Chapter 4

19th February 2017

Copyright © 2017 - Christopher Brosnan (Pen name: C. D. Brosnan)

 

Date: Divine-day, 11.2.840

The chirping of small birds and the hum of the morning from Nature’s lungs awoke Altaria as usual. She then went about her usual routine of the morning; feeding the animals, cleaning the barn, harvesting crops, and making up breakfast. As it was the divine-day of the week she would not need to go to the Havengarde city market to sell the farm’s produce. However, on the divine-day of the week she did have to go to Havengarde with her father for religious services. Altaria would not be trading their produce in the market square because trading was forbidden on the divine-day of every week without explicit permission from the High Priest. This permission was seldom granted to any but the most essential services. Although, even those very few with permission to trade had to abide by a very strict set of rules and limitations on how they could carry out business on the divine-day. Purely by convention, it was also common in Springhaven for markets and businesses to be closed the day before the divine-day, named the rest-day.

 

Frederic was finishing his breakfast. Altaria had eaten her breakfast earlier in the morning to save time in preparation for their journey. She was fitting the horses, Gilwind and Renfar, to the reins of the wagon in the stables. Gilwind and Renfar were two horses kept by the Herder family for the purpose of transport. Both horses were old but still retained most of the valour and endurance of their youth.

 

Altaria was wearing a white tunic, white full-length skirt, and white boots when she returned to the kitchen. Around her neck she wore a silver chain with a pendant of the Pyramid of Reenan – a pyramid on which is imposed a single blue eye. Her father was dressed similarly; in white trousers, and a white shirt and shoes, and an identical chain and pendant to that which Altaria also wore. Frederic also wore a white belt onto which a white leather scabbard was attached that sheathed a ceremonial sword. The cross-guard of the sword was also white. When Frederic had finished his breakfast and propped himself up on his walking stick, he leant on the dining table to stand upright. Altaria supported him by linking one of her arms with his free arm, as he leant the hand of his other arm on the walking stick. They both gradually moved towards the door with their arms linked.

 

As Frederic stepped into the wagon, Altaria could hear a group of crows cawing from afar. She stopped for a moment and glanced over in the direction of their sound. She resumed to follow Frederic into the wagon. After his struggle to climb the few steps into the wagon, he leant across the long seat inside, gradually sitting upright but resting his back against the side-wall with his feet also on the seat. He rested his walking stick across his lap. Altaria caught a glimpse of Frederic’s neck and saw that the two marks on his neck appeared yet more deeper since the previous day. Altaria reluctantly shook it off and took the seat in front of her father and grabbed hold of the reins. She cracked the reins swiftly and the horses plodded forward, pulling the wagon towards and through the entrance of the farm. Her father was breathing faintly in the back of the wagon and almost dozing off, being rocked to sleep by the movement of the wagon like a baby in a crib.

 

Along the long road to Havengarde from the Herder farm were various staples of Springhaven’s hybrid culture and appearance; pastoral, archaic, spiritual, and in a state of war. Amid the foliage on the roadside, and dispersed along the journey, were various plaques stabbed into dried earth. They all were urging young men not serving in the forces to enlist. The plaques displayed such slogans as; “A boy becomes a man in battle,” “Be a hero: be the solution to Malachonianism,” and “Cowards dishonour families.”

Altaria remembered the day that her eldest brother, Hadrian, had enlisted. He joined the Springhaven Infantry Battalion (S.I.B). It happened just two days after his sixteenth birthday. Altaria was only eight years old. Her younger brothers, Althalos and Justinian, were six years old.

 

Date: Smithsday, 26.3.830

Hadrian parked up the wagon at the Herder family’s bay in the city market. From this point in the city market square, he sold eggs to the egg-merchants, fruits and vegetables to the greengrocers, wool to the tailors, milk to the milkmen, and all of this produce to anyone else who wanted to buy it. He had unfolded a small table and neatly laid out boxes with the products of his family’s labour onto it. A pamphlet distributer, a prepubescent boy, was passing through the market square and stopping passers by and stall attendants to sell them a copy of the Springhaven Chronicle. It was a weekly publication that was printed on cheap, scruffy, off-coloured paper.

‘Chronicle, sir?’ the boy asked Hadrian.

‘Yes,’ Hadrian reached into his pocket. ‘How much?’

‘Ten cents please, sir.’

Hadrian rummaged with one hand in his pocket. ‘Here you go.’ Hadrian flipped a ten-cent coin towards the boy.

The boy caught the coin in his hand. ‘Thank you, sir.’ The boy then walked over to the next stall.

Hadrian held out the pamphlet and looked at the front page. In large letters across the top, he read: “MALACHONIANS TORTURE REENIAN PRIESTS.” He skimmed the first paragraph of the article. It was a scarcely sourced article explaining how the Malachonian alliance were supposedly kidnapping and torturing Reenian clerics and abusing their apprentices. The truth is that there was not a single reported and confirmed case of a Reenian cleric or cleric’s apprentice being harmed or abused by a Malachonian. Hadrian continued to leisurely read the rest of the pamphlet at sporadic moments throughout the remainder of the afternoon, being interrupted by the flow of customers as they stopped to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, and eggs. A smaller article that took up roughly one-third of the front page and continued to the second page, had the headline: “MALACHONIANS EAT DRAGON MEAT.”

‘Isn’t that terrible?’ An elderly, female customer asked him as he was still reading the pamphlet.

‘Sorry, my dear?’ he replied as he looked up from the pamphlet.

‘Those Malonians, absolutely terrible, bloody disgusting, the lot of them.’ She gestured to the pamphlet. Hadrian glanced back at the front page of the pamphlet with the sensationalist headline.

‘You really should be defending us with the other lads. Don’t you think so?’ She firmly asked.

‘Y-yes, m’dear, I should be.’

‘Good, you can make your parents proud.’ She paused and an awkwardness stood between them. ‘How much for a box of ten eggs?’

‘One credit, please.’ She handed him two fifty-cent coins. ‘Thank you.’

As she walked away, he was blushing and wished to leave, wished to be alone and not seen.

When trading hours at the city market had ended, Hadrian swiftly packed away his produce into the back of the wagon in preparation for his journey back to the Herder farm. From that one spot where he stood, he saw banners hanging from windows and on the streets. The banners were proclaiming such slogans as: “Let Springhaven remain Springhaven: Destroy Malachonianism”;“Keep Springhaven a Safehaven: stop the Malachonians.”;“When your children ask what you did, what will you tell them?” These signs and banners caught his eye and made him dwell on particular thoughts and evoked particular feelings as did so happen many times before in the previous two days following his sixteenth birthday. Should he enlist? Would it have been his only chance for adventure and travel beyond the borders of Springhaven? Would it give him the finances and freedom he needed to be independent? Would it be his only chance away from the monotonous farmer’s life that he spent his childhood in, and was almost certainly bound to spend his adulthood in too? Would he certainly die in combat? With his mind still bubbling on these questions, he walked towards the front of the wagon.

He could feel somebody watching him, targeting him, following him. Just as he was about to climb into the driver’s seat, he heard a mysterious female voice from behind him. ‘Hello, handsome. Have you enlisted yet?’ she asked with both a hint of flirtatious flattery and coercive persuasion. As Hadrian turned around he saw the woman. She was perhaps in her mid-to-late twenties, with black hair and deep brown eyes. She wore a brown tunic, trousers, boots, and chainmail armour. She held a chainmail-faced steel helmet under her arm. There was a sword sheathed in a scabbard connected to a brown, leather belt around her waist. A shield was held across her back and a Springhaven army badge was fastened on the left side of her chest. The badge showed the Springhaven coat-of-arms. The coat of arms was a plain sky-blue shield with a leaf-green strip along the top. In its centre was a blue eye, the symbol known in Reenianism as the Eye of Reenan. On the lady’s badge, underneath Springhaven’s coat-of-arms, was her name and occupation; Miss Juliet Lanbury – Recruitment Officer.

‘Y-yes. I’m just home on leave,’ Hadrian replied. As he spoke, he was hurriedly scuttling away. Of course, he had not yet enlisted. But he had to claim he had done so in order to avoid the shame and stigma of it being known that he was not enlisted and serving in the forces at that time. If a boy had not enlisted even a day after they had turned sixteen it was seen as scandalous. Normally boys would, until they were older, wish they could grow up quicker to be free of adult control. During times of war, in Springhaven and her allied states, most boys wished to grow up quickly so that they could join the ranks of young men marching out to face and vanquish the foes of Reenianism. They wished to utilise the training that they had covertly received from their earliest years of schooling. Over time their schooling became more closely linked to the military training that they would receive upon joining the army when they reached sixteen years old. Though they were not aware of it at the time. What began as horse-riding classes, would later become jousting. What began as archery, would later become hunting. What began as historical study from books, would later become battle reenactments. What began as competitive team sports, would later become team combat sports. What began as bloodless fencing, would later become bare-knuckle boxing and single-cut fencing. For Hadrian and a handful of his peers who were growing up during the long-lasting conflict, they wished they could not grow up and instead remain as children. They knew that after they turned sixteen, death or permanent injury awaited them in a far away land. Eventually, all the young men wished they could return to childhood. If they refused to enlist and fight, they would bring shame to themselves, their family, and their state. They would also be damned to eternal retribution, beatings, labelling, and a possible violent death on home soil. Hadrian knew that if he continued to debate with himself whether he should enlist or not, he would put it off for longer. Eventually people would realise his lies then expose and punish him for it. He had made a decision. He joined a long queue of young men in the Havengarde city centre.

Hadrian waited for forty minutes or so until he was at the front of the long queue that ended inside the foyer of the Havengarde recruitment office. There were five separate officers at five separate desks horizontally lined up and facing the single-file queue. Five applicants were being seen by the officers at any one time. As one applicant completed their registration, they would leave and the next applicant in the queue would take their place opposite the officer the last applicant had seen. ‘Next!’ one officer called. Hadrian paced forward to the free seat opposite a recruitment officer.

 

Altaria and her younger brothers, Justinian and Althalos, were sleeping in their beds. Frederic was sitting down at the kitchen table with his walking stick leaning on the chair he sat on. He was counting coins from a jar and making notes with a pen in a book laid out flat in front of him on the table. Hadrian wandered in slowly, carrying bags over his shoulders. Frederic sharply raised his head towards the door in anger. ‘Where have you been? You’ve had me so worried about you!’

‘I. I was in town,’ Hadrian sheepishly replied.

‘In town? What time do you call this?’ Suddenly his confusion and anger turned to worry. ‘Did highwaymen rob the wagon? Are the horses okay?’

‘No, the horses and wagon are fine. I got everything.’

‘Then why are you so late? It’s past nine now.’

Hadrian waited to see if he could collect any suitable words before he spoke. He then reached into his pocket after placing the bags on the floor.

‘What is it?’ Frederic asked.

Hadrian did not speak. He hesitantly handed his father the folded up sheet of paper. As Frederic began to unfold the paper his face filled with apprehension, he froze in shock and dismay.

 

 

Date: Smithsday, 26.3.830

Dear patriot,                  

Well done. You have done a great thing today. You have made the decision to stop the evil of the Malachonians in the world. You have decided that it would not satisfy you to only wish and pray for a safer world for all. Instead you have proudly chosen to fight for freedom, justice, and righteousness in the name of our lord, The Holy Reenan.

You are required to report to the recruitment office at which you enlisted on the day following the date of this letter. You will then be taken to your assigned base: Sacradoor. You will be under the command of Sir Charles Neit of the Springhaven Infantry Battalion (S.I.B).

Your escorts will meet you at your home tomorrow.

Best of luck,

Havengarde Recruitment Office.

 

 

‘No, No, No!’ Frederic’s tone swiftly turned from shock and dismay to melancholy and hopelessness. ‘Hadrian, I wanted more than this for you.’ He held his face in the palms of his hands. ‘I don’t care for glory, honour, or bravery. I care for wanting to make sure I don’t have to ever bury my own children or see them crippled for life.’ From behind his hands a tear trickled down his face, chin and neck.

‘Dad, it’ll bring money in and get me to see the world, do great things.’ Something in his tone of voice hinted at an attempt to convince himself, more than his father, of the validity of what he was saying and of any justification for his decision. ‘I’ll make you and Mum proud.’

His father moved his hands away from his face to reveal oncoming stains of suppressed tears in the corners of his eyes. ‘Even if your mother were still here with us, she’d feel the same as me.’

‘I guess so,’ Hadrian replied with a heavy heart. ‘But I still remember five years ago, when she was killed and you were injured by the highwaymen, I wanted to grow up to do something about injustice, rather than just condemning it.’

‘How is being shipped off to somewhere you never knew just to die or come back an invalid going to bring about justice? Justice against what?’ He paused as Hadrian looked on blankly. ‘Even if you’re not injured, it will do you no good.’

‘The officer said they can sponsor me at a university if I choose to go after my service. And I’ll get leave once a year.’

‘And your service will not end until they see that you can no longer fight; when you’ve lost your eyes, legs, or arms, gone mad or when you’re dead.’ Frederic was close to tears again with a mixed flood of melancholy, anger and frustration filling his heart. He leant up onto his walking stick.

Altaria was outside the kitchen. She was standing just behind and to the side of the doorframe. She was listening to the whole conversation and just about managing to remain quiet enough to avoid being heard by her father or brother. Although only eight years old at the time, she still understood that after the next morning she would not see her brother for a long time, and very possibly never again. As her father hobbled out of the kitchen she ran back to her bed, and just narrowly avoided the field of vision of Frederic and Hadrian.

 

Date: Truceday, 27.3.830

Hadrian was packing his bag in preparation to leave home and begin his new life as a soldier. It was only mere hours away until he was to be picked up to go to Havengarde to meet the other new recruits before they left for Sacradoor where they would begin their training. Then he would most likely not be seen by his father, brothers, or sister for a very long time, and vice versa, if ever again. He packed among other things; his razor blades, a shaving brush, toothbrush, towel, several books, a comb, writing paper, three pens, envelopes, and his Pyramid of Reenan pendant on a silver chain.

When Hadrian had finished packing, he sat down at the end of his bed. He was sitting in a state of deep rumination. He came to the realisation that the next few hours were likely to be the last few hours that he could feel entirely safe. The last few hours that he would ever spend at home. The last few hours that he was to be in a familiar place. He wished he could back out. But now there was no turning back. All the cogs on all the wheels were now in motion. He had to face his new calling, to whatever end.

 

Later that morning, Hadrian, Frederic, Altaria, and Althalos and Justinian all sat at the kitchen table. They were waiting with an awkward silence for that knock at the front door that would send Hadrian off on a long and uncertain journey, to an uncertain destination.

Thud! Thud! Thud! All their eyes turned to the door and Hadrian stood up slowly. He walked towards the door, took a deep breath, then slowly pulled the door handle back. There were two older men standing on the doorstep. One was around sixty years old, and the other was Hadrian’s senior by at least ten years. The oldest of the two wore a patch where his left eye should have been. Both men were wearing military uniform; plain white tunics with the Pyramid of Reenan printed across their chests that they wore under a vest of chainmail armour. They also both had a sword sheathed to their sides, and a large, round shield on their backs. They each held a chainmail-faced helmet under their arms.

‘Good Morning, Mr. Herder. Your transport is ready,’ the senior stated.

‘Good Morning sirs,’ he replied with a slight bow. ‘ Before I go, may I just say my last goodbyes to my family?’

‘You may have five minutes,’ the younger of the two men sharply and cooly replied.

‘Just five?’

‘Sorry. But that is the way it must be.’

‘Okay,’ Hadrian replied behind a lump of sadness in the back of his throat. ‘I’ll be out shortly.’

‘In your own time,’ the senior replied with a warm smile.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ Hadrian replied, truly thankful to the older man. He turned and walked back into the kitchen. He began to say his goodbyes. As he tightly hugged Althalos and Justinian, he began to shed some tears. ‘Goodbye, boys. Be good for Daddy.’ He then turned to Frederic and hugged him tightly also. ‘Goodbye, Dad. I’ll be back soon.’ Both he and Frederic began to whimper. Lastly, he hugged Altaria and leaned in closely to whisper into her ear. ‘You’re the oldest now, you have to help daddy to look after Justinian and Althalos. Be brave, be a good girl and look after Dad. You’ll make him proud. I just know you will. Promise me you’ll be good and look after everyone?’

‘I will. I promise.’ Altaria began to sob and Hadrian hugged her tightly. All of a sudden life became more real. She felt that she was no longer just a child. She now had responsibilities, was to be depended on, and had realised that the war she overheard so many adults talking about, the one that seemed to be so far away and irrelevant, and something that would not harm her or her family, had now became all too close to home. Hadrian picked up his bag from the corner of the room and slung its strap across his shoulder. He paced out of the kitchen and proceeded to walk out through the front door in tears, but with a sense of dignity and pride. The Springhaven farm-boy was now a Reenian military man.

 

Please comment your thoughts below and read Chapter 5 of The Altarian Saga: The Maiden of Springhaven next week. Or you can buy the full Kindle ebook from any Amazon store (links below).

 

Copyright © 2017 - Christopher Brosnan (Pen name: C. D. Brosnan)

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