Taking the Black – St. John Wraith
June, 2001
Taking the Black – St. John Wraith

Wraith sat still on the mount as the gentle rains poured down around him. His eyes fixed quietly on the Ettin before him. The Left head of the ettin hung still and motionless, a red sliver of blood cascading across its neck. Its right head looking to the left with a curious despair. The beast looked back to Wraith with blind vengeance in its eyes. The sickening breath from its roar blurred Wraiths eyes for a moment as the beast charged again. Its tree trunk like legs slowed and unsteadied by the muddy field, Wraith side stepped his mount easily, and brought his Battle-axe around his head and into the creatures back, burying it deep.

The orcs and their ettin comrades had been massing ever closer. The new camps that had been found in the woods outside a few cities did little to encourage him that this was merely a short venture. As Wraith swung down from his mount, to free his Axe from the creature, all thought of orcs and ettins drifted away, replaced by a growing loneliness.

Kneeling down in the mud, Wraith remembered back with warm fondness his days in the kitchen of Tower Shadune. Sitting around a table with as hearty a lot of warriors and knights who had ever been. He missed them all. Sterling’s disappearance had quickened Wraiths melancholy. He missed his friend, and the adventures the two had shared. Even now, the brotherhood of Trinsic was filled with boys whose only knowledge of the Orc Wars comes from the nightly banter of a blind sell sword at the Keg and Anchor. A man whom Wraith himself seriously doubted had any part in the wars; perhaps a fry cook in the camps. Nonetheless, the streets of Trinsic were alive with cold people whom Wraith did not know, and an emptiness of friends departed.

Ely had been supportive, but there was little she could do to cure these pains. Wraith missed the field, the smell of blood, leather, and sweat. He missed the rallying call of forces strong and those hopelessly outmatched. He missed the drinks and stories told afterward, of heroism and daring do. On a different level, he also missed the security. Behind every victory was security in supplies and gold. Things that until recently, Wraith had never even bothered to concern himself with, but the coffers were running thin. In her pregnant condition Ely had taken up tailoring again. It was helpful, kept her occupied (and away from danger), and provided a bit of coin, but it would not keep them afloat forever. Wraith would see that his child enjoyed a happier childhood than he had.

Wraith yanked hard and his large battle-axe pulled forth out of the back of the ettin. A splash of blood coating his face as he did. With a mailed hand he took the reins of his horse and pulled him along as he meandered to the bay. Staring across the bay north of Trinsic he could almost make out the ramparts where they stood. The looming black tower made small by the distance, yet it was there. Friends he had there, those he trusted, and those who trusted him. In Northwood, they had fought together on many occasions. The captain Wraith knew from what seemed like a previous life, and the general was a man whom Wraith had more respect for than any man save perhaps Elindril Shadune himself. Blood had been spilt alongside them before, and drinks shared at Tablenhelm’s Fall afterward.

Sterling had called it “taking the black” back in Northwood when a man or woman joined up with them. He had said, “That’s not the posh life of a lord ling there Wraith. Those are butchers boys and whorehouse whelps. Half of em end up there by chance, they go in like curdling babes, and walk onta the field tough as boiled leather. Discipline that would make a Paladin jealous, and ferocity that would make even the Shadow Clan proud. Hell, We’d be smart ta send our squires ta train with them before they even come to us. That would take the tit out of their mouth and put the steel inta their hands.” Xavier words brought a whimsical smile to Wraiths face. He had forgotten just how much he missed the old knight.

In the end Sterling had told him, “I tell ya Wraith…I’d have them beside me over any army in Britannia. Elindril knew it, as do I. You make a friend of the rose, lest ye be pricked by the thorns.”

And so he had.

Pushing his graying dark hair back out of his face, Wraith pulled himself back up on his mount. He took one more long look across the bay, before he slid his Axe back into a weathered leather strap that hung from his saddle.

Wraith plodded back towards Trinsic through the muddy plains. The rain fell crisply beating off his shadowed armor.


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