It was almost morning. Soft light flowed through the window, casting long, gloomy shadows in the wooden attic. Eric woke up a few hours ago; he had trouble sleeping that night. He laid on the hard bed that cornered the room, as he traced the cobwebs above him. A fly buzzed around near it, as the spider kept its distance. He wondered why the fly dared to go so near its demise.
He sat up and gazed around the room. This is where he had grown up; this is where he lived for eighteen years, and today that could change.
Eric was a slim boy of average height. He had a simple face and a simple frame, with jet-black hair that matched his eyes. He was an only child, which he was thankful for, as his room was just enough for one.
He was different from the other boys. Most boys in their town worked as farmhands or studied an apprenticeship under a blacksmith or a leatherworker. His father owned the local pub, and Eric had worked in it ever since he could walk. He did all the small jobs around the bar, which they lived above, such as repairing the odd leak in the ceiling, replacing damaged floorboards, mending tables and chairs that broke because of a fight that his father was usually a part of, and other tasks. Eric never complained, but he wanted more than to be a barkeep. He wanted to join the King’s army.
He remembered first telling his mother, Katrina, four years ago that he would enlist himself when he became of age. His mother turned pale and fainted; she was a frail woman. His father had not taken Eric’s news lightly either – he beat Eric severely that night; harder than usual. He had grown used to the beatings from his father; he never fought back.
His father was a burly, fat man who was always drunk. His name was Harold, and he had been a captain in the King’s army years ago, but he was removed from duty after he lost an arm from a fierce battle with one of the clans. He returned home, where his deceased father had left him the bar. He hired a barmaid to help, whom he impregnated, and Eric was born. Harold was never pleased with Eric or his mother, but she never stopped loving him; Eric didn’t know why. He could remember all the times he watched his mother slammed into the floor as he cried, unable to help.
He was a bastard. The other boys knew it; the whole town knew it. When he walked through the streets to purchase food and other necessities, he could feel sharp eyes turn and stare, and he would hear wordless mumbling from behind.
The other drunks at the pub would beat Eric around sometimes for fun as Harold sat quietly with his drink, ignoring his son’s pleas. He would get cuts and bruises all over his body and he would spit blood out in the night.
One night, the town butcher, Gravel, smacked Eric across the face, and he dropped the tray of glasses which he carried. Later, his mother sat in the backroom as she washed his eye that was swollen shut as she wept. His father came in, pushed his mother to the side, and kicked Eric to the floor as she screamed. His father’s rotten breath filled Eric’s lungs as he lay on top of him with his one hand wrapped around Eric’s neck. “How DARE you break all my glasses, boy!” his father roared at him as he struggled to break free from his dirty thick hand. He couldn’t breathe; he could feel his neck going limp under the pressure and knots in his throat press up, screaming for air. All he could see were his father’s bloodshot eyes and sweaty hair dripping over him.
Eric rubbed his eyes; it was still early. He could hear his father’s loud snoring in the room below; he smiled slightly as he realized how he no longer noticed it much. Eric walked to the window, careful not to cause too many creaks in the floor, and looked out at the town below him. Normane was the smallest town that housed a direct representative of the King; for this, the people were proud. Rows of houses lay before him as the eerie, grey horizon shadowed them. Past the buildings in the distance were plains of grass and farmland, and beyond that he could not see – only the soft, round glow of the rising sun that lit up the world.
The old lady across the street, Marca, was setting up her vegetable stand. Eric watched her as she accidentally mixed the different plants together; she was partially blind. In front of her stood a farmer, Bucken, who struggled to pull his horse behind him. The horse whinnied as the man patted his head and whispered in its ear. They walked off down the street; the horse’s steps muffled by the dirt roads – Normane was one of the poorer towns as well.
Eric turned around and tiptoed across the room to the far corner. He bent down and moved his fingers across one of the old floorboards; he wiggled it and pulled it off the floor. Eric reached down underneath and brought up a wooden plank and a small, dull knife. The plank was as long as his arm and it was crudely carved in the shape of a sword. At the upper end was a jagged tip, and the sides were littered with uneven cuts and pricks that came out of it. The hilt was only carved out on one side, so it was too wide for Eric to wrap his hand around.
Eric held up the sword in front of him and stared at his creation. He slowly twisted his wrists and watched the sword move along with him; he smiled. Today he would prove himself – today his life would change.
A week ago, soldiers dressed up in their knightly garb began to file into Normane, and soon the whole town looked like it was ready to go to war. Dozens of soldiers freely walked around the streets, taking whatever they pleased from the food stands and staying for free at the local inns. They were unruly and obnoxious, but Eric admired them. He wanted to be one of them; to be free of his life chained to the bar.
Today was his chance. Every year, the army of Noca would send troops to every town and city that was under Harfus’ rule, and every boy of age was allowed to prove himself during the Trial. Eric knew nothing about the Trial; the other boys wouldn’t tell him. He asked a soldier yesterday, and the soldier just laughed at him. “Kid… if I were you, I wouldn’t bother.”
Eric swung the makeshift sword from side to side slowly, bouncing its weight against his hand. He had never used a sword before, let alone held one. The closest he had ever gotten to touching one was around ten years ago, when he found his father’s sword. It had been stored in a crate in the basement, along with the rest of his armor.
His father had asked him to bring up a barrel of mead; it was a cruel joke that he played on Eric when he was younger, as he couldn’t carry it up and so he spent hours down there struggling with it. He decided to look around instead of continuing his vain efforts to push the large tub up the stairs.
He came across a dusty crate, hidden in the shadows under the stairs, and he pulled the top off. His childish eyes grew big, as he stood there, awestruck at what he had found. Inside the crate were pieces of silver armor, and a long object sheathed in leather. Eric picked it up with both hands, and walked back a few steps to see it in the light. The leather sheath was rugged and stuck to his skin, and the hilt was majestic and elegant. It had no intrinsic design, but its simple handle made it beautiful. The weight of the sword made him feel powerful.
He heard his father start walking down the stairs; he ran back to the crate and stuffed the sword back in, but he was too late. His father beat him that night for snooping around. When Eric went back just a few days ago, the crate was gone.
He pulled the sword back, his arms angled precariously and his legs positioned wildly, and he thrust through the air in front of him. He knew he would make a good soldier; he was more than what his father thought he was.
Some nights as he cleaned the bar, he would hear war stories that his father told the others about epic battles and clashes that he had been a part of – the Battle of Lake Yukaha, the Storming of Herenst, and other fights that he had given names to. Eric didn’t know much of the world outside of Normane, so he listened to every word his father said. He imagined huge armies slamming their strengths upon one another, and King Harfus leading the way. He wanted to be a part of that; he wanted to meet the great King of Noca.
I’m not doing this to impress you, Eric thought, as he flipped the sword with one hand, almost dropping it. He was tired of hearing his mother’s cries; he was tired of the bruises. He just wanted to save himself from this life, and save her as well. Eric put the sword down, and laid back on his bed. Today is mine.
Above him, he could hear the fly buzzing in panic as the spider approached its trapped prey.