Drafted


The commander stomped over to the door, yanked it open and shouted, "Guards, arrest this man!" Elias remained standing where he was as the guards entered the commander's office and placed shackles on his wrists.

"Elias Hale," began the commander, his voice taking on a harsh tone, "you are under arrest for piracy, smuggling goods which are regulated by the state, conspiracy to evade the law, and generally disorderly conduct. You will remain in the Helenese Royal Prison until such a time as your punishment - a public hanging - may be delivered. May the gods judge you as you are worthy."

Elias cursed his luck as the guards hauled him to his cell. No good deed goes unpunished.

Soon, they arrived at the prison - an old stone structure with a guard barrack and three rows of cells, containing three cells each. The place was disgustingly filthy, and the guards were most certainly not following all the rules and regulations. Several of them spat at Elias as he passed, and Elias witnessed two instances of guards intimidating inmates in order to get what they wanted.

Elias flinched when he saw his new cellmate. The man looked to be in his late forties, and had crowns on more than a few of his teeth. He carried with him an odor of cigar smoke, whiskey and garbage. His face was covered in enough dirt to darken his skin color several shades, and he had upon his head a cloth skull-cap which appeared to be brown in color, but was actually light grey, turned brown by some kind of soiled liquid - most likely the same whiskey of which the man reeked.

Elias relcutantly took his place in the cell after having his shackles removed, sitting down on a wooden bench in the corner, across from the other man.

The inmate looked at Elias for a moment, as if sizing him up, then sat on the edge of his bed, facing Elias, and spoke. "Public drunkenness," he said, "if ye han't guessed." The man had a thick accent which indicated that he was from one of the colonial regions, possibly coming from Thura in the south. "An' you - what'd you do ter end up here?"

"'Piracy, smuggling goods which are regulated by the state, conspiracy to evade the law, and generally disorderly conduct,'" Elias repeated the words of the commander of the guard, mimicking the commander's tone as he spoke.

The other prisoner laughed. "What were ye smugglin'?"

"Nothing, at the time when I was arrested," Elias said. "I do occasionally run coffee beans through the Royal Blockades...for a modest fee." He grinned as he spoke the last few words, and the cellmate smiled as well.

"Coffee, eh? I never had the stuff meself. Cost too much to get off the officially recognized dealers."

"Those coffee-dealers," Elias said venomously, "give every crown, every cent they ever make, directly to the Royal Court. They sell the beans at ridiculous prices, just to skim a little extra commission off the top of their government salary. It takes half what they pay - less than two crowns - to produce the actual product, and yet they sell the raw beans for the price of a barrel of real coffee." Elias spat in the corner of the cell, just missing the boot of a passing guard, and finished, "Welcome to Helena's Triumph."

The guard Elias had just spit at approached the cell door and addressed Elias' inmate. "You - come with us." Turning to another guard in the prison, the guard said, "Hey, get over here and help me escort this prisoner to the preparation room."

The prisoner's face went as white as a sheet when he heard the words, "preparation room." He was completely stiff as the guards removed him from the cell and began pleading desperately as they carried him off.

That's the last I'll ever be seeing of him, Elias thought. Gods be kind to him.

Elias' assumption was proven wrong, though, when the man returned twenty minutes later, looking much more relieved.

Elias sat up from his bed as the man approached, followed closely by a soldier, and asked, "What happened? Where did they take you?"

"They took me to a fittin' room," the man said. "Wanted to know me measures so they could get me some new clothes, I guess."

As the man entered the cell, he sank onto his bed and grinned widely at Elias. Just as he seemed to be on the verge of speaking, however, Elias was summoned to go to the "preparation room" by the guards.

When Elias and his escort arrived in the preparation room, a man wearing a dark red suit and a large wide-brimmed hat, also dark red, held out a piece of rope with measurements marked out on it, and commanded the guard to measure Elias' waist, shoulders, neck, and ankles. The man ordered the guard to read out the measurements as he read them.

The guard began at the ankles, looking up at Elias from below as if to express apologies for any awkwardness, and read out the first measurement. The man in the suit recorded it in a large, black book. Moving to the waist, the guard read out the measurement around Elias' waist. Again, the man wrote it down. Then, the guard measured Elias' arm width and the man recorded that.

Finally, just as Elias thought he was finished being measured, the man said, "Get his height as well, please," and the guard obeyed, reading out the measurement. Once more, the man wrote the measurement down in the black book, then slammed it shut and threw several instruments into a bag.

"That will be all for the night, guard," the man said. "I will return tomorrow afternoon to measure the last few prisoners, and then production will begin immediately."

"Production of wha -" Elias asked, before a guard slapped a hand over his mouth.

"No talking," the guard yelled, and Elias was silent.

After being returned to his cell, Elias threw himself down on the bed, preparing to take a nap, when his cellmate leaned up from his bed and said, "Name's Holter, by the way - Bill Holter."

Elias sat up and looked at the man in surprise - why had the man so suddenly decided to introduce himself? - but then he responded, "Elias. Elias..."

"Hale," the man interrupted. "Elias Hale. I've heard of ye. Reckon lots of people have." He reached out his hand to Elias, who shook it.

"Mister Holter - may I call you William?" Elias asked.

"That ye may, aye. Long's I can call you by your first name."

"Of course," Elias responded, "any time. William, I think -"

Elias stopped talking when a soldier burst through a door into the prison, approaching the guard on duty and speaking with him. "It's true," the soldier said. "We're going to war! Ol' Nikula finally forgot his place. We'll be marchin' on Kiev in a month's time, I'm sure!" The guard nodded in agreement, and they fell into a quieter discussion.

Elias spoke to William again, saying, "That confirms it, then. We're going to war."

William looked at Elias with a sense of complete confusion. "What d'you mean, we're going to war? Have ye forgot, we be locked in a prison cell. We can't exactly do much fightin' from in here!"

"Yes, that's true," Elias said, "But look at it this way - the army needs soldiers who are expendable to march on the front lines, that way the real soldiers can break right through the enemy lines without having to waste any valuable troops. Who better to use for such a job than prisoners like us? I mean, you may only be in here for drunkenness, but that doesn't mean they can't ship you off. Think about it - they just took our measurements. Why else could they want to measure us? It doesn't add up."

"Aye," William said, his countenance betraying a great deal of concern at the idea of being used for cannon fodder. "Perhaps you're right."

The two men fell silent, and soon Elias was asleep. He dreamt of roaring cannons, cracking rifle shots, and clashing swords. In one dream, he took the role of captain of a ship. The ship had scarlet and gold sails - the Helenese Royal colors - and was manned by a crew consisting of William and many other fine officers, some looking eerily similar to the prison guards, along with a woman. This woman had ebony-black hair, rippling in the wind of the high seas, and fine features. Her skin was fair, but tanned just slightly, and her eyes were a majestic shade of green. She stood beside Elias as first mate.

The End

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