The sergeant finally called a halt in a large field, empty but for a mound of ragged burlap blankets. In his rough bark, he instructed them each to take one of these and to find a spot on the ground upon which to spend the night. Nobody was stupid enough to ask about tents.
There were more people than there were blankets. Alvin was fortunate to manage to snatch one of the last few from the quickly dwindling pile. He made his way over to a vacant space, spread the blanket upon the hard ground, and curled up on it, exhausted, wrapping the rough material about himself and vaguely wondering what in Rezyn’s name he was doing here.
He had thought he would fall asleep easily, but he now became aware of the small rocks digging into his back and of the nighttime chill in the air; so, in spite of his fatigue, sleep evaded him. Shivering, he stared up at the dark, moonless sky. The stars twinkled distantly back at him, cold to his plight. Below, Rionnag, now a far-away smudge of dim yellow lamp-light, called out to him. He had never been so far from home.
Alvin became aware of a sound nearby. It was of a nature that he could not readily identify, and he had to sit up and peer about in the darkness to determine its source, a small, hunched figure about a yard away. He soon realized that the noise was a sort of unsuccessfully-suppressed whimper, and a moment later he knew that the small hunched figure was Jack Nobody.
Jack stared back at him for a moment before answering. “He took my blanket.”
He shrugged and gestured in a northerly direction. “I dunno. One of the big, smelly ones over there. He just came up to me and grabbed it out of my hands.”
“Is that all?”
“Then he hit me and called me a few nasty names. But I don’t really care.”
“Here,” grunted Alvin, tossing his own blanket toward the child. “Take mine. I don’t need it.”
“Thank you,” Jack mumbled. “Are you sure?”
Alvin pretended that he had not heard his question. Instead of answering, he resumed his position on the cold, hard ground, turned his back to the boy, and closed his eyes. The truth was, he was certainly not sure, but he couldn’t say that. A small, nasty part of him wished that Jack would permanently remove his sniveling self from his vicinity and bother someone else.
The stars over Rionnag winked down upon him unsympathetically.