A battalion of soldiers, dressed in full armour bearing and emblem entered the square. They shoved people roughly out of the way as the formed ranks and stood to attention. The cloaked man Markus had seen the other day followed the soldiers. A huge, horned wolf stalked beside him. It snarled at the soldiers and villagers alike, saliva dripping from its jaws. The man moved in front of the soldiers, lowered his hood and nodded at the soldiers, who stood at ease. The man’s flesh was as pale as the moon on a cold winter’s night, his eyes black as coal. Markus noticed the intricate red and golden spirals woven into the cloak he wore.
“You know what to do”, his voice was quiet, yet it seemed to echo around the entire square. The soldiers began dispersing. Some headed toward the Inn, others toward the various shops and buildings around the village.
“Excuse me sir”, Master Amathorn said as he stepped forward, “but may I ask what you are doing?”
“We are preparing for war, my good sir. Every city, town and village must contribute to the army’s supplies. We have come here simply to collect your contribution of foodstuffs, drinks and other such necessities for war. We will cause you no trouble, and you can return to your festivities, so long as you do not stand in our way”.
“How much will you take?”
“Whatever is necessary. Now would you have your people gather here, with those men who are aged between the ages of ten and thirty at the front”.
“And why would I do that?”
“Conscription. An army needs numbers if it is to succeed in war. Now, will you gather your villagers, or shall I have to force you?” the man asked, pulling back the edge of his cloak to reveal a long, black bladed sword.
“I’ll have them assemble sir”.
Within minutes, the whole of the village was gathered at the centre of the square, all thoughts of the festival forgotten. The milled about, fearful of what was to come. The men and boys, aged ten to thirty stood at the front of the crowd, in two horizontal lines, nervously waiting. Daein, Markus and Sed were among them. Daein stood in the first row, Markus and Sed stood next to one another in the second row. Salla stood near them, hugging herself, a tear on her face. Nanor stood off to one side, eyeing the cloaked man, his frame stiff. He seemed fearful.
The cloaked man began to move along the line of men, one of his senior officers trailing him. “Some of these men will become enrolled in the King’s service. This is an honour of the highest prestige”.
The cloaked man began to move along the line of men, one of his senior officers trailing him. “Some of these men will become enrolled in the King’s service. This is an honour of the highest prestige. Your village should be proud. These men will become heroes”. He made a full sweep of the line, then turned on his heel and began moving back down the line, tapping some of the villagers on the shoulder as he went. Each man stepped forward, and awaited further instruction. Daein was one of them. Markus watched, helpless, unable to do anything. Four of the other soldiers stepped forward and escorted the first group of men from the village. The man began moving down the second line. He tapped Sed on the shoulder, and then came to a sudden stop in front of Markus. He stared at him.