High upon the tower placed affront the tower wall sat Alec Worthe, son of Thomas the Winterguard, coated in complete and utter exhaustion. His green robing placed beneath a slim plate of molded steel looked worn and over used. His steel boot and shin guard contraption was missing straps, causing it to hang loosely in spots. All while the scarf round his neck and the belt round his waist were snug. They were new additions, sent down from the head of the guard. He remembered how happy he had been to receive them. He had taken off his bent and a size too large helmet to see it clearer. And now he sat, as he always did looking the same as almost every day with his helmet on the desk beside him, only with a new belt and a new scarf.
In the guard, especially at the low ranking he was, things like this were few and far between. Men were known to lose fingers when the winter came, because there were no gloves given down. They would freeze or burn up or as in Alec’s case be given a uniform which did not fit. Handed down swords that were broken or weakly crafted, even armor that was thinned and practically useless. It was something men of the guard learned to deal with, for if their Commanders saw them dressed differently or tweaking such a uniform in any way, or for the gods sakes the King were to see that, then they would surely be punished to no end.
So he wore this belt and scarf with pride.
For it had been a win in the many battles raging on.
But as he sat longer, the sun moved from the top of the sky where his canopy protected him, to directly in front. The far away ball of flame now beating down on him, he would take off the scarf in a gruff manner, setting it beside him for later.
He had not been relieved and now it had come to early evening, at minimum early evening for it was more than likely later. He had been here all morning long, and almost all night the prior night. Sitting in the same chair by the same desk. For hours he would stay while those above him, old and veterans of the wall claiming seniority got to relax and enjoy company. They would say it was his turn to man the tower. And that one day he would be a veteran, doing the same thing to the next poor shmuck. But Alec wouldn’t do that to someone, he felt no desire to put a person through something he had gone through just to do so.
He knew having to deal with things out of your control, for someone else’s gain, all too well. For he had been here, on the wall, almost all his life for that reason. He knew every tower in the Kingdom. Every guard hut or warning beacon out in the valley west past the forest, or east to the hills and down towards the coast, even south into the towns and villages on the River Sen. He had worked everything, repairs to demolitions. He had helped build the pits and fill them with hay for the alarm system, which would signal the Kingdom from miles upon miles away. He could even honestly say he had been around since the veterans he was now under, were not veterans at all.
His father, the reason for all Alec knew, had been on the wall. The man had been on the wall before he knew how to walk, and had loved it. Becoming one of the most beloved by the guard, but hated by the people. He was named “Winterguard” for he was cold as ice. Whether man or child or woman with child or even dog, he was harsh and cruel. He would search things and demand obedience and harass those who entered and left. And when those came to the guard with complaint and request for his exile from the wall, they were denied. For he had single handedly stopped a raid with his persistence, and had saved children from a slaughter. And even though that had been a triumph long ago it was still held above his head, and was the excuse to keep him at his post. For he struck fear into all he could. Burrowing himself into the dreams of those he met, so if they ever thought to harm the Kingdom or her people--they would think of him and stop. He had been all he could be on the wall, and expected his boy to do the same.
He had been rough on Alec, for Alec was soft. He had cursed and battered his boy, trying to make him hard. Testing him and training him with sword and shield and bow and arrow and axe and hammer. And Alec had proven skilled with all. The only problem was he had no will, no desire, to use any of it. When his father died it had been worse.
For Thomas Worthe the Winterguard had died on the wall during a search. He had been bent over in a wife’s bag, while the husband had been angered by his tone. The man had argued with him about the unfairness of the search, and the rights he had and his wife had to their things. And when Thomas spat in his face and denied his request the man took and axe and swung it hard on the back of Winterguard’s neck. They say his head was whipped clean off. The ball of bone and meat, still in its metal helmet, had rolled down the hillside into the stream under the main road. And the stream had dried up, for it could not handle the cold breath of the Winterguard.
Alec had not shed a tear for his father. Had not turned away from the stories or the jokes. He had not relished in them either but instead let them fall upon deaf ears. He was glad the man was gone, it made life easier.
And as he grew into a man his body changed. His dark brown hair now cut shorter to touch his forehead, go past his ears an inch and set at the base of his neck. A beard slowly growing at his face, still patchy with a lot more to grow. His chest strong now but still skinny as the rest of his body, and his eyes still the same burning color green. And as different as he was today, there were still things that remained.
For he still had the eye of his father. The one thing he had enjoyed learning from the wicked man. Being able to spot things from distances no one else could. He would use this as his Father did, spotting the birds in the forest. The travelers on the road to the point of even the number within their caravan or on their horses. He could see who they were and what they carried before they had the time to hide anything. And as they would close in to the front gate he could make out every detail, every thread in their clothes or knot binding their packs or armor.
And today, in remembrance of his bastard father, and in way of lightening the boredom in the air, he chose to look out upon the land before him and pick out every detail he could. And today, he had been placed at the North Gate. The North Gate was different from the others, actually the entire North land was different. There was one road, and it went to the gate exactly between a hundred or so acres of forest on either side. It would give way allowing twenty or thirty meters of field to grow between it, and the Kingdom wall. And out further it would contain small yet scattered homes of battle veterans, strange folk, writers, and those ready to die in its dark expansive space. And at the very end of the road, directly at the spot where the mountains would begin and rise up to the clouds, would be a single tower.
That tower, was never used. It was broken down and infested with the gods know what. Alec remembered the one time he had been there, he had asked his Father why there was only one tower.
“No Army, no threat, would every attack the Windhelm from this road. It be too narrow, and the trees would catch fire and burn them all to cinder. Tis the other walls you need worry son. Those are the ones you must protect.” And on that day they had taken down the flag and dropped it, then left and had yet to return.
Alec took a deep breath and looked out.
From the length of trees, large and tall, he watched the animals climb the mossy patches. Watched them chase and dance around through the branches above before disappearing deeper, as the game they played had demanded. These trees were something the gods must have created. For they were massive. The ones closest to the wall had been cut down for fear that if they fell, the wall would surely be crushed. But the ones deeper inside, those still arched to the sky two hundred even three hundred feet at least. And they were beautiful, in every way those trees were beautiful. He would often stare at them, and when a massive crash came from the depths within, he would feel sorrow for it. For things of such beauty should never see death.
His eyes then caught sight of a brown rabbit, small and fast, it bounced through the field’s tall grass just outside the tree line. The rabbit bounded and leapt, clearing logs and holes, propelling itself around with joy. He felt himself in that rabbit, felt what he wanted inside. He wanted to frolic like that, to be free like that. And as if in response the rabbit stopped and looked to him for a second before bouncing away toward two teens in the field, toward the Northeast. The couple sat under one of the smaller trees, and the rabbit watched as Alec watched… from a distance. The boy wore a green shirt and dark brown pants, his boots woven in wool, the pants possibly the same. And in his hand was a necklace. A dark brown crafted with a thin line that was coated in sections of small wood blocks, was the necklace in all its hand-made perfection. The boy spoke, his neck moving softly, to the girl in her blue and white silk dress. Her hair long and beautifully blonde with large curls. The curls wafting over her shoulders like an ocean wave, crashing down upon her shoulders and breaking off to rest down her back. She was gorgeous, and its was a great moment. They spoke to each other beside the spirit of love. Her body moving with anticipation and nervousness as she laughed. Then he turned her around slowly and lifted her hair. Setting the necklace around he neck only after figuring out she needed to be the one holding the hair up, and him fastening. She then turned and kissed him.
Alec smiled. For he adored love. He wanted everything it was and more, he wanted to be a father. But it was hard for him to meet a woman, especially one that was right for him. The wall saw many faces at the front gate, but only for a moment before they were lost in the belly of the beast city. He prayed to the gods to find him his woman, and he believed one day he would find her. It would only be a matter of timing, he just wished that was sooner rather than later.
While still in a trance his eyes began to move as he thought. Maybe out in the field? He might see her walking, her dark brown hair and olive skin reflecting off the sun. Her white shirt and dark blue skirt added to with a thinly lined golden design. His eyes continued to search the land as he fantasized this. Dreaming he would see her brown eyes from here as she looked to him, and he would see, that she saw him too.
Then he saw it.
Out down the main road between the vast fields of tall green grass walked a dark figure. He moved strangely and carried himself at an awkward, bent towards the left, angle. His face was encased in a strange helmet the design of a human skull, with wings on the sides. And as he moved Alec was certain the insects were racing in the opposite directions. Fleeing into the brush fast as they could. His every step twisted his shadow to the left of him. The sun faced his back, yet still the shadow wore left. It defied everything, and this feeling rotted into Alec’s gut. His chest feeling empty of air, his eyes wishing to close.
The man moved closer and more detail emerged.
For his chest was cast in a dark red leather lining of a steel plate, much like the one Alec wore now-only save the small differences in shape. The piece flowed down his abdomen to a belt of letters and scrolls, possibly pens and food. His chest strong but his stomach slim and tight, as if you could see it yearning for meal. His shoulders tough and large lead to a thick neck, then moved back down to long arms. The forearms wrapped in gauntlets fraught with strange writing.
He came closer.
On either hip were a weapon, one a short axe resembling a hatchet, only betrayed as a tool of battle with the crooked hook to the back of the blade. Then the other a thin sheathed short sword, decorated with engravings throughout the hilt and grip. Then his thighs bore the same leather and steel, but just underneath the top surface layer was a twinge of thin chain-mail, possibly coating the entire body. Then down at his shins were guards, also engraved and leathered, with light boots underneath.
Once the man closed to the gate…
“Hold!” Thane spoke from the ground.
And the strange man stopped.
Alec was relieved and surprised. Maybe Thane had come to relieve him from post, and what timing that had to be. Alec thanked the gods immediately, and watched from above. Yet he still did not feel safe, in face, he felt more exposed.
Thane then moved forward holding his large spear at the ready, and came within speaking distance. Alec felt that sinking feeling deepen.
Its only us, he thought. And strangely he felt that was no where near enough.
Thane spoke quietly, the stranger below spoke even quieter. His eyes moved behind his mask with a strange blue glow. On top of the head sat a symbol, much like a dog with horns, resembling some sort of branding. His wings at the sides of the skull were small and angular, yet beautifully and artfully carved. The cheek bones and jaw and nose and mouth and eyes were all proportioned to perfection, and Alec could not deny it was viciously interesting. Yet he still could not help his feeling and began to judge as his father would. This man was strange, and had the scent of death with him. He had the look of evil if there ever was one. His back gave away at such an angle which made him stare creepily ahead. His armor was different from any seen before, at least to Alec. With such solid color throughout, all the same with no differences in shade or thickness, meant it all must have been dipped in the same vat of stain. And traveling usually meant bringing a large pack or several on a mule or pony, he had none of this.
Maybe he didn’t travel far, Alec thought. And that made the feeling in his gut twist sharply. With everything about the stranger and everything he wore, all seemed to be made for movement and agility, with the slightest bit of warmth to possibly take away the cold. Alec wondered what this stranger could do with those weapons on his hip. But a skip in his heart told him, he did not want to know.
Then he noticed something else.
Thane was nervous, in his back the muscles tensed and shook. His fingers wriggling and snagging at the small leather trills at his side and the fur belt underneath. His chest heaved under the worn steel plating, and at the back of his neck under the scarf Alec could see sweat.
He had never seen Thane like this.
Alec felt the need to gather Raulin and Peter, the veterans of the wall. Large mountains of men ready and willing to combat anything that threatened. Thane was like them yes, but the air spoke to Alec making the bravado and courage a tethered myth. The situation making Thane, much smaller and weaker than Alec had ever seen him before. And as an answer to that, Thane turned and waved his hand to Alec stepping aside the stranger. His body huddling down a bit, his head doing the same.
And with shaken hands Alec would pull the level releasing the gate lock, and the stranger would enter the Kingdom. A darkness then came over the day… and stayed til nightfall when Alec was finally relieved. And after closing the gate he looked out into the fields for the couple, but they were gone. And the rabbit… the small rabbit… was in the mouth of a wolf.
And Alec watched that wolf wander up the trail and away into the wood, staring at the shadow that wore on the left side.