Baza Denuk leaned on the wall with his arms crossed, looking blankly at the crowd in the dimly lit dining room at the Goose Wind Inn. He clenched his jaw and fist, readying himself for any attack that might disrupt the peaceful scene.
Baza saw Malos Rilor gesturing for him to come over. Baza pushed off the wall and walked over to his longtime friend. “Aye?”
“Nathair has a room for us. We are a wee bit early for our guide so he thought we may as well stay here for a bit. Thank Lenta,” Malos raised his eyes gratefully, “Sargent Trise is well known in this town, and we will be his guests. I had forgotten that he told us to use his name in case of an emergency,” Malos scratched his head while turning to lead the way up the stairs, bounding up two at a time. Baza followed a few steps behind, his feet planted solidly on each step.
The room was a decent size for the inn. It boasted two large beds with a desk between them. There was also a dresser, and a privacy curtain with a bucket and basin for washing behind it. Nathair Maiek had already put his packs on the floor under the one window. "I think that the room has not been used in a while," Malos said, wrinkling his nose at the musty smell.
“This is the room set aside for Sargent Trise when he and the Madame come.” Nathair turned from the window and shrugged. “I'd assume that our guide will know that this is where we are. Kelon, that's the dwarf innkeeper, said that he would keep watch for the guide and direct them here.”
Baza nodded. He didn't sleep anymore so he decided to give Malos and Nathair the beds. He pulled out his sleeping mat and spread it on the floor by the window. When he straightened, he noticed Malos and Nathair exchange worried looks. Baza thought about snapping at them but, instead, he shrugged indifferently. Better to let them worry.
The night was long, just like the two before had been. The sound of Malos and Nathair's slight snoring did nothing to assuage Baza's nerves, though, he took comfort in their presence. He sat on his mat with his back against the wall; his head leaned back. He clutched his knees and willed himself to keep his eyes open. If he could stay awake, he could protect the only people left that he cared for.
When the room started to brightened, Baza quietly stood up and stretched. He needed to loosen his tired muscles. He needed sleep. He shook himself, like a wet dog. He'd survive without sleep, same as he had in recruit training. He ignored the fact that he had slept for a solid seventy-two hours afterward.
He strode out of the inn and into the quiet street, his breath coming out in puffs. The sun had just started to peek over the horizon The normal bustle of the town proper had not begun but the shop keepers were preparing for the day. Baza started down the road in search of the training grounds that Kelon had spoken about.
“Just go out the door and head to the right. Follow that there road till you see a small practice field surrounded by a low stone wall. There is a small shed in the corner. You'll find some good targets already set up. Just replace what you use.” Kelon had said the last over his shoulder as he had headed into the kitchen. There was still straw from his mat in his hair.
It hadn't taken long for Baza to make it to the field. He noticed that it was small, no more than ten men could practice there comfortably, and that was without drills or leg work. Still, it had been used regularly since the grass had been trampled flat by numerous steps. It would do for now.
Slowly Baza pulled off his tunic and folded it, placing it gently on the ground. He had on only his leggings and hard track boots with his dagger belt tied around his waist. Despite the chill in the air, he felt warm from the brisk walk. Baza Fastened his sword onto his back once more. It was the easiest way to carry the large blade though many said he was foolish. He moved to stand before one of the thick oak logs that had many scars to show its acquaintances. He stood firm, his feet shoulder wide and his hands loose at his side.
Breath in and out... in and out.... in and out....
He felt his muscles slowly relax under the strain that had been present for the last two days.
In and out.... in and out... in and out....
His sword made its first chip into the oak before he had thought to move. His body knew all the steps, and his sword made him feel whole as he swung. When everything had been stripped away, he still had his skill as a swordsman. His mother had said that Lenta had called him to swordplay. Not that he had faith in Lenta anymore. He hadn't helped when Baza needed him most. It wasn't that Baza didn't feel responsible. He blamed himself too. But Lenta was supposed to protect his people and he didn't. No, Baza had no more time for Lenta.
As he fought the post, the faceless voice from his nightmares kept taunting him. You did it. It's all your fault. They will all die. Soon the shape of a man overshadowed the post, and he began attacking furiously; unable to stop for fear that the voice would be speaking the truth and that all he loved would be lost. As he fought, sweat blurred his eyes. He blinked without relenting. The image turned rapidly into the picture of her. Baza sliced through her neck.
He jumped, his usual senses muffled by exhaustion. He turned, his sword still raised. He must have looked a sight because the person took a step back. It took a moment for Baza to realize what he was seeing. She was standing tall and her silvery brown hair was tied in a braid that ran over her shoulder and down to her waist. Her green eyes showed her worry and caution. Her hands held up as if to calm a startled creature.
Baza knew what he looked like; he had seen himself in the windows. His face was blank, and his lips were pressed into a permanent line. His eyes had a wild look as he fought to reconcile the image he had just seen and the living and breathing version. Baza slowly lowered his sword so that it rested at his side. He slowly tried to gain what little control he had. Despite the cold, he was covered in sweat from the exertion of the fight.
“Aye, hello Emer.”
She studied him for a moment before nodding absentmindedly. She held out a towel. “Here. I stopped by the Inn and Malos said you had probably gone somewhere to drill. As this is the only possible place, I came here. Nathair gave me the towel as he figured you would not want to put on your shirt over...” she drifted off, holding the towel out to him, her slightly pointed ears turning red.
Baza sighed, and took the towel, giving himself a brisk rub. His arms were numb from the weather. “What else did Malos tell you?” He had to break the silence.
She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and rolled her eyes. “He asked me how my ears were. Nice to know that he remembered.”
Baza stopped, with his arms through his shirt, about to put it on his head. He gazed at her for a moment, taking in every detail of her before putting his shirt on. He had not forgotten anything. Things were different now. “What else were you told?”
She sighed and shrugged one shoulder, her gaze on her feet. “Malos did not say anything.” She paused and took a deep breath and looked at Baza. “Nathair was the one who said you were not the same, and he is right. He would say no more than that. What happened.?” She reached out and took his hand, gripping it to her chest, her face in earnest. “Tell me Baza.” She placed a hand on his cheek. “We could always tell each other everything. You know me more than I do. Let me know you still.”
Baza closed his eyes. How easy would it be to tell her? How easy it would be to unburden himself and allow her to comfort him, because that is what she would do. And then she would know. And then she would be hurt. He blew out a breath in a huff.
When he opened his eyes, he had his thoughts under control. He stared down into her bright green eyes. He had to tell her something. Maybe not all of it. Maybe not his part. Not his nightmares. Just the facts. He fists curled, and he relished the feel of his nails digging into his palm. He had not spoken of it since it had happened, only a mere two days before. His face hardened, and his body tensed. He didn't consider how his words would impact her.
“My family is dead.”