Note: While still a part of my public “Unfinished Stories” collection, Old Home is rather disconnected from the main overarching plot. At some point it will tie in, but likely not until the overarching story is better defined. Consider it an interlude, a snippet of a tale that takes place in a different location, at a different time, but that will eventually grow to become something greater.
“So, you’re a soldier but also not a soldier?”
The short man who had spoken scratched his balding head, frowning. His brow was furrowed like that of an angry animal, sweaty hands pressed together on his plump stomach, clasping and unclasping.
Panshin sighed. It wasn’t the good man’s fault that he was a little slow. Some things just had to be re-explained.
“No,” said Panshin. He paced back and forth across the sturdy paneled floor, hands to his sides, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. “I acquired the role of stone captain from the high commander Attet on the yesterday, but have yet to formalize the position. I am also in the unique position of having thus far refrained from battle.
The short man’s brow furrowed even further.
His name was Uom. Panshin had known him as a child. While a kind and generous man, Uom often lagged behind in conversation. Panshin wasn’t really sure how he had been appointed as the commander’s scribe, but he’d do with what he had.
“Uom…” The man perked up immediately, hand reaching instinctively to his forehead. “You can mark me as formal. It’s about time these men started respecting my authority anyway.”
Uom nodded. Though not technically legal, no one would care, especially not with Tarn Attet to back up his point.
The little man scurried from the building: an unused single-room barrack. Panshin wasn’t especially imposing either; his shoulders often hunched when untended, and his height was average if anything. It was a part of why the soldiers of the Iron Reach had thus far failed to answer to him, but it wasn’t the entire reason. Panshin was also a traitor.
The door banged shut behind Uom, but opened just a moment later as another figure stepped into the room. Panshin looked up in surprise. It was a woman, at least as tall as him, with long black hair that fringed gold at the ends. She wore simple clothes: brown trousers and a loose coat over a buttoned overshirt. That might be unusual back in Silverflame, but she would hardly be noticed here. You had to be tough to survive in the Iron Reach.
She leaned on the wall near the door, looking him over. He cleared his throat. “Uh… can I help you with anything?” He should really be back at the armory by now.
She sighed. “I need your help. Or, at least, advice. I was told you might be able to do something for me.” She began to walk confidently toward him. “Here, look at this.” Her voice was surprisingly deep. She reached into a small pouch at her side and pulled out a small, thin object wrapped in cloth. He frowned. Some kind of writing utensil? Female scribes existed, but he hadn’t seen many in these parts.
She unwrapped the object, dropping the cloth to the ground and carefully taking the grip of what was within. He blinked. A thin, silver dagger sat there, embroidered at the grip and along one side of the blade, which appeared to be dull. It had no crossguard. The metal seemed almost transparent in his eyes, and… wait, was it glowing faintly?
No. That was just a result of Panshin’s overly-taxed imagination. He raised an eyebrow, looking up at her. “You’ve brought me a knife. Are you planning to assassinate me? Who sent you this time? Aki? Lenn? Oh, it was Utrol, wasn’t it? He probably wants me dead after what happened in the stables yesterday.”
The woman stared at him for a moment. She was younger than him, perhaps in her mid-twenties. Then she shook her head. “Here,” she said. “Watch this. I need to know what you think of it.” Panshin frowned, but watched as she walked to the nearest wall and pressed the tip of the dagger into the wood. It stuck there for a moment. Then it sank the rest of the way in.
The wood around the metal seemed to shimmer suddenly, then solidify around the blade, which was stuck up to its grip in the wood. There didn’t appear to be any damage done to the wall; it had formed around the weapon like liquid.
Panshin gasped softly. The woman turned questioningly to him. “So,” she asked. “What do you think?”
Memories flashed in his mind’s eye. A knife in the dark. The fall of a city. Flames and shadows.
“Soldier!” The shout came from outside the house. He glanced at the woman, who moved swiftly to cover the impaled dagger. He stood at attention as a tall, intimidating man in full plate burst in through the door. The man paused halfway in, eying the pair. Then he shook himself. “Soldier. You’re needed! Enemy forces gather to the north, behind Fal’s Peak. We’re asked to march. You’re to lead company four.”
Panshin cursed, turning to the woman. He nodded his head formally, making his eyes wide. We’ll talk about this another time. He didn’t wait to see how she replied, instead turning and running, following the man out. He felt guilty to leave her, but some things just had to be done.
“Hey, Sojo!” The other man turned from his stride, regarding him. Panshin caught up with him. “What is this for? Who is it this time?”
Sojo eyed him. “Rebel merchants.” His voice was a low growl. “Gathered on the frontier up North. I dunno what they want, but they got pitchforks and things. We’re supposed to make sure they don’t get closer to the castle.” He shrugged, then jogged off.
Panshin breathed deeply, watching him go. Not the desert people this time; that was good. It meant less fighting, probably none.
He glanced back at the barrack, realizing that he hadn’t asked for the woman’s name. Had he seen her before? He tried to remember, but his mind was too caught up in other things. He sighed and hurried after the commander, who was making down a hill toward the bulk of the Iron Reach’s troops.
Later, Panshin’s company stood overlooking the broken, rocky Fal’s plain. The rebels had dispersed, falling back to the Merchant’s Reach, satisfied for the time being that they had brought the soldiers out. Indeed, the soldiers behind Panshin glared down at the plain, cursing the merchants. Cursing him. He would have to get used to that.
The merchants didn’t actually need anything. They were rich in comparison to Old Home’s people—they had every opportunity, and their only reason for rioting was to cause disturbance, eventually to try and seize the castle. That was what Panshin had been told, anyway. It wasn’t even the merchants themselves who were creating the disturbances, just bands of their mercenaries or something.
He held a bronze-plated helmet under one arm, overlooking the empty plain. The wind whipped through his chestnut hair, tossing strands to and fro. Otherwise, it was warm. The season was Saín, soon to wax into a calm, prosperous Saúm. The monarchy was gaining support up north and in the midlands. In many ways, the current state of things was ideal.
Except Panshin couldn’t stop thinking about that woman and the dagger.
Fire. Blood on stone. Cities left to crumble; soldiers left to rot.
He sighed, turning away from the wind to lead his soldiers on the long trek back to the Reach. He would need to speak with the woman, ask her where she had gotten the dagger, inspect the weapon. The weight of an entire nation might depend upon what he found.
After nearly an hour, he trudged back into camp, legs aching from the long walk. Tired soldiers dispersed around him, running to tend watch posts or returning to their barracks. Panshin wished he could do the same, but for now he had a mission. When speaking to the woman, he would have to carefully monitor his words and actions, lest he relive his past.
He returned to the empty barrack. There, he found her gone.