A butterfly fluttered its wings in the early morning light. The fields of flowers looked golden in the sunrise. A washer woman looked up from her laundry to watch the sunset from the stream she worked in. Her aged face became deeply lined as she smiled. “Today is going to be a nice day,” her old voice rasped.
Back in the village, a messenger arrived. “The king is calling all heroes to the capital!” he announced loudly in the middle of the square. He shouted it several more times as people gathered. “Hear! Hear! An evil wizard has come to our lands at the head of a massive army of cruel monsters! The king is offering a reward to any capable of ending the threat through arms, guile, or other methods!” His voice carried easily through the air, and it took very little time for some of the men to begin to don their armor.
It took only two days for the men of the village to arrive at the castle, but by then, a champion was already chosen and the kingdom’s armies were massing. The villagers instead joined the army and began to get back in shape as the chosen hero left town.
The king’s champion was an older man with grey in his hair. His name was Dag Smittsin. His back stood straight, and his arms were strong. He was a master silversmith who worked in the capital city, in partnership with several others from the local guild. On his back, his mail shirt felt like it was merely another tunic over his own, and above it, he wore a tunic that bore an unmarked tabard, to keep the sun’s brightness from cooking him within his metal sleeve.
Dag took his time walking to the newly-erected tower at the border. As he approached, he waited until night to sneak past the monstrous guards under cover of a rainstorm. Once inside, he camped overnight in a broom closet. The cramped quarters were the most miserable part of the journey, he found.
As the bright morning dawned outside the tiny ventilation window of the closet, the master silversmith left the confined space and climbed the stairs of the tower. His legs remained tireless as he climbed what felt like a mile of ascension. Another seeming mile left him breathless and wondering if the tower was used at all. Finally, he came to the top, just as a boy with silver hair and brown, foreign clothes exited a wooden door. His cape was strangely disquieting, with a skull on one shoulder and metal plumb bobs hanging from the ragged tips that brushed the floor with a scraping sound each time the boy moved..
For several moments, the two looked at each other. Eyes that were too bright green to be natural stared into eyes that were worn and brown.
“Oh.” The short male murmured. “Who are you?” His expression was open surprise.
Dag smiled. “Dag Smittsin, lad. I’m looking for the master of the army.” He smiled and tilted his head. “This is the only door I’ve seen that doesn’t lead to a kitchen or a closet. Is it the right one?” Tired eyes inspected the door as he tried to act like he was not winded.
The youth grinned. “Yes, this is the room. Go on in. I’m about to get breakfast. Would you like to come along?”
“I am rather hungry.” the man murmured. “I probably shouldn’t impose.” He looked away, and the boy’s eyes became strangely distant.
“I insist. Father always taught me to be a consummate host.” His smile seemed automatic, suddenly. Dag smile faded.
“Alright. I’ll join you for breakfast. Thank you.”
The boy grinned, and his eyes were natural and joyous once more. Quietly, the blacksmith wondered if the child was under the control of the evil wizard.
“This way.” The boy smiled and began to lead the way down the stairs. His hair was long, like a lord’s, and he wore shoes with high heels, meant for riding. His feet seemed so small, almost like a woman’s.
“So…” Dag scratched his bearded cheek. “What’s your name?” He was thankful that the walk down was less exhausting than the opposite.
The boy paused. For a moment, he tilted his head to one side, as though pondering the question. “Face.” he finally answered without looking at Dag . A few more seconds passed before he continued down the stairs. Every step was accompanied by the skittering sounds of his plumb bobs as they trailed behind him.
Breakfast was both uneventful and unsettlingly quiet. Face seemed to grow more and more excited as they climbed the stairs again after the meal. At the door, the youth seemed almost like a pup about to piss himself over too much praise. Face threw the door open with childish glee, and Dag peered in. His breathing was heavy from a second climb up the stairs.
Save the furnishings, it was empty. Dag raised an eyebrow and looked at the younger male beside him. “What in there has you so excited?”
“Aren’t you shocked? It’s empty. I’m the only one who lives here. Doesn’t logic thus dictate that I, tiny and silly, am the leader of the glorious army outside?” His beam was bright, and Dag could only laugh. “Don’t laugh!” He turned up his nose and walked into his room. “You can’t even try to make a claim nearly as grand, can you?”
The blacksmith scowled. “How do I know you aren’t just some demon that looks like a child?”
“Well, for one, I…” He trailed off. “Sod you. I’ve nothing to prove to some random stranger.” He paused. “Why are you here, anyway?”
“I’m a guard.” The man answered. It was not fully a lie. He was there to guard his home.
“Oh, a new bodyguard already? The last one walked out only last night.” He shrugged and walked in. “Just stand by the door and look menacing. You can have that shelf for your belongings.” Face pointed to a simple shelf, empty of anything. A hook dangled from a chain on the side.
Slowly, Dag placed his sack on the shelf, uncertain. Perhaps, he wondered, he could convince this child to cease his attack? He hoped he could.