Mud River – Camp Frost
“Bad dreams again?” Saint asked, standing over Ren.
“Whaa?” he replied sleepily.
The three – Renner, Saint and John – were given the watch again. They were taking turns sleeping, while the other two kept watch. Renner’s turn was just cut short abruptly.
“You were screaming, one of the wolf ones again?” Saint asked in a concerned voice.
Renner shot a look at John, who was already asleep. He was the only one Ren had disclosed his dreams with.
“Oh spare the lad, I got him to tell me,” Saint said with a proud look of self-satisfaction.
“‘Course you did,” he said as he got up slowly. The hotness of the day had carried into the night that day. The bonfire was kept to a minimum, just enough to see each other. The stars were still there, twinkling. He was thankful for that much.
He had made sure to not be alone for the past two days. He couldn’t trust himself that much. The battle and his lost fight had broken him. It instilled a deep sense of humiliation and rage in him that hadn’t lost its fire, like he’d wished; much unlike their bonfire which fizzled out again.
“Okay, that’s the third time since you slept alone. It’s going fully up this time. So what, we sweat a little,” Saint muttered as he reignited the bonfire.
Five minutes later, a sweat-drenched Saint reduced the flame again and settled down. “You haven’t answered my question yet,” Saint said as he wiped his brow.
“No, it was that damned Hero again,” Ren replied through his clenched teeth.
“Ah good,” Saint said, almost relieved.
“Good?” his teeth clenched harder.
“Yes, good. I was always worried about you, you were too soft. This certain experience of yours has been very reassuring for me. You may survive after all. You’re finally seeing this war like how normal people do… Like me,” Saint said, grinning.
“I am not like you! I don’t know what you’re yappin’ bout,” he lied. Oh crap, that can’t be true. I need to get it together, and soon!
“Aw, come on. I’ve seen you these past two days. Snappin’ at people for no reason – mostly poor John; the newfound agility during training… Do I need to go on?” Saint triumphantly said. Look at him then, and anyone would have thought he had achieved some great feet.
Ren groaned. “Alright, we don’t need to talk about that. I understand,” Saint said.
“There’s nothing to talk abo-“, he started.
“Yes! We don’t need to talk about that very much present thing,” Saint said louder over Renner. “Oh, cause I got something better. So much better. Our dear old Jony here, is still a virgin!”
“Yea, I knew that,” Ren replied in a dead tone.
“You knew?!” Saint’s enthusiasm went down a bit. “Okay, but – but do you know what else he has been doing all these Mating days that’s gone by?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Mating day came after every battle. The women would select men and take them to their tent. Soldiers who achieved some big feat in the battle were allowed to pick a woman themselves. Women, if it was an even bigger feat.
“Listened to old tales from the woman,” Renner said with a shrug of his shoulders, driving the enthusiasm out of Saint again.
“Yes! And you knew and didn’t tell me?! Ugh. It was to stop me from laughing that he told me about your weird wolf dreams,” Saint said, chuckling lightly again, with a look of defeat and disappointment.
“So what? I am too,” Ren said, flatly. This was starting to get tiring.
“What?! And what do you do? Sleep?!” Saint said, sniggering.
“Yes? You’re not serious?!” Saint looked at Ren with the utmost bewilderment. Ren shrugged.
“Just when I was growing hopeful of you,” he said clutching his forehead, shaking his head.
“I don’t see how this is important,” Ren said defensively, desperate to change the topic. “What’s important is that we have lost two battles continuously now. What is happening?”
“I have people working on that. And we both know you don’t care about all that. You only care about getting to that Hero again, don’t you?” Saint said, looking closely at him. Ah, I’ve got him. “Ren, that’s suicide. Much like what Nicola did that day,” Saint told him.
“Wait, you saw that too? So I wasn’t just imagining things then,” Ren said, choosing to ignore the former half of what Saint had said.
“No, he definitely jumped in front of the Hero. He saved you. What do you think happened?” Saint asked.
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen anything like that happening before in this war,” Ren said thankful that Saint seemed to have forgotten. It was like Saint read his mind.
“Hmm. We are going to talk about how you are going to kill yourself though,” Saint started.
Damn it. “No, we aren’t. John! Time’s up!” Ren shouted and threw a small stone at John, who rolled off his log and got up snorting.
“Has it been that long?” John asked, rubbing his eyes.
“Yes it has. Very long, actually. Saint was generous enough to let you. Now he’s getting really sleepy though. So…” Ren motioned Saint to lie down.
“Heh, alright. When you are ready to talk then,” Saint said and went to sleep suspiciously silently. John was trying very hard to avoid eye contact with him. Luckily, the next time Ren’s turn to sleep ended, it was day. Another hot, dry day.
The area was already filled with the sounds of the grunts of training soldiers and the clangs the swords they trained with made. John and Saint were nowhere in sight.
Ren finished his morning business by himself. It was better this way, it wasn’t a very comfortable feeling to have to defecate into a small pit some feet away from some other soldier. The neighbor was also chatty sometimes; and that was even worse.
The men were training in the broad patch of mud that have the place its name. He found Saint training with John. John was getting destroyed. He had small cuts all over, the heat had him huffing and puffing but Saint wasn’t stopping.
“Come-on-get-up-and-fight,” he was grunting between poking John with the practice sword.
Ren threw himself in the middle and went in hard at Saint. “That’s enough!” he shouted as he got in a couple pokes on Saint’s body.
“What are you shoutin’ at me for? He needed that,” he said defensively. He looked unhinged and quite scary: veins popping, red from the suns and the exhaustion.
Renner cut and parried with an amount of strength and force that he didn’t know he was capable of achieving. Saint started to resemble John in a short while. Red and stupid, Saint also resembled the Hero he had fought. It made Renner fiercer.
The pokes were starting to draw blood, Saint was defending rather than attacking him – like he usually did.
The Hero was at his mercy. “a I’m going to kill you!” he said and raised his practice sword high.
“RENNER!” John and Saint screamed together. The Hero dissolved in front of him. Saint was on the floor with his hand raised. The soldiers around them stood staring at him.
What have I done? “Oh, Saint. I’m sorry, I am,” he said and bent to pull him up. Saint flinched when he came close, but then seemed to just recognize him and gave Ren his hand.
He must think I’m a monster.
“That was… Amazing, Ren! Holy crap! I like you again! Hey I’m going somewhere, wanna come? Get into some formal clothes, meet me here in 10 minutes,” he said and walked away.
Fifteen minutes later, Renner wore the most formal and only cloak he had. A green buttoned cloak, that brought the color of his eyes out. Saint was already waiting for him at the spot, looking good way and that anxiously. He looked like a real gentleman.
“Finally, there you are. I thought you weren’t gonna show up. Alright, follow me,” he said and led the way towards the north of the camp.
“Ooh, are you taking me to meet your other friends?” Ren teased playfully.
“Wouldn’t call them friends, don’t think I’d be allowed to. But yea, I guess,” he said. There was a tinge of grace in the way he spoke suddenly. The clothes have powers, don’t they? Are they making him a decent person? thought Ren. And did he say allowed?
He went into the biggest tent Renner had ever seen. “Hey, um-Er-Are you sure I can come in?” Ren asked nervously. There was no answer. Ren held his breath and went in.
“Took you long enough,” Saint said, his back turned to him. He was talking with someone. Someone wearing robes for clothes. The Elder?
“Saint, what is going on? Heh, I’m not here to get murdered or anything right?” Ren sputtered, his nervousness rising.
“Take a seat, Renner Frost,” said the Elder and motioned to a seat next to Saint. Ren obeyed and sat down.
“The corpse you brought was very helpful. Well done,” the Elder told Saint. Saint graciously nodded, but said nothing. That’s a first.
“Our Iron-makers are working on it, but it’s hard,” the Elder went on.
“Working on what?” Ren butted in as Saint opened his mouth, probably to ask the same as he leaned back after Ren asked, without protest.
“Oh, the Flames’ crafty Iron-makers made them a double-layered chainmail. It’s not even two layers, it looks like it has one layer inside the other one. It is stronger, and yet doesn’t increase its weight substantially. Our broad blunt swords haven’t been working on them as well as they used to because of this reason,” the Elder explained.
“So what about the next battle? Our Iron-makers can’t possible make everyone these newer version that fast, right?” Ren asked, again as Saint opened his mouth. He seemed to be grinding his teeth now.
“Actually, they can’t make the newer version for anyone, yet. Like I said, working on it,” the Elder said.
“What?!” Ren and Saint said together.
“They can’t make it yet. But they have promised that they can make what can break it. Or at least penetrate it,” the Elder told them.
“The gaps will be smaller. What are they making to penetrate that?” Saint asked and looked proud that he’d finally gotten a word in too.
“They are calling it… Daggers. Pointy things, goes straight through the chainmail. And however low the increase in weight is, those men are going to be slower than us,” the Elder said proudly.
After another twenty minutes of Saint and the Elder talking, and Ren looking back and forth at their two faces unable to understand what they were talking about, Saint and Ren got up to leave. “Renner, can we talk alone?” the Elder asked.
“Of course, you know where I’d be,” said Ren and walked out of the tent. He wasn’t planning on being alone with the Elder anytime soon. The Elder always had a creepy vibe about him.
“Saint, why was I there?” Ren asked.
“I wanted to keep your head occupied with something else for a while. I know how much you like to question everything. That mysterious conversation that you wouldn’t have mostly understood seemed to be a good choice. I wanted to tell you something… Hmm, never mind. Also, I have been thinking about your suicide mission,” he said.
Ren sighed and tried to walk away. Saint caught him by the arm. “I’m going to help you take that giant bastard down,” he said in Ren’s ear.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear…