Ronan dragged Daniela down street after street in an attempt to lose the men on their tail. Adrenaline pounded through both of their veins driving them forward. Daniela had thought her plan to track down Felix was simple, but she hadn’t counted on being chased through the backstreets of Mara by three angry criminals who wanted to kill her.
“Where are we going?” She asked Ronan as the dodged around another corner.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just want to lose them.”
“You mean you don’t have somewhere we can hide?”
“What do you mean ‘somewhere we can hide’?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere. A secret hiding place you use when you’re normally being chased by a group of homicidal men.”
“You sure use a lot of fancy words for a runt,” he shouted back to her. “Just shut up and keep running.”
Daniela thought about protesting but decided to save her breath and keep running. She prided herself on being a good runner, but her legs were screaming at her to stop as the muscles tensed around another sharp bend.
“In here,” Ronan said, pulling Daniela into a dark hidden doorway and clamping his hand over her mouth. They stayed silent for a good few moments before the men came running past just inches away from them and they both let out a sigh of relief.
“Nice hiding place,” Daniela said after Ronan had removed his hand from her mouth. “Did you know this was here?”
“Of course I did. You did know I had a plan.”
Daniela scoffed at that. “Of course you did. But now that we’re no longer being chased it’s time for you to show me to the recruitment office so I can sign up for the army.”
“Are you still set on doing that?”
“Of course I am. That’s why I travelled for days to get here. It’s why I deceived my family and ran away in the middle of the night. I’m not giving up now.”
“You really went to all that effort?” Ronan asked in disbelief.
“Are you going to help me or aren’t you?”
“I’m not letting you go out there on your own, you’ll be killed in an instant.”
“Why are you so bothered about what happens to me? You barely know anything about me.”
“You remind me of someone I used to know. He’s dead now and I wouldn’t want the same fate for you.”
“You’re not going to get me to change my mind. I’m going and that’s that.”
“Gods!” Ronan exclaimed. “You are so stubborn!”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Well come on then,” Ronan sighed. “I can tell I’m not going to win this one so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
“What do you mean?” Daniela asked, hurrying to catch up with Ronan.
“I’m not going to let you go out and get killed on your own so I’m coming with you.”
“I thought you said you didn’t believe in fighting for your country.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe in it, I just didn’t agree with it. Besides, being killed quickly and in glory on the battlefield must be better than waiting for someone to kill me slowly and painfully here. And someone’s got to look after a runt like you, ‘eh Danny.” He ruffled Daniela’s hair before walking off back the way they had come. “So you coming or what?”
Daniela followed him as he led them back towards the centre of the city.
“Now to join up first you have to go to the palace, that’s where they’re basing their recruitment program. Then they’ll assign you to a regiment and will send you for training on the next procession out.”
“What sort of training? How long does it last?”
“You do ask a lot of questions,” Ronan commented. “I guess it’s basic weapons training; swords, archery, maybe spears. I suppose you train until you are needed so it depends on your skill and how bad the war is going.”
The pair walked up the crowded main street that led to the royal palace in the centre of the city. The large stone walls surrounding the building and its grounds stretched towards the sky, taller than any other structure Daniela had ever seen.
“Come on runt,” Ronan complained, “stop gawking like an idiot.”
Inside the walls was even more impressive with perfectly organized gardens surrounding the front of the palace and leading up towards the beautifully built building. The towers and turrets of the palace looked impossibly elegant for something made out of stone and the windows were beautifully arched and pleasing to the eye. It clearly wasn’t built as a wartime palace.
Daniela followed Ronan in a daze into the entrance hall of the palace and then joining the queue of men waiting to join the King’s army.
“Please try and look a little less like an idiot,” Ronan begged Daniela as they drew close to the front of the queue. “I don’t want us laughed out of the palace. Stand up straight and stick your chest out.”
“I beg your pardon!” Daniela exclaimed, forgetting again that in Ronan’s eyes she wasn’t a girl.
“Just forget it,” Ronan mumbled. With any luck he’ll make a big enough fool of himself to be rejected, Ronan thought. Gods help him if he actually gets through.
Ronan and Daniela approached the desk where the sergeant was seated.
“Names,” he barked.
“Ronan Payne and Danny Gilbert.”
The sergeant looked up from his desk to examine the two men before him and his eyes clearly showed his contempt for them.
“Are you making a joke out of me?” He asked. “What use do you think this scrap of a thing is going to be to me? He’s not got the guts to kill an ant, let alone an enemy soldier.”
“I might look small sir but I’m strong,” Daniela fought back. “I’ve worked with my father on his farm since I was a young boy so I can work hard.” This wasn’t strictly a lie. When Daniela was little her father had taken her out with him onto the farm and she had helped him with the cows and sheep, but when she had gotten older her mother had stopped her from doing any of the men’s work.
“I’m not sure if I believe you son,” the sergeant barked. “Give me another good reason why I should take you on.”
“I have a horse,” Daniela said hopefully.
“OK then,” the sergeant conceded, “you’re both in. Report back here with the horse at three hours before sundown. You’ll be leaving for training this afternoon.”