The Choice

In which Haft fights a battle

The trumpets call.  To arms!  Arise, Narnians, and come to the aid of your neighbors to the south, for the Prince of Calormen marches upon Anvard.

Haft stands stock still, hand clenched white-knuckled upon the hilt of his ever-present sword.  Creatures and Beasts and noise and dust and turmoil swirl around him as the muster begins, but he is frozen in a moment of his own.

Your king requires aid.

But not mine.  I am unwelcome, unwanted.  A man without a country.

It is your countrymen who will die if help does not come.

Help will come.  The Narnians are mustering.  One sword, more or less, will make little difference in this battle.

You cannot know what difference it might make.

If I go, I must break King Lune’s decree.  Disobedience.  Disgrace.

The decree of exile was not made for a moment such as this.  King Lune will have need of every sword.  He will forgive.

It is still disobedience.

He will forgive.

And if he does not?  Even if I fight, I can hardly expect leniency. I lost his son. And the penalty for breaking exile is severe.

You judge your king too harshly.  He will understand this choice.  And who knows?  If the battle goes well, might he not even let you come home?  He is a merciful man.

Haft shoves the unworthy thought aside.  He will not break Lune’s decree for his own gain.

But you will still break it.

It is my home, my countrymen, my king who stand in peril.  If I fall in the saving of Anvard, it will be a better end than the empty life I have led here, and no trouble to anyone.  If I live, I will accept the consequences and ask no clemency.

And with that choice, the work of seconds, the momentary stillness falls away. Haft starts moving again, getting himself out of the way of the press as he steps between two buildings.  He rifles through the pouch at his waist, drawing forth the lion-headed belt buckle his father gave him on the occasion of his joining the guard.  He has not worn it since his disgrace fourteen years ago, but he will wear it now as he bears a sword for his country, maybe for the last time.  He loosens his sword belt and unhitches the usual, plain buckle, placing it into the pouch against an unknown future, and replaces it with the one that belonged to his father and grandfather.   That done, Haft commends his soul to the Emperor, steps from the shadow of the buildings, and joins the ranks of those who will fight for Archenland.

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