Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

By the time a month had passed from Draft Day and the supply cart had come and gone, the school was thriving and cramped within the Council House. It started at nine in the morning for everyone through age twelve. An advanced group for anyone older met in the evenings, and they didn’t have a class format but exchanged knowledge about literature, history, or higher math. Often this class was mostly made up of the teachers of the other class.

No one had forgotten Sheen’s promise of standing up to the supply cart when it came, so the Council members and anyone else who felt like it lined up seriously at the trade when it rolled into the colony. Never mind that the cart was half as small as usual and the portions unusually stretched—there was something very pleasurable to be had from telling the two soldiers that you were the head of the council, as Jacques realized.

There were two soldiers escorting the cart. One of them was dark-haired and red-faced, as were the majority of the people in the colony, as such features were common on Traveler’s Rest and the Slope, the two most populous areas. Usomians were generally lighter skinned, with brown hair of varying shades. Kenazians, the occupiers of the smallest area, were famous for blond hair and blue eyes, although their skin was usually pretty tanned no matter what it was born as, due to that culture’s amount of time outside. Usome and Kenezai were the oldest religions, and actually both of them came from a more nothernly place than Kana, with Usomians migrating south sooner. Laios was born much later in the southern country of Leanelae, and there was no telling how old Mashomi was, as there were so many variations. Nora and most people of Traveler’s Rest were better classified as Kanosi, a form found only in Kana. As for Sheen, she really had the oldest heritage of all, being born of a group long isolated in the Hokfeal forest of western Kana. They were separated so long that they developed a unique skin tone, well suited to wood hunting. Their stealth had given them the unfortunate name of sneak-elf.

So the first soldier, who did any talking that needed to be done, was dark as a normal Kanian, but the second was blond and slight, with eyes that were almost a pure blue, but not quite. He had a narrow face and cheekbone that stuck out, giving him a starved look. He never spoke, but watched everyone, particularly Atkin and his crowd.

***

A few days after the cart left, the second soldier stumbled into the Pieshop in the evening. He knocked on Atkin’s door.

What is he doing here? Atkin wondered as he opened it.

“Please, could I stay the night?” the soldier gasped. He looked very tired out.

“The door is always open,” Atkin replied with the usual formality. He led the man inside and gestured to a mat around the central fire.

“Thank you. My name is Rouk.”

“Atkin. What happened to you?”

“A raiding party. Elves and godlings. They beat me and tied me up. I escaped while they slept.”

“And your companion?”

“Killed. First thing. I wish they woulda killed me too, but they chose to have some fun with the Irka instead.”

Atkin grimaced at the slur. He fetched a cup of cold water and handed it to Rouk. Normally he would have made his sister do it, but he’d sent the others to bed in order to have some time alone with the Lords and his thoughts. “In the morning you can head back to Uto. I’m sure the council will give you supplies if you ask.”

“I don’t want to go back to Uto.”

“Why not?” Rouk said nothing for a minute, and then he spoke staring at the fire. “You do know I was actually raised an Irka, even though I don’t wear the clothes.”

Atkin flinched again. “Please don’t use that word in this house.”

“Why not?” Rouk laughed. “If we reclaim it and use it, they can’t hurt us with it. Anyway, when I was your age  I wanted nothing to do with the faith. I officially broke with it and joined the army.”

Atkin briefly tried to imagine what it would be like to leave his entire upbringing and failed miserably.

“But in the army, people still made fun of me and even more my friends who were still Irkas. I left for a while, to try and find a job, but it was really hard to get hired. I could see the hatred everywhere, and could do nothing to stop it, and I didn’t even wear the clothes anymore. I turned to drinking for a while, and I joined the army again for lack of money. But I can’t help thinking of a free place for all of us Irkas to live.”

“You aren’t one anymore.”

“Oh, I don’t wear the clothes anymore. I’m not sure if I believe in the Lords. But I was born to it, and wherever my family is, they’re still it. I can’t turn away from my birthright. It took me a while to realize it, but I do now. For a while I thought about rejoining, but better to keep the faith pure, you know?”

I know.

“I didn’t think there was any other option. I thought I would just have to let my ideas go. But when I saw this place, saw how you have your own area and are still teased. And I’m determined now to find a place all for us. A community that won’t be dependant on those who hate.”

“That’s…pretty appealing.”

“You think it’s impossible?”

Atkin thought about that one. Not in theory, but… “I don’t know if they would like it very much.”

“That’s the catch, in’ it? Now where’m I beddin’ down?”

“If you don’t mind…my sister is asleep and I hate to wake her, so there’s no one to get the guest mats out. Here by the fire.”

“I don’t mind. You follow the rules, don’cha.”

“I am a loyal follower of the Rules of the Lords.”

“Good for you. I admire that in a fellow. You’re smart, Atkin.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Rouk. That doesn’t contradict a rule, does it?”

“No, not as long as you did the asking.”

“Good. Well, goodnight, Atkin. Thank you.”

“The door is always open.”

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