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The worn leather grip of his father’s heavy long sword filled his sweaty hand as Amaris stalked through the forest, soft leather boots making the leaves crackle. The soft autumn wind stirred the few remaining leaves on the trees rustle dryly in the fading light of the sun setting in the west, shedding its golden light on the wood. The heavy breastplate and mail clinked and clanged as he shifted uncomfortably; his father’s armor was too big for him. His shoulders were not yet broad enough nor his chest big enough for the armor.
Ahead, he could see the cliffs of Beurn, dark stone with many small caves and holes, gloomy openings cast into shadow in the waning light. Amaris gripped the sword more tightly, and parted the brush in front of him with his other hand.
As the sun went down behind the hills, he could make out a fire a ways away in the darkness, near one of the cave openings. The yellow light flickered and danced in the gentle breeze, throwing shadows off the stone walls of the cliff. He heard the shouts and hollers of what he thought were orcs, but he wasn’t sure; he had never met an orc before, and if his father had his way, Amaris would never meet one.
His father didn’t understand that at fourteen, he was a man now, ready to face a man’s challenges, weapon in hand. His father had gone to war when he was only a year or two older, and he had heard the other men in the town who had gone to the war talk about it at the local pub over drinks. He had seen their gnarled hands tracing old scars that disfigured their bodies in the flicking light of the fire in the big stone hearth, and listened to their words of bravery and courage on the battlefield.
The wind blowing off the cliffs rustled the branches on the trees around him, and stirred his hair. Their thinning gold and red leaves and thick trunks cast long shadows on the leaves that carpeted the forest floor.
However, his father didn’t want him to have to, as he put it, “suffer the trails of war.” He wanted a nice life for his son, farming in the village of Gahr. A nice, boring life. That was why Amaris was out here tonight, his father’s armor donned hastily and heavy sword held inexpertly, having smuggled them out of the house one of the times when his parents were at market. The breeze now became cool, chilling him through, making him wish he had brought a cloak. The same breeze brought more sounds from the area near the cliffs, even thought it was some ways off still, and smells too. Foremost among them was the smell of charred meat, closely followed by the stench of unwashed bodies.
He had heard from some of the other boys that there were orcs living in the caves at the foot of the cliffs of Beurn. He figured that would be as good a place as any to prove himself; if he brought back the severed head of an orc, his father might take him more seriously.
A sound in the bushes to his left made him whirl, sword coming up to menace the brush. Little light remained, and his eyes strained to see into the darkness. The bushes rustled again, and he advanced, sword waving, both hands on its hilt. His heart thudded in his chest, and he prepared to do battle with whatever came out of that bush. He focused on the bush, all of his senses straining, seeing the small green leaves on the bush, hearing the noises of the forest, smelling the earthy scent of the rich, loamy soil.
The plant rustled yet again, and then a squirrel burst out from it. Amaris jumped back, swinging his father’s sword across, slashing off some branches and frightening the squirrel away with the sudden movement. The wild swing overbalanced him, and he stumbled, crashing into the bush, the branches scratching his hands and face, sword flying wide. With the help of the sword, he managed to pull himself out of the bush and regain his balance.
Laughing softly at his own mistake, “A squirrel, ha,” he turned and looked around. Hearing a noise, he quickly became still and quiet, and scanned the bushes again. It was fully dark by then, and the first stars began to come out in the sky, bright pinpricks of light in the heavens. He could see them between the waving tree branches when he looked up at the sky. The moon had yet to rise, so he cautiously moved forward, trying not to run into a tree in the darkness, keeping the deeper darkness of the cliffs before him.
Now that Amaris was quiet, he could hear the sounds on the wind. Up ahead, he could hear merrymaking and shouting, closer than before. His hands clenched and unclenched around the hilt of his father’s sword. The ill-fitting armor clanked with his movements and the dead leaves on the ground crunched under his feet.
Slowly, the moon rose, shining through the trees and shedding a pale silver light on the forest floor. Through a break in the trees, Amaris could see figures up ahead around a fire. The flickering flames lit their brutish faces, and the wind carried snatches of conversation to him. The language they spoke was harsh and unfamiliar. He saw movement behind the fire, and another orc stepped into the light, facing him. It was tall, with broad shoulders, the hilt of a sword sticking out above one of them. The muscles on its arms rippled as it moved. They were bigger around than his calves, and he clutched his sword. There were perhaps a dozen of the creatures around the fire, and he could not tell if there were more in the cave.
Looking at the massive creature, he thought, what the heck am I doing here? I’ve never even gotten in a real fistfight, let alone anything with a sword. Who do I think I’m kidding, running around in the woods with my dad’s sword?
Amaris looked with wide eyes at the sword on the orc’s back, and began backing up, his footsteps slow and hesitant, never taking his eyes off the orcs. With a jolt, he hit a tree trunk. Whirling around, he took off running through the forest, swerving to avoid trees that loomed in front of him. Branches tugging at him and leaves battered his face, but he kept running from the orcs, hoping he wouldn’t trip and stab himself with his father’s sword.