It’s time again.
I walk across the hall in a couple stiff strides, my footsteps echoing on the stone floor. I open my dresser, one among many that line the walls. My suit of armor rests on its pegs, where it always stays on the rare occasions that I’m not wearing it.
Putting it on is a lengthy process. I pick up the chain mail, slipping the silvery tunic over my torso. The chain tunic has a hauberk attached to it, but I don’t raise the hood of mail over the top of my head yet. I strap on my greaves and the plates of steel over my thighs. I buckle my cast iron boots around my feet and lower legs. I sling my jerkin on, fastening the leather over my stomach. It’s light and flexible, but it has strips of metal inlaid in it to keep my stomach protected. I grip my heavy, solid steel breastplate and settle it over my torso, the weight of it resting on my shoulders.
I stop as I look at my helmet and gauntlets, and I wonder for the millionth time why we do this. Why can’t we just leave this place?
“Blade!” Someone calls my name. Shatter, my best friend since childhood, approaches me. He’s already fully suited in his armor; his studded leather-and-chain armor provides him with superior agility. Each man’s armor is customized specifically for his own fighting style. My own gauntlets have that unique scabbard built out of the elbow-cap, releasing thin blades along my forearms when I snap my arms straight.
Shatter’s dark eyes peer down at me through the slits in his helm. “Ready for this?” He says it in a light-hearted tone, but he stops when he sees my expression.
“What is it?” he asks.
I’ve harbored these thoughts for years, and they have weighed heavy on my mind in light of recent days. I hesitate, but I can’t keep these thoughts to myself, not anymore. “Why are we doing this?”
I nod. “The rest of the world doesn’t even acknowledge what we do for them.”
Shatter knows what I’m talking about. For hundreds of years now, the nation of Gryhirel has stood as protector of the rest of the earth. But especially in recent years, the other kingdoms have refused to acknowledge us for the good that we do them. Almost every day, demons from Licthira itself pour forth, bent on destruction. And we turn them back.
“Does that mean that we shouldn’t?”
“We’re only human, Shatter. The other kingdoms should play their part in this.”
He nods, but he doesn’t waver. “You went to Taenland recently,” he says. “Did the nation seem peaceful? Would you want to take that away from them?”
“In Taenland, children play in the streets, not a care in the world. Here, children hold swords, learning how to kill.”
“So that others will live,” Shatter insists.
“We’re barely in our twenties!” I say. “Don’t you ever wish you had a childhood of your own? All our lives we’ve trained for this. Shouldn’t there be more to life than this?”
We lapse into silence for a moment. Shatter pushes past me and picks up my helmet, then holds it out to me.
“I’m going to fight,” he says. “To keep others alive. Yes, we deserve recognition. But if we don’t get it do you really think we should stop fighting? Just let Hell overrun the earth?”
He presses the helmet into my hands and walks away.
I stare down at the polished metal.
Waiting won’t do any good. This is not the time for indecisiveness.
I raise my hauberk over my head and place the helm on top of it, the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I pick up my bracers and gauntlets, fastening them over my arms. Finally, I pick up my two sheathed swords, fastening them to their hooks on the back of my breastplate. I’ve done this so many times that I can do it while wearing the breastplate, without looking, no trouble.
I turn to the end of the hall, where the portcullis is raised as the soldiers march to the battlefield. I can hear thunder rumbling in the distance, the sound of the demons preparing for battle. Every time I walk out onto the battlefield, I have no idea if I will walk back or not.
Shatter is right, I know. We deserve more than this, but this is our lot in life. We die for the sake of those that pretend we don’t exist. Maybe I don’t like being a hero. A soldier meant to die for people he doesn’t know. But it’s what I am, and I have to accept it.
It’s time again. I walk forward.