Flash Fiction: Earned Silence (544 words)

“There are two types of soldiers, you know,” Master Archell said. He had entered the room a minute before and settled halfway into a seat on the barrels against the near wall with one leg propped for his elbow to lean on, and one foot still on the floor. Then he started talking, without any of the common beginnings to conversations, as if he had decided that since Haiden couldn’t speak in the middle of her vow of silence, there was no need for any of it.

Haiden paused in the middle of rolling the heavy barrels of sand across the armory floor. Inside, the chainmail sang quietly as the sand scoured across it, hissed, and sighed. When other initiates cleaned them, the sand and metal sounded like the tide climbing in and out of the beaches, an even, measured whisper over the rumble of the barrels. She had found, that the floor was not quite flat, slanted toward the west corner, so when she did it, it sounded like a heartbeat: two quick sighs, and then a pause before her aching arms convinced the barrel to roll back uphill.

She was sweating, and her own heart was thudding purposefully against the inside of her chest. Haiden swallowed, half grateful for the break, half annoyed that she couldn’t give the growing sarcastic hello to you too that she had been saving up for the last few months, and looked up, eyebrows raised.

“We are soldiers, you know,” he said with a smile.

She hesitated, looked down at the ground, then back at him.

“They’ll tell you that we’re guards,” Archell told her. ‘They’ll call us police, or wardens, or sentinels, but we’re soldiers. We’re just fighting the quiet, insurmountable wars that most others would like to believe either are already won, or aren’t there at all.”

Haiden leaned her elbows against the barrel in front of her. She blinked dully at him.

Archell’s smile pulled a little tighter. “You don’t believe me?”

Haiden, predictably, didn’t say anything. She didn’t move either, leaving his question unanswered.

“Doing what we do, you have to be a soldier,” Archell told her.”You don’t have a choice. You only get to choose what kind you’ll be.”

Haiden leaned harder against the barrel.

“There are only two kinds,” Archell said. “Well-trained and disciplined, they’ll look the same nine times out of ten. They’re both strong. They’re both dedicated. They’re both alive and awake in every sense of the words. In love.”

Haiden hesitated.

“One of them is in love with the danger. With the violence. With oblivion. With the swing of the sword, and the power to make two things from one, and the rush of blood under or over the skin.” Archell paused, blinked at her, held her eye. “And one of them is in love with home. With all the little safeties it should have. With the calm. With the space and the time and the breath for laughter, and protecting that, and fighting for that. With defense, over destruction, and breath over blood.

“Those are the only two kinds,” Archell told her.

And Haiden stood still, said nothing, blinked. Breathless. And she wished there was some way to tell him that this quiet was earned, not promised.


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