The country of Lavell was green and bountiful. Whereas large portions of Sarkana’s landscape consisted of hills, plateaus and highlands, Lavell seemed to be made of endless rolling plains, little rivers and valleys. It was easy to see why the Lavellan population outnumbered the Sarkanian by two-to-one, with so much ample ground fit for farms and livestock. That wasn’t to say that life in Sarkana was significantly more difficult, but rewards came only with greater toil and its people were a little hardier because of it.
The Sarkanians had always been a warrior people and over ten thousand of them now marched through the fields of Lavell, a great river of steel that shone and glistened in the light of a sun that had only recently pierced rain-blackened clouds. For nearly five days their progress had been slowed by storms and with summer still young the men whispered that they were of unnatural origins, that the enemy conjured magic against them. Caden didn’t believe them; the court of Lavell had no sorcerers and no hovel-dwelling witch in the woods could cast such a curse. “There’s no magic in the southern realms, lad,” Harik Wulfsurd had once told him. Magic did not belong in the southlands, nor could anything be found there that was interesting enough to attract a practitioner.
No, it was just bad luck. It had left the ground so sodden that it tore when men walked through it, leaving a road of mud and dirt in their wake. It had left men cold and shivering in the night, then mentally and physically fatigued during the next day’s march. Many had been taken ill with chills and rendered incapacitated on overloaded medical wagons, but as the sun’s light returned its warmth it seemed that finally their luck was changing.
They kept marching, the day growing warmer as it approached midday. By the mid-afternoon it was so hot that the men lucky enough to have space for their baggage began to remove pieces of their armour and King Valen ordered the army to halt its march so that they could rest. Caden, himself sweltering under his plate, dismounted his horse and found a large rock to sit on. He groaned in relief, removing his helmet and setting it down by his side, then lay back to gaze up at the sky.
“If that is how much it rains in Lavell, I’m starting to wonder why we didn’t turn around and march to Kedora instead,” a gruff voice said, followed by a clunking of armour as a figure sat down on the rock besides Caden.
Caden looked over to find Sir Anselm sat there, re-strapping his greaves and eyeing the hundreds of knights and horses around them. “So you ARE still here,” Caden said, a slight grin creeping on his face. “I was starting to think my father had you executed.”
“Me? Of course not, sire. I was merely following the command of my prince, as a loyal knight and subject of house Sarka should,” Anselm replied. Caden nodded in acquiescence, then let his eyelids fall to a close. “Besides,” the older knight continued, “that entire mess was your fault.”
Caden’s eyes opened again and he set them upon the knight with a glare, who upon seeing the look given to him began to howl with laughter. Caden felt the pain of wounded pride but hid it behind a monotone expression, disassociating himself from the brash prince who had done wrong – at least until Anselm calmed himself and went back to redoing his straps. “Have you seen my brother?” He eventually asked.
“Aye, I have,” Anselm answered. “Arian rides with Lord Wulfsurd. It seems the young prince is eager for the days ahead and asked the king if he could join the vanguard. They’re riding ahead to find suitable ground for tonight’s camp.”
“The vanguard?” Caden questioned, clearly unhappy with the news. “I would trust Lord Wulfsurd with my life, but with my younger brother’s? No, that’s unfair. Wulfsurd would give his life before he let Arian come to harm, which itself worries me, but what worries me more is that Arian will do something so brash and foolish that he would not get a chance.”
“Aye, he reminds me of his father,” Anselm said. “And his older brother.”
Caden couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
“You should spend less time worrying about your brother, Caden,” Anselm suggested, his suddenly sincere tone taking Caden by surprise. “Aye, perhaps he’s never seen a real battle, but I’ve seen him train with many a sword instructor. For someone his age his skill is truly impeccable, and I would worry about the foe unlucky enough to come against him far more than I would worry about him.”
Caden sighed. “You’re right, Sir Anselm. He’ll be a great warrior someday, but that day isn’t yet. In fact, he might even be a great warrior king. A much greater one than I would be.”
Anselm looked across at the prince, a slight smirk on his face. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. You might not be able to match him with a sword, but you have qualities of your own.”
“Perhaps,” Caden answered, looking down the column of knights, soldiers and their steeds. He saw the king in the distance, speaking to several of the high-ranking lords of the realm, and considered for a moment if he should go and join them. No, he decided. Not out of malice, or discomfort, but out of a rare feeling of satisfaction. Caden was happy to sit there on his rock and rest, and as the business of their campaign continued, he found his thoughts drifting away to things that didn’t matter.