Stalwart, 365

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Dave Duncan.

He was lying on his back, looking up at the ceiling. It was three hours since the lights had been put out for the night, but Stalwart could not fall asleep. He was too restless. Something about this night would not let him sleep peacefully. Not being able to stay still any longer, he climbed out of bed and slipped quietly from the room, not disturbing his roommates as he left.

Once out in the hallway, Wart (as his friends called him) headed for the kitchens. Many candidates had found the kitchen to be an appropriate midnight retreat, and Wart hoped a snack might help him settle down. Like most teenage boys, it was hard to keep a full stomach, and many sleepless nights were caused by grumblings from the belly.

Reaching the kitchen, Wart scrounged around until he found a hunk of bread and some cheese. Taking the food, he headed for his favorite spot in Ironhall—perched on the ledge of First House, facing the moor. Wart had discovered this spot very early in his stay on Starkmoor. It had been an ideal hiding place for a Brat to avoid his tormentors.

Looking east across the bleak landscape, the almost fourteen year old sighed. He was luckier than many boys his age that had been in his situation. If Thrusk had been allowed to have his way, Wart would have ended up in several more pieces than he desired. He could only be thankful that Sir Vincent had saved him from being sent back down through the latrines.

His legs dangling over the side of the building, Wart rested his back on the wall. His mind was racing. At this rate he was never going to be able to sleep tonight. The moon was just peeking over the horizon, magnified against the dark velvet sky, surrounded by crusted diamond specks of starlight.

Suddenly, Wart was on his feet, edging his way around the turret adjacent to the Seniors' Tower. He had looked up at that tower many times, longing for the day that he could enter the room, knowing he had almost achieved his goal of being a Blade of the Loyal and Ancient Order. Now he took one cautious step after another, getting closer and closer to its outside wall.

There was no ledge surrounding this portion of the tower, yet Wart was determined to reach the window and peer into the room. No one except the seniors were allowed in there—not even the Royal Guard violated that sanctity. But Wart wanted to know what it looked like, even if he didn't actually enter the room itself.

It wasn't as hard as it appeared to find two or three stones jutting out just far enough that would support his weight long enough to catch a glimpse of the secret retreat. As he reached the grungy window, he realized he would never be able to see in through all the grime. Using the edge of his sleeve, he attempted to clear a section, but it was hopeless. The dirt was just as thick on the inside of the glass as it was on the outside. He should have known that the seniors would never clean their tower. He imagined when he was finally a senior, he wouldn't have any desire to, either.

As he was about to go back to the safety of the parapet, something caught his eye. The light of the moon was shining just at the right angle so that three names were illuminated, etched into the stone just to the left of the window—Despenser, 95; Eagle, 119; and Aragon, 282.

With barely a thought, he had pulled his knife from his pocket and added his own name, with the year 365 underneath. The fresh stone glowed in the moonlight with an ethereal light. It was as if his body had known all along that he was to go up there that night. Stowing his knife away, Wart carefully made his way back to the parapet. Standing in safety, basking in the evening glow, Candidate Stalwart smirked. He would sleep well that night after all.

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