(Again, be warned that I speed wrote this chapter!)
Varien stirred the coals thoughtfully,” Ike says that we have to support the war. He fought in it, and he tells me stories some times . . .” he shivered,” if the Derns ever broke our defences then we'd all die.”
Dane shook his head, shoving a heap of scraps onto the floor where they would stay till recycled,” the government controls the stonemakers, and through them, they control everything. What if we're on the wrong side? What if the Derns are the good guys? What if they're the one's fighting oppression?”
Varien smiled thinly,” I guess we'll never know.”
Just then the door to the front of the shop opened and Paine stepped out, a worried look on his face, his brown eyes tenser than usual,” boys, come 'ere!”
Dane raised a curious eyebrow at Varien who just shrugged. They paced over to Paine.
“What is it?” Dane asked, glancing through the open door into the empty shop, with it's perfect shelves filled with beautiful candles.
“My Communicator stone just sent me a message from the maurman! He wants every person between the ages of fifteen and forty up at the fort grounds by tidefall!” Paine's face was pale, and he looked tense: worried.
Dane glanced down at his hand, clutching the small blue and white Communicator stone,” we'd better get moving then,” he muttered, looking disappointedly back at his unfinished work on the table behind him,” the tide was already going down when I last saw it.”
Varien gulped,” father,” he said, fear tinging his voice,” do you think they might be recruiting?”
Paine gave a short nod.” They might be. Just pray you're not chosen, if it is!”
Dane pursed his lips, and then stepping over to Varien put an arm around his shoulders,” come on! I bet it isn't anything!” But the message told otherwise, fifteen to forty. That was the age group from which soldiers were picked.
Paine nodded and smiled bravely, pushing his worries aside,” aye! Let's go. I'll pick up your mother and see you at the fountain!” he jerked his coat off of the hook on the wall and then slipped into the shop to close up.
Dane sighed,” come on.” Together he and Varien slipped out the side-door to the work-shop and headed out into the street. Earlier the whole street had been swarming with bustling, chatting citizens, but now it was quickly emptying. People were stepping out of their homes and turning, suspiciously, to head for the towering fort that loomed in the distance.
Dane and Varien followed the flow, walking quickly up the cobblestone road. They were silent, nervous even.
I won't let Varien be taken to the wars, I don't care what I have to do! Dane promised himself, glancing up at the towering granite houses and mansions lining the road. They'd entered the richer centre of the city, having just exited the merchant section. If it's a recruiting at all!
Nobody ever came back from the wars. Nobody. The last recruiting had been fifteen years ago, when Dane was two. Paine told him that there had been 43,329 men and women in the city who were of age at the time. One out of every four of them had been chosen, marched up to the fort for a day, then transported to a training facility closer to the War-zone.
All that returned to the city were letters of condolence. Not even a single body came back.
As they approached the city square Dane began to notice that something was wrong. He glanced back at Varien,” keep close! The crowd's pretty thick up here.”
Varien gave him a quick nod and stepped up close behind him. Up ahead Dane heard angry yells, and noticed that a number of people were moving away from the crowded area. Some had tear-stained faces. Something was wrong.
Carefully he edged forward through the surging crowd, trying to find out what had happened, or was happening, that would cause such a commotion. Suddenly he felt a body slam into his side and he was thrown forward through the crowd out out onto the bare cobblestones.
He winced, his knees stinging and slowly stood. And now he saw what was happening.
A row of steel plated guards stood, lined up in a perfect row right across the road that entered the city square. Their faces were impassive and dead-eyed, and they did not move from their positions as the people surged up to them and pounded on their armour, crying to be let through.
A few yards behind the guards were a number of thin, dark-cloaked men, shoving the people that the guards passed them behind them to join one of three separate groups of people, divided by age groups, and heavily guarded by soldiers.
Suddenly fear gripped Dane. The army was recruiting!” Varien, turn around! Get out of the crowd! Get to father, tell him-” he yelled frantically, turning to where Varien, stood, staring at him in shock.
But just at that moment a pair of powerful hands grabbed him by his jacket and heaved him to his feet. One of the men in the wall of guards reached out and tossed Varien behind him like he weighed nothing.
The guard who had grabbed Dane now firmly turned him around to face a thin, hawk-faced scribe holding a recording stone.
He glanced up at Dane, his face tired and bored.“ Name, age, rank, and occupation!” he demanded.
A couple feet away Varien stood frozen while another scribe asked him the same thing. Slowly his younger cousin began to answer,” Varien Verkeye, fifteen years old, first level merchantman, rope maker's apprentice,” he stuttered fearfully.
The scribe nodded, holding out another recorder stone. A moment later Varien was given a violent shove and sent stumbling forward into a group of scared looking kids, guarded closely by a ring of armoured soldiers.
“Kid! Answer me!” growled the scribe in front of Dane.
He snapped his gaze back down to him. This couldn't be happening! This had to stop! He shook his head slightly. He wasn't going to do this! He had to think of a way to get out of here! Now!
The scribe jerked his head to one of the awaiting guards and Dane felt a sharp prick of a halberd in his back. He winced. These weren't the usual town guards. They must have come in on the Naurstone.
“You're not gonna kill me!” he hissed stubbornly.
The scribe narrowed his eyebrows and pulling an oval black stone out of his pocket pointed it at Dane, closing his eyes slightly as he concentrated.
Dane stared at the stone, he'd never seen one like it before, and had no idea what it was. For a moment he stared at it, surprised. But nothing happened.
The scribe opened his eyes, a confused look flitting across his face,” if you-” he began, but suddenly Dane felt a rough hand fall onto his shoulder and the man stopped.
Jerking himself around he found himself face to face with Koth. The burly guard nodded slightly to the scribe and then turned his hardened, chiseled face back to Dane,” just tell them Dane. Don't worry. Chances are Varien won't be chosen! Don't make them have to work to get this information. You won't win.”
Dane nodded slightly. He trusted Koth a lot, even though they didn't really know one another.
Slowly he turned back to the scribe,” Dane Tarke, seventeen years old, first level -” he stopped, but a quick glance back at Koth told him to continue,” serf.” he finished.” assistant candle-maker.”
The scribe sneered at him,” a Tarke serf,” he muttered under his breath, lowering his recording stone and motioning to the awaiting guards to put him over with the others of his age. 'Tarke' was the last name given to any illegitimate, unclaimed child; it marked him forever as a slave, until he proved he wasn't one.
He was at least a first level peasant because he lived with a good family, and had some small skill.
He quickly found Varien in the crowd of silently whispering people, all very close to his own age,” stay with me,” he said softly,” chances are you won't be chosen. So don't worry!”
Varien nodded, his face pale, and they stood, side by side as they waited.