Renner was running. He did that very well. The others sometimes called him runner, because of his ability and the resemblance to his original name. He was panting, out of breath. He looked back to see who he was running from. Behind him, he saw a battle going on. He’s escaped, he thought gleefully. I’ve escaped from the war! He ran as fast he could; as far as his legs could carry him. He reached the end of land, he must be far west. He looked around and the bloody battle was still visible. The land was surrounded by sea.
The camp that would win was to do so by winning enough battles to fight until the end of the land, corner the losers and push them into the sea; an impossible task. The Frosts came from the south. The closest anyone came to it was the Frosts, apparently. Two more wins and they would have won, according to the legend. Years later, now they were two losses below the middle again.
He turned again to go south and saw the most bizarre thing. The land was reducing, closing in. He looked around to see the rest of the directions do the same. Soldiers sank, fighting all the while and the land kept reducing until all that was left was a small circle for him to stand on. The running had exhausted him. He fell to his knees and looked at the water. His image was blurry; it took a few moments before the sea got calm again.
Now he could see, but the face that looked back at him wasn’t his own. It was that of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He didn’t know her. Then something weirder happened. The woman began to grow fangs, her ears elongated, fur grew out of her skin and in no time, the image became a wolf. That wasn’t possible. Where’s the woman?! Trying to look deeper, he brought his face closer to the surface and the wolf staring back at him did the same. He stopped just above the water. The wolf didn’t. With one swift motion, it pounced up out of the water and bit his face.
Renner woke up with a start, his heart beating so fast he could hear it. He was sweating and panting, as if he’d really run in his sleep. The other soldiers looked at him with wide eyes.
“You OK there, Ren?” John asked, in a concerned voice that couldn’t have been faked.
“Yes, of course. Just a bad dream, I think. I forgot.” He lied. He remembered every single detail. It had felt unusually real for a dream…
He put on his training armor and slowly got out of the tent, careful not to step on anyone. Some were still asleep. Damn you all, with your sweet dreams, he thought to himself and rolled his eyes.
The sky was blue, the air cold and the ground, wet with dew on the grass. The air was filled with the sound of metal clanging on metal, the thrungs of arrows leaving their bows and the grunts of men. He took a moment to breathe it all in.
He noticed a lot of soldiers running to his left. He caught one’s attention and asked him where they were running off to.
“You haven’t heard? The king is visiting,” he saw the utter disbelief in Renner’s face and continued, “Yes, his wagon’s coming right this way, actually.” he said before breaking into a run again.
The king? We have a king? And now he is visiting us? What is happening?!
To his surprise, an actual wagon, glimmering and grand, was approaching towards him. A large crowd of soldiers around it. Good to see them rushing to see who they’ve been fighting for, that’s a good sign. He waited where he stood till they passed him, trying to get a look through the crowd. He saw a man with brown skin, a long nose, a black beard speckled with grey and blue eyes, like the sea. His thoughts again raced to his unsettling dream and he brought it back to the real world with a shake of his head. He couldn’t be the king. He didn’t look like one, at least.
Not that he’d know, he had only heard of them in stories his nurses had told him. But this guy? Nuh uh. He was the only one around him without armor on, he seemed to be dressed in a robe. As to confirm his suspicions, the man whispered something to another man, now visible, who sat on a stage above him. Now that’s more like it. The man he was previously been looking at got off the wagon as it came to a halt. It continued its journey without him. The soldiers seemed to only have their eyes on the king and followed the wagon. Is he looking at me? He turned behind him to see if there was anyone else there. It was only John and him.
The stranger approached them. “So how has the war been treating you?” he asked in a deep, yet somehow soft voice.
“Why are you here?” Renner blurted out, ruder than he’d intended.
“Well, to ask questions. Get answers. Is there anything we can do to make your experience better?” he asked, his eyes never leaving Renner. There was a playfulness in his voice, it made a weird match with what he was saying.
“Why now?” Ren asked. Again, rude.
“In light of recent events. The last battle was… Let’s use the term unsatisfactory, shall we?”
“Why? Humiliating, bad and the worst are unavailable?” he retorted.
The last battle was humiliating. It had gotten over in less than half a day. The sudden rise in the Flames’ strength was unexpected. The Frosts lost nearly an eighth of its strength in number. It had even claimed what’s-his-name. Ren dearly missed what’s-his-name…
“I guess not. Well because of that display, I convinced him it would be good to give a face to what you all have to fight for. It certainly seems to have boosted your spirits.” he gestured to the wagon, still surrounded by soldiers.
“You convinced the king? Who are you?” Damn it, he couldn’t stop sounding like a jackass.
“Oh, I am his Elder. Elder Maverick. Every king has one. He listens to my counsel, asks for my help and makes his decisions.” he explained.
Well, that’s something the stories never told me. The king always acted on his own and saved the day.
He realized he hadn’t answered a single one of the questions put to him and had been just asking him something back. He cleared his throat, “Oh. The soldiers are taken good care of. More tents would be welcome, though. It’d be nice to sleep with your legs stretched, I imagine.” he told the Elder.
“Oh alright,” he said. He didn’t seem to care about it very much though. “I have to get going now. I have a feeling that we will meet again. Until then.” he said. With a bow, he left.
“Wait, aren’t you going to ask your questions to the others?” Ren shouted at his back.
“No, I’ve got what I came for I believe. Farewell.” he waved and ran back to his wagon. Pretty fast for his age. He must be four-and-something, Ren guessed. That was weird. What he came for? He told me he came to take a survey. He put it out of his mind and got ready to get to practice, the others were coming out of the tent now. He just realized John wasn’t at his side. He must have slipped away sometime during the conversation.
Saint came running, somewhere from the north. “Where are you coming from?” Ren asked.
“Why? Didn’t you just see? The north… Anyways, the Flames’ camp is visible from here. They’re holed up in Bennet’s town. I saw it myself on my friend’s farscope.” he said.
“Wait, you have other friends?” That is brand new information. Wait… Bennet’s town? Then it hit him, finally. “Wait, what?!” That meant the next battle was even closer. It should take just another two or three days…