The Soldier and... JP 30
Ryan Watt
(2 reviews)
Once upon a time a soldier walked away from a war, and he never stopped walking. As the decades ... Show More
Genres:
Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Thriller
Tags:
Fairy Tale, curses, devils, Champions, Death

...the Traveling Companion - Part 1

The Soldier and the Traveling Companion

     One night, the Soldier walked through a graveyard in the hours after a rainstorm.

Damp autumn leaves squished under the weight of heavy, mud spattered boots, and released the smell of wet soil underneath. One boot slid slightly on a clump of leaves, but the wearer caught himself on a tree. He pressed on, not looking up at the moon overhead as it chased away the smoky wisps of clouds that dawdled behind the rest of the storm front.

He found the correct grave just where the caretaker indicated. It lay on the less picturesque side of the hill, the side that faced away from the full moon rising over the slumbering town below. Most of the graves on the vista side of the hill featured elaborate headstones or monuments, and well maintained plots. Those on the side he trekked to were small or flat, crumbling, and forgotten not long after being installed. Only one remained untarnished and without need of repair, but only because it was less than a day old.

The Soldier dropped his pack against a nearby tree, and shifted his grip on a short handled shovel he had borrowed from the caretaker. Next to the bare dirt plot, he dug a new, much smaller hole. He whistled to himself. The tune was lovely, and enchanting, but would drive to frustration any composer who tried to make sense of its arrangement.

The hole dug, he set the shovel down and reached for his midsection. The Soldier wore heavy brown pants and a loose fitting black shirt with no waistcoat. Instead his frame was draped with an ancient, battered great coat, whose tattered bottom edge fell to just below his knees. At his waist, in place of a belt, he had a large strip of burlap tied like a cummerbund. He tugged it off and shook it loose until the sack's mouth opened. He knelt and placed the bag into the hole.

It was neither a large sack, nor a large hole, but he grumbled when he realized the sack was smaller than the hole. He shoveled some dirt around the sack and tried again to position it. Satisfied at last, he filled in the rest of the hole and covered up the evidence of his dig.

He lowered himself, his lower back creaking with protest, to the roots of the tree. The sky had grown a little lighter as storm clouds rolled in and reflected back the lights from the window candles and torch posts throughout the village below the cemetery.

There was something comforting, he thought as he pulled off his boots, about graveyards at night. So many of the people he worked with over his many decades of traveling had been terrified of them and refused to go into one during a Call. He understood. He didn't get it himself, the fear of Death, but he understood people did. He had only ever been scared of Death once, and the Soldier knew he had deserved it then.

The clouds spit a couple times on him as he pulled a knife from his bag, but quickly ceased their threat of rain after he shot the sky a look. He assumed it was coincidence only, but laughed at his success anyway.

Holding the knife between two fingers, pointing away from himself, he cupped first one boot, then the other, in his hand, assessing them. He hated to give up a nice pair of boots, but the soles were starting to wear thin. He was glad he hadn't agreed to that cobbler's humorous offer of metal soled shoes as they would have proven a hindrance to his plan tonight.

The right sole was thinner. He pushed against a spot, just left of center of the heel, where he could almost slide his finger into the shoe. Hefting it to his other hand, he began to pick at it with the knife. The hole widened. Once it was about half the size of his fist, he set the boot down firmly into the ground, covering the just barely noticeable hole with the sack in it. He placed a large rock in the toe to weigh it down from the inside. The other boot he laid carefully on its side next to the first, so that it looked like they had been casually tossed down.

Preparations complete, he laid his head against the tree to wait. He may have caught forty winks, or more, but he was practiced at allowing himself to only rest on the surface of consciousness. So when the scent of sulfurous smoke struck him, he quickly was alert and ready for the arrival of the one he had been waiting for.

“Midnight already?” he muttered to himself as he watched carefully the hilltop. The smell somehow always arrived first, antecedent to the smoke. It was one of those strange quirks of magic he had never cared to ask anyone to explain.

A patch of grass nearby gave three short pops before a scarlet plume of smoke arose, pulsing with even more of the bitter aroma. A figure rose from it, growing from a minuscule size to nearly as tall as the Soldier's full height. It stepped out of the quickly disbursing smoke, planting red hoofed feet onto the grass. The hooves glistened as a spark of flame spun around each, coating them in shining black metal boots. The Soldier followed the sparks as they wove around the body, creating black pantaloons, a red shirt, and a black belt. Holes dotted his black, bat-like wings and elbow length gloves. Through the holes skin could be seen, the grayblue color of ash at dawn. Dark red hair covered the bases of a pair of red and gray horns rising high from the head.

The devil smirked a fanged smile at the Soldier.

“What is this? Someone come to greet me? How respectful you remote hamlets are.”

“Not here to greet you, devil. I'm standing guard over this grave.”

“Over this grave? This one,” The devil pointed as he punctuated the word again. “Why, why ever would you do such a thing?”

“To protect it from soultakers. Now be gone.”

“You think this soul is worthy of protection?” The devil began to laugh, wrapping his sides with his arms.

The Soldier raised an unamused eyebrow in response. “I don't expect you to think it worthy of protection, but I do.”

“What is in there is rightfully mine. She made a bargain.”

“Under duress, to protect her children from a situation that sounds like something you likely caused in order to coerce her into the bargain.”

“She beat those children, you know.”

“That may be true. It may not be. They called for my help anyway.”

The devil hissed. “You're a Champion?”

The Soldier nodded. He had long since stopped being surprised that people could identify him as an agent of the Order of Champions just by the way he walked through a town, as they had earlier that day. As he had sworn an oath upon joining to protect and defend and provide aide to those who sought it, he really didn't mind.

“I'll tell you what,” the Soldier's mustache bounced as he pushed himself back up to his feet. The devil glared at the man's height. His eyes, a deep brown, stared back as he raised a hand and rubbed it along his closely shaved head with only a centimeter or two of brown prickly hairs left. The stubble on his chin was almost longer than it, though gray and harder to see. “Since you're so fond of deals, let's make one. Pay me and I will walk away.”

The devil turned his head away to think. The Soldier saw his gray eyes move as if following an erratically flying insect. “I shouldn't be surprised. Everyone has a price, even you Champions. How much?”

“Hmm, I'm no good with numbers. How about enough favor to fill my boot there to the top?”

The devil followed the Soldier's fingers to the boots lying next to a bundle of bags. Unclipping a money bag from his belt, the fiery being stepped across the ridge of the hill and over to the Soldier. He tossed the bag up and down on his palm a couple of times, estimating how much was in it. He began to pour and continued until the pouch was emptied. He peered into the boot and couldn't even see any of the gold. He hissed again as he raised his confused eyes and sneer to the champion.

The Soldier shrugged. “Big feet.”

“I will be back with more. Don't leave.” The devil strode a few meters away and dropped back into a plume of sulfurous smoke and scarlet flame.

The Soldier walked over to the grave he was protecting and placed a hand upon the tiny placard that lay just within the ground, and sighed. “If this works, he won't be able to return for you...”

It took the devil nearly two hours to return. When he did, he carried a weighty canvas bag over his shoulder. He knelt beside the boot and began to fill it with handfuls of copper favor coins from his supply. He poured and poured for almost an hour until finally the devil's bag was empty.

“This is a trick!” He grabbed the boot and gave it a gentle tug. The Soldier's heart beat harder and he hoped this devil did not have superior hearing to notice. It was rare to find a smart devil of the lower orders as this one was, but not impossible. Mercifully, the devil just tugged until he felt the weight of the rock, then grabbed up the other boot for comparison. Finding it lighter he snarled and threw it across the hill before storming off. “I will be back with more. Don't leave.”

Breathing with relief, the Soldier retrieved his devil tossed footwear and placed it next to his bag, then repositioned the first boot to ensure it still covered his sack.

The devil returned an hour before dawn and poured and poured from the two bags of currency he had brought, but still could not even begin to see any of the money nearing the top of the boot. He began to hop up and down and scream and gnash his teeth. He ran to the Soldier, grabbed him by the collar and tried to lift him up. The Soldier was not scared. The average devil had no more strength than a human of the same size. The devil only managed to lift him less than the height of a heel.

“What trickery is this? You are swindling me. I demand you to tell me how you are doing this magic and then you will watch me take her soul before I take yours too.”

“Sorry, but that wasn't our bargain. You failed to meet my price.”

“Clearly this was not your price. You have a price. Everyone does. You played me, but no more. Now is the time for me to take my payment from your hide!”

“You're wrong about what time it is. It's actually dawn.”

The Soldier pointed towards the horizon. The storm clouds had passed in the night, leaving only fog, its child, behind. But a light pierced the horizon and would soon scare that child off, just as it would scare off this villain.

As the first ray of sunlight hit the devil in the foot, the boots vanished back into hooves. The devil hissed one last time, dropping the Soldier, grabbing his one partially remaining sack of coins, and vanished into a half-hearted plume of smoke.

The Soldier, feet shivering from the dewy grass upon his bare skin, walked to the edge of the hill overlooking the town. Then he returned to the woman's grave, knelt, and placed a hand upon the marker for no longer than a minute. Only after these two things did he dig up the sack.

He pulled it out from the ground effortlessly. It bulged in places, but the Soldier shook it a couple of times and it flattened out. He tied it back around his waist, slipped his feet into his boots, slipped the right shoe off to take out the rock before putting it back on, and then headed into town.
 
XXXX

Author's note: The Soldier and the Traveling Companion is set in the same world as my other serial, Flocked. It is set several years before that series. While the Soldier appears in both, neither one is vital to the other and are completely seperate stories. If you like this novella, I'd encourage you to check out Flocked as well.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 7/1/2017 5:35:02 PM
  • Nygel Oglesby commented on :
    7/6/2017 3:38:02 AM
    I finally found the time to give your work a proper read and now I feel silly for waiting so long. Your attention to detail is immaculate and it gives great scope for the ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Thanks for checking out the Soldier tales! I loved spinning off this story from the main Flocked series and telling a very different kind of story. It's a darker story, but I love those little moments of humor. And for the record, he totally did not actually cause the clouds to part. Hope you continue to read and enjoy the Soldier's journey.
      7/6/2017 4:54:58 AM
  • Yashita Ghazi commented on :
    5/31/2017 3:16:28 PM
    i am miss yashita ghazi i have a proposal for you via at (yashitaghazi11@gmail.com)
  • Edwin McRae commented on :
    8/2/2016 8:01:15 PM
    Hi Ryan! Very nifty first chapter this one. :-) Just one suggestion though since I'm on a bit of a mission to work out how to write a butt-kicking first chapter. I'd cut ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Not a bad idea. I just might play around with that again sometime. Thanks for checking out this serial! Hope you continue on.
      8/2/2016 10:17:22 PM
  • Steeven R. Orr commented on :
    6/10/2016 6:29:25 PM
    Just this one part was soooo good! I'm really looking forward to reading more. I really do enjoy your writing . . . I'll be back :)
    • Ryan Watt I did this chapter as sort of a test to see if I could get into the Soldier's head. It's a nice done in one, while also setting up some elements for the whole novella. Glad you liked it!
      6/10/2016 6:35:38 PM
  • anna brown commented on :
    3/31/2016 2:22:29 AM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (annh1brown@hotmail.com), ... Show More
  • TCC Edwards commented on :
    3/18/2016 2:29:15 AM
    Riveting, immersive, and full of incredible detail! I always love reading your work, and it's really interesting to compare this with Flocked and Heroes of the Fabled age ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Thank you for checking this out. Crafting this story was quite the challenge last year. I hope you continue to enjoy it and enjoy the Soldier's journey (and just in time for the next Soldier novella to come out this summer!)
      3/18/2016 4:22:32 AM
  • Philip Gauss-Oakes commented on :
    8/30/2015 7:00:37 PM
    You've got my attention! Chapter 2 please!
    • Ryan Watt It's ready for you already, Philip! Thanks for checking it out.
      8/30/2015 9:57:08 PM
  • Katya Kolmakov commented on :
    8/16/2015 2:52:20 PM
    That was a very well written chapter. It reads rather as a complete short story, but I trust you to do it on purpose. It also reminded me of urban Slavic fairy tales, ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Hello, Katya. Thank you for trying this out. The Soldier is a combination of a lot of different Western and Eastern European folktale types. This first chapter is actually a complete retelling of one story, just flushing out the archtypical Soldier to be 'my' Soldier. I did it that way to give readers a sense of him as an individual, so they compare it to how he is with 'the Traveling Companion' throughout the rest.
      8/16/2015 8:11:21 PM
  • Sean Daly commented on :
    8/6/2015 5:12:34 AM
    I'm hooked, great story
    • Ryan Watt Hey, thanks! It is fairly different than yours, and different than my normal style, but I like playing around in this world, and I think it goes into fun directions. Hope you keep enjoying.
      8/6/2015 5:59:12 AM
  • David Khalaf commented on :
    8/1/2015 2:19:52 PM
    Congrats on this new story you're starting. Good scenario to kick off that tale, and I like that it ended up being a battle of wits (and magic?) rather than a traditional fight.
    • Ryan Watt Good eye, the sack is definitely magic. And the Soldier isn't one for a traditional fight unless he absolutely has to. Thanks for checking out the start of my novella project.
      8/1/2015 2:35:55 PM
  • Joan Albright commented on :
    7/26/2015 8:51:10 PM
    Finally got through this. Curious why he's so determined to fool the devil, and also about whether the thing will come back the next evening.
    • Ryan Watt Well, as the Soldier said, if he could keep the devil busy til morning, he wouldn't be able to come back for her. As for why: He didn't think it was fair for the devil to take her soul. Just who he is, really. Thanks for giving it a try.
      7/27/2015 6:17:39 AM
    • Joan Albright Wow, you're up as late as I am. XD
      7/27/2015 6:18:39 AM
    • Ryan Watt Just home from a long day with old, dear friends, and wanted to log in briefly.
      7/27/2015 6:21:30 AM
  • AH Gilreath commented on :
    7/18/2015 11:54:34 PM
    It took me a little bit to get what he was doing with the boy, but the payoff was totally worth it. What a great introduction to our main character.
    • Ryan Watt Woo hoo! Thanks for starting this up. Yeah, this first chapter is based off an entire old fairy tale that is just so perfect as mood setting I had to use it.
      7/19/2015 4:21:42 AM
  • Geoffrey Ng commented on :
    7/4/2015 9:57:04 PM
    I really enjoyed Chapter 1, especially the level of detail you provide when describing the soldier's setup of the trick boot. You definitely succeeded in making the ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Well right now the sack has a lot of coins in it. Normally there isn't anything in it. Glad the story intrigued you. I think it's a fun journey he is about to go on.
      7/4/2015 10:16:21 PM
  • Ada Redmond commented on :
    7/1/2015 8:18:48 AM
    Ohh, interesting beginning! I'm glad I was able to jump right into this, it'll be nice to be caught up with one of your tales! I really enjoyed the opening line ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Ada! I am glad you were able to jump into it too. The opening line was literally the first thing I wrote and I said "ooooh, that's a keeper!" I hope you continue to enjoy the rest of the story too!
      7/1/2015 3:09:18 PM
  • A S commented on :
    6/25/2015 12:11:18 AM
    Ooh, I love the stories you weave. At now I want to go watch some WonderWorks and yell, "yickity yak, into my sack!" Good job.
    • Ryan Watt Hah! I forgot about yickety yack. Glad you're liking this story. I've long loved the Soldier, one of my favorite fairy tale characters, so this is a fun chance to explore him for me.
      6/25/2015 2:30:49 AM
  • D # commented on :
    6/20/2015 10:02:24 PM
    Very cool! The Soldier really is a formidable force. All cool and collected. Love the atmosphere of the graveyard in autumn. Sometimes it doesn't take much to create a ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt So you're going to laugh at the devil? You may regret that. The Soldier is quite formidable on the job, so the question becomes where is he weak?
      6/20/2015 10:34:58 PM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    6/20/2015 5:56:22 AM
    I so love clever heroes with a plan. I enjoy the persona the Soldier has, how he acknowledges how intimidating he is to everyone else, but doesn't really feel like it ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt This chapter is the most free-standing piece. It really more sets the tone for who the Soldier is, before we start getting more into a through storyline, but I thought it was important to keep in. Glad you're getting a chance to check it out!
      6/20/2015 6:04:48 AM
  • N.C. Gossner commented on :
    6/20/2015 12:49:54 AM
    I have one word for this story. L.O.V.E.
    • Ryan Watt Much obliged, ma'am.
      6/20/2015 12:58:57 AM
  • Justin Hunter commented on :
    6/19/2015 2:37:14 PM
    Wow! Your writing brings out the visuals in this story with both a subtly and a vividity that should not be able to co-exist. I love watching this all unfold in my head ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Justin, thanks for the comment. Visual is definitely one of my strongest senses when writing (smell is the worst, so you're on your own for olfactory descriptors), I've been told. Glad it is working for you. This was, somehow, a super easy section to write, and I've struggled to keep the other chapters in the same vibe and tone. Hope you keep checking this out!
      6/19/2015 3:16:23 PM
  • M. Howalt commented on :
    6/17/2015 9:45:48 AM
    I was hoping the Soldier would be the protagonist for this one, so I'm super excited. :) The best thing about this first chapter, I think, is the fact that you manage to ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Thanks, M. TSandTC is definitely me trying to go much deeper. It's not a place I am used to going, so I hope it works alright. I'm glad everyone seems glad that the Soldier is the first spin off character, although I do have plans for several others too.
      6/17/2015 12:47:02 PM
  • Aden Ng commented on :
    6/17/2015 8:54:23 AM
    No! Stop it! Stop giving me stuff to read! I can't catch up any more! ARGH!!!
    • Ryan Watt Well, you're already caught up on this one (for about ten minutes from the time Im typing this).
      6/17/2015 12:45:24 PM
  • K R Williams commented on :
    6/17/2015 7:06:35 AM
    Oh wow! I was re-reading through your other work the other day and I've got to say it's a great treat to see something new up here as well!
    • Ryan Watt Hey, KR. Thanks for giving this a try, AND for re-reading Flocked. Hope you continue to like both.
      6/17/2015 12:44:17 PM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    6/17/2015 4:32:58 AM
    From the author of Flocked comes what promises to be a fantastical experience. The Soldier is already an intriguing protagonist, of bold character and with craziness ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Thanks for checking it out. It's a fun ride the Soldier is going to go on. As for the devil, he's technically 'a' devil. Here it is a species and not an individual. Glad you liked his entrance.
      6/17/2015 4:49:38 AM
  • Nathan Daeodain commented on :
    6/17/2015 12:36:37 AM
    It's a cute beginning, and I think has even more of a fairy tale narrative voice than a lot of Flocked. Well done.
    • Ryan Watt Thanks for checking it out, Nathan. Cute, eh? Interesting choice. I definitely am going for a different tone. I hope you'll continue to check it out.
      6/17/2015 1:41:26 AM
    • Nathan Daeodain Haha. Not to offend, but I've been studiously avoiding chapter 1 of Rat Nothing because I'm afraid it'll take me to a really dark place. Yours maintains a "once upon a time" vibe, that sends a Devil into a frustrated snit-fit. The tone is darker than your larger story, but still carries some much welcomed lightheartedness.
      6/17/2015 2:04:33 AM
    • Ryan Watt That makes a lot of sense. I think it is just indicative of who I am in a writer.
      6/17/2015 2:20:29 AM
  • J.A. Waters commented on :
    6/16/2015 9:27:17 PM
    Hah, nice trick. I like how much the tone seems to match the Soldiers' more somber state of mind and actions. The whole chapter read as kind of stoic, or maybe I'm just ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Congratulations on being the first commenter on the series. Thanks for checking it out so fast. He definitely has a more internal, which may read as somber, feel to him. Glad you liked it. I plan to post two (or more) a week.
      6/16/2015 9:38:10 PM
    • J.A. Waters It was just sitting there staring at me, daring me to read. Doesn't feel somber, just yeah, more internal and mellow. I like it, and like seeing the tone change. I think that shows strength that you can switch up the feel from another story.
      6/16/2015 9:47:40 PM
  • 7/6/2017 3:38:30 AM
    I finally found the time to give your work a proper read and now I feel silly for waiting so long. Your attention to detail is immaculate and it gives great scope for the ... Show More
  • Aden Ng gave
    8/26/2015 7:50:26 AM
    (Review for chapter 1-21) When you read a fantasy story, you want it to be fun. The Soldier and the Travelling companion is definitely that. If you've ever been on a ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Aden - thank you for much for the review, and more importantly for giving this a read! I hope you also get a chance to read Flocked someday and see more of this world. And I think the Soldier will come back for another novella someday.
      8/26/2015 3:10:50 PM