The line of people leading to the recruiters’ desk wound its way around the old abbey in the center of the valley of Northshire multiple times before ending several layers thick before the desk. Arard was overwhelmed by the number of people who had appeared to join the army, but at the same time disheartened to think that so many people had such similar depressing backgrounds as he did. A few in the line were old veterans, likely looking to relive their glory days, but the vast majority of the crowd was of an age with Arard, young adults. He realized that most were also likely here for the same reasons as he was, to live up to their nanesakes. He felt a lack of individuality standing in the line that he had never felt before in his life.
It took hours of standing still and moving forward in small increments for him to wrap his way around the abbey enough times to see the desk. By then he was sweaty, his clothes sticky, and the late afternoon sun had sunk below the treeline, offering welcome shade from the sweltering summer sun. The desk was run by four officers from Stormwind, each speaking to a recruit in a tired tone, likely bored by the long hours of sitting still. They were men of action, after all. Arard stood behind a raven-haired woman of his age, who was called up when one of the officers was free. Arard was called a few seconds later.
“Name?” the officer asked as he stifled a yawn.
“Arard Nyrrum, son of…”
“Any disease or disability to your physical or mental person, Nyrrum?” the man interrupted.
Arard went on, more than a little irritated by the interruption, “No, sir.”
“Have you ever experienced combat before, and if so, to what extent?”
Arard stood in silence for a brief moment, examining the golden lion emblazoned on the man’s sky blue tabard as he considered the question. He had fought with his father as a child, a few sparring practices here or there. He had never used a real weapon before, though. Feeling a little embarrassed, he said, “Just a few sword fights with my dad, sir.”
“Warrior, then. Go to the pavillion with the wooden practice targets around the outside of the camp behind the abbey. Llane’ll deal with you there. Thanks for signing up.” Arard took the insignia he was handed, a badge wrought in the shape of the Stormwind lion he had seen on the recruiter’s chest, and walked off towards the camp. The black-haired woman who had been in front of him followed alongside him as he crossed the cobblestone path that cut the verdant grassy valley in two up to the abbey. As they approached the sea of white and blue tents behind the old stone building, she seemed to notice Arard was headed for the warrior pavilion, and shakily said, “Figured you’d be a warrior.”
“I’m not anything yet, he replied, “That’s why we’re here.” She nodded at that. The pavilion was almost as crowded as the line around the abbey had been a few hours earlier. Each of the recruits were given a bedroll and assigned to a tent. Arard and the woman were assigned to the same tent. They walked past the crowded lines of those who were to be the warriors and stopped at the tent bearing the number they had been given. The interior of the tent had room for four, and two others were already present inside. It was another man and a woman, who seemed to know each other, or else they had gotten along quickly. When they saw the two of them enter the tent, the woman, a blonde with a build nearly as stocky as Arard’s, beamed at them, showing off some broken teeth.
“Our roommates decided to show up! About time Llane sent us some company, eh, Rex?” The one she called ‘Rex’ grunted and moved a hand through his unclean brown mess of hair. The woman spoke again before either of the newcomers could introduce themselves, “I’m Barbara, and this is the Rex. We came here from the dwarf lands to see how tough the rest of our kind are here in Elwynn. You two new to combat?”
Arard nodded, saying, “Hoping to become very closely acquainted, though. Name’s Arard.” He offered his hand to Barbara, and immediately regretted it as she crushed it in a vicegrip and shook it up and down in a mockery of a handshake. He backed off rubbing his sore arm.
Then the black-haired girl spoke up in her soft, trembling voice, “I’m Danielle. I, uh, wasn’t sure which group to join, so they sent me here.” She was nervously fingering the icon of a silver hand on her necklace.
“Well, I’m happy to see ya, and so is Rex,” Barbara said, slapping the hulking man on the shoulder. He grunted in what Arard guessed was his happiest tone. “I think we get food soon. Better now miss it.” Then she shoved past them, Rex at her heels like a massive dog. He eyed the two of them perhaps hungrily as he exited through the tent flap.
“I should’ve known this was going to be intense…,” Danielle said with a sigh of relief. Arard eyed her up and down, wondering what would push such a nice girl to join an army. He didn’t ask, though. That was her business to share whenever she felt it was best to share. They followed for food after unpacking their meagre possessions. The rest of the night was for an introduction to how the military was organized and how they would live for the next six months of training time before receiving assignments. Arard listened intently, only slightly aware than Danielle couldn’t keep her eyes off him. Whether she felt good or ill about him, he could not tell.
After night had fallen entirely and the promise of a very early start in the morning sent the recruits to their tents in a hurry, Arard settled himself into his bedroll uncomfortably. It felt so off-putting to not sleep in a bed in a loft with his siblings, and instead in a sack on the grass in Northshire with three strangers he barely knew. The clashing emotions of excitement and anxiety kept him awake for an hour, but the knowledge that tomorrow would probably be the day the recruits were broken in quickly sent him drifting to a deep sleep.
The following weeks were the worst hell he had ever lived through. Every morning he woke tired, and ran laps around the valley. Then they ate, and were given weapon training. Arard developed a skill at sword-and-board style fighting fairly quickly, but he learned early that there would always be someone better than you no matter how good you get. Then they would train for strength and endurance in the arms and abdomen. After noon, they were given lessons in combat strategy and battlefield tactics, including what to do if you find yourself under attack by mages, (basically avoid fighting alone), how to deal damage effectively, and when it is best to fight or run. Barbara was a natural sprinter and could run at speed for hours on end. She also bested Arard every time they were pitted against each other in duels. Rex wasn’t particularly fast, but he had the constitution of an ox and the body of a rhino. He plowed through his opponents more than fought them, but when it came to book learning and other such brain work, he would simply sit silently in his contemplative way, and not make a sound until the lesson was over.
Arard felt the worst for Danielle, though. He could tell she had never seen even a minute of combat by the way she gripped her sword on day one. She could hold her own in a jog, but not very quickly. Her upper body strength was lacking, and she didn’t show signs of improvement, despite several shouting sessions directed at her by Sergeant Llane. Her weapon fighting was depressing to watch, and Arard often stayed up late listening to her sobs of frustration. He expected her to quit any day, but she never left, nor did she ever say anything about her past. Night time was the absolute worst time of the day. Lying awake in agony, unable to move and unwilling to sit still, all while listening to his roommate's sobs was the worst kind of pain for Arard. He felt himself almost breaking mentally, crushed by regret and tiredness. It all changed on the same day.
First, the day was different because Sergeant Llane told them so. What he said was the law in Northshire, at least for the warriors. He gathered the recruits, who had been in training for nearly two months now, at breakfast following their morning run. “Alright, newbies, we got some good news and some bad news,” he said in his scratchy growl of a voice, “Good news is, we get to pick who’s ready for active duty today. We in the officer’s pavilion have noticed a talent gap between some of the fresh meat, that being you lot, and we thought it best that we separate the fit from the shit to make everyone's’ lives a hell of a lot easier. Bad news is some of you get to go home afterward. Liability issues. I’d take as many of you as we could, but the boss men say it can’t be so. We start examination after weapon practice.” With that, he walked back to the officer’s pavilion at the heart of the camp, leaving the recruits to their lost appetites.
Arard was concerned most for Danielle. She seemed to be shell-shocked by this news. He asked her, “Are you alright?” She replied with a shrug as she tossed her simple bread and ham breakfast back and forth across her plate. Barbara gave Arard a punch on the shoulder, leaving it stinging.
“Exciting day, eh? Time to test our mettle, finally. Hope to see you in the field, Arard. You’d make a damn good shield-brother.” She wolfed down her meal ravenously, clearly not bothered by the news. She was always insensitive when it came to Danielle’s emotions, but Arard was annoyed that she couldn’t tell how badly the girl was doing. Something was keeping her from going home, and whatever it was, it would be waiting for her if and when she was sent packing. Arard felt strangely protective of her. Other recruits would try to pick fights with her, calling her the weak-link in their chain. Arard got good practice cracking his wooden practice sword over their heads, but Danielle never asked him for help, and never thanked him either. He didn’t care, he wanted to be her shield no matter what she thought of him.
Duels were a bust that day. Arard couldn’t focus long enough to keep his shield up when his opponents lunged at him. He lost all but two of his dozen bouts. Danielle lost all of them, nearly bursting into tears after a particularly brutal beatdown. Then Llane called them all to an empty patch of land beside the old mine in the hillside. The bare patch had been surrounded by a dueling circle; posts and hempen rope marked the parameter. Llane called them each one by one to face off against trained knights. The goal was to either win the bout, or stay in the ring for long enough to be considered battle-ready. The wait was nerve-racking. Arard was in line before Danielle, but Barbara and Rex were called up within the first hour. They both won their bouts, sending the knights and their shiny plate armor into the dirt without any trouble. Shortly into the second hour, as the sun began to get low along the treeline, Arard was called for his bout.
For the first time, Arard was allowed to handle naked steel in a duel. His shield was a much heavier piece of wood than his practice buckler had been. It wasn’t his first time handling the weapons, but he had never used them against someone else before. He shook in his mail armor, part in excitement, part with nervousness. The knight who faced him bore the colors of Stormwind. He was almost twice Arard’s size, both in height and bulk. He wondered how he would manage to get the big guy off his feet, which had been the strategy he thought up while waiting for his name to be called. All plans fell apart as the fight began, though.
The knight wasted no time in charging at Arard, greatsword raised high above his helm. Arard got his shield up in time, but the force of the hit rocked him to his core, and his knees threatened to buckle. He pushed the knight back, barely managing to overpower him long enough to swing his sword at the man’s leg. The weight was unfamiliar, though, and the swing was too slow. The knight backstepped and readied a side-slash from the right. Arard moved back, luckily able to move quicker than the knight since he wore lighter armor, and blocked the strike with his shield. This time, splinters flew like shrapnel across the bare ground. Arard was thrown off balance, but avoided stumbling past the hempen barrier. “C’mon, Arard! Take his feet off!” a shout from the crowd nearly took his attention off the knight’s sword as it came down on his shield again. Arard’s arm was already heavy. He decided to start strafing to avoid the strikes instead of blocking them. The knight was persistent in making him block once he realized Arard’s tactic. Arard would aim a blow at the man’s leg, he would hit naught but air. The knight swung and hit Arard’s shield every time. The cycle was endless and tiring. Someone had to break first, and Arard knew it would be him. Then, as the knight swung, Arard tried to back off to dodge, but his foot caught on something. The ropes! he realized. Panicking, he tried to move away from the knight’s trap, only to run sword-arm first into the sword as it came down on him.
The pain seared at first, but after a few seconds, it felt icy cold. His whole body went numb, and the sounds and sights were fuzzy and surreal for him. The knight yanked the sword out of his shoulder. The rough tug created a bolt of jarring pain to jet through his arm and across his chest. He forgot to breathe, and collapsed on the ground. A trickle of blood painted his pauldron red. He didn’t know where his sword went, but his hand was empty. He vaguely noticed a few screams from the waiting recruits, but couldn’t pick out any of their faces. Arard wondered if he was going to die. He wasn’t afraid, but instead felt full of regret. He regretted not being able to see his mother or siblings again. He wanted to tell them he was sorry for running out on them, that he only wanted to do what he thought was the right thing. But now, he was going to his father. As the darkness crept along the edges of his vision, he was surprised to see a very bright light directly in front of him. Just the sun…, he thought sleepily as his consciousness began to fade, but the longer he stared, the more he was convinced he could see his father’s figure silhouetted in the light. The figure stretched out its hand to him. He tried to lift his sword arm, but could not find the strength. So he lifted his left arm, shield and all. The figure took his hand gently but with comforting strength. It lowered his hand down to his heart, his core. In the back of his mind, he heard it speak in the voice he had craved to hear since he left his home and his father years ago.
You are strong, my son. But you must learn to heal yourself before you can mend the wounds of the world. Arard felt a warmth inside of him. It was light and weak at first, like a candle flame in a blizzard, but then it erupted into a blaze, an inferno of all the happy memories he had with his father and family. His heart felt lighter, and his sword arm reached out, instinctively grasping the hilt of his sword. His head cleared, and the ghost of the past faded from his vision, leaving only a single light behind over his heart. The wound in his arm was stitching itself back together as healers from the abbey stared at him, dumbfounded. Somehow, this raw recruit who had never received a day’s training, had healed himself back from near death using the power of the Holy Light.
Arard stood with a sudden burst of adrenaline. The knight stood and stared, not knowing whether to help him to the healers or keep on attacking. Arard answered his confusion by lunging sword-first at him. The sword lit with the same glow, the same warmth he had felt when his father’s ghost had taught him to channel the Light. The knight was not quick enough to dodge it, and blocked with the edge of his sword instead. Arard pressed him back with strike after strike until the man tripped over the hempen rope and fell, stunned, into the dirt before the officers who also looked on with expressions of disbelief. Arard stuck his blade in the ground and helped the knight back on his feet before standing at attention to await the officers’ verdict.
Llane was the first to speak. “Uh, kid, I think you might be in the wrong place here. No offense, but you ain’t a warrior. You’re a paladin.” Arard did not move an inch as he listened to the words. A paladin. He was his father’s son, after all. The older men told him he’d be starting his paladin training on the morrow, and the healers took a look at the fresh flesh covering the formerly wounded spot on his shoulder. When all that was done, Arard went to sit beside Barbara on the makeshift stands overlooking the dueling ground. She was staring at him with a grin of disbelief.
“Damn, Arard. Wish you’d have told us you were something special.” Arard scoffed at that remark. Maybe he would be something special, but he wasn’t anything yet. He was just getting started. “Guess today is just full of surprises. Danielle showed her true colors while you were laying on your ass. Apparently she knew a few spells she didn’t want anyone to know about. Nearly burned that poor soldier to a crisp. Those recruiters couldn’t pin a person to a role whatsoever, eh?” Arard was confused, but the realization set in quick enough. Both he and Danielle had been holding back secrets, and today had been a day of stark truth. He watched as she blushingly accepted the mage’s robes from the head mage, who happened to be watching the event. She looked better in those blue threads than she had ever looked. She actually smiled at Arard as she took her seat next to him.
“Guess I have some talking to do, huh?” she said, avoiding eye contact.
“Yeah, me too,” Arard said in reply, “That can wait, though. We both need our rest.”
“A little while longer and we’ll be out in the field, doing what we are really good at. I…I don’t think I would have gotten this far if it weren’t for you, Arard.”
He felt embarrassment color his cheeks, “What, me? How did I help?”
She looked him dead in the eye, her deep brown eyes gazing dreamily into his, “You were my inspiration. I watched you every day, just persevering, and I knew I had to keep going, because I…,” she paused, “Because I wanted to be as good as you. I’ve already let down so many people, I wanted that to stop here. I didn’t want to let you down.”
Arard didn’t say anything, but they embraced a moment, in silence. He was as much his father’s son as he could have hoped. He had found something worth fighting for in Danielle. They would be ready to help the world heal from the evils it had endured, all because neither of them would stand to let the other fall.
"I am the Night!" -Brinnea, Rikthered, Cynthya, Orgog, Kazarak.....