Tiburcio had known that the draft was a death sentence. The gevai lords didn’t care about the commoners under them… and he was worse than a commoner. He had been a vagrant, sleeping on the streets, and thus one of the first to be picked up. He hadn’t let the comfort of shelter or warm food trick him. He knew every meal, no matter how filling, could be his last.
He had to participate in the training just like everyone else… and with nothing else to do, he devoted himself to it. Maybe if he was lucky he wouldn’t die. Wouldn’t that be great? However, he didn’t let himself he would believe he really would survive. Otherwise, it would be even more devastating when he died. He had already accepted it.
Then Tiburcio heard about the special groups. He didn’t even have to be a noble, just talented. He could be a mage, an archer, cavalry, or even heavy infantry. All he had to do was prove he was exceptional. The only problem was… he wasn’t. He couldn’t read, and couldn’t even really pronounce difficult words, so he knew he wouldn’t make it as a mage. Still, he tried out for being an archer. Since he didn’t hit the target, he left without even hearing the results. Cavalry would be good, he heard they got special equipment and training… but as soon as he got near his horse it spooked. He didn’t really have great size or strength to show for the heavy infantry, so he lost all his duels there.
Fortunately, he’d never expected to survive. Dying was the job of common infantry, and he was going to do his job, whether he liked it or not. Since he had nothing else to do, he trained. Most of the time that training was required, but Tiburcio had no friends so he continued to swing his regulation mace after hours, until it was time to sleep. He raised his shield and imagined blocking the blows of his enemies. What else was he going to do, think about death? Swinging the mace kept his mind off it, and when he fell asleep he only sometimes had nightmares about battle.
Then the time had come. They were going to battle. After an unpleasant period of marching, they spent a nerve wracking week doing nothing… then the battle came. Tiburcio took his place on the front line, next to all the others. When would he die?
The first volley of arrows… was not it. Most of the arrows fell behind Tiburcio, and though his shield was raised, nothing impacted it. A second and third volley of arrows… also didn’t spell his death. This time, his shield actually blocked some arrows, though a few of them had tumbled onto him from others nearby, blown off course by magic.
The palisade went down, and Tiburcio found himself marching into infantry. He wondered if he would die to the first soldier with the spear, but he found his shield easily knocking it away. He stepped forward, and both the human and his armor crumpled like paper. People died so easily… and Tiburcio knew he would be soon on the list. However, he didn’t die to the second soldier, or the third.
By the dozenth human he had lost count. For one thing, how did one keep track? Was it only those that stabbed at him with weapons? Only those who he took down with his mace? All around him humans fell, and he couldn’t even keep track of what was happening.
Then he saw him. The one who would kill him. It was a special human, wearing heavier armor. A knight. He’d heard of their impressive strength and combat prowess. He resigned himself to death… but that didn’t stop him from raising his shield to block the sword swinging at him. A shock ran through his arm, vibrating him from his wrist to his shoulder. The power behind the swing was almost as if… as if he was sparring against another gevai. That was all. It was nothing special.
Tiburcio almost found himself dead as he forgot he was fighting. The knight’s sword slashed across his body, away from his shield side. He could only duck, and even then the sword rang off of his helmet and slicing into a horn. Sparks flew, and Tiburcio could only see stars and feel the piercing pain at the base of his horn. This was it. He was certain. However, even though he would die, he was going to go down swinging. He didn’t have a good angle, but he had to swing his mace anyway.
As expected, the knight blocked Tiburcio’s mace with his shield. Tiburcio recognized that sound, though he couldn’t see. He waited to be stabbed in the throat or the eye or anywhere less armored. Perhaps he would be knocked down first, and then his skull would be crushed under a boot. Then his head cleared, and he saw the knight in front of him. For some reason, the knight had backed off, and his arm dangled at his side. The shield wasn’t even scratched, and Tiburcio found himself wishing he had a magic shield too. Instead, he merely had an ironwood shield, which he raised to try to deflect the knight’s next swing.
Ironwood was nearly as strong as iron… but as wood, it could be grown and was cheaper. Tiburcio had been surprised to even get such a shield instead of some regular hardwood, but he quickly understood why. Gevai could break ironwood easily enough… and apparently so could knights. His shield shattered, buying him only enough time to properly duck beneath the blow.
Even as he ducked, his right arm came up in a swing. With no shield, he couldn’t allow himself to be on the defensive. At least if he forced the knight to block he might be able to keep him from attacking properly. That was when Tiburcio learned two things. The knights arm was not just dangling at his side casually… it was dangling limply at his side. Tiburcio had seen a broken arm before, and he’d even seen someone try to raise a shield with a broken arm before. Humans surprisingly grit their teeth the same way when going through such effort. Tiburcio also learned that this human knight’s helmet wasn’t magical… or at least it was not as sturdy as his shield. He could tell, because the helmet didn’t remain unscratched, but instead dented slightly… and there was a cracking sound as the knight neck bent much too far to the side. Tiburcio brought his mace down on the same spot, standing over the knight, until he was sure the knight was dead.
Tiburcio found he had been partially wrong. The knight wasn’t going to kill him, but he would surely be the death of him. He had no more shield, and he found blood dripping into his eyes. Humans were still everywhere, and he was in a weak state. If only he had been in the heavy infantry. He bet they got magic shields. Then he looked down… and unstrapped the shield from the knight’s arm. So, the knight wasn’t going to be the death of him. Would it be the three spearmen up ahead? That other knight with the mace? The wizards further back? Tiburcio supposed he would have to find out.