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Today's Story by Brandon Barrows

“I didn’t choose this life, you know. I remember being given over to the brotherhood when I was little.”


The island stood out against the sunset as the horizon began to turn from brilliance to purplish twilight. Tall conifers wreathed the narrow, sandy shore like silent sentinels forming a wall that looked all but impenetrable from this distance.

A small rowboat approached slowly, steadily cutting a ripple through the calm, dark waters. Two men sat at either end of the craft. The older man, rough of features with the muscles of his jaw tightening and relaxing rhythmically, was Albas. He cast his gaze from his seat in the prow to the block of land before them, ignoring all else as irrelevant. The younger one, his student Nairo, was seated at the stern and struggled at the oars, his breathing laborious and his muscles screaming at the unfamiliar strain. Both master and apprentice wore heavy robes to protect the armor beneath from any errant drops of water that might open the door to rust.

With a groan, the young man dipped the oars, but did not bring them back up again, allowing the boat to cruise momentarily on momentum alone.

“Don’t stop, boy. Keep at it,” Albas growled from his seat.

“I will, sir, just a moment to catch my breath.”

The older man twisted around and gave Nairo a hard look. “There are none to spare. Keep your head down, put your back into it and keep us moving.”

“Yes, sir,” the apprentice nodded, but looked past his teacher towards the shore even as he once again brought the oars up and around.

“Don’t look, boy! You have a task. Focus on it.”

“Alright, I’m sorry, sir.”

Turning forward again, Albas spat into the water. “Don’t be sorry, just do it.”

Bending his back, Nairo pulled the oars forward, sending the little craft surging once again through the water, picking up speed. His concentration broken by his brief respite, however, his mind began to churn and his mouth opened without his consciously willing it. “Sir?”

“By the Maker, do you need blinders and a muzzle? What?”

Nairo swallowed hard, but decided he may as well forge ahead as the damage was already done. “Why do we do this, sir?”

The old man snorted. “Because the beasts nest on the island. What a foolish question.”

The apprentice shook his head back and forth slowly, glad his master could not see it. “No, I mean…why do we do this? Why bother at all?”

“Because it’s our duty.”

Not a moment’s hesitation, the young man noted. Not a single thought given to the answer, just reflex. This was dangerous ground to tread upon.

He took a deep breath and pulled the oars back as hard as his aching shoulders would allow. The island was not far off now and the sun had all but disappeared.

“I understand, master. But why us?”

Spinning around with a speed that would have surprised them both, had they not been so involved in the conversation, Albas gave his student a look that would normally mean a cuff to the head. “Who else?” he asked with narrowed eyes. “Why do you bother me with this nonsense now of all times?”

Back home, in the grand hall or in the training yard, that look and tone would have made the younger man shrink back, apologize and pray he angered his master no more. Today, he simply shrugged and replied quietly, “I don’t know.”

The water had become too shallow to effectively row now, and before being told, Nairo leapt out of his seat into the thigh-high water and began pushing the boat the last little distance onto the beach. The old man kept silent, watching him expectantly. The line of questioning was not entirely new, but it had never gone this far before.

Nairo dragged the boat out of the water to rest on the sandy beach at last, and Albas stepped out of the prow. He then turned and leaned back into the boat to retrieve two oilskin-wrapped bundles, each about as long as a man’s leg. Nairo pulled off his robe, soaked from the waist down, then balled it up and tossed it into the boat before running his hands over the smooth, iron scales of his mail shirt to ensure that they, too, were not soaked.

Turning to the old man he said “I didn’t choose this life, you know. I remember being given over to the brotherhood when I was little.”

Albas nodded and grunted “As do I.” He pulled off his own robe to reveal the breastplate beneath, emblazoned with the crest of their order and inscribed with sigils in ornate patterns, designed to confer the Maker’s blessing and protection on the wearer. He then stooped and began unwrapping the two packages.

“You ask me why us, boy. You tell me you didn’t choose this,” the old knight said as he handed one of the scabbarded swords to his apprentice. “But no one chooses this. Who would choose to forgo a home and hearth, a wife and children of their own, to spend their days roaming the world in search of monsters?”

He strapped his own sword to his waist, then unslung the shield from his back and fastened it onto his left arm, avoiding Nairo’s eyes as his apprentice did the same.

“But who would wish it on anyone else, either?”

Letting his words hang in the air, the warrior set off across the sand towards the tree line, leaving the other man to follow or not.


Brandon Barrows writes comics prodigiously and is dipping his toes into prose fiction. Find more at www.brandonbarrowscomics.com.


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