landside covered in mint plants and tall grass was now a land of blood and iron. From Griever’s point at the far end of the plain, he could make out each and every body. Many wore the purple of Abysman soldiers, but… those spots of purple were just the leaves scattered on the ocean of bodies that belonged to the White Boar’s men.
The sight was sickening and Griever puked not once between the acrid stench of death, feces, and other smells he would not rather know the identity of. It took him some time to make his way – with stomach now empty – to where the flag of the White Boar lay beside a crumpled flagbearer. Young John was barely even sixteen. He had been given the position because it was the safest they could give him. Now, he probably regretted joining the White Boar. They had brought him no glory like he wanted. They had not even brought him mercy.
He was just a body on a battlefield, doomed to be buried in a mass grave.
Captain Augustus White, leader of the fearless White Boars, and hero of the Battle of Grimmshaw, lay headless not five paces away. Griever did not weep until he saw the head of his former leader laying a good distance away, the face painted with fear.
It was only a few minutes that Griever wept. He was surprised when he stopped and wiped his face solemnly. He was also surprised at Bash’s silence. Despite only knowing the Gear for a few hours, it had not given the impression of being able to be silent.
‘I thought you needed a moment,’ the Gear answered, reminding Griever that his thoughts were no longer private. Not that he truly cared at the moment.
“Thank you,” Griever said truthfully, then turned to the White Boar Banner. “He called me the Lion, you know.” Griever told the Gear. He didn’t know why he spoke, but he did know he needed to speak. “He said that my hair looked like a mane that lions had. That I had pride enough to match it as well. At the time, I took it as compliment. Now I’m wondering if I should have been more cautious, like Falk was. He always was the one who stayed to the safer route.”
The Gear kept silent. Griever accepted it though.
Walking over to where young John still lay, Griever fetched the banner of the White Boar and untied it. Ever so neatly, he folded the banner in half and tucked it into his trousers. The Boar’s tusk and snout lay just over his right hip, covered in enough blood to make his trousers wet. Griever didn’t care, though.
Instead, he noticed a man standing to one side of the sea of bodies.
“Is that the man you sensed earlier?”
‘He has a vast amount of magic,’ the Gear replied slowly, ‘It’s almost on par with my own. He’s either Fae or…’
Griever connected the dots faster than he liked. “He has a Gear,” Griever finished. That was his luck at play, probably. Never had he won a game of dice or cards. Maybe that bad luck was catching up to his real life now too. It wasn’t enough to ruin his chances at getting money. Of fucking course not.
Well, the smartest decision was to play the situation out and try to talk the enemy down. Fights were fun when they were at war, but this man was a dangerous opponent that Griever couldn’t afford to mess up with, if Bash was right. And Griever was starting to trust the Gear, despite their short time together. Bash was annoying, but he seemed to know his stuff.
‘I’ll take that as a compliment.’
“You WERE quiet for more than five minutes,” Griever retorted. “I keep my word.”
‘Very funny, Bonded.’
Griever snorted and shortened the gap between him and the stranger. According to what he could gather, this man was probably a user of another Gear and that meant another power. From how Bash had talked, he was the only one with the ability of regeneration. That meant other Gear had other powers. And, if this bullshit wasn’t already crazy enough, that could be anything that Griever could or couldn’t fathom. Plus, Bash didn’t seem to know what Gear it was either, or he probably would have said so if only to hear himself talk.
‘Hey! I’m listening, you know!’
Griever ignored the Gear. There was also the other possibility it was a Fae. From what he had heard, the Fae could use shapeshifting easily and more powerful ones used some sort of powerful spells that seemed to draw on nature itself. Most of this was from the stories that Griever’s grandfather Leonard and Grandmother Jem had told him, of course, but he was willing to put stock in all their stories now. Maybe even his grandfather’s stories of scoring leagues of women.
In any case, Griever had to be careful. He was surprised, but he knew this was no longer the type of battles he was used to. Plus, he had no weapon to…
No, Griever had plenty of weapons. Looking around, he saw several free of bodies that he could pick up in a moment’s notice. That could be very handy. Griever kept his eyes on his surroundings, noting the locations of each and every free weapon – swords, spears, shields, axes, etc – that caught his eye, as he approached the man. He also observed the man.
Dressed in common traveling gear – trousers, worn boors, and a tunic with a light brown jacket over it – the man stood nearly a head taller than Griever himself. With Griever not being short by normal standards, it made the man look like a giant. It didn’t help that he was just as muscled as he was tall. His head was combed back and hair came down neatly, being tied back and all, but his face held a beard that was spread from ear to ear. Unlike it’s hair, it had grown wild and stuck out of his face from every direction.
In short, this man looked like someone who guarded lords. He even had a sword at his hip and a shield on his back… and two more swords on his other hip. Odd. Maybe something to do with his Gear powers or his Fae magic? Griever would have to watch out for that.
“May I ask what business you have here?” Griever called out to the man, making sure his distance was far enough to escape a charge, but short enough to throw the spear by his foot.
“A question I could very well throw back at you, stranger,” the man retorted in a deep voice. “How is it that you find yourself here, holding the flag of the traitorous White Boar?”
Griever flinched at that. The hooded man had said they were called traitors but this confirmed it. How had that happened? Lies spread by Lord Droil? No use in worrying over it right now, though. Griever would deal with that bastard and those lies when the time came. And it would come. Very, very soon.
“I am here to bury the White Boar’s body,” Griever called out, using a lie he had come up with on the spot. “He once saved my hometown, so I thought to repay his kindness with a proper burial. Traitor or not, I thought it the least I could manage.”
The man seemed to contemplate for a moment before answering. Depending on how foolish or smart this man was, Griever might be able to escape a battle. He might have Bash, with his power of regeneration, but the lack of food was evident. He had eaten what the hooded man had left him, but lost it earlier with the sight of his brothers dead bodies. He wouldn’t last long in a drawn out battle.
“And where is it that you hail from, stranger?” the man asked after a few minutes of silence.
“Grimmshaw,” Griever replied. “I was there when he defended us against all odds. Even after the knights of Lighthaven had given up hope.” It was just enough information to let the man know he had been there. Not everyone knew the unflinching, invincible Lighthaven knights had almost fled that day.
“So, you speak some truth, stranger. I suppose I can ignore this transgression, as the White Boar did serve us well in that battle.” Griever sighed. He may be battle crazed like most people who knew him said, but he knew to pick his battles. “But I have one more question.”
“Of course, kind sir,” Griever replied, feigning gratitude. He could act fairly well, even nervous as he was.
‘I don’t detect a sense of nervousness,’ Bash commented.
‘Shut up! I’m nervous!’ Griever thought harshly.
‘I sense bloodlust…’
The man put a hand on one of his swords, making Griever tense. “How is it that you made it to this battlefield from Grimmshaw the DAY after the battle’s finish?”
Griever calmed himself. “I was already on my way here,” he lied. “I found it hard to believe the rumors and had to see for myself.” It wasn’t a whole lie. He HAD come here to confirm his fears. “I just… wasn’t prepared for the sight…”
The man didn’t ease. “Funny,” he said, his voice now hitting a more snide tone, “I don’t remember word of this order being made public yet, not even before we sent the White Boar here to test them.” Falk hadn’t mentioned THAT bit. Damnation! “In fact,” the giant of a man continued, “I find it surprising you survived, Bloodfist.”
Well, that plan had failed. Plan B. “Well,” Griever said, using a more cheerful tone, “I’m surprised myself, if that helps. One minute, we are fighting for Lighthaven with all our hearts, the next, we are dying to an ambush. Sound familiar?” Griever kicked up the spear and caught it. “Cause I think you bastards are the ones who betrayed US!”
The spear flew true from his grip, flying across the gap between Griever and the large man. Had Hammon been there, the man would have found the throw half-assed, if accurate. But, it struck true, stopping in the man’s chest.
And not making the man fall. Or even flinch.
“God no,” Griever breathed as he saw the man had caught the spear.
‘Magical, remember?’ Bash said, obviously thinking he was reminding Griever. ‘But this helps. I am now positive we are dealing with the Lord of Air, the Ring Gear, Jadencaer. In your language, he is called the Blue Falcon.”
Griever cursed and pulled a sword from the ground nearby.