The lightwagon hummed as the driver navigated the streets of Valles. Elias sat in the coach, arm resting on the window sill as he watched the city pass by. No one else had flagged the driver down, so he rode alone and it suited his mood.
The winding road from the hills down to the lower city held little beyond the normal city clamor for him to concentrate on but it was better than the alternative. He watched as the fine coats with tails of the Gentry of the Hills gave way to the rougher, woolen coats of the lower city. The colors had always surprised him, even when he was a child and would take trips with his parents to the lower city to catch a boat to Southport, where his Grandparents lived. Yellows and blues and reds were the colors of the coats here – but always bright. The Hills, everything seemed somehow duller and drab.
Large houses with immaculate gardens and windows full of shine and polish gave way to smaller dwellings where the glass windows were of a lower quality and difficult to see through. Here and there, he still saw broken roofs and decaying walls and wondered why the wealth of Valles had not extended this far into the lower city just yet.
“Fort Sudren coming up Boss,” called the driver and Elias rapped the top of the coach as acknowledgment. Gathering his things as the hum of the lightwagon lessened to nearly nothing, Elias waited for it to stop completely before unlatching the door and stepping down onto the street. The lightwagon shifted slightly yet continued to hover just above the ground.
“Two and three,” said the driver, and Elias dug the silver and copper from his pocket and handed it over with a small tip. All of it an extravagance he probably couldn’t afford anymore, taking a lightwagon instead of walking on his own two good legs, but he’d not wanted to bother with navigating the streets on his own so he counted it well worth it.
“Thankee sir,” called the driver as he pushed a lever forward and eased the lightwagon back onto the track and down the street. Elias had always wondered what made them go, but his Father would answer, “That’s the Magistrate’s business and none of yours!” so he had never learned. He supposed he never would now.
The guards at the gate nodded as he walked through. Each had a rifle on his shoulder and a pistol and saber on his belt. The younger of the two looked familiar, and it took Elias a moment to realize he was the son of a Merchant from down the Row, a man of some import if he recalled correctly. His service here in the guard at Valles had most likely been bought and paid for.
It’s what his Mother had wanted his Father to do for him.
The guard didn’t look at him with any kind of recognition, and to be honest, Elias could not recall the man’s name nor his families name, so he decided it was best not to even speak about knowing him.
Inside the tall walls of Fort Sudren, hundreds of young men like himself were gathered here and there in lose formations, all looking wide-eyed and shocked at where they stood. An older man with closely shaven hair and a piece of wood where his right leg used to be, gestured at Elias with a cane he held in his right hand, motioning for him to step forward. Since no one else seemed concerned with his presence fresh from the gates, Elias obliged the man.
He was at least as tall as Elias himself, nearly five foot seven although it was hard to judge with the peg leg. His hair was shaved closer to his head than Elias had ever seen, barely showing a wisp of brown coloring. His beard, though, was like mixing salt and pepper in a bowl, equal parts white and dark throughout, and cut in such a way that it outlined his jaw and mouth sharply, with nary a hair out of place. His body was lean and muscular and he wore the dark blues of command, a pair of stripes visible on his sleeves and a single stripe down his pant leg. Elias wasn’t sure of the rank – not yet, but he’d seen enough of these men come and go from his Father’s dinner table to know it meant he was to be listened to.
“Name,” the man said as a clipboard materialized in his hand. His tone made it clear answering was not optional.
“Elias sansRian,” he answered.
“Elias, Son of Rian,” the man replied as he checked something off on his paper. “Sign or make your mark here…”
The man held the clipboard out and Elias signed next to his name.
“You’re with L Company – they’re on the western edge of the field and flying a blue flag with white stripes. Form up there for Induction. You’ll be issued your uniform and processed after the Captain has his words.”
“Yes sir,” he replied, and the man gripped his elbow like a vice. Elias stared, mouth half open as if to complain, but something in the man’s eyes kept him silent. Here was a one legged man who managed to scare the wits right out of him simply by looking at him.
“Good instincts,” the man said, his voice like gravel. “But I ain’t a ‘sir’. Faster you learn that, better off you’ll be. These stripes,” he said, pointing. “Makes me a Sergent. I work for a living, you got me?”
Elias could only nod, unable to find his voice. There was something about the man’s eyes, all cold and blue, that made him shiver and want to run away. When his arm was released, Elias wasted no time scurrying off to find his company.
He was surprised that none of the other young men looked that different from himself; all wide-eyed and nervous, clutching bags and appearing generally lost. He knew his own face must be a mirror of these others. Another man in blue, this one much younger and without any stripes on his sleeve, lead him out to a spot in the formation and told him to stand there until Induction was over.
Once the other was away, Elias looked to his left and smiled nervously at the young man beside him, who returned it in like. Soon, another man stood to his right and Elias also smiled at him and received a smile in return. This was his company, he figured it was never too soon to start making friends with the men who might save his life one day.
Perhaps a quarter of an hour passed before his company was looking very full, as were all the others. He counted ten companies based on the formations, and all facing a raised platform just in front of what looked like offices of some kind. He knew that the Fort itself was much larger than this one area where they gathered, and guessed that it must spread out behind those offices to include barracks and access to the docks below.
It wasn’t much longer until a group of men climbed the stairs and formed up on the dais. One in particular stepped to the edge and faced the assembled companies. From all around them, the men in the blue coats began shouting for quiet.
“I am Captain Sanche, Commander of this facility,” said the man in a booming voice. He had jet black hair with beard and mustache to match. His uniform was a dark blue with gold cords tied on the shoulders and a chest full of medals that gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. “Each of you has been chosen to serve your people, your families, your home and your Magistrate. Here you will learn the skills to be a soldier. From this point on, you are Militia. You will wear the uniform with pride, and you will serve to the best of your ability until the day your Conscription ends.”
The men in blue all around them began shouting that they all raise their right hands. Captain Sanche started to recite the oath, and each and every one of the men there repeated the words woodenly.
They were Militia now.