The second installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.
A month had passed in training when Locsyn came over to tap Rhyfelwyr on the shoulder, an expectant look showing through the massive handlebars of his moustache.
“You’d better come for this.”
Bemused, Rhyfelwyr followed Loc through the barracks to the front gate, where an elder was trying to force his way out of the grip of a squad’s worth of six soldiers. Four of them had lost their helmets, three had blood or broken noses on their faces, and all were showing some kind of bruise or battering, and when Rhyfelwyr saw who it was they were holding, he understood how it had all come about.
“Gwewyr, leave off man. They didn’t know, okay?”
The elder turned and shot Rhyfelwyr a glare full of menace, but it softened quickly, and Gwewyr straightened, brushed away the hands holding him, and dusted himself off. With a last glance back at the squad who had been sent to retrieve him, he strode over to Locsyn and Rhyfelwyr, and pulled them towards a quiet corner near the gate.
“Look, I’m not going to leave the wives and kids behind. I’m trying to feed five families, now, and it’s hard enough to make it all work without being dragged off to fight some damned fool war that doesn’t matter to me.”
Locsyn patted him on the shoulder. “We know, Gwewyr, we know. We’ve helped you often enough. What’re you doing here, anyway? You retired out two years ago.”
“I’m not retired any more, lad. Not according to those jumped up pricks. No more pension, not until I do my duty one last time and go off and get killed under some snotnose who can’t tell his left foot from his right. Course, even if I do survive, it don’t matter. I just die when I get back here and the families have shattered. No thanks.”
“There’s no one else, Gwewyr?” Rhyfelwyr looked at his feet for a moment.
“They’re all dead, remember? Four out of five brothers, lying pretty in the family grave. Oh, sure, the pensions help the wives a bit, but not enough, and I don’t trust anyone else to keep order in that place, aside from me.”
Locsyn looked at Rhyfelwyr, who nodded at the thought. “Look, why don’t you come back and train. It’s six months on full pay, maybe a little extra if we can talk to the paymaster about it, and then you just disappear the week we’re heading out. It’s a little more money in your pocket, and you aren’t going anywhere. Has to help a bit, doesn’t it?”
Gwewyr looked thoughtful for a long moment. “Maybe, lad, maybe. I’m not sure I can go back, though.” He looked down at his hands. “I haven’t touched a blade or a spear since the day I furloughed out.”
The other two nodded, then each put one arm around Gwewyr’s shoulder and gently led him towards the gate into the barracks. “Don’t worry about that. The recruits will be so scared of you they’ll just drop their blade and run the first time you spar with ‘em. We’ll make sure of that.” A slow grin spread across Gwewyr’s face as they walked inside. “I like that.”
Gwewyr quickly fell back into the habits that had helped him stay alive across many a battlefield, and even the others were impressed by how many little tricks he brought to the sparring grounds. Stepping on a retreating fighter’s toe, tapping at their elbow with the spear, or closing the distance and using knee strikes, Gwewyr seemed to have an unending fountain of varying attacks, and soon Rhyfelwyr and the rest of the veterans were sparring with him, hoping to pick up the tricks.