The two men led him to an open-topped wagon already filled with other boys and men, some very young and some very old, some eager to be there and some wishing to be anywhere else, and instructed him to climb aboard. He did, and then sat down beside a small-statured boy with a dirty, tear-streaked face, who could not have seen more than twelve years pass. Alvin asked him his name, and he replied that he was called Jack.
“Jack Nobody,” the boy muttered. “’Cause my daddy sold me to the war, so I won’t carry his name. Anyone who volunteered for this must be an idiot.”
Alvin kept his mouth closed. He already knew he was an idiot—people told him that he was at least twelve times per day—but he did not desire to make a bad first impression. He was not nearly as stupid as everyone thought him to be. Plus, he had a sneaking suspicion that even if he had not consented to go to war, he would have ended up there nonetheless. Rat-face and Gruff-voice had not struck him as quick to back down. Had he held out, they probably would have offered money to his mother until it was too much to refuse. He wondered what value he was worth to her.
As if he had read his mind, Jack looked over at him and sighed wearily. “Two knamick. That’s my going rate.” He wiped his eyes on his cuff, smearing the layer of dirt on his pale, freckled face. “Less than a fair-sized goat. He’ll use it to buy his whisky, no doubt. He’ll run through it in a week—which is longer than I’ll last, probably.”
“Don’t say that,” Alvin scolded him. “You’ll be fine.”
Jack did not look as if he believed him, but he said nothing. Instead, he hugged his bent legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knees, watching the passing scenery.
As they passed through Rionnag, more wagons joined them, forming a convoy of four by the time they had reached the city gates. The road from there grew quite bumpy, but Alvin did not pay it any mind. He merely closed his eyes and thought of Maili Mae Albright.
They arrived in the encampment on the southward-facing side of Ben Seanmhair after nightfall. The place was alive with the sound of rowdy voices—some taunting, some shouting, some singing. The wagon came to a halt, and the occupants piled out onto the road. A sergeant stalked up alongside them, barking orders and herding them along the road as if they were so many cattle bound for market. Other more seasoned soldiers yelled incomprehensible comments as they watched the new arrivals parade past the rows of canvas tents. Alvin was bumped and jostled in the semidarkness, and the person behind him repeatedly, although probably unintentionally, stepped upon the backs of his shoes. Little Jack tripped in front of him, and Alvin seized the boy by the back of his tunic by instinct, probably saving his life. If he had fallen, he would have been trodden upon by ten or twenty others within a few seconds.