The mercenaries packed up, and headed back for the Lord's camp, weary from the battle. I felt like I had been fighting for weeks, though the battle lasted only the night.
Eugene came over to speak to me, a smile across his tired features. “Oy, Connell, good arm out there. You fought well.”
I looked at the ground. “I never knew killing someone would feel so... awful.”
A look of concern crossed his face. “It's hard, I know. But they would have killed you, given the chance. I know it's no great comfort, but for what it's worth I almost got kicked out on my first job.”
“Really?”, I asked. “Why?”
“I froze up. I had ice in my veins, and I couldn't move. The Captain had to shove me out of the way of a charging spearman. Nearly got stabbed in the process, he did. He had trained me, he knew I could fight. But the first time I saw a man die, I just couldn't cope. It got better later, but it still gets to me sometimes. But hey, everyone has to eat, right?”
“I suppose we do,” I spoke, drawing in a deep breath, and letting it out slowly. “And someone has to fight all these wars. Might as well be us.”
He laughed, his eyes full of mirth. “That's the spirit, Connell. Let's go grab some wine, you could use the drink.”
When we got back to camp, the Captain pulled us aside. His normally grim features betrayed a sense of pride. “You did well, Eugene. And you also, Connell. I was quite impressed. Nine kills in your first skirmish. You'll go far with us if you keep that up.”
My face went white, and cold. Nine? I only killed one. As I write this, I still don't remember much of that battle after the first man died upon my blade. A bit of red, flashes of steel, but those other eight men are faceless to me. I trembled visibly for a moment, felt the blood rush away from my head and lost consciousness entirely.
When my eyes opened, I was staring up at our newest member of the company, the Scotsman MacKay. “Awake, eh?” he said. I scrambled backwards in shock and hit my head on a log. He shook his head in seeming annoyance. “Fool boy. I'm no threat to ye. How do ye feel?”
I thought a moment. “My head hurts.”
He could barely contain his laughter. “O, I'm sure it does. What's yer name?”
“No, it's not. Yer no Irishman. But it'll do I suppose.” His eyes were bright, and seemed to shine in the light. I looked away, ashamed. I had never been much of a liar.
He spoke softly. “Ye seem alright now, the Cap'n had me look after ye when ye fell like a lassie.”
“I... didn't fall like a lass!”, I protested angrily. “I just got sick, is all.”
I was furious, but knew I was beaten by his smile. I sighed in frustration.
“I can't believe I fainted in front of the Captain...”
The Scot handed he a cup of wine. “Drink, an' forget about it. Young lads get that way about death sometimes. Tis a natural thing.”
“I suppose...” I took a drink, and it warmed me quickly. I quickly reached for my sword, and checked it for blood. It was still covered in now drying blood, so I pulled it out of the sheath and began cleaning it. MacKay looked at me strangely.
“Why all the panic, lad? Just a little blood.”
“If I don't clean the blade, it'll rust. Rust is the enemy. That's what Father used to say, any way.” I said.
The Scot nodded. “You the son of a soldier, then?”
“Blacksmith. I was his apprentice until a few weeks ago.”
“And now ye think to make a name fer yerself fightin' for coin? Tis a damn shame.”
I said nothing, and he left it alone for a while. I finished my cup of wine, and looked at him again. He was so familiar, but I couldn't place it. I never once could have met this man in the village, I'd never seen a Scottish person in my life. He occasionally looked back as if he heard my thoughts. I was rather perplexed by this when he spoke up suddenly.
“Ye feel it too, lad. Ye feel the storm comin' in. don't fight it, it'll come anyway and all the harder if ye struggle. Just let the wind take ye, and find yer way from there. I don't expect ye ta understand just yet. But I know ye will.”
He made no sense. I assumed he was insane, but it was the first time I would encounter someone who knew the truth. You'd be surprised how often the two get mixed up.
He stood and walked away, and I was left to my own thoughts. Thankfully, he left the wineskin, and I didn't have to think for too long before it lulled me to sleep.
We received our pay, and the Captain gave me my gold, and all my feelings of doubt and guilt washed away in the shine of sovereign coin. I had never felt so empowered, so successful in my life. Coin would, for the next few months, bury my conscience in a gilded cage. I feel shame for that, to this day. But, the winds of change blow on, and if it were not for those days, I could not be the man I am today.