Big John opened his eyes and wished he hadn't.
The sunlight sneaking past the tent flap was blinding. His throat was raw and there was a smell of sweat and blood in the air. And something else.
Other men lay on linen spread out on the ground all around him. He tried to move and was welcomed by a lance of pain shooting through his back.
"Where am I?"
A shadow leaned over him, thankfully blocking the bright light. A sweaty hand touched his face and pried his eye open, the man squinted at him and huffed foul breath his way.
"Army's tent for the wounded." He made a clicking noise with his tongue. "You're a lucky one alright. Our surgeon took an axe to his skull during the battle. The wounded ain't getting the help they need. Not many pulling through, but you, you have a will to live."
"That I can give you. Nice and fresh from the stream."
Big John raised his head and wanted to grab the flask the man offered him, but another jolt of pain shot through his arm as he moved.
"Don't worry. I got ya."
The flask was brought to his dry lips, the water trickling into his mouth. It was good, sweeter than one of Marla's apple pies.
A pale face and blood-soaked bandages flashed before him. He coughed and spat the water out.
She was dead. It all came back to him in an instant. The Orcs had killed her and everyone else from Duranham. Everyone but him and his son.
"Whoa! Take it easy. Nice and slow."
The flask came back to his lips and this time he swallowed. His throat ached, but the water did him good. He let his head down on the linen, hardpacked earth underneath. He hadn't noticed how tense his muscles were, how much he had strained. Now, he could relax.
"You are a righteous one. Your perseverance is a clear sign that you were chosen by the Gods and they will continue to look over you."
Big John opened his eyes and was relieved to see that it was near dark out. Only a sliver of the day's dying light slipped into the tent. Not enough to hurt his eyes, but enough to see by.
The man hunched before him had curly blond hair and clear, penetrating blue eyes. They had a gleam to them even in the semidarkness and their focus never wavered. The man was looking straight at him, a smile spreading across his lips.
It had to have been hours since he last drank. His mouth was dry, but his throat was no longer aching.
"Yes, of course. Even the blessed have need of sustenance."
The man poured water from a metal flagon into a matching chalice and brought it to Big John's lips. The water carried a metallic taste with it, but it was cool and that was all that mattered.
"Who are you?" Big John asked.
"My name is Eddin. I came to look over the warriors of our Faith and to pray for them. I never imagined I would find you though. I knew the Gods had something in store for me, but that I would be the one to find you is a sign of divine intervention."
A rumbling chuckle escaped Big John's lungs, ending in a gasp as his wounded back protested.
"What? Do you you not believe in your calling?"
"It's not that." Big John tried to sit up, but thought better of it and remained lying down. "Truth is, I don't know what to believe in. I'm a woodcutter, no more, no less. I once had a wife and a good life. That is behind me now, but I still have a son, as far as I know, and finding him is my future. Nothing divine about that. I'm only a man."
"Wise words, my friend. Wise words. But you left out what all men are talking about. They know it and I know it and so do you." Eddin raised his eyebrows at him as if Big John truly knew what he meant. Big John did not reply and after a moments hesitation Eddin continued. "You were in the clutches of Demons and not only did you survive the evils they must have done to you, you managed to escape. Arrows that would have killed any other man - that did kill dozens - struck you down, but here you are, one of only a few recovering from his wounds. You, my friend, have been through purgatory and the Gods have seen you worthy. You are meant for more. You will play a pivotal role in these dark times that lie ahead. That is the truth that I know."
Big John said nothing and took a moment to think about Eddin's words. He didn't know much about the Gods, but he knew they hadn't been there for him when Marla was killed and the rest of Duranham as well. It did not feel like they had been watching out for him. He had to fight in the Orc camp to stay alive and he only had himself to thank for his survival.
Even if he did believe in the Gods and their power to protect him. He wanted none of it. Whatever blessing they had given him was too little too late. Marla was dead and that couldn't be changed.
Big John furrowed his brow and grimaced. "I've heard enough for now. I'm tired."
"Yes. You should rest and think about what this mean to you."
Eddin left and with him the day's light reached its end. Big John had made up his mind, but the Gods were stubborn and remained in his thoughts. Even though his head would not come to rest easily, his body needed more energy and soon he slept.