Luvian took care to look as inconspicuous as possible among the city dwellers. He could not stand to see them drifting lifelessly in the streets, but knew that the Prince was right, however a vile truth it was. If he stopped to feed or help one lost soul, he would create a scene, and he could not attract Ambsellon soldiers, especially since he was headed home.
All that remained of the burned homes he passed were their packed dirt floors and their scorched brick hearths, perhaps some iron pots. Still, families crutched in them, having nowhere else to go.
Other people wandered the street, their hands outstretched, hoping for money or bread. He shook his head to discourage them – he couldn’t bear to look them in the eye. He became a soldier to protect people from this. He never thought to see it happen in his own city, aye, in his own neighborhood.
Children ran in rags, some even naked, their parents dead or missing, unable to care for their young. Luvian knew that Romeny’s poverty level would spring through the Palace roof now. Three dogs fought over a dead horse haunch as if it were just a turkey bone. Luvian closed his eyes to the grisly sight.
The farther he rode, the worse the damage to the homes, to the people. Flies buzzed in black swarms over the dead bodies upon the streets, for carters had not yet wheeled this far. The stench was such that Luvian covered his hand over his nose and breathed through his mouth. People had vomited near the bodies.
Here, not a dog nor a cat was to be seen, for they were like to be tonight’s supper, and a lucky catch at that. Overturned Market wagons lay unattended, and Luvian saw a little boy and girl huddled under one of them for shelter. Businesses he remembered seeing his entire life were blackened or gone altogether. He dreaded rounding the next corner.
His heart in his stomach, Luvian stared at the brewery he’d grown up in.
Blackened poles shot up toward the sky, for the roof was gone. The window frames were there still but no glass remained in them. No door stood to greet customers. The stable was gone entirely.
Luvian blinked, for his eyes had been staring too long at the sight. Finally, he dismounted. He tied his horse to a stump outside the remainder of the brewery. He saw that no counter stood anymore, no shelves behind it. Just a shell of a building, like the others. No tables. The pine planks were gone – only packed earth remained for the floor.
He took a breath and stepped in.
A breeze drifted across his face. Odd, that, in a brewery. Suddenly, he heard a scurrying. Luvian drew his blade. Rats? He stepped forward.
Then he looked down at the ground.
A scorched body of a woman, encircling another dead body. Where the woman’s body hadn’t burned was a dress, covered by an apron….
Luvian felt his stomach loosen. But just then he heard a noise.
An old man sat in the far corner of the bar against the wall, rocking back and forth, covered in soot and dirt. His white hair stood out in all ends, his grey shirt had dried blood on it. His hands shook and he had soiled himself.
The old man squinted up at Luvian. “Is that you, Matty?”
Luvian dropped his sword. “Pappy?”
He sat down next to his father. “Pappy. Pappy. What happened? Where is Mum? Where are the others?”
Luvian sucked in his breath as he stared at his father.
“No, Pappy, no. I’m Luvi. Luvi. Pappy, where is Mum?”
“Oh, Luvi. Good, Luvi. Your mum is wearing that brand-new frock I got her. Isn’t she pretty in it, isn’t she?” His father, a ghost of a smile slipping across his face, pointed a shaking hand toward the other end of the brewery.
Luvian blinked. “Yes. Yes, Pappy, she looks, looks wonderful.” Tears ran down his face. “Come on, Pap, let’s get you up. Let’s get you up and washed off.”
A kindly smile crossed his father’s face as Luvian lifted him up gently. “Matty? Is that you? Back so soon? We have to get another pot of stew started.”
“Aye, aye, Pappy, it’s me, Matty.” Luvian choked on his tears as he replied.
He smoothed his father’s hair back. Pappy had always dressed so sharply, even with his apron on. Luvian found a stool in the kitchen, still sturdy enough for his father to sit on. “Here, Pappy, here, sit down. I’m going to clean up a bit.”
“Oh, that’s good, that’s good.” A happy smile spread across his father’s face.
Luvian stepped out of what was left of the kitchen in shock.
“Luvi, is that you?” asked a cautious voice. An older woman stepped in, shading her eyes against the sun. “Well, I’ll be if it ain’t Luvi, back from soldierin’ off in the war.”
She walked up to him and looked him up and down. “Look at you, all fancy, how about that soldier uniform, my, my.” She brushed the shoulder of his uniform. Luvian cursed the Prince inwardly for his choice of formal military attire.
“Aye. Glad you’re back, little Luvi. Glad you’ve come back to us.”
“Cassie? Is that you, my love?” called Luvian’s father.
“Yes, dear, it’s me, back from Market, love,” called Mags around her hand toward the kitchen. She gave Luvian a sad look and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry. He’s lost his mind, you know. They’re all gone. Luvi, I’m so sorry. So sorry.”
He screwed his eyes tight. There would be time for mourning later. His Pappy needed him right now. “… How?”
Mags smiled kindly. “It was just the fire, dear. It weren’t no soldiers.”
“Just? Just the fire?” Luvian growled.
Taken aback, Mags took on a mother’s frown and said, “Well, now, it coulda’ been like lots of folks, where the soldiers had their fun and sport first before they burnt down the place. You hear me now, Luvi?
He swallowed and took a deep breath. “Aye. I’m sorry, Mags.”
“’S’all right, little Luvi. Ya’ve had a nasty shock.”
“Is that you, Cassie?” called his father again.
“Yes, love, it’s me, I’ve come back from the Market. Wait ’til you see what I’ve brought,” called Mags. She pulled out a small loaf of bread out of her basket.
“You’ve been caring for him,” he said.
She shrugged. “We all do what we can. He and I, we came up together. We knows everyone in the neighborhood.” Then Mags sighed. “Knew.”
“I’m sorry, Mags, I haven’t asked. How has your family fared?” asked Luvian politely.
“Same as yours. I’m the only one left. ’Cept some would argue as I lost my mind years ago.” She smiled a small smile and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back, Luvi.”
“So am I. But can I ask a favor of you?”
“Of course, child.”
Luvian found the idea of being called child refreshing, given the sights he had seen and the actions he had committed. “I need to run an errand, and then I should be back for good. Can you watch out for him?”
All the different ways that Luvian had practiced speaking to the Prince were forgotten now that he stood before him.
“How is your family, Luvian?”
They stood out on the balcony before dinner, where Luvian could see the start of the sunset. Wind ruffled his hair.
“I….” Luvian stared at a fixed place before him to keep from showing any emotion, and then, once he had himself under control, he said, “Captain, Sir, I must ask a boon of you.”
The Prince’s eyebrows shot up. “A boon? Well. By all means, Lieutenant, ask.” Curiosity and concern colored his face.
“Sir, if I may….” Ah. Bloody hell. “Sir, my family is dead. All but one. My brothers, my sister, my mum, all dead. My father survived, but ’is mind is gone completely. Our brewery burned to the ground and he’s exposed every night, starving to death.” Even as he explained this, he saw the Prince’s face change to sympathy. “Sir, the boon I ask of you is this: may I resign my commission that I might take care of my father and rebuild our home?”
The request took the Prince by surprise. He immediately recovered, reading the pain registered on Luvian’s face. He knew that nothing would cause Luvian to leave his life as a soldier unless it was dire. He also knew that nothing he did would keep Luvian at his side, whether his commission resignation was granted or not.
“Lieutenant Luvian. Your request to resign your commission is granted.”
The Prince stood stiffly to attention as a Captain then, saluting Luvian. “Lieutenant Luvian, your watch has ended. May you go with good will.”
Luvian, barely hearing the words, for he had never expected to hear them in reference to him, saluted the Prince. “Captain, Sir. May you go with good will.”
The ceremony was necessary for all soldiers retiring from duty, or those who had passed on.
“Luvian. I am so sorry for the loss of your family.” The Prince reached out a hand to Luvian’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Sir, that’s kind of you.” Luvian still felt numb by the entire ordeal.
“I will have builders and funds sent –”
“No, Sir, if you please, just my soldier’s wages,” Luvian told the Prince.
“Truly, Sir. My soldier’s wages. Besides, Sir, if you don’t mind my saying, you’ll need all the coin you can get to rebuild elsewhere.” Luvian gestured out at the rest of Fairview City.
The Prince sighed. “That’s the sad truth. But some can be spared for a war hero who saved my life, at least….”
“Hah. War hero. What’s that? There are no war heroes. Just soldiers doing their duties, Sir.”
“Ah,” the Prince nodded, a small smile playing on his face. “Luvian, I shall miss you around here. Who’s going to be an asshole to me? Everyone here will just bow and say, Yes or No, Your Highness.”
Luvian scoffed. “Well, Sir, if it’s an arsehole you want, just turn and look in the looking glass.” He grinned and clapped the Prince on the back, something he never thought he’d do.
The Prince’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you trying to say I’m an asshole? Certainly you would know what one of those was. I’ll tell you what, if I need any advice from an asshole, I’ll yell down to South Fairview and have them search about for a big, hairy lout named Luvian.”
Luvian chuckled. “They know me well down there, I’m afraid.”
The Prince’s mirth faded and he said, “Best of luck, mate. Let me know if I can be of any assistance. Ever.”
Luvian woke to a noise outside the brewery. He scoffed, for at the moment, outside was also inside, until he could put up a roof.
The clop-clop of horses stopped outside on the street and the sound of boots hitting the pavement reverberated through the brewery. Perhaps he would put up a door first. The echoes were almost too much to bare….
Knowing that only soldiers were likely to be riding horses, Luvian refrained from drawing a blade.
Two soldiers ducked into the brewery. Luvian released his pent-up breath, for they weren’t Ambsells but soldiers of Romeny.
“Lieutenant Luvian, Sir!”
Both soldiers stood to attention, staring at him.
Mags stepped out of the kitchen behind him. “Lieutenant, huh? Lieutenant Luvi, well, I’ll be.”
Luvian sighed and stepped forward. If he didn’t acknowledge their formality, they would continue to stand there.
“Sir, we come from the Palace.”
So this is what it feels like to be retired, Luvian mused. He nodded. “And?”
“First order: ….” and he glanced at Luvian nervously.
Luvian glanced at his uniform and then snapped, “Get on with it, Corporal.”
“Yes, Sir! First order: The Prince has decided that instead of your resigning your commission, you shall instead be listed as a Retired Lieutenant.”
Luvian raised an eyebrow at this. He sniffed something odd about that but was unable to determine just what.
He gestured for the list to continue.
“Second order: The matter of your soldier’s wages, Sir.” The Corporal gestured, and the Private brought out a small wooden box containing his wages. Luvian thought immediately that he would need to bury that somewhere, for people in the streets had turned to looting and theft. If anyone tried to rob Luvian, they would lose limbs, and in a very unpleasant fashion.
“Third order: A gift, from His Highness, the Prince.”
The Private brought in a wooden crate and together, the Corporal opened it.
Inside the crate was a set of fine glassware. Here, both Corporals glanced at each other.
Luvian backed away from the crate. “No. No. Tell His Highness that I appreciated the gesture, but that I couldn’t accept his generosity.”
The two soldiers swallowed and then held up a glass. The Corporal then informed him, “Sir, His Highness told us that you would say that, and that we should do this –”
Here, he dropped the glass on the ground, where it shattered into fine shards everywhere. “He told us to then say that he knew you would not accept it, but since the crate was now an incomplete order, the Crown could not accept it in return, so you must now keep it.”
Luvian shook his head. Sneaky bastard.
“And finally, Sir, Fourth Order:….” The Corporal paused.
“Well, what is it, Corporal, get along. And don’t smash anything else on my floor.”
The Private brought out another crate.
“His Highness has sent you a crate of the finest whiskey kept in Fairview Castle, to bless your brewery, and hopes that you might, upon occasion, send up a toast.”
Luvian stepped forward and stared downward into the crate, full of bottles of whiskey that probably cost more than an entire year’s wages each. He nodded.
Then he looked at the two soldiers awaiting his direction. Bloody hell.
“Corporal, tell His Highness that his gifts are most appreciated. And that I might even try a red one day.”
“Yes, Sir!” The soldiers stood to attention. It was not for them to ascertain the meaning of his message, only to bear it to its intended recipient.
Luvian realized that they were continuing to stand there for him to dismiss them. He shook his head. He wouldn’t miss the Army at all, he decided.