If only I had known then, what I know now. I would have been more careful, maybe I would’ve just left after that, never to seek him out again. If only I hadn’t learned about the cruelty and lies of my people, maybe he would still be alive today. If everything had just gone on as it was supposed to, as they had intended. If I had upheld my place as someone more worthy. But I didn’t and I lost everything, even the one that I risked it all for. And it all started back on that day. - The day I became a full-fledged soldier:
“They are brutes of incredible strength; they will not hesitate to kill you! You’ll have little chance if you get close to one, so kill on sight, out of sight. You don’t go near them, you don’t touch their hunts, you don’t steal anything from them, they are unclean! Most importantly you don’t talk to them! … Not that they were ever clever enough to understand full sentences” She joked, then once again put a stern expression on her face. Alexandria, head of the Militia – the hunters. She did not partake in the beauty that falcons generally prided themselves with, regardless, she was of the most respected of the falcons throughout all of the highlands. There were many legends about how she attained the burn marks that reached from her left hand all the way up across her chest and covered half of her face. And though the mystery remained unsolved; She didn’t hide said burns; no, she almost wore it like ornaments, - a symbol of status – pride.
The Militia’s main goal was to hunt for food in the woodlands, but they were often raided by the white trolls. A despised species that our people were taught to hate since we could spread our wings. Archery was a tactical move, falcons were strong, but not stronger than the trolls, - even though we did not like to admit it. Luckily we had wings, to dominate the skies and a quick swiftness to our moves. Still, victory was best won, at a distance. However, should one be dumb enough to get close to a troll, there was a knife in our belt, sharp enough gut their thick skin.
Alexandria did no longer join the militia for hunts, she was a retired veteran. But on this day, when new recruits were to be initiated. We were graced with her presence. It was almost like getting an audience with the High Queen.
“Any questions?... Yes, you..!” one of the teachers whispered my name to her “Talullah! Ask away child” I was awestruck, yet managed to ask my question short and clearly as protocol suggested, “How do they look?” One would think it a stupid question since we had been schooled on white trolls since we were just little hatchlings. Despite the many details that were known about them, the illustrations that I had seen had always been depicted quite differently, one being more horrific than the other. The one consistent was the white skin and the tail. Alexandria nodded her head like it was not a completely unreasonable question. After all most falcons never got to leave the highlands, and it had been hundreds of years since any troll had dared to approach. “you will not be in doubt soldier” She said looking at me, somehow with a stern smile. “Now, I wish you a vigorous first hunt! Remember to stay close to your superiors, today they are your mentors, use them!”
A flock of 30 falcons, men and women, exited the Ethereal training grounds and left the highlands to explore the woodlands. 20 new soldiers, myself included. I had been training for this day since I was 16. It had been 4 tedious years. But it was all worth it, I wanted to see what was below the mountain grounds. I needed to explore. And if it came to it, I’d bring home a troll’s tail too. It was said to be a greater humiliation than death for a troll. Like if a falcon got its wings clipped, or even ripped. The thought alone of not being able to roam the blue skies sent chills out into the tips of my feathers.
Commands sounded from higher up, Thaddaeus; famous from the many troll attacks he had survived and conquered, scars ornamented his bronzed skin. He was kind of famous for his bravery in the highlands. Despite his missing eye, women threw themselves at his feet. Well, if I had to be honest, he was rather handsome. Not that I ever saw myself as someone, that would be begging for someone’s attention like that. “We will split up in 10 groups of 3, do rely on and use your mentors for guidance!” the whole group halted in midair, as each group was assigned an area “Tallulah and Ferdinand you two will come with me!” Ferdinand discreetly fisted his hand in a motion of victory “Jackpot huh Tali? – we get to learn from the champion himself!” he said and nudged my elbow, with a gigantic silly smile. In which I nodded with a chuckle in response “It’s a great honor!” Despite my friendship with Ferdinand, I didn’t want his silly joking to ruin these last valuable training sessions. “Remember, we are staying in the outer woodlands today! Keep close to your groups and keep your arrows ready and counted”
“Stay still you two, it’s rare for the trolls to go into the outer areas of the forest, but you can never be too careful” Whispered Thaddaeus. We were situated in the treetops scouting the area. The goal was to bring home game; moose or deer were preferred foods of our people, but smaller game such as rabbits and pheasant weren’t frowned upon either. “You two wait here until I give signal” Thaddaeus advanced further into the trees and onto the lower branches. Fortunately, falcons have great eyesight, so it wasn’t hard to keep on the lookout for said signal. However, babysitting the idiot beside me had proven a harder task than usual. But knowing Ferdinand, I should’ve taken my precautions. He was exploring and had taken the task of finding game, upon himself. He climbed up a few branches below me and tugged on my skirt. “Tali! Look down, it’s a bear!” He was almost too excited to keep his voice a whisper. I held my gaze to keep watch on Thaddaeus in case he was to signal to us “You are supposed to be still and soundless, not climb around like a play-sick monkey!” I whispered annoyed and finally looked down only to find his position beneath me was utterly disgraceful. Flustered without thinking I kicked him away, “Stand somewhere else you Troll!” I hissed, but soon reached out for him with regret, when he lost balance, only to miss and see him tumble down landing on one of the lower branches making a spectacle of the whole ordeal. Placing my hand over my face I dreaded to look to Thaddaeus, I could almost feel him already glaring our way. He had asked one simple thing.
I loved Ferdinand, but how whished I had been partnered up with someone else that day. – Nonetheless, I could not deny the fault I shared. I just hoped that the moment could be salvaged, and the area would be safe for now.