Callum never wanted this life. He’s a farmer’s son, but the fifth son. Might as well be a mule, for all the respect he ever received. Another mouth to feed, and not much help around the family plot. So when the baron’s men came ‘round, looking for militiamen… Callum was expendable. Let the baron feed him Callum’s da’ said.
So Callum kissed his ma’, rolled up his ratty old blanket, and started marching with the other fifth-and-sixth sons behind the marshal. Kieran, always trying to do his best to look out for his little brother, tried to slip him a knife. So at least Callum wouldn’t be completely ill-equipped. His father caught on and took it back. Go find yer own things, boy. The farm needs that knife.
So there he was, miles from the dirt he called home, looking for something called an “ankheg”. What’s an ankheg, anyway? Is that like a bear? Some livestock had turned up chewed to pieces, and the marshal said it was an ankheg. None of Callum’s fellow conscripts seemed to know, either. One of ‘em claimed to have seen one, but he also claimed he laid with a river nymph so best to assume they’re all clueless. At least the baron gave them all swords. Well, large knives, anyway. Crudely hammered out of iron and sharpened just enough to have an edge.
The patrol was clustered up ahead, looking down at something, and Callum trotted up to see. It was a hole in the ground. Some sort of burrow. A badger? Too big for a badger; at least, any badger Callum had seen. Just as the marshal rode up on his horse yelling for them all to back away, they spotted the ankheg, coming out to see what was on its doorstep.
That looks nothing like a bear, Callum thought.
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