The man was born to war. There was no doubt about it. In the first few years of his training, he outstripped even the most senior of recruits. He had his first taste of blood at the young age of fourteen. The battle was brief, but the fighting hard and he received the first of his battle scars. The cut was clean and smooth but the scar it left was clearly visible. It ran the short distance just above his left dark eyebrow to the very beginning of his cheekbone. His eye, once golden and bright was now no more than a dull orange-brown cloud.
There, Stran mused, that wound should have caused an enormous blind spot for the young warrior. But it did not. The boy’s vision seemed completely unaffected, and he reacted with viper-like timing to stimuli that he oughtn’t to be able to see. It was remarkable, and extremely lucky for the entire army, for no man was better than he on horse or on foot. The man was born to war.
Stran mused quietly on the boy. He had trudged into the camp at the tender age of nine, bearing a letter from his father instructing the General to train him and treat him as he would any other soldier – rank not withstanding. Stran thought it a prank at first, but a long look into those solemn, angry eyes spoke otherwise. The boy was hurting, even then. And why should he not?
Stran knew his story. He witnessed his mother’s suicide at a very young age. The youngest of three brothers in a Royal household, he would not be made to feel welcome by the hard-hearted King, especially since he was so different. His hair was black and straight, cropped close to his head now in the fashion of soldiers. He was tall but strongly built. And his eyes. There were none who could refute the strangeness of his eyes. They were large. They were golden.
Stran had seen those eyes before, staring right back at him, from the heads of the wild mountain cats near his home. He was his mother’s image, and no doubt favoured by the queen before she lost her mind and stabbed herself in her private garden. Her death, just four years prior to his arrival at camp must have had a profound effect on him.
Stran thought, upon seeing the strange, scrawny boy before him, that he would have trouble with him. Princes make poor soldiers. It seemed his suspicions were confirmed at first, but the boy had worked hard, not for approval or praise, for he scorned both and always had, but for his own betterment. He challenged the great stores of anger, tamed his wild temper and became the best damned warrior Stran had ever seen. Damned.
Stran mused on the word a while. Yes, damned he may well be. For all the men, including Stran himself, were uneasy around him. He bore always a stance, walk and demeanour that belied a natural grace, a quiet dignity, and an awesome power. Men could not help but shrink before him. He seemed to Stran, the human incarnation of the God of all predators.
Cat, wolf, eagle, snake, each of these beasts could be likened to the boy in some way - A cat’s violent power and courage, the wolf’s stamina and cunning, the eagle’s sight and Majesty, and the sleek savagery of a viper. Stran shuddered at that last. He had never before seen a man fight with the same grace as a dancer, like watching a snake move towards its prey, and dart back and forth, swaying and circling. War was bloody, messy and hard. That boy; he made killing seem beautiful.