Jennifer Bresnick ’07 is the author of the sci fi/fantasy novel The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, which which was named the 2012 GRAND PRIZE WINNER for Best Self-Published Book (all genres) by Shelf Unbound Magazine. Born and raised on Long Island, NY, she now resides in the Boston area, fervently avoiding all discussions about professional sports.When she isn’t writing down the conversations in her head to give them an appearance of respectability, Jen enjoys crocheting silly animal hats, being creative in the kitchen, and on a completely unrelated note, putting out kitchen fires. For more, visit http://jenniferbresnick.com
There was always a war. The teams sometimes rearranged themselves, and land would change hands when one player’s fortunes dipped particularly low, but somewhere, for some reason, there was always a war.
After close to seven hundred years, most of the participants were finding it hard to keep up. The great empire of Zanuth-Karun had fallen, Umre and Agan were no more; Gidan had long since claimed neutrality, roundly denounced as a cop-out by all sides.
Untold thousands of kings, generals, and heroes had gained the dubious immortality that comes from being killed in interesting ways. The original grievances were all but forgotten, wearing down the fervent patriotism of centuries ago into a comfortable, familiar antagonism: a predetermined set of countries to be steadily and continuously despised.
Somewhere north of the Schism Line, just past the edge of the clearing in the dense pine forest where his regiment was camped, a soldier named Tev Chrisini reluctantly pushed the dice across the makeshift yasho table and let Neidril take his turn.
“Are you sure, sir?” Neidril asked. “If I get more than a ten, there isn’t a way you can make it up.”
“Just finish the round,” Tev replied, gesturing for him to continue. “I can cover it. Don’t worry,” he added when the man looked at him doubtfully.
“You didn’t last time.”
“Yes I did. And I would have sooner, if she had just listened to me,” Tev replied, smiling a little as he remembered the incident in a little border town a few months prior. The innkeeper’s wife had chased him out of the building, screaming and throwing a chicken at him – a live, squawking, terrified chicken – when she thought he was about to run out on a large debt to her husband.
He had no intention of doing so, of course, but she had been so furious over the possibility that his explanations were worthless to her. It hadn’t been his proudest moment, trapped in a corner, fighting to get control of the livid, flailing bird as the woman searched for more poultry, but it had been pretty funny.
But he wasn’t surprised that he was losing again, and badly. In fact, he thought, he ought to be used to it by now, since he was fighting for Kialdar again, and Kialdar wasn’t doing quite as well as it could have hoped.
As a small satellite country with few of its own resources to devote to its defense, Kialdar had experienced its fortunes changing often enough to have given up any illusion of self-determination long ago. It had been targeted for centuries for its strategic importance, as it was sandwiched between the two dominant nations of the day: Osero in the south and its enemy in the north, the Ikeli kingdom of Awd Cian.
Tev was a lieutenant for the moment, although in other armies he had been a common foot soldier, a major several times and once, due to an administrative error, a full colonel for almost six years. He was gambling with his men out of sheer boredom, having found themselves in an isolated region somewhere in the middle of the country, even though it was strictly forbidden by the regulations of every place he had ever served.
But the officers wouldn’t honor his notes anymore, leaving him without too many other alternatives until he had access to one of his accounts. He supposed he could give up the habit, but that was an option he was disinclined, at the moment, to explore. When they reached Echsir, assuming the Eidarhta hadn’t already taken possession of the city, he could set his affairs to rights.
Tev sighed as he watched Neidril make his throw. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was lending his services to Kialdar again, instead of joining up with one of the major powers with better benefits. At the moment, most of the country was firmly in Ikeli territory, as it had been for some years now, but his company was bound for Echsir to try to push back against the recent Eidarhta gains. The southerners seemed to be making quite an effort.
The fact that he had grown up in Kialdar might have had some influence. But he had changed sides many times, and had paid the ultimate price under more flags than he could count, for longer than he could remember. Loyalty and patriotism had little to do with it anymore.
The unfortunate truth was that Tev Chrisini was immortal. He bled like other men, felt the same pain, and died, in a manner of speaking, as they did. But sometime later, perhaps a few hours, or a day, he would wake up again and begin to heal from whatever wounds he had earned – only slightly faster than normal, to his everlasting annoyance – and even his deepest scars faded away eventually.
It hadn’t been a choice of his; he hadn’t sought it out, and he didn’t know of anyone else who was in his position. But no matter how many times he ran into a hail of arrows, was the first to scale the walls of an enemy fort, or stood firmly on the front lines of a bloody engagement, it never seemed to do him any permanent harm.
He had, of course, gone searching for evidence that he had been dipped in an enchanted stream or cursed by an old crone at birth, after he had first realized his predicament nearly half a millennium ago. But nothing came up, he found no leads to follow, and eventually he became discouraged and his quest drew to a close.
It was frustrating and difficult, since he had always known he was missing part of his earliest memories, which were undoubtedly the key to his origins. His parents, ordinary laborers from the abundant and valuable salt mines in the Yene Mountains, had told him early on that he was a fosterling they had taken in – not an uncommon situation when the drawn-out war left so many penniless widows, and disease or childbirth took more – and they didn’t know much about where he had come from.
No mysterious amulets or ancient scrolls were left to him by his untraceable birth parents. The village wise woman claimed ignorance, and the few learned scholars at both Ikeli and Eidarhta monasteries he had trusted to keep his secret safe had no answers for him – and none of them were interested in the birthmark on his left shoulder that looked a little like a crescent moon if he pinched the skin just right. But each one of them had ended the conversation by offering him all sorts of gifts and incentives to get him to fight openly on their side.
He had never been willing to do so, since the churches tended to frown quite seriously on what they could not explain through their own devices, and he fell far outside of the usual scope of their teachings. But he had indeed fought for both north and south, in his time, not being too concerned with the ideology.
War had become his profession, almost by necessity. He had tried a few times to settle down, to learn a trade and make himself useful, but it only lasted for a decade or two at best, until boredom set in and suspicions were raised in the village. Army service was a requirement in every country in any case, and in his situation, it seemed best to be some place where turnover was relatively high. Long memories usually weren’t a problem on the front lines.
But aside from the fact that he was at least five hundred years old, there wasn’t much else unusual about Tev. He was good at being a soldier, having benefited from long exposure, and he had picked up more than the usual compliment of languages, some living, and some he had watched die out. He always looked the same: around thirty, of somewhat average build, with unremarkable brown hair, blue eyes, and commonplace but generally agreeable features. He tended to blend in almost everywhere he went and rarely stuck out in anyone’s mind for long.
Tev supposed he appreciated being immortal rather than not, and every forty or fifty years he allowed himself one act of desperate heroism that he invariably survived against all odds, as a reward for enduring the tedious isolation of his typical life. But as the years flew by him and blended into a long and anonymous past, he sometimes wished for the passion, fervor, and fear that drove his comrades to charge outnumbered onto the field or make hopeless last stands for more noble reasons than simply to break up the monotony.
He was feeling passion and fear at that very moment, but it was fear for his rapidly emptying wallet rather than his life.
“Six and three makes nine. You still think you can beat that, sir?” said Neidril.
“There’s always a chance, isn’t there?” Tev said, and concentrated on his play.
Behind him, Lerien rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. Tev ignored him. Lerien often tried to dissuade his friend from hitting the tables, to little effect. He was Eidarhta originally, and their Council had always taken a strong stance against gambling, but Lerien wasn’t particularly devout and mostly tried to keep Tev away because he found the game to be insufferably dull.
Tev had met Lerien just about five years prior on a reconnaissance mission through the backcountry of Osero, when the Ikeli had advanced almost as far south as they had in the past sixty years. Lerien was a partisan of sorts, an Osero native who provided information and acted as a guide for the difficult territory between the Maeglu River and the northern border.
In the time since then, Tev had gathered that he was from an important family that had been hit hard at some point during the last major engagement in Osero’s capital, Isata. But Lerien had never been very forthcoming about his origins, and rarely spoke about his upbringing or his past.
Tev, however, had been forced to reveal his secret a few years ago, at the Sixteenth Battle of Usashon, after Lerien saw him take an arrow to the neck and walk away. It was normally his policy, after being unequivocally killed, to switch sides and start afresh in a different country. No one besides Lerien had ever asked to come with him before.
Tev released the dice and rolled a pair of ones. “Damn it,” he muttered as the spectators around the table murmured their approval or distress and conducted discreet transactions based on the result.
“Hah! That’s fifteen pieces of silver you owe me!” Neidril crowed. “Sir,” he belatedly added when he saw Tev’s glower.
Tev reluctantly paid up with the last of his remaining funds and left the table. “I almost had it,” he said to Lerien with a sheepish grin.
“You were fifty-six points away from winning,” Lerien observed.
“That’s closer than I usually am.”
Lerien shook his head. “I don’t understand why you like to waste your money like that.”
“No, you probably don’t,” Tev replied. “And I wouldn’t say I like to waste it. It’s only a waste if I don’t win it back.”
“You never win it back.”
“I haven’t won it back yet.”
Lerien sighed again. “Right. Well, I don’t care. It’s your funeral.”
“You know,” Tev said, “it actually never is.”