Read Story: SEASON 1 EPISODE 43
Thor did not want to miss the target. He leaned back, concentrated, pulled his throwing axe back, and let it go. He closed his eyes and hoped it hit its mark, and was relieved to hear the sound of it embedding itself in the leather shield. He barely made it, hitting a lower corner, but at least he did. All around him, several boys missed and broke off into laps. The few that hit raced for the shields to grab a new weapon.
Thor reached the shields and found a long, slim throwing dagger, which he extracted, then ran back to the throwing line.
They continued to throw for hours, until Thor’s arm was killing him and he had run one too many laps himself. He was dripping in sweat, as were others around him. It was an interesting exercise, to throw all sorts of weapons, to get used to the feel and weight of all different shafts and blades. Thor felt himself getting better, more used to it, with each throw. But still, the heat was oppressive, and he was getting tired. There were only a dozen boys still standing before the shields, with most of them broken off into laps. It was just too hard to hit so many times, with so many different weapons, and the laps and the heat made accuracy more difficult. Thor was gasping, and didn’t know how much longer he could go on. Just when he felt he was about to collapse, suddenly, Kolk stepped forward.
“Enough!” he yelled.
The boys returned from their laps and collapsed on the grass. They lay there, panting, breathing hard, removing the heavy coats of chain mail that had been draped on them. Thor, too, sat down in the grass, arm exhausted, dripping with sweat. Some of the King’s men came around with buckets of water and dropped them on the grass. Reece reached out, grabbed one, drank from it, then handed it to O’Connor, who drank and handed it to Thor. Thor drank and drank, the water dripping down his chin and chest. The water felt amazing. He breathed hard as he handed it back to Reece.
“How long can this go on?” he asked.
Reece shook his head, gasping. “I don’t know.”
“I swear they’re trying to kill us,” came a voice. Thor turned and saw Elden, who had come up and sat beside him. Thor was surprised to see him there, and it sank in that Elden truly wanted to be friends. It was odd to see such a change in his behavior.
“Boys!” Kolk yelled, walking slowly between them. “More of you are missing your marks now, late in the day. As you can see, it is harder to be accurate when you’re tired. That’s the point. During battle, you will not be fresh. You will be exhausted. Some battles can go on for days. Especially if you are attacking a castle. And it is when you’re at your most tired that you must make your most accurate throw. Often you will be forced to throw whatever weapon is at your disposal. You must be an expert in every weapon, and in every state of exhaustion. Is that understood?”
“YES SIR!” they shouted back.
“Some of you can throw a knife, or a spear. But that same person is missing with a hammer or axe. Do you think you can survive by throwing one weapon?”
“Do you think this is just a game?”
Kolk grimaced as he paced, kicking boys in the back who he felt were not sitting up straight enough.
“You’ve rested long enough,” he said. “Back on your feet!”
Thor scrambled to his feet with the others, his legs weary, not sure how much more of this he could stand.
“There are two sides to distance fighting,” Kolk continued. “You can throw—but so can your enemy. He may not be safe at thirty paces away—but you may not be, either. You must learn how to defend yourself at thirty paces. Is that understood?”
“To defend yourself from a throwing object, you will need to not only be aware and quick on your feet, to duck, or roll, or dodge—but to also be adept at protecting yourself with a large shield.”
Kolk gestured, and a soldier brought out a huge, heavy shield. Thor was amazed—it was nearly twice his size.
“Do I have a volunteer?” Kolk asked.
The group of boys was quiet, hesitant, and without thinking, Thor, swept up in the moment, raised his hand.
Kolk nodded, and Thor hurried forward.
“Good,” Kolk said. “At least one of you is dumb enough to volunteer. I like your spirit, boy. A stupid decision. But good.”
Thor was beginning to wonder if he really had made a stupid decision as Kolk handed him the huge metal shield. He fastened it to one arm, and could not believe how heavy it was. He was barely able to lift it.
“Thor, your mission is to run from this end of the field to the other. Unscathed. See those fifty boys facing you?” Kolk said to Thor. “They are all going to throw weapons at you. Real weapons. Do you understand? If you do not use your shield to protect you, you may die before you make it to the other side.”
Thor stared back in disbelief. The crowd of boys grew very quiet.
“This is not a game,” Kolk continued. “This is very serious. Battle is serious. It is life-and-death. Are you sure you still want to volunteer?”
Thor nodded, too frozen in terror to say anything else. He could hardly change his mind at this point, not in front of everyone.
“Good.”Kolk gestured to an attendant, who stepped forward and blew a horn.
“Run!” Kolk screamed.
Thor hoisted the heavy shield with two hands, grasping it with all that he had. As he did, he felt a resounding thud, so severe it shook his skull. It must have been a metal hammer. It didn’t pierce the shield, but it sent an awful shock throughout his system. He nearly dropped the shield, but forced himself to grasp it and move on.
Thor began to run, hobbling as fast as he could with the shield. As weapons and missiles flew past him, he forced himself to huddle within the shield as best he could. The shield was his lifeline. And as he ran, he learned how to stay within it.
An arrow flew by him, missing him by a fraction of an inch, and he pulled his chin back tighter. Another heavy object slammed against the shield, hitting him so hard he stumbled back several feet and collapsed to the ground. But Thor got back on his feet and continued to run. With a supreme effort, gasping for air, finally he crossed the field.
“Yield!” Kolk yelled.
Thor dropped the shield, dripping in sweat. He was beyond grateful he had reached the other side; he didn’t know if he could’ve held that shield for another moment.
Thor hurried back to the others, many of whom gave him looks of admiration. He wondered how he had survived.
“Nice work,” Reece whispered to him.
“Any other volunteers?” Kolk called out.
There was dead silence among the boys. After watching Thor, no one else wanted to try.
Thor felt proud of himself. He wasn’t sure if he would have volunteered knowing what it entailed, but now that it was over, he was glad that he did it.
“Fine. Then I will volunteer for you,” Kolk yelled. “You! Saden!” he called out, pointing to someone.
An older, thin boy stepped forward, looking terrified.
“Me?” Saden said, his voice cracking.
The other boys laughed at him.
“Of course you. Who else?” Kolk said.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I would rather not.”
A horrified gasp arose among the Legion.
Kolk approached him, grimacing.
“You don’t do what you want,” Kolk growled. “You do what I tell you to do.”
Saden stood frozen, looking scared to death.
“He shouldn’t be here,” Reece whispered to Thor.
Thor turned and looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“He comes from a noble family, and they placed them here. But he doesn’t want to be here. He’s not a fighter. Kolk knows that. I think they’re trying to break him. I think they want him out.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot,” Saden said, sounding terrified.
“You can,” Kolk screamed, “and you will!”
There was a frozen, tense standoff.
Saden looked down to the ground, hanging his chin in shame.
“I am sorry, sir. Give me some other task, and I will gladly do it.”
Kolk turned red in the face, storming toward him until he was inches from his face.
“I will give you another task, boy. I don’t care who your family is. From now on, you will run. You will run around this field until you collapse. And you will not come back until you volunteer to take up this shield. Do you understand me?”
Saden looked as if he were about to burst into tears, as he nodded back.
A soldier came over, draped chainmail over Saden, and then another soldier draped a second set of chainmail on him. Thor could not understand how he could bear the weight of it. He could barely run with one of them.
Kolk leaned back and kicked Saden hard in the rear, and he went stumbling forward and began his long, slow jog around the field. Thor felt bad for him. As he watched him hobble around, he couldn’t help but wonder if the boy would survive the Legion.
Suddenly a horn was sounded, and Thor turned to see a company of the King’s men ride up on horseback, a dozen of the Silver with them, holding long spears and wearing feathered helmets. They stopped before the Legion.
“In honor of the King’s daughter’s wedding day, and in honor of the summer solstice, the King has declared the rest of today a hunting day!”
All the boys around Thor erupted into a huge cheer. As one, they broke off into a sprint, following the horses as they turned and charged across the field.
“What’s happening?” Thor asked Reece, as he began to run with the others.
Reece wore a huge smile on his face.
“It’s a godsend!” he said. “We’re off for the day! We get to hunt!”