Chapter Eight

6 minutes, 6 seconds (1220 words)

A voice was calling me, again and again. I tried to turn away, to turn my back to it, but it kept calling, pulling me back. I didn’t want to leave this comfortable place. I didn’t want to get pulled into the world outside again. Not now. Not ever.

“Wake up.”

“Wake up, I say.”

A voice was calling me, again and again. I tried to turn away, to turn my back to it, but it kept calling, pulling me back. I didn’t want to leave this comfortable place. I didn’t want to get pulled into the world outside again. Not now. Not ever.

“That does it,” the voice said, and I could hear the owner walking away. I let out a relieved sigh and let myself drift away.

I was suddenly woken by a bucketful of water being poured over my head. I let out a shout of alarm–which, to my ears, sounded more like a yelp–and some of the water got caught in my throat. After gagging, coughing and spluttering, I was brought rather violently awake.

“What’s the problem with you!” I shouted, springing to my feet even though I was groggy. “What the hell are you doing!”

“You will shut up, now!”

The voice, now that I could glance at a vague shape in front of me, had seemingly belonged to a man who was trying to wake me up. His voice was so authentative, so in control, that it made me do just that – shut up, and force myself to not take a step backwards in astonishment.

“You come into our lands from nowhere, sleep in the middle of our training grounds, and when I wake you up, you dare speak to me so? Who are you that dare to speak to me like this?” The barrage of words hit me one after the other, dashing any hopes of being able to sleep again.

I could focus just enough to see the man through the haze of sleep as he walked towards me. He was huge: his thighs were as big as tree trunks, and his bare arms could crush me in a fatherly hug. As he neared me, I couldn’t help but finally take the backward step.

“Who are you!” The tree-man shouted, raising his index finger and pointing it at my chest. “Tell me, now!”

This man seemed to be well-versed in the art of commanding men – an army commander, perhaps? I could feel that he was used to being in control. He was so blunt and pushy about it that you couldn’t stop him from forcing you to do what you wanted to avoid the most.

“I’m Jack!” I blurted out. Even though I wasn’t Jack, something told me to just give some imagined name. It was probably the lawyer part of me speaking.

The man–to my relief–came to a halt and stared me right in the eye.

“You lie,” he said calmly, speculatively, as if he was wondering why on earth someone would dare lie to him. I shrunk under his fierce gaze, asking myself what came over me that made me lie. I searched desperately for something to say, but found nothing. At that moment, I realized why I gave up being a lawyer. I could never tell a convincing lie.

The man shrugged, as if he had the patience of the world to spend on men like myself. Even though I would have been a terrible lawyer, I knew, there, that this shrug was deliberate. So was his mock patience. I did not know what he was looking for in me, and I still have my doubts today regarding this matter.

He swept his gaze around, as if missing something, or someone, then finally looked at me once more. In a significantly lower tone, he carried on asking his torrent of questions.

“Where do you come from?”

I paused this time, and considered my answer. I had to tell this man the truth. But where was I now? Where was “here” anyway? And even if I told him, would it matter? Would it matter in his final judgment?

“York,” I said finally, shaking my head as the man looked me up and down with confusion.

“York. Haven’t heard about it, but if it makes people like you, it must be a pittiful place indeed. Have you ever held a sword, boy?”

You will probably insult me one more time and afterward ask me if I can fly, I thought, keeping my face as neutral as I could manage.

“No,” I said truthfully. This time, my brief answer somehow made me hang my head in shame.

He rolled his eyes skyward with exasperation, as if he would enjoy nothing more than punching me with such a force that I would fly up there, leaving my earthly state behind, never to come down again.

“And I’m stuck with you?” He queried the sky. I didn’t know who he expected to get a response from; me, the slowly rising Sun, or some other wight, unbeknownst to me.

Anger flared up inside. I would have said something scathing, but that massive figure in front of me would probably have made me regret my words in two heartbeats. So I waited, confused, angry, and realizing that I was keeping my balance with an effort of will. It seemed if I ever would stop focusing on it, I would sprawl on the ground and never get up again. Anger was good.

“The Bearfeast is in a week,” he said in way of explanation, deigning to look at me down his nose. “The two bear masters should choose a team of their own for the duels. Kerln can not lift anything, let alone a sword. A bunch of logs fell on him, and who knows what bones he has broken. There is no other apprentice but you, and you are such a …”

“I see,” I said, my mind beginning to wander somewhere in the middle of his words. They sounded meaningless to me. I could hear the words, but I couldn’t understand them. I didn’t know what this feast was, and what it had to do with me, and I didn’t really care at this moment. I didn’t really see anymore, but the words escaped my lips regardless. I momentarily realised that my voice was sounding far away, before the ground tilted and came up to meet me.

“I saw him,” I heard a woman say, and I could feel more than see that she was talking to someone. Her voice was smiling.

I couldn’t see anything. I tried to open my eyes, but my muscles refused to respond. I let myself relax, listening.

“The change has come,” a man said, his voice booming as if he had a chest as big as a water barrel. “We must be ready to meet it.”

“That, we will,” the woman replied.

Whether they continued watching me, or left me quietly, I do not know. But I was, yet again, in the arms of Morpheus, fading away from sunlight as it came. My last, slowly forming thoughts were about the duel, and Kira. I had to find Kira.

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Erion

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