Keelath’s military service is maybe a detour from the main story here, but I thought it important to include, since it establishes his becoming a knight as well as the family’s keeping of coursers.
I also keep the old convention I started in The Second War, calling Keelath’s courser, Rosen, an “it” instead of a “he”. This made it easier to differentiate between several he’s in the original post, though it’s maybe not so needed now. Regardless, Rosen is still very much an uncut stallion, and “it” identifies as so, thank you very much.
Finally, a warning for sex mentioned on the last page. It’s quickly passed over, but I thought I’d best say something.Author’s Note
He hadn’t made it in time to see her. The thought tormented him, even as he lay in a field of other torments: the cold mud under his elbows, the pain in his wounded sword arm, his fear of the trolls making birdcalls across the valley. His sergeant had allowed them a brief rest before they were to march across the ford at the bottom of the valley, and Keelath’s thoughts had turned, as they always did, to Mirium in the lull.
Tyrric had passed the message for him, of course, and passed back the return message of Mirium’s profound joy and gratitude. His euphoria had not even been dampened when his father had found out the true identity of their charity case. Light’s luck was instead with him, as Keelon told his son how proud he was for his compassion shown to the truly needy regardless of their station.
That luck seemed to have run out now, unfortunately.
The sergeant was calling them to attention, and Keelath raised himself out of the mud with a groan. With just a hand signal, the line began marching down the steep rocky slope.
As they drew closer to the hidden Shadowpine trolls, arrows shot between the branches of the evergreen trees. They pinged off Keelath’s mail harmlessly, though he kept his head down and raised his shield to protect his face. The metal surface was tiring to hold up in that position, and naturally the elven soldiers began to rotate who led the charge across the stony brook and then up the mountain to their enemies, giving each other a rest.
Keelath’s voice was hoarse as he cried his battle chant, and he winced as he used his hurt arm to plunge his sword into the trolls they found, over and over again. They were outnumbered, and Keelath couldn’t afford a rest or slip. As it was, one of the trolls’ spears pierced his defenses and caught him in the throat. His runed armor once again defended him, its wards flaring into light and turning the spear so it only left a scratch, though he had to duck a few seconds later as arrows swarmed after him like moths drawn to a candle at night.
The other soldiers closed around him swiftly, offering their own armored sides to defend him until his mail’s enchantment could recharge. The night went on like that, pushing and pulling back across the slope, and Keelath could barely lift his shield by the end of it, and his sword arm began to ache and sting without his even raising it.
The Shadowpine were finally beaten back to yet another hill, and the sergeant called a rest. Keelath sat down amidst the grumbles of the other men. How long could this go on? they groused. The mountains were endless, and so, too, seemed the forest trolls.
Keelath listened to them, but he didn’t join in the unhappy talk. He felt sorry for them, as they didn’t have what he had to fight for: a beautiful fiance waiting for him at home. Thoughts of Mirium sustained him as he closed his eyes to snatch a swift nap.