Part Two: Leaving Town
The first training camp is called Torresten. That was its name back when it was a real village. It means “Strong River”. Which is odd, since there isn’t a river anywhere nearby, for at least a mile.
The buildings are stone, with thatched roofs. The walls are layered with dirt and dust. Young trainees, smudged with earth, run about, fighting with wooden sticks and laughing. Older trainees are fighting with rusted metal blades in roped-off areas, in groups of a dozen, with a veteran warrior standing by and teaching them which bit to hold and when to swing the pointy end.
The eye of the watcher climbs a dirt path up a steep hill, and stops at a particular house. It is far too big, and strangely silent. There is a boy sitting outside the house. He is no older than nineteen. He is dressed in chain mail, with a metal breastplate, and is sharpening a blade. His hair is dark and short; his face is plain and wouldn’t be recognized in a crowd. Today it is well-scrubbed, like the rest of him. He is bigger than most of the other boys. It isn’t that he’s particularly muscular; it’s just that he’s one of those people who are naturally pillar-shaped.
Bershond Gellcomar paused in the act of whetting his sword to look up at the mountain. Dark clouds drifted ominously about the peak of the great mountain, known as the Shadamount ever since the Darkness had moved in. Bershond thought that “the Roshlom” would be a better name for it. “Roshlom” meant “Dark Fear” in the ancient language of Belecostar. He also thought that “Belecostar” sounded too much like the name of a holiday resort.
He wondered what would be for lunch.
Fretsel Krammton, Bershond’s best friend, ran panting up the path to Bershond’s house, where he stopped and stood for a few minutes, trying to catch his breath, and watching his friend’s blade nervously. He thought it seemed to be laughing at him as it lay on the lap of its master, who in turn sat on a bench outside his front door. You weedy little idiot, it seemed to sing to him. You don’t deserve to be the friend of one so great.
Frestel had been eating a lot of sugar lately.
‘Bersh!’ he huffed, ‘I heard you were picked for the quest! Is it true?’ Bershond grinned. ‘Yeah, isn’t it great?’ Frestel stared at him as if he had just dribbled down his shirt (which, by the way, was a new white tunic, made specially for the quest). ‘Are you serious? You’re gonna die out there!’
Bershond shook his head. ‘I don’t know why everyone says that. I’m telling you, it’s going to be me who kicks out the Darkness. I just know it.’
Frestel stared helplessly at his friend, then lowered his gaze sheepishly. He was shifting from foot to foot nervously. ‘Well…I guess this is goodbye forever, then.’ He shoved a dirt-covered hand into a raggedy pocket, then pulled it out, clutching a small white packet between his trembling digits. ‘I, I made it myself’, he stuttered, handing over the packet. It was wrapped in a surprisingly clean white handkerchief. ‘I, I just thought, you know, um, just a little bit of, uh, home, to bring with you on your, your journey…’
Bershond unwrapped the gift. It was a carved wooden pendant in the shape of an owl’s head. ‘I know you like owls’, mumbled Frestel, watching his friend’s face carefully. Bershond stared at it for a while, then carefully pulled the string over his head. When he looked up, he saw that Frestel was crying. ‘Please don’t go’, the boy whispered hoarsely.
Berthond stood up slowly, and hugged his best friend. Then he sheathed his sword and started down the hill to the village gate, and didn’t turn his head until he reached the bottom. Frestel still stood at the top of the hill. Berthond watched him raise his hand, slowly, and wave. Berthond waved back, then stepped through the gate. He walked down the skinny path leading into the forest. He would have to cross through a part of it to join the next village and meet with the second hero.
He never turned to look back. For the first time in his life, Berthond was afraid.