B.3 Chapter 37: Dusk
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Harald’s shout was followed by another thwack of wooden swords. Kate was desperately trying to break the veteran’s guard, her strikes on the edge of breaking the training equipment.


“Again!” Harald shouted. Kate stumbled back, her breath coming out in puffs of steam. Her sword was shaking. Harald gritted his teeth. “Did I tell you to stop, Rowan? Again!” Kate’s expression turned from exhaustion back to hardened resolve. She charged once more, her weapon of choice raising to strike once more.


Harald could see it all coming, however. He knew exactly what tactic she was going for and how she was going to execute it. The veteran sidestepped and raised his wooden pole. The young woman’s strike made contact and Harald countered. In a swift motion, Kate was on the ground, Harald’s weapon pointed at her.


“You’re dead,” he declared as he poked her ribs.


Kate didn’t have a witty remark to say back. She said nothing. The only sound that came from her was the rhythmic panting. The young woman slowly got up before she limped towards the water barrel. Harald wiped the sweat off his brow.


“That’ll be all for sparring,” he said to the observing trainees.


As they all moved to get their things and leave, Harald stuck around to rest. As he downed water from his canteen, Helen approached.


“Are you alright?” she asked.


“I’m fine.”


“I doubt it,” the ex-marauder scoffed. “You’re angrier than usual. Stricter as well. You made poor Rowan spar with you five times. You didn’t even hold back.”


“Their enemies won’t hold back,” Harald responded.


Helen raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “That’s what it’s about? Their enemies? I doubt they’ll be facing people as skilled as you.”


“Battle is unpredictable. Random. They’ll never be ready if I don’t—”


“No one is ever ready,” Helen argued. “That’s how life is. That’s how it’ll always be.” Her words were enough to make Harald pause. The veteran stared at his canteen. His thoughts went back to what he saw in that cursed dream with William. He hadn’t spoken about it to anyone outside of James. Even then, their talk was minimal. Harald had refused to delve into it with him.


“You’ve been on edge since coming back. What the hel happened in Vindis?” Helen prodded.


Harald raised his head, his gaze moving to the blonde woman. He closed his canteen of water. “You still have rum to spare?”


“Rum? What–?”


“I know you keep it in your waterskin,” Harald revealed.


The ex-marauder’s face turned a bright red from the accusation, yet she didn’t seem to deny any of it. “Fine…”


Helen moved to grab at her waterskin, which sat on the nearby bench. Both veterans sat down together, rum in hand as they drank. Despite the rum reeking of alcohol, the veteran barely got a buzz off of it. Harald had long ago built a tolerance to liquor, his body more than used to it all. It was comparable to Bjorn’s own resistance.


For a good few minutes, both trainers sat there in silence, simply drinking as they watched the training grounds. Finally, Harald spoke up. “You fought in the Outsider Wars, correct?”


“Aye. Fought for the Redyr Clan battalion for a good four years before I left and became a mercenary,” Helen responded as she took a swig. “Of course, mercenary work wasn’t really much following the years after the war.”


“That’s why you became a marauder?” Harald asked.


Helen laughed at that. “That is a box I do not want to reopen.”


“I won’t prod,” Harald chuckled as he took the rum from her.


He took a swig of the burning liquid, his thoughts going back to the years of the war. “Three years in the war? How old were you?”


“Barely twenty,” Helen responded. “I could’ve joined much sooner, but uh… familial issues.” The blonde woman sighed. “How about you? How old were you?”


“Twenty-five when it started,” Harald answered.


“Started?” Helen raised an eyebrow. “You were lumen weren’t you? So that means…?”


Harald nodded. “I was fighting Valenfrost clans in the beginning.” He looked down at the waterskin in his hands. “Redyr, Halvorson, Falk, you name it. I killed someone from that clan.”


“Front lines?” Helen questioned.


“Captain,” Harald muttered. “Lumen Kingdom was only fighting for a year, but that was enough for both sides to deal serious damage. Even when we sided together to fight off the barbarians, we hated each other for a good portion of the conflict.”


“Damn,” Helen whistled. She leaned over to grab the waterskin of rum from the older man’s hands. “You fought the whole time, didn’t you? I can’t imagine going through that for fifteen years.”


“Eleven years,” Harald corrected. “I only fought for eleven of those years.”


Helen raised an eyebrow mid-drink. “Eleven? Did you retire or something towards the end?”


“Something like that,” Harald answered in a sigh. There was some silence between the two, the only sound being that of the rum trickling down from Helen’s waterskin. The veteran’s mind ran through the events of the conflict, his eyes closing as he recalled his low points. It prompted a sickening question in the back of his mind, one that his morbid curiosity got the better of.


“What was the worst thing you saw during the war?” Harald murmured suddenly. The question caught the ex-marauder off-guard, her face contorting into worry.


“Are you alright?”


“Just answer the question. If you do, I’ll tell you mine.”


Helen looked visibly uncomfortable, but her expression changed rather quickly to a thoughtful look. Finally, she spoke, her usual boisterous voice soft and steady.


“I’d say it had to be during my first year in the front lines. The conflict was already dying down by then, but the brutality wasn’t.” She sighed as she leaned against the wall. “Barbarians were getting desperate at that point. They were doing scorching tactics and leaving islands uninhabitable. During my second raid, I saw the extent of it.”


She took a deep breath, her hand quickly raising the waterskin to her lips. After she took a drink, she went back to her story. “East island, one of the ones closer to Azurvale. Barbarians were mid-way of burning the settlement when we came in. Of course, we do our best to stop the flames and kill those bastards. But you can’t do two things at once.” Helen rubbed her eyes in frustration.


“The fire only burned half the island before we put it out. Once the barbarians were taken care of, we searched for survivors. And what do you know, we found them!” Helen extended her arms in the air to signify celebration. “They were tied up, kept as prisoners.” She explained. Her expression faltered. “But… after we freed them, we soon realized that they were all adults. Artisans, merchants, mothers, fathers…” Helen’s voice trailed off.


Silence again. Harald had a feeling about where this story was going, and it made him sick.


“We found the bodies in another hut, one not too far from the building where the survivors were. The fire got to them before the adults,” Helen muttered after a few quiet seconds. Harald didn’t know what to say. Then again, what could anyone say? The veteran himself had seen things such as this, some even worse. Yet, for the life of him, he could never find the combination of words that could be accepted as comfort for this situation. For now, respectable silence was all he could do.


Helen sighed softly, her voice almost shaking. “Sometimes I wonder… I wonder if they heard them. Beyond the walls, through the crackling of flames. It’s such a morbid thought, yet I keep…” She shook her head for a moment. The ex-marauder then did something that surprised Harald. She chuckled. Not a happy chuckle, but one that stemmed from nerves. Harald recognized it. How could he not?


“Sorry. I’m not as hardened as you men,” Helen laughed. “My emotions tend to get the best of me.”


“It’s normal,” Harald said. He himself had seen men break down from deeds they have witnessed and done. Battle brothers who turned the sword on themselves to get away from the pain. Harald had seen it all. Despite what she said, Helen was good at hiding her inner turmoil and better at dealing with it than most.


“I guess so.” The woman veteran turned to him. “What about you? What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?” Her question came at Harald like a flying knife. He had forgotten about his end of this. The grizzled man took a breath of the air, his hand reaching out for the waterskin. Helen handed it to him. Harald took a drink, his mind going back to those painful years.


“It all blends together in a way,” he admitted. “I’ve seen children put under the sword for nothing and women throw themselves into the sea to avoid the primal urges of man.” Harald frowned. “But if I have to choose the worst moment. It would have to be the day I lost everything.” He looked at Helen. “Promise you won’t blab this out to everyone?”


“Promise.” Helen grinned with a drunken air.


Harald sighed and laid his head back. He didn’t know if it was the drink or the feeling of comfort he had around a fellow veteran. All he knew was that he needed to let it off his chest.


“I was a champion during the war,” he revealed.


“Champion? Like… a chosen of the gods?” Helen asked with wide eyes.


Harald nodded. “Chosen by Azlene when I turned fifteen. From that day, I had everything planned out for me.” He chuckled. “From training to dieting, all the way to how I would die.” Harald remembered those days. How the priests from Azlene’s temple would explain his entire life plan.


“Really?” Helen asked. “Your death?”


“Yes.” Harald nodded. “I was supposed to die in a blaze of glory, giving my life for my beliefs. Told by the oracle herself.”


“What a load of shit that must have been,” the blonde woman guffawed.


“Believe me, I still chuckle about it to this day.” The veteran admitted.


“Are you still a herald?” Helen asked. “You don’t exactly scream ‘chosen’ to me.”


Harald shook his head. “I don’t have it with me. All my spells, my castings… It’s all gone.” Harald could still feel the runes on his body, the ones that were imprinted on him by the goddess herself. They laid dormant on his chest and back, their power long dead. “I lost it on that day, I told you. The worst day of my life,” he explained. “It was so long ago, yet I can still taste the rain and smell the ash,” Harald muttered.


“Four years before the war ended. Barbarians took an island fort and were holding it. I was the head of the troop who was stationed there to hold it under siege. We were there for weeks, awaiting reinforcements. When reinforcements came, they were less than promised. Some men suggested we should wait for another set of reinforcements, but at that point, I was already impatient.” Harald scratched at his beard. “I thought that my heraldry was more than enough for the fort. So, we charged in. I forced them all to do it and promised that I would get them through it alive.”


The veteran took a deep breath, his hands clenched tightly.


“What happened?” Helen asked softly, all of her jest gone from her tone.


“It was a massacre. I had thought that a weeks-long siege would be enough to drain them of their supplies but… I was wrong.” Harald took a swig of the rum. He wished the drink would do more to numb the painful memory. Yet it only made him disoriented. “Fifty good men died that day and even more were taken as prisoners. In the end only a handful of us managed to retreat.”


The memory of that day was still burning in his mind. Harald could still hear the screams of men and the war-cries of barbarians. They had ambushed them and were taking full advantage of their aggressive push. Harald had only survived through his castings, which had kept the barbarians away enough to allow him and a small group of men to retreat.


“One of those men was William Thatcher,” Harald murmured. “Knight in training, he was brought along with the initial reinforcements. Most of the men who died came from his troop.” Harald recalled William. He was a bright eyed kid, one that didn’t see much combat. He was young, too young to be witnessing horrors like that battle. “William was full of rage and sorrow. More so than any of us. To where he challenged me to a duel.”


“Gods…” Helen shook her head.


Harald nodded. “I only accepted it because I wanted to let him get his rage out. To let him cope. But I underestimated him.”

“He won, didn’t he?” Helen asked.


The veteran man nodded. “I still think about it. I don’t know why I lost. Perhaps it was because his will was stronger than mine. Maybe it was because I wanted to lose. That I deserved to be killed.” Harald sighed. “I don’t know why he let me live. I probably won’t ever know.”


“Do you have to know?” Helen asked. “Things like that. I don’t think we should dwell on.” She pointed out as she grabbed the rum filled flask from Harald. “We should live our lives as they are. Forget the past and focus on our futures.”


That earned a small chuckle from the older man. “Maybe I should take your advice. I’ve dwelt enough on the past.”


“Aye, to forgetting the past.” Helen grinned as she raised the flask.


“To forgetting the past.”





Seamus sat alone at the harbor. It was close to nighttime, meaning that the area was close to empty. His hands held onto the pouch he was given the other day. He didn’t know what to think of it. Was Falrick trying to make amends to him? Did that wizard really want his forgiveness?


“It’s all so complicated.” Seamus groaned. He wished he had tagged along for James’ venture to the orc tribe. He would’ve pushed it all to the back of his mind. Forget about all of it.


‘No, you’re just afraid of the past,’ Seamus mentally chastised himself. ‘Ever since then, you’ve been avoiding it… You have to accept it, Seamus.’


“What are you doing here?” Someone called out to him. Seamus perked up at the question, his head turning to the person speaking. Kate stood there, still in her guardsmen garb.


“I’m just pondering. The sea makes me think better,” he answered.


“Really?” Kate stepped up to the harbor’s edge where Seamus sat. “I come here too whenever I need to think things over. It’s nice and quiet, perfect for whenever you need to get away from idiots,” Kate commented.


Seamus chuckled. “I’m guessing the recruits are making your day worse?”


“Opposite, actually,” Kate responded with a laugh. “I’m finding them easier to deal with than Harris or Dirk.”


“Harris, he’s the…?”


“The one with half an arm,” Kate confirmed. “Might as well have half a brain, too.” She chuckled. “Still, he tries. I’ll give him that.”


Kate sat down next to the young man, a tired sigh escaping her breath. “What are you really doing here, Seamus?” She asked.


“I’m thinking,” Seamus reiterated.


“About?” Kate raised an eyebrow. The young man opened his mouth to answer, but he stopped himself. He instead stayed quiet, his gaze still fixed on the horizon. For a while, both of them were silent, the only sounds being the lapping waves. Truth be told, Seamus did not want to burden Kate with the depressing thoughts that held him down. If she knew what he did, she would most likely stop talking to him altogether. The last thing he wanted was to complain to her about it all.


After a minute of awkward silence, Kate sighed. The guardswoman leaned back on her arms.


“Back when I was little, my dad would take me to the shop,” she started suddenly. “He wanted to show me what he was leaving behind for me. My responsibilities and my future.” She smiled a little. “You want to know what I did every time he took me? I screamed, kicked, and bit him. I told him I wanted to be an adventurer, something beyond the average storekeeper. Throughout my childhood, I revolted against him. Every time I did, he only smiled and entertained my fantasies.” Kate chuckled.


“I was so pissed with him. I thought he wasn’t taking me seriously, that he only wanted me to stay stuck in some shop for the rest of my life, same as his dad before him.” The guardswoman brushed some of her hair away from her eyes. Seamus noted how her smile faltered.


“In the end, I realized he was taking me seriously,” Kate muttered. “That sword I gave to you back during frost? It wasn’t part of the shop’s inventory. That was the sword my dad left me. Years ago, when I was finally an adult, he gifted it to me. Told me he wanted me to go out adventuring at some point, to leave this island and make a name.”


Seamus felt his heart drop. “I-I’m so sorry I didn’t…”


“It’s alright, Seamus.” Kate smiled. “I was the one who gave it up. Back then, I thought I was nothing more than some stranded girl destined for a shopkeeper’s role.” The guardswoman sighed. “I wish I had more confidence in myself then. I wish I owned up to what I told my dad, to what he wanted me to do. In the end, he never wanted me to be just some shopkeeper. He wanted me to be what I was destined to be.”


“You can still be an adventurer. Go out and explore Valenfrost,” Seamus pointed out. “You’re not restricted here.”


Kate laughed a little. “Maybe. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to do it. For now, however, I still love this town. My father did and I could see why.”


“You can still come back whenever you feel like it. Nothing is holding you back,” Seamus encouraged.


Kate tilted her head at the young man. “You believe I should do what I want, be what I need to be?”


“Yes,” Seamus answered.


Kate chuckled at that. “You really are oblivious, aren’t you, Halvorson?” she muttered.


“What do you mean?” Seamus narrowed his brow.


“I don’t know what you went through. Gods, I could only imagine the horrors you saw. Still, I can try to empathize.” The guardswoman sighed. “We both lost people we cared for. Loved ones we’ll never get back.” Kate moved her hand to Seamus’. “Remembering them doesn’t mean you should live in the past. You should honor their memory by living the life they gifted you.”


Seamus was quiet. He looked down at the young woman’s hand, which was covered in calluses and scars. It was a far cry from the soft and fragile hands she once had all those months ago.


“You’re not alone.” Kate muttered softly. Seamus clenched his jaw, doing his best to hold it back in. if he allowed himself to be weak in front of someone like Kate, he would never be looked at the same. Seamus opened his mouth to say something, to tell her he was getting tired. That he needed to go off and do something. Before he could get his excuse out, his eyes locked onto hers.


Kate’s expression was not of judgment or false empathy. She truly looked sorrowful. The look in her eyes was something Seamus felt daily. The same feelings he harbored in his soul. She understood it and she was opening herself up to him. Why couldn’t Seamus do the same?


‘Am I that selfish? To think that I was the only one who lost people? That I alone should keep suffering for it?’


The young man didn’t move as the guardswoman leaned closer, her arms snaking around him. Before he knew it, she was embracing him. Seamus slowly moved to return it, his face burying itself into her shoulder. For the first time in months, he felt as if he was safe.