Chapter 1: The Contract
More meetings. Sometimes that’s all that life seems to be filled with. Meetings. A window creaked open, allowing a chilly wind to sweep through the small hall, tousling my hair with gentle cold fingers. I inhaled deeply, it was currently early autumn, so we had about 60 moons more until winter would descend on the countryside. I sat at the rough wooden table partially listening to my father discuss treaty particulars with three very gruff looking men and a moderately chubby, and sad looking man. Just from their garb, I could gleam a few crucial details about their current situation.
First of all, the three gruff ones were definitely related, I would bet father and two sons, or cousins at least. They all had the same sandy beige hair, same rough short haircut and the stitching of their leather coverings had the same zigzag pattern, suggesting that the same woman maintained all their appearances. They were most likely the closest thing to a lord’s family this region had. Their faces had strong, angular features. Underneath the sun weathered skin, you could see a strong resolve, but a tired will. What looked like the second eldest had let his features slack and his gaze settle somewhere behind my father’s head. He looked like sleep was about to overtake him, as no other complex thought could be seen cross his features. When I caught the youngest one staring in my direction I met his eyes with the unflinching stare of my own, and blushing he lowered his gaze immediately. Ughhh, what I wouldn’t give for a man that could meet my stare without relenting. All the men in this region were either so brutish they could barely articulate or polite to a fault so that no encounter held any excitement. But, much to my father’s chagrin, that was not a situation I could be rectifying any time soon.
The last man who appeared to be in his early fifties, was a sad sight. His clothes, which were previously of fine make and fabric, were worn and frayed at the edges as if he could no longer afford to replace them. They were also much too large for his now sagging frame, implying that he had lost a great deal of weight quickly over the past few months. His face showed the same suffering, his jowls hung loosely around his jaw and his eyes were sunken in with worry. I would guess he was the previous ruler of this region, or at least the family member of one. From their initial description of the methods of their adversaries, it was most likely that the previous ruler had been lost along with so many others during the initial series of raids.
From the early part of the conversation that I was paying attention to, their situation was as such. They were part of a region that has recently been invaded by foreign forces. While the identities and origin of their attackers were unknown, their methods were fearsome. They were of the assimilate or be murdered kind of mindset. While not uncommon in our homeland, I could tell these methods were the stuff of nightmares to these poor people.
I looked into his sunken eyes almost envying that these kind of atrocities were so new and gruesome that they provoked a visceral fear in the poor man. My family had grown used to these acts of hate and malice. Now, stories of warring nations did not change my affect at all. I did not want to be this way, but it has become a part of who I am. I am Eilea, daughter to Tarac, a King without a throne, younger sister to Terrowin, a prince without a home, and princess to pretty much nothing. We were refugees ourselves, after fleeing the warring nation of our homeland. My father, Tarac, used to be the honored leader of a small but proud people, all that was torn apart when the holy men came. They poisoned our people’s minds and blinded them to their previous values with fear of some invisible force that would condemn them to eternal suffering if they did not comply with the spiritual vessel’s notions. What began as a few religious zealots turned into a full scale rebellion and mass genocide. My father took the loyal few that were left and fled. He was too late though, we had already lost so much.
Since coming to this strange land, what was left of our forces has made our money by acting as what my father calls “a freelance defense force.” Essentially we lend our services training men to fight and protect their homes from those that would take it from them by force. While kind of idealistic, I find it romantic that my father still wants to uphold the values of our homeland. Essentially, our belief was that each person lives free, for themselves, and their lives and time are their own. While our methods may be brutal for the typical farmer, one could not argue with our results. Our reputation was that of something akin to mercenaries, which while not entirely true, sometimes seemed pretty damn close.
The last contract that my father entered into had my brother and I occupied for about four months. It was a territory dispute between two kingdoms and the bloodshed had overflowed to a small hamlet off the coast of the southern sea. After training their men for two months, we entered into our first encounter with the eastern kingdom’s forces. For fishermen, they held their own driving the forces back successfully. What we didn’t anticipate was back to back attacks from the other warring western kingdom’s men. That battle we had to personally intervene in, but in the end the fishing town gained its independence from both kingdoms, becoming a neutral fishing and trading outpost. He and I had only traveled to this region three nights ago, and I was still weary from the long journey it took to get here.
I was distracted from my thoughts by my father shifting besides me. Standing to shake the hand of the man with the sunken eyes, his face was split by a smile which I could tell was genuine from the tears brimming the sagging corners of his eyes. The three other men stood as well, their gaze shifting towards my brother in expectation. Rising from my seat, my father nudged my shoulder, now it was my turn to speak. By far, this was my favorite part of these negotiations. I could see my older brother smirking out of the corner of my eye, he also gained great enjoyment from what I was about to say.