The guard at the gate gave us a strange look when we told him that we wanted to join the army. He seemed to sense we were up to something, but he couldn’t see how a bunch of grubby children could do anything once we were in custody of the soldiers.
We had to give our weapons to the guard, which made everyone uncomfortable, except Rachael. I wished that I had magic abilities so I wouldn’t feel so exposed without my sword.
The guard took us through the castle’s court yard, then stopped at a metal gate. A black-haired girl dressed in leather armor opened it. I looked at the top of her sword, sticking out of its sheath. It wasn’t a wolf’s head.
“They want to join the army,” the guard said.
“Want to?” The girl raised an eyebrow—the only sign of expression on her face.
“That’s what I said,” the guard said. “Just take them to Commander Serun.”
The girl looked us over with shrewd eyes.
“They haven’t been to Bayvlad?” she asked him.
There was that name again. Who was this Bayvlad?
“Like I said.” The guard spoke slowly as if she were deaf. “They asked to be brought here. Not to Bayvlad.”
The girl regarded him coolly, then without looking at us said, “This way.”
She turned around and led us into a large dirt yard with about thirty boys and girls standing in straight rows, listening to the bulky man in front of them who was yelling about how wimpy they were. He must be Commander Serun.
He stopped when he saw the dark-haired girl bring us in. “What is this Lieutenant Nakin?”
The girl was a Lieutenant? She couldn’t be much older than us. She must have been brought here when she was very young to get to that rank by 16 or 17. All interest in Nakin faded when Commander Serun stepped away from the rows of recruits and came to us. At the top of his sword was a wolf’s face.
“The next batch of recruits isn’t due for another few weeks.” He looked us over, much as Nakin had when she first saw us. I took the opportunity to scrutinize the sword at his side. It was definitely my father’s. I’d seen the regal look on the wolf’s face every day.
“Bayvlad’s rejects?” Commander Serun asked.
“No sir,” Nakin said. “The guard at the gate brought them. He said they wanted to join.”
The commander let out a bellowing laugh. “I’ve never heard of orphans turning themselves over.”
“I’m not an orphan.” I was shocked that Rachael spoke. The commander didn’t seem like the type that would do well with contradictions.
He whipped his head toward her and locked his hard eyes on her. Rachael continued, undeterred.
“My father is here in the castle. Tallis. He was the ambassador to Hashna.”
Commander Serun stepped closer to her. “It’s a good thing you’re too weak to join the recruits or I’d have you flogged for such a ridiculous lie.”
“It isn’t a lie. If you would—“
He got in her face. “Don’t presume to tell me what to do girl. Gods know why you wanted to join the army. Not only are you weak, you’re disrespectful.” He turned to Nakin. “Take her away. It would be a waste of time to train her.”
“To Bayvlad sir?” Nakin asked.
“I don’t care.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Just get her out of my sight.”
He looked at Faiza, Ethan, and me. “You three. Fall in line with the others.” He turned and stomped away without waiting to see if we would comply. I watched the sword at his side sway with every step and heat bubbled inside at the thought of this arrogant man carrying my father’s sword.
“Come on,” Nakin said to Rachael. She looked annoyed at being tasked with taking her. Rachael looked to me. Her blue eyes questioning whether she should go or not. I would have rather us stay together, but I couldn’t see anyway to keep her with us. We’d be together before the end of the day anyway when Samel brought Tallis to us.
I gave her a small nod and she turned to follow Nakin. Faiza, Ethan, and I fell in line behind the others.
“You’re a sorry lot,” Commander Serun growled. “I’m going to have to work you hard if you’re going to become one-tenth the soldiers my men are.”
I hoped Samel found Tallis quickly.
I dropped to the mattress, feeling the hard floor beneath as my weight pressed it down. I was just glad to be still for a moment. I thought I was in good shape until spending a day with Commander Serun. We hadn’t stopped moving the entire day. We did a lot of pushups and running while carrying heavy packs on our back. Maybe it was a good thing that Rachael was taken away. I wondered if she was with that Bayvlad guy.
I still couldn’t figure out why his name sounded familiar. Commander Serun asked Nakin if we were Blayvlad’s rejects. He must be another commander that trained recruits.
“Do you think that Samel has found Rachael’s father yet?” Ethan asked from the mattress a few inches away. He kept his voice low so the other boys coming into the room and flopping on mattresses wouldn’t hear.
“I thought he would have come and got us by now,” I whispered.
“So did I. I hope nothing…” He didn’t continue his thought, but we both knew what he was about to say. Samel may be invisible, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have bumped into someone or made a noise that got him discovered.
“It’s a big place,” Ethan said. “I guess it will take Samel a long time to find him.”
Maybe it was just the largeness of the castle, but what if something did happen? How long should we stay here before trying to find out?
“We should go,” I said.
“Try to find Samel. Rachael. Or her father.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“We wait for everyone to fall asleep, then we sneak off.” My eyelids were heavy along with the rest of my body and I wanted to sleep like the others. But the longer we waited, the harder it would be to find the others.
“Tonight?” Ethan asked. “How are we going to get out? They lock the gate.”
Maybe we could climb the gate, though that seemed unlikely since the gate was made with bars that ran vertically, like a jail door. There was no way to climb it.
Maybe if we looked around we could find a way out. Then again, if we left now, we would have to leave Faiza behind since she was sleeping in another room with the girls.
If you missed a chapter or don’t know who some of the characters are, visit the Hashna Stone Page for a link to previous chapters and a list of characters. (There’s even a picture of Dalan’s father’s sword…you know…in case you were wondering what it looked like. 🙂 )