A horn sounded. Like an advancing wave of ants, a horde of black approached from the distance. Rallying his troops back and preparing for the clash when the enemy hit, the knight tried to calm his horse. He wore the green and gold colors of his liege, an outright declaration of his loyalty. His men, wearing similar uniforms, followed him dutifully, each crying their own war cries.
The first of the enemy sped up their hill. The knight raised his sword, and, waiting for the exact moment, brought it down. With a unified cry, they spurred their horses forward, taking the enemy by surprise. A few clashes of sword along with the arrows of their backup took care of the first wave. They backed up, waiting for the second. The knight smiled. The enemy might have the numbers, but they had the spirit.
Suddenly, a stray arrow whizzed out of nowhere. The knight managed to skirt it in time, only to see his friend go down. Cursing, he turned his horse around, shouting at his second-in-command to take over.
"Rion!" he shouted to his friend, kicking his steed, "Rion! Hold on!" Weaving his way through the advancing army, the screams, the fallen soldiers, he arrived at his friend's side. The arrow had struck true and Rion was on the ground, barely moving. "Rion," the knight promised, "Rion, don't move. I'll get you out of here. I promise."
Something jostled him. The knight turned his horse, trying to avoid the commotion around him. Someone shouted at him, and all of a sudden, something hard hit his shoulder.
Deornoth groaned, trying to get up. Another whack came, this time on his other shoulder. Refusing to make a sound, Deornoth struggled, until finally, he was back on his feet, staring defiantly into the angry face of his father.
"Slackin' off now, are we?" his father snarled, his uneven yellow teeth bared. Deornoth said nothing, keeping his jaw tight. He tried to ignore the spreading pain.
His father took him by his bruised shoulder and shook him violently, adding to the already unbearable pain. "Answer me, boy!"
Deornoth glared at his father, hating his trembling shoulders under his father's grasp. A bead of sweat rolled down his face, splashing on the rim of his dirty shirt. His father stared angrily at him for another second before hitting him one last time with his stick. Pain blasted through him, and only when he could no longer see his father did Deornoth collapse onto the ground.
He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his pounding heart, trying to push down the hate he felt bubbling up. He looked around. The others were working innocently, though no doubt, they had been watching the incident between him and his father. He could see his little brother Tobe steal glances at him every once in a while, between the weeds he tugged out of the ground.
Suddenly, something hit him hard in the stomach. Deornoth recoiled and instinctively rolled to cover his stomach. A snigger came from above, and another kick came. "Don't think y' can fool nobody," he could hear his older brother, Juhno sneer. "We all know what y' were thinkin' 'bout."
"Excellent. Maybe y' can get a job as th' King's fortune teller," Deornoth groaned, pushing himself to his feet. "Won't that be fun."
"Listen, idiot." Juhno seized Deornoth's arm, and despite himself, Deornoth let out a whimper. "I know y' were thinkin' 'bout becomin' a knight. Fer Prester John, maybe?" Seeing Deornoth's expression, Juhno grinned. His dirty face shined with triumph. "Good luck. Y' can become a knight as much as I can become a woman, y' little pea. Now, I'm tellin' you, if anyone becomes a knight, it'll be me. I'm the oldest, here, ain't I? I'm the strongest. So why don't y' get back t' work, so I can grow even stronger, eh? Y'd want our family to have somethin' to brag 'bout, don't you?" Juhno puffed out his chest. "What 'bout the greatest knight in the world, Sir Juhno?" He kicked Deornoth one last time. "Git back t' work, y' weaklin'. I'm gettin' hungry."
Deornoth carefully watched his brother leave before bending down and slowly tugging a weed out of the ground. A quick look around told him that everyone was way ahead of him. Had he really been daydreaming for that long? He sighed and pulled out another. He should pick up the pace, or else he wouldn't get any dinner. Not that he would get any anyway, with Juhno after him like that.
"Hey, Deo." Rion appeared at his side, his red hair flaming from the reflection of the sun. "Rough day, eh?"
"Ay." Deornoth pushed his sweaty brown hair out of his eyes. "Help me. I'm gonna get beat again if I don't finish these rows by sunset."
Rion let out a low whistle, but bent down and tugged an ugly weed out. "Y' never gonna git these done, Deo. What'd you been doing all day?"
Deornoth shrugged. "Y' know. Stuff." He stopped and looked into his friend's green eyes. "Y' think we'll ever get to be knights, Rion?"
There was a silence. Rion thought for a moment before replying. "I really wish so, Deo, but I think tis 'bout time we realize it's impossible." He looked around. "Tis every farm boy's wish. But how many of those ever got to be knights?"
"Great Sir Yevan did," Deornoth pointed out quickly. Sir Yevan was his hero, his one hope that he could become a knight. "If he can be, why can't we?"
Rion sighed. "Deo, Sir Yevan was a legend. And the fact that he started out a poor farm boy is yet another legend! And even if he were a farm boy, he was probably one that had royal blood."
Deornoth shook his head. "I don't believe that." He stopped working and looked at his friend fiercely. "Y' might not want to become a knight anymore, Rion, but I do. And I'm going to."
His friend contemplated this for a second. "Well," he finally admitted, "if y' DO become knight, y'd might consider me for your mate or somethin'."
"Ay. Right." Deornoth moved further down the row. "Say, what d'y' think about getting' out those old sticks again and tryin' our hand at swordfightin'?"
Rion laughed. "Stickfightin', y' mean?" He shrugged. "I guess, if we got too much time on our hands. Though," he looked at Deornoth doubtfully. "Yer not gonna get anywhere the way yer workin'."
Deornoth ignored him, pulling out a stalk with particular force. "Who said I gotta finish my work?" He felt hatred bubble up at his father again and swallowed it down. "I'm not going to listen to him anymore," he said quietly at Rion's confused face. "He can starve me all he wants. But I'm not going to let him get t'me like that again."
Rion sighed, shaking his head. "Deo," he said finally, grunting as he tugged a particularly hard weed out of the ground, "Y' really need t' swallow some of that pride y' got." He combed a hand through his hair uncomfortably. "I know we've always been best friends, since... since y' know, ever. But you're different now." He sighed. "It's like y' never grown up."
Deornoth stared into Rion's apologetic face. "Fine, then" he finally said simply, "if y' want to accept that you're going to be planting these things for the rest of your life, that's fine with me." He let his hard blue eyes drill into Rion's before shrugging. "Thanks fer your help. I can manage." Without a word, Deornoth bent down to pull out another weed.
There was silence. Then, slowly, Rion turned around. "I guess I'll be seeing you then," he said quietly. He left. Deornoth refused to let himself turn around and watch him go.
***
The next morning came all too quickly. Deornoth blinked blearily as the sun seeped through his windows, illuminating the undersides of his eyelids. His stomach growled hungrily—he had finished his work, but just as he promised, Juhno took his food. Ignoring the pain, Deornoth jumped up, then listened to make sure that the house was still asleep. Satisfied, he quietly took out the stick he had found years before, then left the house.
The crisp air bit his nose as he stepped outside. Picking a good spot near the large oak tree, Deornoth stared down at his stick, then, hesitantly, twisted his wrist and brought it up and down in an arc. Heartened by his success, he repeated the action, this time a bit faster. Soon, he had himself in a sweat, putting more and more moves in each time. With twists and turns and blocks and thrusts, he almost felt like he was a knight already.
The door opened and Deornoth stopped immediately, jumping behind the tree. Peeking out, he saw it was his oldest sister, Tira, coming out to feed the chickens. Throwing his stick in the bushes, Deornoth stepped out casually, pretending like he was actually doing something useful.
Tira eyed him suspiciously as she scattered the corn, though not unkindly. "What're y' doing, up so early?"
Deornoth shrugged. "Not much. It's a nice day out."
She sighed. "Too nice. I wish it'd rain so the crops could get some water." Shaking her head, she went back inside
Deornoth stared after her. I'll get you away from this place, part of him wanted to tell her. I'll get you away from this life, I promise. I'll make enough for all of you to live a life where you don't have to rely on the weather for food, where you don't have to slave for what you should take for granted. Yet the other, more sensible part of him knew that he should listen to Rion and stop dreaming. They needed all the help they could get to survive. Sighing, he followed his sister back inside and started the day's work.