“What a dump this town is.”
It was probably the hottest day of that long summer of 392. August thirteenth marked exactly three weeks since the burning of Saomur; Arthen had kept close tabs on the days. Saltwell had not been as welcoming of a place as he had hoped, including the Farmer, but the one ray of light and the one person he uttered a word to in the whole town continued to be Reflynn.
Fourteen months since King Hagan as killed. Almost two months since the counties Elkhorn and the Grand Fields fell. Three weeks since Saomur burned and Clearmont lingered without a Marshall. Two days since soldiers of the new Golden Legion quartered themselves in Saltwell. The companies of soldiers that came would be the first of many thousands marching from taken cities like Lisnagrave and Leathamur in the Grand Fields; some coming as conscripts from the northern counties like Fair Haven and Brockway; some coming from the now ruined city of Star Point where supplies at the time were reportedly running low. But all of them were on their way south, farther south than Saltwell or Southlem. They would be heading to Searchlight on Crystal Lake and then take boats to White Sand for the coming invasion to conquer the Infertile Reach beyond the mountains.
More orders of Rosewood mead were made when word reached Saltwell that they were coming. The soldiers made themselves home in whatever rooms were open or sometimes even occupied. Without a Marshall of Clearmont to govern and enforce the laws the county, Saltwell’s mayor, much like the other mayors and councillors of towns and villages in the area, had no choice but to submit to the demands of the Golden Legion as they were the new consolidated army of all of Ialnem and of the new king Breagan.
One soldier in particular was the surliest and most barbaric of the lot of them, and seemed to create his own gang of fellow soldiers who clung on to his arrogance and burliness as a sign of a leader. Madrogel was his name at the time but the name that would follow him later in the war would be “The Boulder” from his fighting in the First Campaign where he mowed down enemies from the Reach going downward on the mountainside. He would take the name with no hint of modesty.
Townsfolk tried to stay out of the company’s way as much as possible and avoided incurring any sort of wrath from them as if they were hazards of trash fires burning in the street. But the day Arthen had heard that a company of the Golden Legion were nearby, he took whatever time he had left at daysend to go down through the wells of Saltwell to find them.
He had spotted them near the spout of a well, already drunk even though it had just struck the beginning of daysend. He remembered walking up to them with the last residual of status from his family that lingered in his aura.
“Ahem!” he squeaked.
They made no inclination he was there.
Lift your chest up, his father would say. Deep breath in and exhale your declaration.
“Soldiers of the Golden Leaf! I am named Arthen of the family of Cartovius. Saomur has been raided, burned, and looted and–and–my family has been killed. I request the help of the king’s Legion to escort me to Ionmur so I may bring justice to my family.”
All members of the company all stared at the boy, who wore torn, ill-fitting clothes given to him by the Farmer. They gave blank looks for a solid moment while their unhinged minds slowly pieced together the boy’s story. Then, what started as a few chuckles, came hysterical laughter. But the largest of them barely gave a snicker and said to Arthen with a voice so deep and harsh that it could shake the bark off a tree. “You sure you know what you’re saying, boy?”
Madrogel then stood up from his seat and strode over to Arthen, a cold and menacing chinking rhythm came with him as his armor flexed with every heavy step. Arthen stood disturbed by how the sound could be as loud as it was when Madrogel finally reached his presence. The soon-to-be Boulder towered over the ten-year-old boy, casting an ugly shadow over Arthen’s crestfallen face.
“If you really is the son of a choking traitor, then I ought to slit your throat for it, eh?”
“What. No! Why would–”
“Any son of a bleeder who conspired to murder our Late Hagan should be dead lest they fulfill the same acts of their father on our new king. Ain’t that right?”
“Aye,” the other soldiers said, looking up to the ceiling and giving a salute to their late king.
Arthen looked around to the other patrons of the well, looking for any sign of support at the name of Cartovius, their once Marshall. But none came. Some watched absent-mindedly, some gave nods of approval at Madrogel’s reasoning. None showed favor to the late Marshall of their county of Clearmont.
Father… your own people. What happened?
Madrogel then unsheathed a massive knife from his belt and pointed the tip onto Arthen’s nose. “Now what is your name again, boy?”
For years to come, whenever Arthen would respond to or call himself Gleim, this millisecond of a moment would be triggered in his mind. A tiny flicker of flame used to burn but would instantly go out each time to remind him of who he wasn’t anymore, until it became muscle memory. Sometimes at night he would replay the entire scene in his mind but he would say something different to Madrogel, he would fight and argue, Arthen would show him up. But what Arthen really said to him then was, “I–I am called Gleim.”
“Just Gleim,” Arthen said quietly.
“Good choice,” Madrogel said. Then he sheathed his knife, gave Arthen a mighty slap across his face that threw the boy across the room, and then sat back down to drink more with his comrades.