Gable Sommerdiev stared out into the twilit fields. How many Elshir troups might be lurking out there? How long, until one of these groups attacked the few settlements Gable and his men could not adequately protect with their dwindling numbers alone? One day, the Elshir would get the upper hand, invade Korinda, and the rest of the Empire.
And, that day, the Sommerdiev line would finally end.
Gable pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes tightly. He still saw fields behind close eyelids, and the Elshir’s possible hiding spots.
“General,” armor clinked as the soldier saluted his superior, “There is no trace of Elshir, or of magic, in the environs. The scouts report no activity for today.”
For today. That, Gable thought, was the report’s most important point.
Armor clinked, boots thudded together, and the soldier’s footsteps faded into the distance. Still, Gable was assessing the fields, calculating areas the scouts may not have thought to check.
For all he knew, the Elshir may be hiding in the shadows themselves. It wouldn’t be the first time. However, if all of the scouts had returned…
A quiet night. By Airin. At last.
Out here on the outskirts of ill-famed Korinda, little relief was to be found: no taverns, no brothels, not even a solid bed to rest on. The soldier’s life was a hard one, merciless, brutal, and oft short-lived. Gable bore more scars than he had memories of them. As he returned to his tent and sat on his cot, one memory in particular suddenly resurfaced, uninvited.
Gable had been 13 years old, if memory served. 13 years old, and already fully aware of being dispensable in his father’s eyes, despite being the Emperor’s son.
It was this rugged, hard-assed father who had first forced a sword into his hand and demanded he take the life of three criminals ‘to set an example’. How he’d kill them, Emperor Gayle Sommerdiev had not cared: all that had mattered was the example set. Gable had not known what crimes these shackled, ragged men had committed; he only remembered the terror in their eyes, the tremors of their bodies as they’d kept themselves from standing up and running. Over a dozen arrows had been aiming at their heads.
All Gable had been given the ‘privilege’ of, had been to choose their deaths for them.
And Gable had refused to kill them.
He had never forgotten his father’s stare upon his refusal. Within their dark light, Gable had seen contempt. Hate. Eyes no son should ever have to endure from his father. And Gayle had snatched the sword from his weak grasp, and tossed it at the criminal closest to Gable.
“If you won’t kill him, then he will kill you,” Gayle had stated, to Gable’s bewilderment, “You’re a free man if you kill him.”
No more had Gayle needed say; in a matter of seconds, the prisoner had grabbed the sword and lunged at Gable. Surprised by the sword’s weight, the prisoner had stumbled and missed his target, but pierced through the side of Gable’s stomach nonetheless. Blood had burst through his shirt as Gayle had seized the sword’s blade with an armored hand and snatched it from the criminal’s hands. Shocked by his own action, the criminal had fallen to the ground, pleading for mercy – pleas which Gayle had answered with a swift strike, severing the criminal’s head from his shoulders. The two other prisoners died from a volley of arrows.
One would think that, as a father, Gayle would have ensured Gable’s survival by calling for a healer. What Gable remembered, was staring up at his father and meeting the hollowness of his gaze as he’d said, “You or them. There is no option in between.”
Gayle had then marched off, leaving his son to bleed out in the training grounds where this execution had taken place. Were it not for the kindness of the soldiers, Gable would have died.
Why hadn’t he died.
Gable’s head snapped up. Silence surrounded him; in the distance, the faint echo of clanking swords, yells and laughs. Nothing moved within his tent but the flap leading to the outside, twitching to the cold night wind setting in. There was no one here. How, then… …
“Who—” Gable stopped himself, a hand upon his sheathed sword’s hilt. He knew no one to be here. Was stress playing tricks on his mind? Or were there Elshir in the vicinity, using magic to confuse him into madness? He would not put it past them.
I will call you Gable… Even if your father thinks that you are not…
Gable had sprung onto his feet to frantically glance about the cot he had been resting on. There was no one present. He could swear he had felt something, someone, placing a hand on his shoulder. What trickery was this?!
“Show yourself!” he shouted, despite better judgment. He may cause alarm among his men – for naught, as it looked like. But, what if this indeed was Elshir magic? What if they had thought better than to kill off scouts, realizing their return would signify to Gable and his men that no threat lied hidden in the vicinity?
But how… how could any of them know… …
Gayrel… Gable… I have missed you…
Memory blurred with reality. In an instant, Gable was no longer General, no longer alone in a distant land filled with criminals and rabid Elves; here, standing at the threshold to one of the many rooms of the Imperial Palace, he was 13 again, and seeking the comfort of his mother.
He remembered her kind smile; the lines upon her face he had taken for untimely wrinkles until he’d been old enough to understand. At that time, weeks after the incident in the training grounds, Gable had for the first, and the last time of his life, cried upon his mother’s lap.
Her fingers toying gently with his curly brown hair, the Empress had comforted her son as best she could. It was that day, that very day, that she had stripped him of the name his father had given him. “I will call you Gable,” she had smiled, stroking her son’s head, “Even if your father thinks that you are not.”
The meaning of the name had been their secret. A couple of years later the Empress had abruptly died, taking their secret to her grave. Gable had never spoken of this with anyone, not even with his younger brother Hector. He had never gone by Gayrel again.
Reality blurred with memory. Alarmed voices spoke to him, as though from a distant land. When Gable opened his eyes, he discovered worried faces looming over him, and slowly realized he was, for some reason, lying on the floor.
“He’s come to!”
Gable cringed at the sharpness of this cry. He would have commanded silence, but discovered soon enough his throat was dry.
“Scout the area! Whomever attacked him is still close-by!”
I was not attacked, Gable wanted to say – it was the truth. But this truth, he realized, might have repercussions he did not want to face until he understood what he’d just experienced.
The moons shone high in the nightsky by the time Gable had regained his composure.
None of the scouts had found their General’s alleged attacker – with good reason, Gable had thought, but not divulged. Yet he would get no rest that night, or the following night.
Only when, several days later, an Elshir ambush ended with a sword planted through Gable’s side by inhuman force, did the General collapse.
On the Other side of the known world, his mother welcomed him with open arms.