I have not yet come up with a name for my book, but these are the first 2 chapters!
Most mornings come too early. Your hair is a mess, your breath is unspeakable, and you want to stay in bed just a little bit longer. Most mornings you don't wake up thinking, “I'm so excited to be alive and ready start the day.” For the first time in a very long time, Eratel was having one of those mornings.
After lying on the straw for some time, thinking about the day ahead, Eratel sat up and put his eye against the stone wall where there was a tiny crack that he could see through. In the distance, sunlight was just beginning to come over the horizon. Any moment now someone would come along to wake up the other sleeping soldiers. Eratel decided he would rather leave now than wait and be yelled awake by his superiors. Making as little noise as possible he pulled out his uniform from underneath his straw bed. The soldier's uniform was simple and composed of a loose white shirt, a small iron dagger with a sheath, brown leather pants, and waterproof boots made from seal skin. Anything else you wanted you could pay for with the salary all soldiers received. Eratel touched the leather pouch tied around his neck that kept his spare coins, just to be certain it was still there. Making as little noise as possible he pulled on his clothes.
Eratel moved across the dirt floor one foot at a time, attempting to make each footfall as quiet as possible. The other nine soldiers he shared the room with would appreciate being able to sleep as long as they could. Once Eratel was in the hallway, he relaxed his movements and made his way to the exit, running his hand against the stone walls as he went. To his left and right other rooms with sleeping soldiers could be seen. Almost everyone was still asleep and likely would be until a Captain came through, reminding them that they were all worthless insects who deserved to be fed to the pigs.
Outside, not a cloud could be seen, but the air was still damp with morning freshness. Looking over the practice fields, the soldiers' dormitories, and the surrounding hills, Eratel took in a deep breath of morning air. To the south, the city of Keratos stood high, with archers' towers closer to the soldiers' barracks with more houses and shops going toward the center. In the distance, Eratel could make out the king's castle and the other highly protected buildings, housing nobles, wealthy merchants, and important people of the military. To the north, the Bangor Mountains stood high, a natural barrier for the city against ground troops but vulnerable to flying mounted attacks. Eratel's thoughts turned to what would be happening later that day and he shook with excitement. Breathing out, he calmed himself. He couldn't afford to be excited yet. There was still much to be done.
Walking to the north, Eratel made his way out of the soldiers' camp, looking to the mountains. A couple leagues from the barracks, Eratel was back in his real home, amongst the trees and the boulders. Walking along a game trail, he was able to make his way to several familiar boulders. Climbing up, using the natural holds the rocks created, he was able to fit into a crack where one of the boulders had split after many many decades of rain and wind. Moving sideways through the boulder, Eratel made his way through to the other side, where his own private oasis awaited. Hidden by boulders and steep cliffs it was a small clearing with two Oak trees, a fair number of blackberry bushes, and a small pond that had a few fish. Of all of his comrades, Eratel spent the most time in the mountains, and as far as he was aware, no one else knew of this hidden paradise.
After removing his clothes and laying them on a rock, Eratel made his way into the pond at a slow pace, allowing his skin to grow accustomed to the cold temperature of the water before submerging farther. Eratel looked at himself in the reflection of the water. His dark brown hair was especially short as his entire squad had just had their heads shaved last week. His eyes were a dark blue, more of a gray than anything; he'd always liked his eyes. His face was handsome, at least from his opinion, even though he'd never been told so by anyone else. He had a strong jaw-line that he considered his best feature, although it would be in need of a trim soon. Leaning forward, Eratel dunked his entire head under the water for a few moments, enjoying the shock of the cold water against his skin. He picked up one of the coarser rocks from the bottom of the pond and scrubbed it against his body, removing the grime of the night and scraping off any skin that had been stained by mud.
Eratel dropped the stone back into the pool and looked at his hands. The calluses at the bases of each of his fingers had been stained a dark brown by the exercises from the day before. Most of the skin on his hands was callused over from years of swinging swords and rock-climbing as a hobby. The feeling of his hardened fingers always made Eratel happy. It was a reminder of his hard work and what he was working towards. He smiled as he closed his fist and made his way over to one of the blackberry bushes growing over the pond. Picking a handful of the berries, he washed them in the water before gorging himself on the deliciousness. He did this several more times until he felt satisfied. Although this breakfast wasn't the most convenient, it allowed Eratel to save quite a bit of money during the Fall as it was one less meal to pay for. Saving money had been a top priority for quite some time now, but not anymore.
Using some of the nearby rocks to get out of the pool, Eratel made his way over to the bigger of the two Oak trees. The roots wound over each other in a beautiful, twisting fashion. Beneath a larger gap in the roots was a rock that was out of place. Using both hands to lift and move the rock, Eratel uncovered a secret he had been keeping for almost a year now. A black, leather pouch the size of two fists was his prize. Pulling back the strings that kept it shut, Eratel looked inside the bag. Inside were gold coins, ninety-eight of them to be exact. A soldier's salary is five gold coins per week, and for close to a year, Eratel had been saving two gold coins each week. Since today he would be getting paid again, Eratel would finally reach his goal of one hundred gold pieces. Eratel's heartbeat increased, causing his hands to shake gently as he closed the bag.
With his purse in hand, Eratel walked over to the other Oak tree, where he had carved a rough sigil to the six gods. He knelt down and began to pray to Labos, the goddess of dedication and hard work. Although Labos did not grant many blessings herself, she was known to grant her followers favor with her sister, Edu, the goddess of luck and fortune. Edu was a fickle god, granting fortune to people randomly on a whim without any sort of preference. The only way to increase your likelihood of a blessing from Edu was to find favor with Labos, who would occasionally ask her sister to bless those that she felt deserved a reward for their struggles and commitment. After finishing his prayer to the gods, Eratel stood back up and made his way toward the city.
Upon returning to the military base, Eratel could see that the captains had come through to wake everyone up. Groggy soldiers were wiping the sand from their eyes and making their way towards the mess halls for disappointing breakfasts. Eratel picked up the pace as he walked. Today was Sunday, or as the soldiers called it, Pay-day, and Eratel wanted to get to the salary tent before the rush of soldiers looking to get paid. Luckily, most of his comrades were still preparing for the day or eating as there were very few people waiting in the tent. After a couple minutes Eratel was next in line, and he was greeted by the captain of his regiment, Sven, a quiet but friendly man. He stood out in a crowd due to his unruly white hair, but preferred to keep to the sides and watch rather than be amongst others. Although Sven was strong, he was also very skinny and lanky. However, his true strength was in his speed and endurance, which was how he would usually best Eratel in their sparring sessions.
“Good morning Eratel,” Sven smiled at him. “You were awake early this morning.”
“I was too excited to sleep,” Eratel smiled back, feeling his heartbeat increase again.
“Oh?” Sven raised a white eyebrow at him, but didn't press farther. “Well I guess pay-day is an exciting day. Could you sign here?” Sven gestured at the log where Eratel would sign by his name, indicating that he had received this week's pay. Eratel signed with an intricate signature. He was one of few in the military to have learned letters at a young age, and he took pride in his abilities to read and write. Once Eratel finished, Sven put his hand out, placing five gold pieces in the soldier's hand.
“Thank you Sven,” Eratel nodded at his captain. He was more of a friend than a superior, and they had a mutual respect that few soldiers of unequal ranking enjoyed. This was to be expected considering they had grown up together at the Monastery, a history that they rarely acknowledged or discussed.
“Good luck with whatever you're plotting,” Sven waved at Eratel. Eratel waved in kind, leaving the tent for the outside world. Once outside, Eratel placed two of the coins in the large purse, making the count an even hundred. The rest he placed in the pouch around his neck as his spending money for the week. With his pouch fat and full of gold, Eratel made his way towards the city.
Eratel's destination was one that he frequented several times a week. Walking through the streets of the city, Eratel made his way around carts and gossiping ladies, excitement building in his chest more and more with each step he took. To the left and right, smells of bread baking, chickens roasting, and freshly cut fruit filled the air along with calls of, “Get your rolls here! Fresh rolls.” “The best milk in town! Ice cold and delicious!” “Best prices around; treat yourself to a foul today!” Eratel ignored the shopkeepers to the best of his ability. A fat purse could become skinny all too easily if you enjoyed these luxuries too often. Besides, he was on a mission, and he was too excited to be distracted. Closer to the city's center, Eratel arrived at his destination, a particular shop nested between a tannery and a general store. This shop was one of the oldest and proudest in the city, Hammer and Anvil, a blacksmith's shop with the best metal items. Above the shop's entrance a wooden sign swung back and forth with the wind. Painted on the sign was a massive hammer striking an anvil, true to the store's name.
Swinging the massive door open, Eratel made his way into the well-lit shop. On the walls countless metal items hung, swords, plows, hammers, sheers, spear-heads, amongst many others. If you needed something made out of metal, Hammer and Anvil had it. On tables in the store were wooden boxes filled with nails of various sizes, door-hinges, arrow-tips, musket-balls, and other items too small to hang from the walls. Behind the counter, watching over the store stood Kurrot, a bald, muscular man with a bushy beard. He was the size of man that you would not want to be your enemy, as is to be expected from a man who swings a hammer for a living. Kurrot spent most of his days selling the items that he forged with most of his nights. Sitting on the counter in front of Kurrot was his daughter Marra, a young brown-haired girl with an appetite for adventure. Hearing the door open, Marra turned to see Eratel and her face opened into a huge grin. “Eratel!” she yelled as she ran over to him. Eratel bent down and picked her up as she ran into his arms. He swung her around in a circle before setting her back on the wooden floor.
“Hello Marra!” Eratel smiled at the girl. Since Kurrot's wife died, Eratel would sometimes take Marra camping with him in the mountains, allowing Kurrot a break from parenting when he needed it. The blacksmith would pay Eratel back by giving him discounts in the store, a trade that Eratel was happy to make. Today it would be especially useful.
“Good morning Eratel,” Kurrot nodded. Eratel noticed the crow's feet near Kurrot's eyes were especially deep today, indicating he was probably working on a new project.
“Hello Kurrot,” Eratel nodded back. He moved around Marra and walked a few steps forward to the counter where the blacksmith stood. With a dull thud and the sound of coins clinking against each other, Eratel dropped the large bag of money onto the counter. “I've come to make a purchase.”
Kurrot looked down at the bag before using two fingers to open the bag farther, revealing the pile of gold coins within. The smith's face, usually stoic and unchanging turned to a mixture of excitement and confusion. Cocking up an eyebrow, Kurrot looked at Eratel, “What do you intend to buy with all this money?”
Turning around, Eratel pointed above the entrance to the shop. Mounted just above the large wooden door, a massive, black, spiked hammer hung sideways from two oversized metal hooks. The hammer was easy to describe: ridiculous. This hammer had been in the shop for as long as Eratel had known Kurrot and was the hammer to the shop's name.
“Are you serious?” the blacksmith asked. Everyone knew the history of this hammer. Many years ago when Kurrot was in the army, he and his regiment were attacked by a lone giant, armed with a hammer the size of a man. The giant had slaughtered four of Kurrot's comrades, but Kurrot was somehow able to kill the beast. Kurrot was allowed to keep the giant's massive weapon and deemed a local hero.
Eratel turned back around and grinned, “I'm very serious. A year ago, you told me that you would sell it for a hundred gold coins and no less.”
“Did I say that?” Kurrot asked, his eyes showing his surprise.
“You did daddy!” Marra jumped onto the counter so that she could sit next to where Eratel stood. “I remember!”
Kurrot breathed out a very long breath. “That hammer holds great meaning to me. I've owned it for years. It is not something that I would easily part with.” Kurrot's eyes narrowed, “But I am a man of my word. If this is indeed one hundred gold coins, I will sell you the weapon, although it pains me dearly.”
Eratel understood the blacksmith's reservations for selling the hammer. This hammer represented many things, including the lives of Kurrot's lost comrades. “I promise you that I will not waste such a precious gift.”
“And how do you intend to use this gift exactly?” Kurrot crossed his arms over his chest. “That weapon is far too large for a man to carry by himself, much less wield usefully in battle. What could you possibly want it for?”
“Well Kurrot,” Eratel walked to the entrance of the store and stopped in front of the door. “There's something that I've never told you about myself.” Eratel reached up and lifted the hammer with his left hand, easily removing it from its resting place. Moving the hammer to stand vertically, Eratel compared the hammer's size to his own. The hammer was slightly taller than Eratel and the head was broader than his shoulders. Eratel easily threw the weapon back and forth between his hands as a child would do with a stick.
Kurrot gasped, his eyes wide, “That weighs at least 20 stones. Are you a Tragedy? I knew you grew up at Xemnas, but I didn't know.”
Eratel nodded. “It's not something I share with many people.” His eyes narrowed, “They start asking a lot of questions.”
Marra's face was one of confusion and excitement, “What's a Tragedy, Poppa?”
Kurrot turned to his daughter. “Sometimes, people are very unlucky and experience terrible things in their lives. The gods sometimes repay these people who've had poor luck with special abilities. Our friend here,” Kurrot motioned towards Eratel, “seems to have the ability of strength.”
Eratel confirmed Kurrot's suspicions, “I've had this power ever since I was very young.” He looked Marra in the eyes, “We're called Tragedies, because although we have tremendous powers, we have to go through something terrible to get them. I've had ridiculous strength my whole life, but at a terrible cost.”
“Do you have a few minutes?” Kurrot asked. Eratel nodded back to the blacksmith. “If I'm going to give you something that holds this much meaning to me, then you need to at least know the full story of how I received it.” Kurrot motioned to Eratel to follow him into the back room behind the shop's main area. “Marra watch the shop. Count the money and get me if anyone comes in.”
“Yes, Poppa!” Marra turned around on the counter and placed her legs on either side of Eratel's purse. She began to move the coins from the pouch into a pile next to her. “One, two, three...” Eratel heard her count as he followed Kurrot into the back room and closed the door behind himself.
“Take a seat, son” Kurrot motioned at one of two wooden stools in the center of the room. Eratel sat on the stool closer to the door and looked around. To his right, the metal furnace glowed faintly. The light from the furnace flickered against a wooden shelf, built into the wall. On the shelf sat a picture of a hammer and anvil with two burning candles in front of it. Eratel was not surprised to see that Kurrot had a shrine to Labos, who was often depicted as a hammer and anvil as she was the patron god of all blacksmiths, a profession that embodies commitment and hard-work. To Eratel's left was a large anvil, worn and scratched from years of striking. Farther into the room were the stairs to go to the next floor where one would find the family's private rooms. Opposite of Eratel, Kurrot sat down on the other stool. “Get comfortable, my friend. This is a long story from many years ago, before Marra was born. You would've only been just a boy.”
“Keep your voices down,” Kurrot hissed at his comrades. He could see from the moonlight that they were irritated at being berated, but it couldn't be helped. The soldiers inched forward through the brush, making as little noise as possible. Kurrot glanced left and right with each step, vigilant for any suspicions changes. With their captain recently deceased the soldiers were severely lacking in leadership and hierarchy of command. Kurrot, a natural leader had assumed the role of command, but he desperately hoped that they would be able to return to the city without needing to fight again. Although it was dark, Kurrot could vaguely make out Keratos in the distance. They were only a few leagues from safety.
“Do you hear that?” one of the soldiers whispered.
From somewhere in the night another soldier spoke a single word, “Stop.”
Kurrot froze in place. With his eyes closed, he focused on straining his ears to listen. His regiment came to a stop, everyone on high alert for the sound of any enemies. His comrades were taking short, shallow breaths, attempting to be completely silent. A few insects called out in the night. Above Kurrot, something glided through the night, probably an owl. All was quiet. The men sat there for what felt like an eternity, waiting to learn their fate. A few minutes later one of the soldiers spoke, “I think we're safe.” They weren't.
In the stillness of the night a sound like an avalanche crashed through Kurrot's ears. Something was thrashing through the woods, and the scream of a dying man erupted out. Kurrot's heart pounded in his chest and his throat felt tight. Although the night was cold, Kurrot could feel himself sweating. He reached into his pack and produced a long piece of wood with a ball of wet cloth at the end. Striking the head of the torch against a tree, Kurrot was able to activate the flint and tinder mechanism that was hidden under the damp cloth. The torch ignited in a brilliant flash and brought the surrounding area into view. Several of Kurrot's comrades were nearby, lighting their torches and moving toward the sounds of fighting. Although the light of the torches couldn't quite reach far enough into the night, Kurrot could see something moving and swinging around with a terrifying malice.
Kurrot moved the torch to his left hand and unsheathed his sword with his right hand. He charged forward into the night towards the sounds of clashing. The sound of splintering wood exploded out, and a Pine began crashing down toward Kurrot. He dodged to the left, continuing to rush toward the fighting. The ground shook with the weight of the tree, but Kurrot could not be stopped. Coming around a thicker portion of the forest, the young soldier was finally able to bring the source of the noise into view.
Standing twice the height of a normal man, a giant loomed in the night. Although Kurrot had never seen a giant in person, he had heard enough descriptions to recognize the beast immediately. It was an ugly creature, with a massive, round nose, sunken eyes, and matted hair that was falling out in patches. The monster's clothes were mismatched pelts, tied together lazily around his body. Unfortunately for the regiment, the giant was as strong as he was ugly. In the creature's left hand, he held a huge hammer, unlike any Kurrot had ever seen. The beast was swinging the hammer around like it was a toy, destroying anything that it came into contact with. Kurrot watched as the giant brought the hammer around in a circle, breaking through a tree like it was a twig before striking a soldier in the chest. The dull thud that followed was certainly the sound of ribs shattering and a man dying.
Kurrot screamed out a battle cry, charging the giant with his torch and sword pointed upward. The sound of a whip cracked through the air followed by another. Kurrot could see two of his comrades were using long strips of reinforced leather to attempt to hold down the giant's hammer arm. Seeing this was their best chance at survival, Kurrot yelled into the night, “Hey! You big, dumb, ugly brute!” That got the giant's attention. He turned to face Kurrot, eyes wide with anger. A massive hand snapped down to Kurrot, pinning his arms by his waist and causing him to drop his weapons. Powerless against the massive monster, Kurrot was lifted into the air like a parent lifting a toddler. Face to face with each other, the giant roared into Kurrot's face. A horrible stench of decaying flesh filled Kurrot's nostrils.
Fighting the urge to vomit, Kurrot tried to think of a solution. Running off of fear and adrenaline, Kurrot struggled in the giant's grip, managing to release his left arm. With no real plan in mind, Kurrot did the only thing he could and thrust his arm down the giant's throat. The giant hesitated for a moment, his eyes wide with shock and a look of disgust on his face. “Don't let his arm go free!” Kurrot yelled to his friends below. The giant responded to this by sinking its teeth into Kurrot's soft flesh, causing the man to howl in pain. He cursed the gods and reached around with the hand that was deep within the giant's throat. Upon finding something soft, Kurrot squeezed with all of his might, hoping that doing so would help him to keep his grip. If the giant managed to remove his arm, Kurrot would surely die, being so close to the beast without any sort of protection.
The giant lurched forward as his throat convulsed, attempting to push out the abnormality. Kurrot held on, flexing every muscle in his arm to its full capacity. Various liquids were spewing everywhere. Kurrot could smell bile, rotten meat, and saliva. Each second felt excruciatingly long as Kurrot was very aware that any moment could easily be his last. The giant, in a desperate attempt to remove Kurrot's arm from his throat, pulled on the soldier's body, but was still biting down on Kurrot's shoulder. This had a tearing effect on Kurrot's soft muscle tissue, causing him to scream in agony. Although he was losing any feeling he still had in his left arm, Kurrot continued to hold on with any strength he could find within himself. Gripping was proving to be difficult as the pain of the giant's teeth deep within his flesh was making it difficult to even know for certain that Kurrot's left arm was still attached. Black cirles were beginning to fade into Kurrot's vision as his body began to go into shock. Kurrot ground his teeth, desperately trying to fight the darkness. In a panic, the massive beast attempted to free his hammer-wielding arm again, but the soldiers' whips were too tight and being unable to breathe is a heavy tax on strength.
Faltering again, the giant this time opened its mouth before pulling on Kurrot's body, but it was too late. The giant had struggled too much and was barely conscious, lacking the strength necessary to remove Kurrot's iron grip. Swaying, the giant fell onto its back. A pitiful half-hearted bite on Kurrot's shoulder was the giant's last act before its eyes rolled back and it finished suffocating.
Kurrot breathed heavy breaths, each one feeling like iron nails being driven under his skin. He tried to remove his arm from the giant's throat but found that his muscles were spasming, and his hand was unable to open. “Help,” he mustered out to his comrades. The two soldiers who had been keeping the giant's hammer arm subdued dropped their whips and ran over to Kurrot. Both of them pulled together on Kurrot's arm to violently remove it from deep within the giant.
Falling backward onto the ground, Kurrot looked at his arm, an appendage that he could barely recognize. A mixture of bile, flesh, and blood covered his skin. Kurrot's fingers twitched back and forth, seizing from his torn muscle tissue. Kurrot winced as a wave of lava burst through his veins. His bite would require medical attention immediately upon returning to Keratos as it would certainly become infected.
Several of the other soldiers walked over to Kurrot, muttering curses as Kurrot's bloody arm came in to view. Bramwell, one of the more experienced in the regiment bent down and looked Kurrot over before speaking, “Don't worry friend. We'll get you back safely. You just sleep. You've done enough.” Bramwell took a canteen of water and a long strip of cloth from his pack. Pouring out the canteen, Bramwell did his best to wash the wound. Kurrot howled and cursed from the pain but accepted the act. After cleaning Kurrot's arm, Bramwell used the cloth to wrap the wound so that it would not be exposed during the rest of the journey.
“I feel like you deserve this,” one of the other soldiers called out, kicking at the massive hammer with his foot. “After all, how many people have killed a giant with their bare hands?”
Kurrot smiled grimly, regretting it as another bolt of pain shot through his arm. He had lost an alarming amount of blood and would likely go unconscious soon. As he closed his eyes, Kurrot heard the soldiers speaking to each other, “I wonder what forged this. It's definitely not a giant's work; it's far too well made.” They continued to speak, but Kurrot could no longer focus as he drifted into the refuge of sleep.