© 2009, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
“Evermist!” Sergent Fesh’s voice boomed as always, but this time everyone jumped over what he said and not how he said it.
“For weeks now,” he continued, “You lot have been pussyfooting around the subject. Afraid of what’ll happen should you say the name out loud. Well, that ends now.”
The man walked up and down the line, making a point to look each and every one of them in the eye. As he met that gaze, those cold blue eyes, Elias suppressed the urge to shudder, instead managing to stand just a little bit taller, a little bit straighter. It almost looked like Fesh nodded, but he was sure he’d imagined it.
“Evermist,” he repeated in a softer tone as he ended his circuit through the squad and turned to stand before them. “You lot’ll be heading there – you already know this – your orders are in. At least half won’t return, probably more. Half of those who do will be maimed in some way. Those remaining few’ll be touched by it all. You won’t see things quite the same way anymore.”
No shuffling, no sound of any kind.
Clearing his throat, Fesh continued. “What you know, or what you think you know about Evermist, is -wrong-. Today, you’ll learn what you’re gonna face and why.”
Some shuffling at that. Elias was as curious as the rest. All he knew about Evermist he’d learned from the few books he’d read. Those only mentioned that Wall had been formed by the Magistrate thousands of years ago to protect the world from an Evil that had broken the island of Paerleon in two. No book he’d ever found really talked about what was inside the Wall, what the evil was or how the island had been broken.
“Evermist,” Fesh began again once everyone stopped fidgeting, “Never sees a clear day. You got two kinds of weather on the island,” he said as he raised a hand with two fingers. “Rain or snow. Rain comes in the form of cold mist or icy downpour. When the cold gets serious, you get snow, wet or dry but always heavy when it comes. Both mean low visibility, even in the day. You can’t see far inland, even from the Wall, but the trees are hot. When the cold rain hits the hot trees, you get fog and lots of it. In the day you have a white blur, in the night, a deep blackness.”
Fesh started pacing, hands clasped behind his back. “The Wall stands forty metres tall, each Tower fifty metres tall. The Magistrate’s Tower, the heart of Valles, stands exactly twenty-two metres tall. Think about that for a minute. The greatest structure in the greatest city in the world, isn’t as tall as the Wall you will be patrolling for the next five years of your life – if you’re one of the lucky ones that makes it that far.”
Elias nearly shook his head, both at the last comment and the one about the Towers. He’d been in the Magistrate’s Tower recently, had been as high as the fourth tier and had managed to catch a glimpse of the city out one of the windows. He’d been so amazed by it, spread out so far beneath him and now Fesh told him he would walk a wall nearly twice as tall?
“There is one Tower every ten marks, one main keep and three smaller outposts. The main keep in the South is called Deisarch Dain. North is Tuaisarch Dain, East Oirtharch Dain and the Western is Iarthach Dain. You will walk the Wall in the chill, thin air. You will sleep in the beds of the keep and the outposts and way stations, but you’ll not ever see the inside of any of those Towers. That is reserved for the Engineers alone, and the Magistrate should he decide to visit, may He live forever.
“From the Wall, you will see the Evil that must be contained, even if only through the haze of rain and snow and fog. You’ll see that the land for one mark inside the Wall is blackened and burnt, kept that way for the last hundred years or so. You’ll help maintain that burn line.”
Elias frowned at that, his mind trying to understand how the trees were hot when the rest of the island was so cold? And how could a place so wet, where it either rained or snowed all the time, be made to burn? Wouldn’t the land be too wet for fires? Fesh kept right on talking as if answering the unspoken questions.
“When the Fire Brigade here in Valles puts out a fire, they use lightwagons with pumps that shoot the water out in a steady stream. On the wall, those same pumps use oil. Keep the land black and dead, keep the Forest at bay.”
Elias stared. Forest? A few whispers behind him, confused.
Fesh didn’t give them time to let that settle in. “The Forest. Trees as tall as the Wall in the middle. Used to be, back in the day before the Militia learned to burn the land closest the Wall, those trees would grow right up to the edge, and over the top. That’s when the trouble would start, whole Forest trying to come right over, slapping stones out of the wall to make breaches, things leaping from the highest branches to attack – lost a lot of men back then, more’n we do now. Think on that.”
Elias was still trying to wrap his mind around it all. The Wall was there to… keep trees locked away? The rest of the squad must have had similar looks on their faces because Fesh stopped pacing and looked at each one in turn, nodding, before continuing on.
“That’s right. The Wall’s there, we’re there, the whole Militia, to keep that Forest in check and make sure it don’t ever get out again.”
“Why?” someone behind Elias asked even as he realized his own mouth had the question half-formed.
Fesh looked grim. “Because they think, they move; they kill. I’ve seen it with my own eyes; men ripped apart as trees try to reach the Wall, try to breach it or vault it and get to the rest of the world, branches snaking out to rip at the stones or to snag a man right off the wall, or slice through him altogether like a saber through flesh.” His voice sounded suddenly hollow. He shook himself and looked at his men again.
Elias fidgeted, trying to imagine what Fesh was seeing in his own memories. Trees moving? Grabbing men, killing them?
“Get’s worse,” Fesh said, causing every head to snap back up from their thoughts. “There’s other things in that Forest, things that walk like us, things that don’t. Sometimes they get uppity too, worse’n the trees, working with them. Trees’ll launch em at the wall like a canon firing. Cats are the worst. Bigger than a horse, claws like swords and a tail that can lash out with poison needles that’ll kill you slow and painful. You see one of them kill a man, you won’t ever forget it.”
“Imagine them lose in Valles, lose anywhere in the world. Now you know why we got the Wall, and why we walk it every day. But I know you won’t believe it – not ’til you seen it with your own eyes, watching as the men beside you are torn apart.”
Fesh met each one of them with that cold gaze again, holding it for a moment before moving on. When the last trainee had met his eye, he nodded.
“Last thing. Sometimes the trees try to launch their seeds over the Wall, or snake their roots deep under it. Some will patrol the outer wall lookin’ for sprouts and green popping up through the snow and sand or seeds floating in the ocean. When you see it, you burn it and salt it all the land so nothing can grow.”
Elias could only stare. Fesh cleared his throat again, clapping his hands together.
“My job has been to make you as ready as possible. Local Guard’ll show you what you need to know once you get there, but it was time to tell you why we have the Conscription – why we’re all here. The Seaspray will port in a day or so, and you lot will be shipping out on her once she’s loaded down again. Dismissed.”
Elias stood there as Fesh walked away, and the other members of his squad started heading off in different directions. He was vaguely aware of his friends as they crowded round, the same bewildered looks on their faces as he imagined to be on his.
It’s all about trees?