‘To have friends. To have found a place to belong. To be going somewhere beyond Ditchwater. To have a life of my choosing…I didn’t think it was possible. I wasn’t delusional enough to even hope. Not like…him.’
— Halden, “Beyond” They Come at Night
I’m going to become a Royal Knight.
If you had told me that this would end up being the best year of my life I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I probably would have punched you. And yet…
“Move aside. Move aside. Royal Knight cadet coming through,” Sten Brynhildarson announces. Practically pushing me through a group of our fellow fledgling cadets as we exit the mead hall.
I tip my head toward the star-filled sky, laughing. “Steeen…I have to pass the entrance exam first.”
“Of course, you’ll pass, you’re the best among us,” Finnur counters as he saunters out of the hall behind us two.
Sten grins at Saldísarson before turning that mead-fueled smile on me. “Just promise when you come back from that fancy-ass academy that you won’t forget us.”
Lilja Ingudóttir comes trotting out next to stand beside us. Her long blue mane nearly as dark as the night sky above.
And then there’s Erna—the last among us to come traipsing out of the mead hall. Rolling her garnet eyes so dramatically you can almost hear it.
“Sten, you do know if he becomes a Royal Knight he’s going to be assigned to the royal capital. As in he won’t be coming back.”
“What…?” Sten says in such a way it makes it clear he hadn’t thought it all the way through.
And the child-like dismay in his tone is at such odds with his stocky towering build that it is beyond comical.
I laugh—not for the first time tonight—at the antics of my four friends.
To have friends. To have found a place to belong. To be going somewhere beyond Ditchwater. To have a life of my choosing…I didn’t think it was possible. I wasn’t delusional enough to even hope. Not like…him.
“I promise to at least write,” I offer with a laugh, trying to push thoughts of him away.
It’s easy. I haven’t thought of Korik in nearly a year, and we’re all swimming in mead this late in the night.
“He’d have to actually know how to read for that,” Erna snorts.
“Oi! I can read!” Sten counters indignantly, taking a swipe at her.
But Hekludóttir evades him easily, the lightest on her feet among us. Even than Finnur. And if he had just a bit more magic in him he would have been sent to be a Dragoon for sure.
Definitely more fleet-footed than Sten who’s about as graceful as a boulder.
He’s nothing like Korik.
Muddy-maned and tall. Loud and as broad and solid as the Grand Wall. And about as dense.
Stop thinking about him! I admonish myself.
We pass between two buildings—a little “shortcut” back to the barracks—and Sten and Erna are still taking good-natured jabs at each other. Not really a row, just getting out the last bits of pent-up energy that weren’t spent in the day’s training bouts.
And Lilja—ever the peacemaker—is trying to reel them in a bit before we get assigned dawn watch duty as a “reward” for still having this much energy left at the end of the night. While at the same time, her cousin Finnur is low-key egging them on.
And through it all, I’m trying to shove Korik out of my mind. Trying to laugh along with them as they make enough ruckus to recall the dead. Because the truth is, this really has been the best year of my life.
As we just about make it through the pass-between to the other side, wind starts rushing up against the building to our right.
An unnatural wind. Because the rest of the night is still.
A feeling of dread washes over me like cold water as Sten steps out beyond the edge of the left building.
My hand darts out and I yank him back.
But not quick enough.
Uh oh, did someone just murder Sten?!
Find out in the next episode of They Come at Night!