It was only three days later that an envelope really arrived. The old drafting agent tried to read aloud the contents of the letter to Cassel, but he quickly snatched it away to read it for himself.
The drafting agent looked on with surprise etched into his face.
“You know how to read?”
Cassel ignored that question and asked instead.
“How far is it from here to the drafting camp written here in this letter?”
“Knight Luchi will take you as close to the camp as he can.”
The drafting agent left and Cassel stood for a long time just holding onto the piece of paper.
His hands were visibly shaking. And the letter he was holding shook just as hard.
“Don’t go if you don’t want to.”
He father watched from afar as if he would watch a stranger.
“I can’t turn back now.”
“Oh, and why not? Just burn the damn thing and go to the fields to do some plowing. Lord knows it needs it.”
“Are you trying to make me a coward?”
Cassel purposely tucked the letter into his pocket as if for safekeeping in front of his father and glared at him.
“And who will call you a coward? That Luchi? You listen to the words of a man who wishes all out to kill you but are deaf to the words of the person who loves you. What is wrong with you?”
His father shook his head as he clucked his tongue. And he never spoke another work to Cassel until the day he left. And Cassel did the same. On the day of his departure, his father sat on a small rocking chair placed in the small garden at the front of the house. He was even leisurely smoking a cigarette – something he rarely or never does.
Cassel fixed his bag a bit before asking.
“Do you have anything to say?”
“Don’t run into a crowd of soldiers intent on dying and killing. You will probably end up dying or killing.”
Cassel furrowed his eyes at his father’s ominous words.
“Just where do you think it is that I’m going to right now? I’m going to a battlefield. A battlefield where people kill and get killed!”
His father spewed out a long trail of smoke as he responded.
“Then all you have to do is not stand there.”
“Why don’t you just come right out at beg me not to go?”
An unreadable smile appeared across his father’s face as he asked.
“If you were going to stay from my begging, then you shouldn’t have packed your bags in the first place.”
Cassel thought of that as his father’s very last taunt. So without another word, he turned around on his heel and left.
All the villagers, seeing that Cassel really was leaving, began to panic and tried their best to beg him to stay. Even Janet seemed to be taken by surprise. Strange because she didn’t seem the least bit surprised when she heard news that Luchi had abandoned her in 3 days for another woman.
Would he have stayed if Janet had begged him to do so? Honestly, he didn’t even care that she had spent that one night with that bottom feeding Luchi. All he asked was for her to favor him with the same bright smile she had given Luchi. Who knows, maybe he might have dropped all his bags then and there and stayed. But alas, all she did was say a pitiful remark.
“Go to war? But you can’t even beat me in a fight. You’ll probably die in a minute.”
With that, Cassel left the town of Lurune. As planned, Luchi lent him a horse and they rode together. Neither of the two men spoke a word the whole way until they reached a crossroads. That was when Luchi said.
“You say that you’ll outrank me? Good luck.”
“Of course! Wait just a bit.”
“Oh yeh. You need to give me back the horse.”
Cassel was taken aback.
“Don’t I still have a while to go?”
“Walk. That horse is a Red Rose Knight asset. You thought I would give you a horse when even a normal soldier is usually not allowed to ride it? Think of letting you ride it even to this point as a favor I did you.”
Cassel could do nothing else but to get down from atop the horse. Luchi took the horse and left. As he turned to look back once, Cassel could see the cruelness in his eyes and smile.
Cassel walked and walked for about two days. Curbra’s warning that he would be met with bandits plagued his mind the entire time. Luckily, he was able to arrive at the location listed on the letter without any incident.
It was then he realized he had been deceived by Luchi. This was the frontline troops preparing for the next battle.
He also realized the truth in Janet’s words. There was nothing he would be able to do out in the battlefield when he could not even fight.
And then he realized that his father’s parting advice really would be of no use. How can he not stand in an area where people are killing and being killed when he would be on the frontlines where dozens of lives are lost in mere seconds of battle?
When the battle had finally cleared and he somehow made it out alive – the person he most wanted to meet as he blankly stared into the sky was his father. He thought he would miss Janet the most, but he could barely even remember her face. He missed his father. If his father could only see him now – laying under a dead body covered in dirt and playing dead. He would probably say in a disinterested voice, ‘What did I tell you, you scoundrel’ as if he was taunting him, but it didn’t matter.
Thick tears flowed down Cassel’s cheeks.
His first battle was not to protect a precious person or to defend his country or even to preserve a righteous cause.
The first person he crossed swords with was boy both younger than himself and more afraid than himself. Who knows. That child might also have left his town for the first time to come fight on a battlefield for the first time and fight him as his very first opponent. The both of them were not able to do much of anything – they were so scared.
It was an ally that had sliced the boy’s throat. The blood gushing out from the poor child’s neck sprayed onto the side of Cassel’s face. And the ally who had done this also died from a stab by an enemy sword. The soldier had sliced the young boy’s throat as he fell from being stabbed and the young boy, in turn, pushed Cassel to the ground even as the blood was pouring out.
And that was where he remained. The young boy’s corpse laying atop him.
Cassel is covered his face with both his hands and wept.
“I was wrong. The fact is I did not envy Luchi one bit. It seems I didn’t even like Janet all that much. I just…”
Cassel could not even finish his sentence as he bawled hysterically.
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