The Battle Stone

Flecks of wet snow fell from the murky white sky and landed on the boy's shoulders gently, with a bitter wind nipping at his face as he stood outside, his booted feet buried halfway in a sea of radiant cold. He sniffed, silently, and was not surprised to hear a high-pitched whimper behind him, but he willed himself to ignore it. The cries of his mother would not help the decision he was compelled to make.

The nicker of an impatient horse moved the boy to look up, and his grey eyes met the serious stare of the men on horseback who had come for him. Their armor was thick, rusted and dirty, and all three of them had gristly, untamed beards crusted with snow. One of them dug the heels of his boots into the sides of his horse, and the beast trotted forward with no hesitation, accustomed to the orders of its master.

"Ye make the choice now, boy," said the man grimly. The boy's eyes never left the sad, aged face of the man who spoke, and his continued silence only made the man as impatient as the horse he sat upon. "We have no time to waste. Ye leave now, or you're sent to Lord Fychan."

The boy's mother rushed forward and grabbed her son in an unrelenting embrace, her breath cold and her hands stiff.

"He doesn't have to go. Ye hear that, Cadwgawn? Ye don't need to go." She buried her face in his dark, icy hair and kissed his head, and still, the boy remained motionless and mute, the paleness in his eyes becoming all the more bright in the winter glow.

The man heaved a sigh and dismounted, trudging towards Cadwgawn and then crouching down on one knee so as to be at eye level with the grey-eyed child.

"Yer mother's right, lad. Ye don't have to go, but ye'll work forever for Lor' Fychan. Ye won't be free."

"He won't be free if you take him!" screamed his mother, her throat aching from sobs. "You knights leave. You're not welcome here anymore."

The one arm she had around her son tightened as she saw the man come forward, one burly, bruised arm extended towards Cadwgawn. On instinct, she pulled her son away and turned him around so that his eyes would only see the drizzling snow and the moaning, thin frames of the forest trees. And she shielded him with her frail body and exhausted heart.

And the love she felt for her only son, and more so, the only child of her deceased husband, was broken as the boy turned his head and reached out to the man with shaking fingers and a passive face.

"Cadwgawn?" gasped his mother, releasing him as water flooded to her grey eyes. "My son, no…" She wept, her knees buckling and collapsing into the snow as her bony hands veiled her contorting face.

"I'm sorry, Mama," said Cadwgawn, looking back at her with hesitation. He feared that if he stayed with his mother for one moment longer, he would change his mind.

Quickly, he went to her and embraced her, and the poor woman was forced to remove her hands from her face and hold her son for one last time. He then kissed her cheek and withdrew, hurrying to the man he did not know, and thus sealing his fate.

The other two men who had accompanied their comrade had brought out a horse, the only horse Cadwgawn and his mother owned, and had it equipped with saddle, reins and the simple bundle of the boy's belongings, which were few. With little aid, Cadwgawn mounted and stared long and hard at the cheerless, pallid countenance of his mother before he turned his horse about and galloped away with the three knights.

A/N: Just as a note, the names used here are Welsh. "Cadwgawn" is pronounced, Cad-oh-gan. And "Fychan" is pronounced the same as Vaughan.

I hope you like it.