Saving a LifeIvenalde stood to admire his handy work. The boat repair had taken up a good portion of his day, but now that he was finished he couldn’t help but feel satisfied. Ever since the floods last month the villagers had been desperate to try and repair the boats that shuttled goods up and down the Aleges River. Without them the village of Everglade would become dead to the world. Hidden deep within the Delrey forest Everglade was a small settlement, having little contact with the outside world save for the river trade that they shared with their larger cousin city in the south. As Ivenalde began packing up his tools he heard a shout behind him. Looking up he saw a young girl about his age running towards him. She was average height, with short blond hair that she cut herself and had a thin figure. Her face was nothing extraordinary, but her eyes were like heaven. They were a crystal clear blue and Ivenalde often found himself lost in their glittering depths whenever he talked to her. “Iven!” She was calling. He smiled and waved. “What are you doing out here Ly?” he asked as soon as she stopped in front of him. A huge smile covered her small face. “Oh Iven, it is the greatest news!” she cried. Ivenalde could see the excitement fit to bursting on her face. “What is?” “I have had word that the traders of the northern lakes will be coming in a week!” This was good news. The traders came every couple of years, passing through the forest to the southern cities. They would often stop in Everglade to rest. This was good for the village; it meant more trading and more importantly news from the outside world. Ivenalde laughed and hugged Lylia in a warm embrace. “That is wonderful!” Lylia giggled as he released her and nodded. “Yes, father is already in the process of getting ready for their arrival. I wonder what stories they will bring this year, and the jewels they always display! There is even talk that they will bring with them a troupe of entertainers!” She was so excited she could hardly stand still. Ivenalde shared her joy, but was a bit more reserved about it. She stayed while he packed up his tools, chatting on and on about the various wonders the traders always brought with them, not to sell to the poor villagers of course, but to sell to the larger cities in the south where rich women would buy their trinkets. After Ivenalde finished packing up the tools he cast one last look over the newly patched boat and smiled. The traders were coming and all the boats were almost repaired. This was indeed a fruitful day. As Lylia and Ivenalde made their way through the forest back towards the small village the black blanket of darkness slowly fell over them. Ivenalde quickened his pace, not keen at getting caught out in the open forest during night. Growing up surrounded by the dark trees and the dangers that lurked around every corner, Ivenalde had grown cautious. Lylia went on talking as though she didn’t notice the shift from day to night. Her thoughts were far away with the upcoming prospect of entertainment and fun.Lylia came from one of the richest families in Everglade. Her father had once been a successful business owner in one of the larger cities, but with the drought ten years ago he had lost his entire enterprise. Not completely broke, but knowing that he could not rebuild he had traveled to Everglade. There he met Lylia’s mother and after his marriage began setting up a life for himself in the small village. Though Everglade did not officially recognize a mayor everyone knew that Lylia’s father was the rule maker and overseer of people. If anyone had troubles they would talk to him first and he would do whatever it was in his power to help them. Lylia and Ivenalde were the same age. They lived next to each other, though Lylia’s house was much bigger than Ivenalde’s. They had been friends for as long as either of them could remember, playing together, working alongside each other in the small field outside the main village. Ivenalde knew that there were hopes that he would marry soon and many suspected that he would ask Lylia. But Ivenalde did not see the girl as his future wife. She was his best friend, nothing more.After about half an hour the lights of the village came into view. Lylia sighed when she saw them through the low hanging branches of the trees. “Finally, how I hate this walk from the river back home.” She turned to Ivenalde and flashed another one of her brilliant smiles. He couldn’t help but laugh and took her hand, giving it a small, friendly squeeze.“Come, I am sure we are already both late for supper.” They were just crossing the field when suddenly Lylia stopped. Ivenalde turned to regard her, confused. They were standing in the middle of a crop of wheat, the light grain brushing softly against their legs. Lylia was staring around her, as though listening intently for something. “Ly, what is it?” he asked softly for the night was so quiet he did not want to disturb it. Lylia did not answer immediately. She continued to look around the moonlight reflecting in her clear eyes. “Ly . . .” Ivenalde began again, but this time Lylia raised a finger to her lips to silence him.“Don’t you hear them?” she whispered. Ivenalde perked up his ears, listening for any unusual sounds. At first he could register nothing. But then it hit him. The howls. They were soft, but the more Ivenalde listened the closer they seemed to grow. Now he could see the fear in his friend’s eyes. He too knew what those howls meant. There was a group of robbers that roamed the forest; they brought with them a pack of trained wolves. They would plunder any lone traveler and leave them to die in the forbidding forest. Normally they left Everglade alone, but every once in a while they would get drunk enough and try to challenge the villagers. The men in the village would go out and fight off the robbers, but there were always several injuries and sometimes ever a few deaths in the battle. The robbers also had a habit of setting the grain field on fire as well as several of the small houses. Since the flood people were already hard-pressed to make it, they did not need the added stress of a robber’s attack. Taking Lylia’s hand Ivenalde set off at a quick sprint towards the village, his heart racing. By the time they entered the first line of houses the howls of the wolves sounded only a mile or two away. They didn’t have much time.Together Lylia and Ivenalde ran to the center of the village, shouting the whole way. Curious and confused faces peeked out at them. Some looked angry at the noise. “Iven!” Ivenalde skidded to a halt as he passed his own house and his mother stepped out. “What is the meaning of all this shouting? You are waking the whole village!” “Mother! The robbers, they are coming!” Ivenalde panted. He saw his mother clutch her chest at his words and take a step back.“No . . . not now . . .” she whispered more to herself than to Ivenalde. She too knew that the village could not survive an attack at this time.“Lylia, Ivenalde!” Ivenalde turned from his mother and saw Lylia’s father had emerged. By this time other villagers had gathered, all wondering why this boy and girl had woken them. “What is the meaning of this.” Lylia’s father, Jarred, was a large man. He was said to have once fought in a long lost war many years ago, but Ivenalde didn’t know if that rumor was true or not. He had always been too shy to ask the man. He had stern, dark features, though he shared the same clear blue eyes of Lylia. Lylia stepped forward, addressing her father.“Papa, the robbers, they are coming! We heard them as we were crossing the field.” She cried. At the news the villagers around them broke out in a terrified chatter. The robbers were coming! Now of all times! Somewhere Ivenalde heard a scream and a baby wailed into the night. Jarred raised his arms, shouting for order. Once the people had calmed down enough to listen Jarred looked back at Lylia and Ivenalde.“The robbers you say? Why would they come now?” Ivenalde shook his head. He didn’t know or care about the answer. All that mattered was that defenses were put into place immediately. The robbers could be here any moment and all this useless talk was wasting time.“Why do the robbers ever come, sir? They are here to terrorize, we must put up our defenses! Gather the men, prepare for a fight!” Just then there was a loud howl and everyone fell silent. The howl hovered in the wind for a moment before being swept away. It was followed by another, louder roar. Ivenalde knew the robbers were almost upon them. “All able bodied men gather at the perimeter of the village! Take what weapons you can, women and children get indoors!” Jarred shouted. The village exploded into action, women rushed indoors, dragging their children with them. Men disappeared into homes for only a few moments, then reappeared with spears, bows, and the occasional sword in hand, stony expressions on their faces, ready to defend their families. Jarred hurried over to Ivenalde and Lylia who stood in the center of the confusion, not sure what to do. “Lylia, you must go inside with your mother. Wait until this is over.” He instructed. Before Lylia could protest he had wheeled her around and pushed her towards the door of the house. She cast one last worried glance at Ivenalde then disappeared into the wooden structure. Ivenalde watched her go then turned towards his mother. She was a widower, having lost her husband five years ago. She was left with Ivenalde and his little sister Hailey who was still no more than a child. She was ushering the little girl back inside of the house when she caught Ivenalde’s glance. With a quick wave of her hand she beckoned him over. “Come, we must go inside.” She said, putting a protective hand on his shoulder. Ivenalde looked out at the men who were preparing to defend their homes. Some were young, no older than sixteen. He himself was seventeen, a man. He should be fighting, not cowering like a woman or child. He shook off his mother’s grip and shook his head. “No, I must help with the battle.” His mother looked at him, a hard look in her eyes. “You cannot, you are too young. This is not a battle for boys.” “I am not a boy!” Ivenalde cried defensively. “I am a man and it is time I prove myself. I would be ashamed to stay behind.” His mother looked as though she wanted to argue, but she could see the fires burning in her son’s eyes. She knew it would be useless to reason with him. “Wait here.” She said softly then disappeared into the house. She reappeared moments later, a beautifully crafted bow complete with a quiver of arrows in her hands. She handed the weapon to Ivenalde who took it, an awed look on his face. “They were your father’s. He would have wanted you to have them.” Ivenalde could see she was fighting back tears. She was facing every parent’s worst nightmare the prospect that their child would not return home. He leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “I will return.” He whispered softly in her ear. She nodded and embraced him, tears streaming down her face. When they broke apart Ivenalde turned and quickly joined the crowd of men heading towards the wheat field. He watched as his mother disappeared into the house and wondered, with a sudden pang, if that was going to be the last time he ever saw her. The field was already being barricaded. Men had piled logs in front of the village as a sort of wall to hide behind in the coming battle. They had lit hundreds of torches to try and chase off the night that pressed in on them from all sides. Ivenalde was told to join a troupe of archers behind the furthest wall of logs. He had only ever fired a bow once in his life, when he had gone rabbit hunting with his friend Kikly. He hadn’t been too bad, but he knew that he was no expert. He was place between two veteran bow hunters in the hopes that they could teach him a thing or two. The howls of the wolves had grown so close that Ivenalde knew the robbers were now just out of sight in the trees. He scanned the dark forest, looking for any sign of movement. The men had quieted down as well, all alert for any noise to announce the arrival of their enemy. They sat for close to half an hour before the first robber finally appeared. He was a huge brute, wearing hardly anything save for a pair of extremely tattered pants. He held a wickedly curved sword in his hand, his long black, greasy hair hanging in thick sheets down his back. Ivenalde shuttered at the look of him. He had never seen another man so repulsive, so evil looking. The man smiled, his teeth crooked and yellowed. He raised his sword and countless other robbers appeared on the tree line. Some held leashes that crazed looking wolves were attached to while others held spears and swords like their leader. With a loud scream the leader raced forward to meet the defenders, followed by his army. Ivenalde was taken aback by how many robbers there were. At least a hundred strong, all armed to the teeth and ready to kill. Ivenalde heard orders being shouted, but he had been too caught up in the arrival of the robbers to hear what was said. It wasn’t until he saw all the other archers around him preparing to fire that he realized what was happening. He quickly nocked an arrow and pulled the string back, ready to launch. It took most of his strength to pull the string all the way back, but Ivenalde was strong and knew that he just wasn’t use to the feel of the bow yet. The robbers got closer and closer and still they did not receive the order to fire. Ivenalde grew restless. Soon they would be upon them. Why were they waiting? Just before the first line of robbers reached the log walls that stood in front of the villagers Ivenalde heard the order to fire. He released his arrow, which disappeared in the mass of arrows that were launched into the heart of the robber’s attacking force. Ivenalde watched as several of the huge men fell dead, arrows sticking out of them. But then the main force slammed into the villagers and the real battle began. Ivenalde was amazed at the sheer force of the attacking army. They were ruthless, cutting with their swords, biting, clawing, anything to obtain a kill. The wolves were released to prey on the helpless villagers. Ivenalde shot arrow after arrow into advancing robbers, but no matter how many robbers he managed to take down there always seemed to be another to take their place. He knew they would soon be overwhelmed. And then, suddenly, he was before him. The great leader of the robbers rose up directly in front of him, his sword raised in a death blow. He was even larger then Ivenalde first though, standing close to seven feet tall. He was vicious looking; there was no emotion in those black, beady eyes. This man had one purpose and that was to kill. Ivenalde shot an arrow, but he had been thrown off balance by the appearance and the arrow barely nicked the man’s arm. Ivenalde reached for another arrow, but he panicked as he realized that he was out. The robber was advancing quickly, he had to do something. Quickly scanning the ground Ivenalde saw one of the curved swords the robbers used laying at his feet. In one quick motion Ivenalde grabbed the sword and brought it up just in time before the death blow was dealt. The sheer power of the man’s sword impacting with Ivenalde sent him to his knees. He felt a jarring all throughout his body. The robber, surprised by the block, wheeled back, giving Ivenalde time to jump to his feet. Ivenalde turned to face his attacker again, this time more prepared for the heavy blow. The robber brought his sword down again, expecting to break through Ivenalde’s defenses and deliver a death blow. Ivenalde steeled himself against the attack, however, and held his ground when the jarring sensation ran through his body again. He even managed to push the robber back and pose his own offensive attack. The robber was caught off guard and Ivenalde’s sword caught him in the upper leg causing a large gash to appear. The robber stumbled backwards as Ivenalde raced forward, his mind gone. All he cared about was thrusting his sword as deeply into this robber soft flesh as he could. The robber had dropped his sword in agony and was now defenseless against Ivenalde’s onslaught. He knew death was coming and could do nothing about it. Ivenalde stood above the once towering man, a crazed grin on his face. This was it; he would be able to claim the death of the robber’s great leader! He would be able to prove himself a man after all. He brought the sword up over his head and prepared for the killing blow. His eyes met the robbers as he readied himself for the kill. What he saw there stayed his hand however. He expected to see hatred burning deep within those coal colored eyes, but instead he saw the unmistakable mark of fear. This man, who was so powerful only a few minutes ago, was afraid of him, Ivenalde, a simple village boy. It was so shocking that Ivenalde stepped back, unable to deliver the final strike. The robber slowly got to his feet and looked Ivenalde up and down, a confused expression on his face. “You are a boy. You cannot kill.” He spat. His voice was deep and powerful. Ivenalde swallowed and shook his head. “It isn’t right.” He then did what he thought wasn’t possible. He dropped the sword he held, his only weapon. The robber looked at him shocked. “You welcome death then!” he cried. Again Ivenalde shook his head. “I would rather die a thousand times over than take the life of a defenseless man.” The robber studied him for many moments, his forehead creased in concentration. The battle was still raging around these two figures, but the villagers were slowly getting the upper hand. The robbers had been outnumbered and they knew that they were going to be destroyed if they didn’t retreat. The leader took one last confused look at Ivenalde then turned and began running back towards the trees, shouting for a retreat. Ivenalde watched as the remaining robbers broke off their own individual battles with villagers and hurried after their leader. Once the robbers had left Ivenalde looked around at the battle scene. There were men lying wounded everywhere. Blood stained the wheat field red. Ivenalde sighed and slowly began picking his way around the fallen villagers, helping out wherever he could. The two healers in the village were already hard at work on the men in the worst condition. Others were removing the dead. There were twelve dead villagers, ten of which Ivenalde had known personally. As for the robbers there were a least thirty of their bodies scattered across the field. Men were already piling the bodies to be burned. Ivenalde was helping lift a man who had wounded his leg when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and came face to face with Jarred. “We must speak son.” He said. Ivenalde nodded and followed the man away from the battle field to a quiet place to talk. Jarred turned towards him, a troubled look on his face. “I saw what happened between you and the robber.” He said. Ivenalde was surprised. He was sure that no one would notice the small exchange they had in those few precious moments. “You let the robber go. Why?” It was the same question the robber had asked him. Why had he let him live? “I couldn’t kill him sir.” Ivenalde began slowly. “But that man would have killed you without thinking twice so why did you not do the same?” Ivenalde shook his head. “I saw the fear in his eyes and realized he was just another man. Who was I to decide whether he lives or die?” Jarred remained silent for several moments, examining Ivenalde closely. Ivenalde became self-conscious under the intense stare, but he held his ground, knowing that no matter what he had made his choice to let the robber live and he would never regret it. Finally Jarred spoke. “I see you are more of a man then the rest of us. You saw what not many would have been able to and I am proud of you. You did the right thing in letting the robber go.” Ivenalde nodded his heart swelling with pride at Jarred’s approval. The village spent the next day cleaning up the mess the battle had created and tending to the wounded. Around midday there was a massive burial ceremony for all those killed. Ivenalde stood by his mother and sister as he watched twelve bodies being lowered into the earth. After the funeral he wandered back to the river to get some private time to think. He had been sitting by the river for only a few minutes when he heard someone behind him. He turned and saw Lylia, still dressed in her dark funeral clothes. She sat down beside him without a word. They sat in silence for several minutes before she finally spoke, her voice soft. “Father told me what you did.” Ivenalde did not answer, but stared at the water rushing by. “I think it was very brave of you.” She took his hand and squeezed gently. He looked at her and saw the small, sad smile on her lips. “I couldn’t do it.” He whispered softly. “I couldn’t kill him like that.” She nodded. Ivenalde felt tears in his eyes. “Why couldn’t I kill him?” he finally asked the question that everyone else had asked, that he had given an answer to, but knew in his heart it wasn’t true. Why had he not been able to kill the man? The tears flowed fast and free now, Ivenalde couldn’t help them. Lylia let him bury his face in her shoulder and held him while he let out all his emotions. When he had finally gained control of himself he sat back, embarrassed. But Lylia made him look at her again. She leaned forward and placed a light kiss on his lips. Ivenalde’s heart fluttered at the cool touch and he felt sad when she drew back and the moment ended. “I know why.” She whispered. “It is because you are a good person Ivenalde.” Ivenalde smiled and kissed her again. As they walked back to the village, hand in hand later that afternoon, the only thing that Ivenalde thought of was maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to marry Lylia after all.