Elias folded his good white shirt and placed it in the duffel atop his other worldly possessions he was allowed to take with him; two pairs of pants – one black, one dark blue, small clothes and undershirts, three pair of long underwear his mother had made special for the trip, two long, woolen shirts and the jackets to match the pants, the slingshot he’d carved from the tree branch that had caught his eye as being ‘perfect’ when he was only ten years old, all three books that he had bought with his own money, and the letters from his summer away from Anise tucked away with a red ribbon to keep them together and safe. For Induction today, he wore the gray suit with his black shirt. He knew he’d be issued a uniform as soon as he arrived, but he still wanted to look presentable at the gates.
A small part of his mind wondered how many other young men showing up today could boast three coats and the pants to match. He didn’t think there would be very many, if any at all.
Nor would many manage a purse with two golds, twelve silvers and forty-seven coppers. The treasure constituted all the money he had in the world and he didn’t know if he’d need it where he was going or not, but he wanted it with him just the same.
A crash at his door announced the arrival of Jaina, her red curls a tangled mass as she bounded in without so much as a knock, legs pumping as she kicked the yellow, frilly dress she wore. She looked a thunderhead, face flushed and hands balled into fists at her sides. Her eyes were red and puffy, and he knew she’d been crying again.
“Talk to Father, Elias! He has to listen to you! He has to!”
Ah. She’d been talking to Father again. No doubt he’d switched her for it as well. Normally, she’d have bounded in here and bounced onto the bed, but instead she stood just inside the door fidgeting. Oh yes, she’d been switched. He knew that fidget all too well.
Elias sighed, turning back to the duffel and cinching it closed, his eyes straying to what lay wrapped in a leather holster on his bed. A gun. And this was no ordinary gun – this was a rifle. A repeater as well. With this he could fire a dozen shots without having to reload – important that. The inlaid stock, the silver inset with his initials, ‘E S R’ for Elias sanRian – oh yes, this was as fine a weapon as he’d ever seen and had surely never dreamt of owning such a thing. Yet here it was, with his initials inlaid on the stock in silver as if to shout to the world that he came from a wealthy family.
One that would not buy out his Conscription. It marked him as something; what, he wasn’t certain. A failure? A bastard son? Who knew how the story would go, but a story there would be and whether or not it hindered or helped him to survive was yet to be seen.
The saber lay next to the rifle, fit snugly in the scabbard his mother had commissioned for him with it’s intricate design – dragons battling each other up one side and back down the other. He was almost certain his mother had been responsible for both weapons and not just the saber, but she claimed only the one and not the other. His father had presented him with the rifle just after dinner, his mother the saber, and neither looked very happy about it. She disagreed with this whole mess, but he knew his father would not budge once a decision had been made, and he’d made up his mind about this.
“Father doesn’t listen, Jaina. He speaks and other people listen. We’ve argued enough. There’s nothing left to say.”
Suddenly she was beside him, eyes staring down at the rifle still wrapped in leather. “It’s not every day Father gives you a gun…”
“He has a guilty conscious, and a wife who does not let him rest when she thinks him wrong.”
Jaina stared daggers at him. “Why must you make it more difficult?!”
Jaina was the baby in the family, only ten years old, but far too smart and mature for her age. He’d always said so. They never let her be a child and yet insisted on dressing her up like some doll all in lace and frill, hair curled and lips painted. Nor had they let Ari be a child with all their rules – they drilled into both of them a sense of honor and duty that had always grated on him and he feared it would crush his siblings once he was gone. Any attempt to discuss it, though, was met with harsh words and the strap if he were too lose with his tongue.
“I don’t think it’s very fair that you have to leave,” Jaina said while still eyeing the rifle on the bed.
“Life isn’t always fair,” he said softly. “You should remember that. We don’t always get what we want. Sooner you learn that, better off you’ll be. Especially with Father.”
Elias finished cinching up the duffel and put his arm through the cord, slinging it over his shoulder. Jaina stepped forward and took the saber from the bed, wrapping the belt around his waist easily enough, her face utterly serious. She tightened it, then stood staring up at him, green eyes brimming over with tears.
“I don’t want you to go there.”
Cupping her chin, he gave her a smile. The best he could manage when all he wanted to do was shout to the stars and rage against the injustice of it all. He smiled.
“I’ll be fine, Jaina. If anyone can come back from there, I can.”
“I promise,” he said softly, wanting nothing more than to wince for it. He’d never broken a promise to her before, but this one was made without any surety of his being able to keep it. He was heading to Evermist, and no one he knew had ever come back from there.
Hugging her tightly while she sobbed against him, he finally had to pull her free, pick up and walk out of the room.
* * *
The promise bothered him as he waited for the lightwagon. He’d managed to break cleanly with Anise the night before, telling her not to even consider waiting for him. She had to live her own life and not pine after him. It ripped him apart inside to do so, but it was for the better. Even if he returned, her father would never agree to marry her to a Militiaman – and that was assuming a great deal; first, that he’d come back, second, that he would be something more than a simply Militiaman, perhaps an Undercaptain or Officer.
As bleak as he felt at the moment, he didn’t consider either possibility to be very likely.
Promising Jaina that he’d come back… It was a mistake, and he knew it, but he couldn’t stand seeing her in tears. Dinner the night before had been bad enough and he had no desire to relive it all again. So he told her what she wanted to hear and that’s that. He would try to live up to that promise, and not just for her, but for himself as well. He didn’t want to die, he just knew that his chances of survival were not good.
He was going to Evermist, after all.