Owen Arach leaned the maul against the stump he was using as a splitting block. His dark brown hair was plastered to his skull with sweat. He wiped the sweat from his face with the tail of his shirt. I need some water. He pulled off the leather gloves protecting his hands as he walked toward the shade of the evergreen trees.
He looked around the clearing where the team had set up to cut wood for Red Dragon’s Keep. His dark blue eyes squinted in the bright afternoon light. The water skins he’d helped fill at the Keep were hanging from a branch in the shade. He walked over to the tree, grabbed a skin and uncorked it, pouring the water into his mouth. He recorked it and hung the skin back on the branch.
Late fall weather chilled the air. Standing in the shade, his body cooled down quickly. He shrugged into his dark brown wool coat. He walked over to a leafless giant of a tree and squatting down, leaning back against its rough bark. He needed a break.
A team of four soldiers dragged the trunk of a tree into the clearing. The trunk had been limbed were it was felled. They lifted the trunk onto the pile that waited to be chopped into logs that would fit the fireplaces in the Keep and the village.
Owen pushed himself to his feet and walked back to the splitting stump, pulling on his gloves. Ten soldiers and ten squires were sent into the forests each day to cut down trees, chop them up and then haul the wood back to the Keep.
I’ll go, Owen mocked himself. I can help get wood for the Keep. He’d wanted to get away from Dragon Tower for a little while. He was tired of being around so many people all of the time.
He looked across the clearing at the surrounding trees, not really seeing them. He shook his head in frustration. What am I going to do? The war with the Demons is here and all I am is a foot soldier for my brother. He gritted his teeth and shook his head again. He needed to get back to work, let the rhythm of the maul swings tire his body and numb his mind, stop its endless recycling of the same old thoughts.
Shadows lengthened as the sun moved towards sunset. The splitting block was shrouded in shade by late afternoon, bringing a return of the cold that embraced Ard Ri. Fall was deepening toward winter, tightening its chilly grip on the land. Owen wiped the head of the maul clean and wrapped it in its goatskin covering. He placed it at the back of the wagon they had brought to carry supplies and fill with split wood. The horses that pulled the wagon grazed on long tethers tied to trees on the sun-side of the clearing.
What is your thought, Owen? HeartStriker challenged him. You are your father’s son and heir, should something happen to Thomas.
The Sword of Light leaned against the wheel of the wagon where Owen had placed it, out of his way. Owen looked sourly at the sheathed draiochta sword. He was tired of it, too. It was always telling him what to do.
I’ll tell you what the problem is, HeartStriker. I can’t do anything to help with defending the Keep, or finding Mother and Father, or…anything. I’m useless except for work like this. He flipped his hand at the meadow, the wagon, and the pile of wood that he had cut waiting to be loaded on the wagon.
Not true, young Owen. You are helping to search the archives for information on the Ciardha and how to defeat them. You fought well against the Demons in the first battle for Red Dragon’s Keep. You continue to train for war. These are all useful things, HeartStriker reminded him.
Owen shook his head in irritation and walked to the wood piled at the tailgate of the wagon. The fresh sharply sweet scent of cut wood rose from the pile. He grabbed the top piece of firewood and tossed it into the wagon bed.
He’d grown much stronger and more agile over the months since his father and mother, Duke Lord Tom and Duchess Lady Jenni Arach had been ambushed and kidnapped on their way to the capital of Ard Ri. He’d turn fourteen in a month. He wanted to do something important.
Bend, grab, launch. Bend, grab, launch. The rhythm of his work soothed his angry thoughts.
He liked the weapons practice. He always won when the trainers set the squires against each other. The last time that happened, he’d defeated everyone except his brother. He hoped that it was because he was improving, not that HeartStriker was helping him. Marta told him that he’d need to start training with the soldiers to keep learning. Lady Aeden, watching from the sidelines, smiled at him when he checked to see if she was there.
Owen picked up the last hunk of wood and pitched it onto the top of the pile in the wagon. He walked over and picked up HeartStriker. The sword made no comment as he strapped the belt threaded through the scabbard around his waist. He was confused by his feelings and embarrassed that he’d insulted the Sword of Light.
I’m sorry, HeartStriker. I don’t know what’s wrong. I just feel bad, and mad, all the time. I don’t want to feel like this, he told the sword.
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