by thefourpartland

The fourth 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.

It was some few days before he was fit again to return to training, and when he arrived, Taflen had pulled Llofruddiwr aside. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” And the simple reply was “Yes.” Saddened at that, Taflen had hunted down the other three, finding them tucked into the shade of a small building. “Gwewyr’s back, but his soul has fled.” Rhyfelwyr cursed under his breath. “He’s staring out from dull eyes?”

Taflen nodded.

Locsyn spoke up. “Better we go short then, or take a fresh-face. Like that, Gwewyr will be looking for a spear point.”

“Don’t tell the officers, we’ll handle this. Taflen, who’s been the best recruit?”

“Probably Rhocas. Want him?”

“Get him assigned to our squad, I don’t care how. Forge the papers if you have to, you’ve got the eye for it.” A quick wave and Taflen was off.

“And now I need to talk to Gwewyr, and get him back on the retired lists. And if he won’t listen, well, there are other ways.” Locsyn patted Rhyfelwyr on the shoulder at that, and the two men rose and headed their separate ways. Each had a task to do.

Rhyfelwyr found Gwewyr in the quad, watching recruits at formation practice. There was little of the light in his eyes, and, indeed, as they looked out over the field at the younger soldiers, there was even sorrow, at what had been, and what might happen to all of those who stood before him.

“Gwewyr, I’ve got a few things with the squad to talk to you about.”

The veteran looked over, his eyes taking the measure of Rhyfelwyr, then shook his head and began walking away. Rhy was forced to hurry to catch up. “Look, you and I need to talk, is all.”

Gwewyr glared over at the sergeant. “You’re going to tell me I’ve lost it, that I should be walking away from all of this and just going home. I can’t, not after everything I went through just to get to this point again. No, I’m fine, and I’ll be coming with you, even if you disagree.”

“No, Gwewyr, you won’t. Not just for you, but for everyone. The skill is still there in your arms, but your heart isn’t, and once that’s gone, there’s almost no way for a soldier to get it back. In some ways, its why the rest of us can’t quit being soldiers. We know nothing else, and our hearts are too well trained for just one thing, and that’s fighting and killing. You’ve moved beyond that, Gwewyr. You’re a civilian with the skills of a soldier, not a soldier. Not any more. And I don’t want to always be on the lookout for you in the melee, and I don’t want you to cost someone else. But most of all, I don’t want to have to come home and explain to Menywod why she’s got no husband, why I let a man fight who I thought shouldn’t. I’m not letting you march to your death, not on my conscience. You’re staying.”

The life fell from Gwewyr’s face, and he sat down on the ground, a sad puppet with no strings. “You realise what you’re telling me, Rhy? That I’m too old to be useful. That I’ve reached the stage in life where everyone just nods and waves at me as they go past, and expects a few stories and an occasional visit, and otherwise I’m just supposed to moulder quietly in some corner. I think I’m more afraid of that than even of dying. At least there, I get carried home on my shield, a warrior of many battles. This way… I just fade.”

Rhyfelwyr knelt by his friend, smiling. “You haven’t been home often enough if you think you’re going to fade with that lot around. You’ve got five families, kids, and grandkids all running around in the largest damn house in town. Just trying to keep that mayhem in check should be enough to keep you on your toes for years. Plus, don’t worry about the campaign. We’ve seen raiders and skirmishers before, and they aren’t a problem for us. It’s not like we’ve let Niam Liad have anything resembling a real army in centuries, they won’t have the troops to stand against us. One season, then we’re back, and it’s all the way it was before this mess started. No, you’ve got no reason to worry about fading. Flame’s breath, you want to keep on your toes, just start training some of the younger ones with a blade. You’d have your own mercenary corps going in no time.”

Gwewyr brightened at that. “I could… provided Menywod lets me. She can get pretty hard at times.”

“What, she’s worse than Sessenagh? That old warhorse could chew leather of your armour from twenty feet away, and you managed to stand up to him.”

“In some ways, she is. But I see what you’re saying, and it’s something I’ll think about. Probably too much, now. You’re right though, I should try some other things. Even with the retirement, I’ve been a soldier for so long I’ve forgotten how to be a father or a husband.”

Rhyfelwyr patted Gwewyr on the back. “You’ve got a lot of new experiences ahead of you, there’s no reason to worry about reclaiming old ones. Those are always with you. Anyway, lets get you back to the training ground, if you want.” Rhy turned to go, then turned back. “And one last thing: if I see you in the troops leaving for war, I will beat you over the head and drag you back to your house myself. Don’t ever doubt that.”

Gwewyr looked rueful. “I had gotten that from your words.” He stood up and looked around, brushing the dirt off as he did so. “I think I’ll head home, if you don’t mind. Better not to keep grasping at being a soldier.”

Clasping hands with his old friend, Gwewyr turned and left, his feet taking him out of his old life and into his new. Rhyfelwyr watched as the old veteran marched away, his feet still coming down in time with the beat of a drum long silent. He was glad that Gwewyr had made the decision he had. It was the right one, and it made everything easier. Now Rhy wouldn’t have to worry about Locsyn’s part in this. A sad smile across his face, Rhyfelwyr headed back to the barracks, looking for Taflen and the forged paperwork. That, they’d still need.


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