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Thor sat at the wooden table, working away at the bow and arrow laid out in pieces. Beside him sat Reece, along with several other members of the Legion. They were all hunched over their weapons, hard at work on carving the bows and tightening the strings. “A warrior knows how to string his own bow,” Kolk yelled out, as he walked up and down the rows of boys, leaning over, examining each one’s work. “The tension must be just right. Too little, and your arrow will not reach its mark. Too much, and your aim will not be true. Weapons break in battle. Weapons break on journeys. You must know how to repair them as you go. The greatest warrior is also a blacksmith, a carpenter, a cobbler, a mender of all things broken. And you don’t really know your own weapon until you’ve repaired it yourself.” Kolk stopped behind Thor and leaned over his shoulder. He yanked the wooden bow out of Thor’s grasp, the string hurting his palm as he did. “The string is not taut enough,” he chided. “It is crooked. Use a weapon like this in battle, and you will surely die. And your partner will die beside you.” Kolk slammed the bow back down on the table and moved on; several other boys snickered. Thor reddened as he grabbed the string again, pulled it as taut as he possibly could, and wrapped it around the notch in the bow. He’d been at work on this for hours, the cap to an exhausting day of labor and menial tasks. Most of the others were training, sparring, sword-fighting. He looked out and in the distance saw his brothers, the three of them, laughing as they clacked wooden swords; as usual, Thor felt they were gaining the upper hand while he was being left behind in their shadow. It was unfair. He felt increasingly that he was unwanted here, as if he were not a true member of the Legion. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it,” O’Connor said beside him. Thor’s palms were chafed from trying; he pulled back the string one last time, this time with all his might, and finally, to his surprise, it clicked. The string fit neatly in the notch, Thor pulling with all his might, sweating. He felt a great sense of satisfaction with his bow now as strong as it should be. The shadows were growing longer as Thor wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and wondered how much longer this would go on. He contemplated what it meant to be a warrior. In his head, he had seen it differently. He had only imagined training, all the time. But he supposed this was also a form of training. “This was not what I signed up for, either,” O’Connor said, as if reading his mind. Thor turned, and was reassured to find his friend’s constant smile. “I come from the Northern Province,” he continued. “I, too, dreamed of joining the Legion my entire life. I guess I imagined constant sparring and battle. Not all of these menial tasks. But it will get better. It is just because we are new. It is a form of initiation. There seems to be a hierarchy here. We are also the youngest. I don’t see the nineteen-year-olds doing this. This can’t last forever. Besides, it’s a useful skill to learn.” A horn sounded. Thor looked over and saw the rest of the Legion gathering beside a huge stone wall in the middle of the field. Ropes were draped across it, spaced every ten feet. The wall must have been thirty feet tall, and piled at its base were stacks of hay. “What are you waiting for?” Kolk screamed. “MOVE!” The Silver appeared all around them, screaming, and before Thor knew it he and the others jumped from their benches and ran across the field to the wall. Soon they were all gathered there, standing before the ropes. There was an excited buzz in the air as all the Legion members stood together. Thor was ecstatic to finally be included with the others, and he found himself gravitating to Reece, who stood with another friend of his. O’Connor joined them. “You will find in battle that most towns are fortified,” Kolk boomed out, looking over the faces of the boys. “Breaching fortifications is the work of a soldier. In a typical siege, ropes and grappling hooks are used, much like the ones we have thrown over this wall, and climbing a wall is one of the most dangerous things you will encounter in battle. In few cases will you be more exposed, more vulnerable. The enemy will pour molten lead on you. They will shoot down arrows. Drop rocks. You don’t climb a wall until the moment is perfect.

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And when you do, you must climb for your life—or else risk death.” Kolk took a deep breath, then yelled out: “BEGIN!” All around him the boys broke into action, each charging for a rope. Thor sprinted for a free one and was about to take it when an older boy reached it first, bumping him out of the way. Thor scrambled and grabbed the closest one he could find, a thick, knotted twine. Thor’s heart pounded as he began to scramble his way up the wall. The day had turned misty, and Thor’s feet slipped on the stone. Still, he made good time and couldn’t help but notice he was faster than many of the others, nearly taking the lead as he scrambled his way up. He was, for the first time today, starting to feel good, starting to feel a sense of pride. Suddenly, something hard slammed into his shoulder. He looked up and saw members of the Silver at the top of the wall, throwing down small rocks, sticks, all manner of debris. The boy on the rope beside Thor reached up with one hand to block his face and lost his grip and fell backwards, down to the ground. He dropped a good twenty feet, and landed in the pile of hay below. Thor was losing his grip, too, but somehow managed to hang on. A club hailed down and struck Thor hard on the back, but he continued to climb. He was making good time and was starting to think he might even be the first one to the top, when suddenly, he felt a hard kick in the ribs. He couldn’t understand where it came from, until he looked over and saw one of the boys beside him, swinging sideways. Before Thor could react, the boy kicked him again. Thor lost his grip this time and found himself hurling backwards, through the air, flailing. He landed on his back in the hay, shocked but unhurt. Thor scrambled to his hands and knees, catching his breath, and looked about. All around him, boys were dropping like flies from the ropes, landing in the hay, kicked or shoved by each other—or if not, then kicked off by members of the Silver up top. Those who weren’t had their ropes cut, so they went came crashing down, too. Not a single member reached the top. “On your feet!” yelled Kolk. Thor jumped up, as did the others. “SWORDS!” The boys ran as one to a huge rack of wooden swords. Thor joined them and grabbed one, shocked at how heavy it was. It weighed twice as much as any weapon he had lifted. He could barely hold it. “Heavy swords, begin!” came a shout. Thor looked up and saw that huge oaf, Elden, the one who had first attacked him when he met the Legion. Thor remembered him too well, as his face still hurt from the bruises Elden had given him. He was bearing down on him, sword held high, a look of fury on his face. Thor raised his sword at the last moment and managed to block Elden’s blow, but the sword was so heavy, he was barely able to hold it back. Elden, bigger and stronger, reached around and kicked Thor hard in the ribs. Thor dropped to his knees in pain. Elden swung around again to crack him in the face, but Thor managed to reached up and block the blow with a moment to spare. But Elden was too quick and strong; he swung around and slashed Thor in the leg, knocking him down on his side. A small crowd of boys gathered around them, cheering and hollering, as their fight became the center of attention. It seemed as if they were all rooting for Elden. Elden came down with his sword again, slashing hard, and Thor rolled out of the way, the blow barely missing his back. Thor had a moment’s advantage and took it—he swung around and hit the oaf hard behind the knee. It was a soft spot, and enough to knock him back, then down, stumbling onto his rear. Thor used the chance to scramble to his feet. Elden rose, red-faced, more furious than ever, and now the two faced off. Thor knew he couldn’t just stand there; he charged and swung. But this practice sword was made of a strange wood and just too heavy; his move was telegraphed. Elden blocked it easily, then jabbed Thor hard in the ribs. It hit a soft spot, and Thor keeled over and dropped his sword, the wind knocked out of him. The other boys screamed in delight. Thor kneeled there, unarmed, and felt the tip of Elden’s sword jammed into the base of his throat.

Law of the devil

“Yield!” Elden demanded. Thor glared up at him, the salty taste of blood on his lip. “Never,” he said, defiant. Elden grimaced, raised his sword, and prepared to bring it down. There was nothing Thor could do. He was in for a mighty blow. As the sword came down, Thor closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt the world slowing down, felt himself transported to another realm. He was suddenly able to feel the swing of the sword in the air, its motion, and he willed the universe to stop it. He felt his body warming, tingling, and as he focused, he felt something happening. He felt himself able to control it. Suddenly the sword froze in midair. Thor had somehow managed to stop it using his power. As Elden held the sword, confused, Thor then used his mind power to grasp and squeeze Elden’s wrist. He squeezed harder and harder in his mind, and in moments, Elden cried out and dropped the sword. All the boys quieted, as they stood, frozen, looking down at Thor, wide-eyed in surprise and fear. “He’s a demon!” one yelled out. “A sorcerer!” another yelled. Thor was overwhelmed. He had no grasp of what he had just done. But he knew it was not normal. He was both proud and embarrassed, emboldened and afraid. Kolk stepped forward, into the circle, standing between Thor and Elden. “This is no place for spells, boy, whoever you are,” he chastised Thor. “It is a place for battle. You defied our rules of fighting. You will think about what you have done. I will send you to a place of true danger, and we shall see how well your spells defend you there. Report to guard patrol at the Canyon.” There was a gasp among the Legion, and they all quieted. Thor did not understand exactly what that meant, but he knew that whatever it was, it could not be good. “You can’t send him to the Canyon!” Reece protested. “He is too new. He could get hurt.” “I shall do whatever I choose to, boy.” Kolk grimaced at Reece. “Your father is not here to protect you now. Or him. And I run this Legion. And you better mind your tongue—just because you are royalty, don’t think you can speak out of line again.” “Fine,” Reece responded. “Then I shall join him!” “As will I!” O’Connor chimed in, stepping forward. Kolk looked them over, and slowly shook his head. “Fools. That is your choice. Join him if you wish.” Kolk turned and looked at Elden. “Don’t think you get off so easy, either,” he said to him. “You started this fight. You must pay the price, too. You will join them on patrol tonight.” “But sire, you can’t send me to the Canyon!” Elden protested, eyes wide in fear. It was the first time Thor had seen him afraid of anything. Kolk took a step forward, close to Elden, and raised his hands to his hips. “Can’t I?” he said. “Not only can I send you there— I can also send you away for good, out of this Legion, and to the farthest reaches of our kingdom if you continue to talk back to me.” Elden looked away, too flustered to respond. “Anyone else want to join them?” Kolk called out. The other boys, bigger and older and stronger, all looked away in fear. Thor gulped as he looked around at the nervous faces, and wondered just how bad the Canyon could be.

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