The Beginning

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"I don't want to go."

"It is what young men your age do."

"But it's not what I do."

"The way you speak, it almost seems as though you have a choice."

"You're impossible."

"I am."

Hand left the warm comfort of the fireplace and the bitter aroma of the tea and went into his bedroom--a small room with a small desk and a small mat in the place of a bed. He sighed gently to himself and pulled out the map of Brant and remembered what the Sulah had taught him about the history of Brant.

(Insert any pertinent HISTORY here)

His entrance into the army of Markland was inevitable, and, despite the appearance he kept up in front of Sulah, he did earnestly desire to enter into the service of his country, even if he had philosophical differences with the nature of the war with Helluland. He left his room and went back to visit his mentor.

"So when do I start?"

"Tommorrow morning. Your orders are in the sealed envelope on the corner table."

"So you already knew I'd say yes?!"

"As I said, it was only your own illusion that you had a choice."

"You're impossible."

"I am."

Hand picked up the letter that was sitting on the table in the corner with the seal of the Commander of the Army of Markland and went back to his room. After he broke the seal, the style of writing on the inside was plain, the script was bland, and the contents direct:

"The presence of Hand is requested at the barracks at deCumbell one fortnight from the day this letter was sent. He is to report to Captain Breton."

"One fortnight?!" he thought aloud, "that only gives me three days to get there!"

"You leave tommorrow morning," said Sulah clearly, but without volume, from the adjacent room.

"Can I take Varulf?"

"Yes."

Hand knew he must get to sleep for his trip tommorrow, through the forest surrounding the hut where he lived with Sulah, to get to the barracks. He might be able to make it in a day, but he should be prepared for a longer stay, if necessary. He knew he should always be prepared.

He got up early the next day and left for deCumbell with only his knapsack full of the most necessary items and the faithful Varulf at his side. Hand reached down and scratched the small lion behind his ears. Varulf had completely white fur, his four sinewy legs ending in sharp claws--equally sharp were the fangs that many late enemies (squirrels, often, and the occasional badger) feared with intensity. His mane was as snowy white as the rest of his fur, ringing the intense look on the loyal animal's face.

There was no path to the hut and there needn't be. Sulah and Hand were the only people who visited the hut, and they left only occasionally to add variety to their diet and hear news from the outside world. He made a seemingly random zig zag through the forest, meeting the occasional foe, and eventually reached the small VILLAGE he and Sulah occasionally visited.

Once in the village, Hand first set off toward the shop and then planned to make it to the inn to rest for the evening. It was already mid-afternoon and it would be pushing it to get to deCumbell before the sun set. And Hand was not exactly keen on the idea of staying the night with just Varulf to stand guard. Or sleep-guard, as the case often became. As he was walking down the single street that comprised the village, though, Varulf's ears pointed forward and he began a low growl. Just as Hand was about to turn around, he felt a dull point on his back and a voice whisper in his ear, so close that the whisper seemed to be a yell.

"Don't move."

"Turnip, you fool, what are you doing," said Hand, as he heard the person behind him start laughing. He turned around on the teen-aged freckle-faced, pudge-nosed, unkempt-haired boy that was the closest thing he had to a friend. Turnip was currently laughing so hard he was doubled over.

"Oh! If only you could have seen your face! It was priceless!"

"Quiet, you. You didn't even see my face, tuber-brain."

"I didn't need to, though, I know what it was like--something like this," he said as he contorted his face like a seven-year-old.

"Grow up."

"Too late!"

They looked at each other, smiling faces slowly becoming serious.

"So you're going, too?"

"Yeah."

"My old man wouldn't hear of anything else. All spouting 'honor' and 'duty' like he knew what they meant. He thinks that because all three of my brothers are making something of themselves in the army that somehow I've got to do it to. Can't I honor my country by helping my parents on the farm? Or must Mother continue to have night after sleepless night--each night another wrinkle on her face and another creak in her back?" Hand was surprised at the seriousness of Turnip's words. They were true, certainly, but their gravity struck him.

"At least you have nothing holding you back, Hand," continued Turnip.

"At least you have something to fight for."

Silence again.

"We going together?"

"You bringing Varulf?"

"Let's get some sleep and head out tommorrow morning."

"You can stay at my place tonight. Just stop by when you're ready to head in and I'll have Mum lay a bed out for you."


Next: Chapter 2: Trouble on the Road