They attacked in the night. The shriek of a woman pealed through the air and roused Sigeas from his slumber. He sat up and placed his back against the wall behind his cot, surveying the bare room. Against the uneven wood that held up his feather mattress, his hands trembled violently as he imagined his mother being overcome by some unwelcome visitor in the dark of night. But she lay on her mattress, at peace for the present, her light snores carrying over to his side of the room. His eyes remained on her for a moment as he considered the scream he had heard. Had it been a phantom of repose, a nightmare of which he now had no memory? Or had his mother succumbed to such a counterfeit terror and reacted accordingly? He reached to the small table beside him and felt the dull cowhide of the sheath that contained his dagger. Though he believed the shriek he had heard was not genuine, he knew that sleep would not be easy to come by without the sense of security with which a weapon imbued him.
Before he could close his eyes, behind him he heard the familiar voice of a man, but tinged with unusual distress and forming a bitter curse. Following this word, numerous cries pelted his ears, and then a distant cacophony of snapping wood and colliding stone caused his bones to shudder. He leapt from his cot and found that his mother was now awake and standing, looking here and there in panic and rubbing the sleep from her eyes intermittently. He sprinted to her end of the room and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Mother, I think the village is being attacked.” His words were masqueraded with composure, but it was clear to both him and his mother that he could scarcely prevent himself from dashing out of the room. “What do we do? We have to do something! We have to leave! Mother, what do we do?”
She did not answer him immediately, but her eyes continued to dart around the area. Then she focused on him, and even in the dark, he could tell that her eyes were rimmed with tears. However, behind her fear there stood a hope that he could not understand. “Sigeas…” she whispered, blanching as the din of war grew louder, “I—I’m not sure. If we stay—they might overlook us.”
“But they’re not here yet, Mother!” Sigeas began to pace, his every motion frantic. His fingers restlessly browsed the hilt of the dagger he had taken from his table. “The screams were loud, but still far away. We need to leave—now!”
“You’re certain they weren’t close?” His mother did not seem to require an answer, as she turned away and opened a pantry beside her bed. On the top shelf rested a brown weatherworn bag, scattered vegetables, and other provisions. She loaded the bag with various items and belted a rusty dagger as Sigeas approached his table and shifted a floorboard beneath it. He reached into the space and grasped dirt at first, moist with the dew of midnight. Soon, however, he wrested a sheathed sword from the ground and strapped it to a belt at his left hip. His eyes circled the room and found nothing of necessity to take for their escape.
He took one last look before he made for the door, and a sensation of profound melancholy throbbed from his heart. He was eighteen years of age, and this house—rickety and inferior to the village’s standards of construction—was all that he had ever known. He and his mother were not vagrants in any sense; they had often communicated their contentedness with the likelihood that they would never know another home or town for as long as they lived. Faseton was the sort of village for which its citizens praised the gods of Emlenor, and the sort of village in which less fortunate peoples of despicable cities yearned to live. Beyond the rolling hills of this region Sigeas knew nothing, and beyond this house he knew little. He gazed at his bed—which his father had built with his own hands—and at the table he had purchased with income from his first job, and at the frequented supper table, and at the chandelier that his father had shaped from the antlers of elks, and at the dresser he had owned before he could remember—full of his clothes and trinkets from his infancy—and at the window above his bed. It was here that he forced himself to quit his sentimental stupor, for he noticed that the smoke of war consumed the commonly clear view of the starry sky outside his window.
He came to the door and prepared to open it. “Ready, Mother?”
“Yes,” she replied, shaking. Even as she drew near to him, her eyes scoured the room for other belongings. Then she shrugged and halted at his side. “Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Sigeas opened the door and stepped out first, one hand grasping his sword’s handle. While in his house, he had suppressed the sounds of death-screams and collapsing homes to better focus on exiting as quickly as possible. Now, however, the sounds collected around him and clawed at his ears; furthermore, images now linked themselves to the sounds. Arrows whistled through the air, visible only for a moment as they drowned out the lights of the heavens; then they found themselves in the backs, chests, and heads of fleeing families. Some of these wicked darts bore tips of flame, assuring a tortuous death for living targets and the hasty destruction of wooden edifices. Dry patches of grass mottling some areas of the town harnessed private infernos as stray fire arrows plunged into their surfaces. Sigeas held his stomach and nearly retched, but he remembered his objective, closed his eyes and breathed, and stalked to one corner of the house. He opened his eyes and peered into the clear eastern horizon.
“It seems that whoever is doing this is only coming from the west and the south,” he remarked with a weak voice that betrayed his malaise.
“We head east, then,” his mother demanded. “Then we’ll have to bend back around to the south, lest we run into the Coast of Feldor and find ourselves cornered.”
Sigeas nodded and stepped forward, but then his mother gasped. “My marriage bracelet! It’s all I have of your father.” She stormed toward the door, muttering, “I can’t leave without it” to herself. Sigeas’s heart launched against his chest as his mother left his sight, but rather than reacting to his first impulse and following her inside, he decided to keep guard outside the house. Away to the west, he heard the clanging of swords and the clamor of varied commands rising from the unseen marauders. A number of corpses littered the once unsullied grass, smitten by arrow and blade; the outlines of enemies bobbed up and down in the smoke, adding more to the count. Sigeas reeled and fell against the wall nearest him. He covered his eyes and ordered his awakening from such a vivid and terrible dream, but to no avail. Battles and near-genocide were common in these days, but he had never imagined Faseton, locked securely in the hill country of the northern world, would find itself subject to an atrocity of this magnitude. Who were these impish bringers of death? How could they stampede into a town of innocents and separate husband from wife, parent from child, and brother from brother? He gritted his teeth and wrapped his fingers tightly around his sword's hilt; the seed of revenge had planted itself in him at his first recognition of injustice.
His heart, already booming from his mother’s absence, nearly tore through his skin when a home some yards to the south burst, scattering bits of wood and other debris across the land. The home beside it ripped open before he could blink. Catapults. There was one known civilization in Emlenor that had perfected catapults. Men from the mountain country of Thalnon to the south, a people disposed toward imperialism, were marching upon Faseton. Sigeas had initially presumed the authors of the assault to be petty bandits, but this was no loot-and-flee campaign. By the morrow, no building in the village would stand. Sigeas pivoted to his right, so that he might urge his mother to make greater haste; but at that moment, his eyes found a group of men rounding the smoking ruins of the recently destroyed homes. They were Thalnions, dressed in red leather armor, wielding bloodied longswords.
Sigeas drew his sword and faced the men, realizing that calling for his mother would inform them of her existence, and that flight was now impossible. He stared at his blade and prayed that his training would pay off. Of his father he had sparse knowledge, but his fondest memories of their time together involved their exercises with a sword. Now this mysterious man was gone, and the duty to protect his mother was his alone. He marched forward several paces, and then broke into a full-scale charge. His blade became wreathed in flame as it reflected the burning buildings ahead of him. Two men released battle cries and thundered their weapons toward him, but he dodged to one side with a nimble movement of his feet. Down his sword came upon the left man’s forearm, engraving a deep line all the way to his sword hand; the soldier released his grip on his weapon and found Sigeas’s blade in his stomach an instant later. Sigeas roared as his other opponent’s sword skinned his right side, and he hopped back to avoid a second blow. The warrior, clearly stronger than the first, unleashed a series of dexterous strokes and pressed Sigeas to the wall of his home. His mother appeared on his right, and she cried out to him and drew her dagger. Then Sigeas saw three separate images in turn: he saw a circular object above plummeting toward his house, eating up the night sky as it fell nearer; he saw a man with a red beard, mail armor, and a black cape; and when he heard a crashing sound behind him, and felt some heavy object bludgeon the back of his head, he saw no more.