Chapter Two


It took hardly any time to assemble at least one person from each family in the two hundred-odd member community. When the people had congregated, with Rianne Deniquae at the head of what was, essentially, a confused and concerned mob, the first soldier cleared his throat, “I’ve got an official document here, but I don’t want to read it. I want you to understand, and know we’re friendly.”

“Yes, sir!” someone called out. A few people giggled quietly, and Nora was sure she saw a soldier slip a smile in between his solemnness.

“You are probably aware of the fact that Kana is at war with combined forces from Jerel, Maljei, and Seli,” he continued, “We are allied with Kai, Serifcarae, and Leanelae to a certain extent, but the war has continued for so long that people have begun to call it the Generations Wars. Due to a recent surge of action, we find that we are short of troops.” He paused.

Nora looked at Ivy, maybe to gain reassurance that this was just a preamble to another speech, but Ivy had gathered Petto to her and was staring at the soldier with a serious look on her face. Unnerved, Nora slipped away to stand next to Cragg. “Where’s this going?” she whispered.

“Nowhere good,” he replied ominously.

“To remedy this need,” the soldier went on, “we are requesting that all military-aged citizens join the fighting force.”

Cragg was muttering something, but Nora wasn’t listening. She registered the soldier’s words, and then pushed them to the back of her mind halfway through deciphering their meaning. Instead, she focused on the tall figure of Rianne Deniquae, the black of her up-done hair quivering just slightly as she spoke coolly to the soldier.

“Are you drafting, or merely requesting?”

“It’s a draft.”

“And who, exactly, are you drafting?”

“Everyone eighteen to fifty, no exceptions.”

“I see. The colony is expected to function with no adults to work or care for the children.”

“Not exactly,” he said slowly, “parents may stay if there is no one aged fifteen to seventeen to care for children.” Nora gave up her study of Rianne’s head and let the bad news soak in. I’m fifteen, she thought, and that means they can take mom with them.

“What if we won’t go?” Lars demanded, “Our whole council’s over eighteen. Who’re you to say we’re citizens?”

“This colony is in the country of Kana, and we do give you all of your food,” the soldier began to reason with him, but the crowd would have none of it. All Nora could think was my mother is going away. My mother. Is going away.

“We left your cities because you hated us!” Merq, Atkin’s father, shouted, “you didn’t want us then, so why should we go now?”

Zena pushed her way to the front of the crowd. “This is a colony,” she said, “we may take your food, but we’re our own growing community. You can’t stunt that growth.”

“Shut up, Zena,” another Usomian said scathingly.

“Yeah, don’t stunt your own growth. Don’t you know women don’t do politics?” another added. A few people snickered. Nora looked at Cragg, hoping they could be furious at this insult together. “That’s ridiculous,” she hissed. He shrugged.

“You don’t get’long with each other,” the second soldier sneered, “no wonder you need our food. You’d be animals if we didn’t make you share.”

“Maybe, but that’s why…”Zena argued, but the first soldier smoothly cut her off.

“Enough. Ms. Deniquae, will the colony go willingly or must we force you?”

A single snowball struck Zena on the back, the soft splat seeming to echo in the stillness of the crowd. Nora watched it slide down her cloak, leaving a dark spot on the turquoise, as she listened intently for Rianne’s answer, not sure what she was hoping for.

“We’ll go,” Rianne said finally. She held up her hand against the surge of noise from the crowd. “What other choice do we have? I don’t want violence. But I want every child left behind documented, with a caretaker.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am, that’s part of the procedure,” the soldier reassured her, “I have the documents here with me. Shall we start the process?”

“I don’t suppose we have much else to do,” she said icily. He cleared his throat. “Right. I’ll go inside the trade. All the adults from one area at a time will line alphabetically. Any questions?”

Silence.

“Okay then, Area One first.”

“Traveler’s Rest,” Rianne clarified.

***

By the time they got to Area Four, Atkin was sick of listening to the worried and angry whispers in the crowd, so he followed his parents inside, leaving his sister Amalie in charge of their two younger siblings. All the adults of the Pieshop, the smallest area, could just barely fit in the Trade, and Atkin was crushed in the middle with his parents, who barely seemed to notice him. He was sweating by the time they got to the counter.

“Family of Merq,” his father said to the soldier in a commanding voice. The soldier didn’t look up from his list as he asked, “Merq and Thema?”

“Yes. We leave Atkin head of the family.”

“Is he fifteen?”

“Sixteen.”

“I need the names and ages of your other children.”

“You tell them to him. I need some fresh air,” Merq said to his wife as he left.

“Amalie is fourteen, Brakis is nine, and Mayze is six,” she quietly informed the soldier. He nodded and waved her along.

***

When the final area was finished, the first soldier came out of the trade and went to talk with the others.

His face was red and he was sweating heavily. Jacques wrinkled his nose at the wet patches under his arms.

“Do you think they’ll move ‘em out now?” someone asked. He turned around.

“That’s a terrible thing to say!”

Sheen was busy tying her limp hair back. “They seem to think of us as cattle already.”

“We aren’t. Are you even sad?”

“Well, duh. But I don’t think dragging it out is going to help. People will just get antsy.”

“If they gave us more time, we could protest more, try to think of a better option.”

She gave a harsh laugh. “Ha. So we can—what? Kill them? Tie them up? We’d have the whole army upon us in a heartbeat.”

“Not if they’re preoccupied by war,” he protested.

“NO, If they’re in the middle of a war they’ll be even more pissed off that they have to deal with a bunch of revolting colonists,” she insisted.

“Okay, okay. Sheesh. What’s got you so worked up?” she glared at him. “Oh. So you do care.”

Just then, a voice called, “Sheen-a.” a sneak-elf woman was beckoning for Sheen to come to her. Sheen left without a word or a glance in Jacques’s direction, but he could swear she left swiftly to cover the red on her cheeks.

***

“Well, Sheen, it looks like you’ll have to hold down the fort for a little while,” her stepfather told her. Sometimes Sheen hated having him in her house, but he had dropped the “a” from her name when she asked, so she tried to smile. “I’ll try to be worthy of it, Jay.”

“No need to try hard for that.”

Sheena,” her mother, who had not adopted her favored name, began, “take care of yourself, okay?”

“I’m sixteen, ma. I can handle it.”

“Sanjay, would you run back to the house and make sure we have everything we want?” her mother, Nitara, asked her husband, another person whose preferred nickname she didn’t like.

Nitara put her hands on Sheen’s shoulders and tried to make eye contact. Sheen stared at her mother’s nose instead. “Sheena, I’m not an elf like you father was—”

“Don’t call us that!” Sheen interrupted.

“But,” Nitara went on determinedly, “I know you can take care of yourself. You’re skilled in the old ways. Like Coye. But I’ll still be praying for you every day.”

Sheen risked a lot at her mother’s eyes and was fascinated by the tears she thought she saw. I will not cry, she promised.

“I’m going away, sweet pea. But I love you. I’ll come back.”

“I know, ma,” Sheen whispered.

***

“I don’t want to say goodbye,” Nora said.

“What?” Ivy asked from her position kneeling on the ground, where she had been hugging a sobbing Petto for the past five minutes.

“The soldier’s going to call you to leave soon. I’m not saying goodbye. I hate goodbyes.” True to her prediction, the soldier called a warning to finish their farewells.

“You’d rather I say ‘take care of your sister’ and leave it at that?”

“Yes.” Cragg’s parents had already left him alone in the group of Kenazians with his five siblings clustered around his legs.

“At least give me a hug.” Nora stiffly received her mother’s embrace. She saw Atkin solemnly shaking his father’s hand. At least I’m not that formal, she thought.

“Listen,” Ivy said to Nora, “you want stern? Fine. Find something to do with yourself. Be a leader. Don’t get depressed. Act like I’m not coming back.”

“Okay.” On the edge of the crowd, near the sneak-elf mass, the boy from the trade with the weird hair was talking to a man who looked like a mess. He had the same hair problems.

“Make sure Petto is happy. Do the morning ritual. Don’t pick any fights. Talk to people.”

Nora could see Zena a ways off getting hugged by her parents, and a young woman handing her a blond-curled, pink-cheeked toddler.

“Just…be aware. Grow up.  Petto needs you. You need you.”

Nora felt a few tears slide down her cheeks, and found that she was too sad to be angry with herself. Caught up in the moment, she found herself uttering the words she’d been so desperate to avoid.

“Good-bye, mom.”

“Good-bye, Nora. I love you.” Gently Ivy clasped her daughter’s hands around each other. Nora watched her mother walk away. One step, five steps, ten steps…and then she was blocked by someone else’s grief-stricken parent. Nora touched her shoulders, still feeling the pressure of her mother’s arms. One minute ago. And she’s gone. Here and gone. One minute. Maybe two now.

***

“Alright, people, let’s move it out!” the soldier called, standing in the empty supply wagon. The parents began grouping about it. “We’ve got a war to fight.”

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