"Yes, soldiers are formidable weapons. But do remember that, like weapons, they need to be taken care of. Food, water, underclothing and hygiene are just as important as weapons and body armour."
A bell rang in the distance. Lucien had his back to us, and he was staring in the bell's direction, his hands intertwined on the small of his back. "Class dismissed. Faye Dixon, I want to speak to you. The rest of you, good evening."
"Good evening, sir," we chanted. Faye caught my eye, and she mouthed what the fuck? at me. I could only shrug, and walk out with the rest of the class. Hopefully, word hadn't reached him of the Yexterby man.
Tactical warfare was the last class of the day, often given to us by Lucien. This lesson, he focused on soldiers and how crucial their welfare is. Faye hadn't done anything, she simply listened and answered. What did Lucien want? He was old, yes, with snowy hair and tanned, scarred and wrinkly skin.
But that man spent a lifetime on the battlefield, both in war and in the mind. He could order her death the way Ben would order a coffee. He was ruthless, and genius.
It took all but five minutes for Lucien to speak to Faye. I tried to listen at the door, but all I heard was a muffled version of Lucien's silky voice. He opened the door for Faye, and she came out, seeming to radiate happiness. She nodded low in respect and thanked him. Once we rounded a corner, I questioned her.
"Alright, what happened?" I said, curiosity replacing respect. Nobody came out of a room with Lucien actually happy, only relieved they had gotten away from him. "But first, did he hear about the man?"
"Oh! I don't know, he didn't say," my stomach lurched, but I fought it, viciously.
"So, what did he say to you?" I leant in closer, making her laugh. But then she went quiet.
Faye stared at the ground. "Lucien, he..." She smiled, "he asked me if I wanted to go to war, actually be a soldier! Can you imagine?"
I could. Faye was fit for the job, but already the place in my heart for Faye's friendship had soured. I felt hurt, betrayed, alone. "But, you're too young to be a soldier," I said quietly, not meeting her eyes. She was happy, so happy. How would I feel in that situation? Terrified, most likely. But I wasn't Faye.
"Lucien said he'd been watching me. I show outstanding physical talent, despite my age. He's working on sort of a "use it or lose it" policy. He wants to hone and use my talent. Finally!"
"Congratulations!" I said, as earnestly as I could. But I still voiced my concern. "Aren't you scared?"
"No, Kate. I've been training for this my entire life. We don't have a lot of honour or honesty here, but this is closest. For Lucien to pick me, is, well, amazing! I'm ready." We walked in silence. She branched off down a corridor, likely heading to the mess hall to tell her mother. I kept on walking. My feet knew where I wanted to be.
As per usual, the library was deserted. I don't think anyone actually cared for the books, but we kept them, anyway. So no-one could complain of boredom, I guess. It was also one of the few places in the entire Keverican compound that didn't reek of death, blood or sweat. Instead, the frail aroma of musty books wafted around.
I lifted a book from the shelves, not bothering to look at the title. There were few books there I hadn't read, so selecting them at random worked best for me. Curling up on the floor, I figured I had a good half-hour before dinner. So I began to read.
The book wast actually that bad, sort of a sci-fi romance novel set in a scientific facility. I had gotten through a good chunk of it before dinner. Sighing, I set it back, carefully. Taking it with me counted as stealing, even if I was to bring it back.
I walked into the mess hall, one of the few places of laughter and ease in Keverican. tables were allocated into families, so I sat with my father and my brothers, as usual. My mother was at the serving tables, dishing out meals. She would eat after all the dishes had been cleaned and everyone was gone, along with all the other kitchen staff.
I spied Faye across the room. She was the oldest of three girls. Her sister, Diane, was a tall, strangely muscular girl of twelve, and was staring down at her food, almost sadly. On Faye's lap was Madeline, still a baby. Faye was alternating between feeding herself, then Maddie.
Her father sat with them, his rifle strapped across his back. He was a high ranking soldier, and Faye saw him a lot more than I saw my father. I wonder if she had told her father about Lucien's offer.
I knew, that really, she didn't have a choice. Lucien's word was law, but disguising an order as an offer made it a lot more appealing. But I was still angry. Angry with myself, angry with her, angry with Lucien. I had only one friend, and she was going to leave me.
She was so willing to leave her family and friends. I couldn't understand that. I had one friend, and my family almost seemed to loath me. Maybe they would have preferred four sons. It wouldn't have surprised me.
After dinner, I sought out Violet Heckles. She was in her home, a small three-room dwelling used only by her. She had no family, her husband and sons taken by the war. She was old, but she was a master of the guitar, and provided one of the few forms of entertainment in Keverican.
"Ah, Kate!" She smiled, making me smile in return. She welcomed me in, and I sat down on her soft brown sofa. She began to make me tea, and I began to tell her about Faye, leaving out the morning's events.
"So young, too." She murmured. Her forehead creased in thought as she handed me a mug of tea. I gulped it down eagerly; tea was reserved for the old and respected in Keverican.
"But Kate, you must understand that she didn't have a choice. Eve if she hadn't wanted to, she was going."
"Yes, I know," I sighed. That still didn't make it any easier. "But I'm scared! What if…" my voice died to a whisper. "What if she doesn't come back? Like you said, she's so young!"
"Then she doesn't come back. I know it's hard, poppet. But if the worst happens, then she'll never have to fight again. Dead people don't fight." She smiled warmly. I smiled back, I knew she was trying to make me feel better, but the thought of Faye, lying dead on a battlefield, covered in blood... I grimaced.
"Have you ever heard of anything like this happening before?"
"No, I can't say I have. I grew up with Lucien, we're the same age. And he always was a cunning bastard. Had you ever considered that maybe this was your punishment? Maybe he had heard about the Yexterby man?"
"You know about that?" Cold prickled at my skin, and I glanced at Violet. She was staring at me, like I was stupid.
"My dear, half of Keverican knows. If you're classmates weren't gossiping about it, young Benjamin himself was probably ranting about it." I sniggered. Benjamin. But I was shaking beneath it, maybe she was right. Maybe, it was my fault. .
"Perhaps you're right," I said, taking another gulp of tea. Ah, tea. Violet and Faye seemed to be the only people in the entire compound that cared about me, as a person and not a soldier. I felt an unfamiliar heat swell up in my eyes. No. I wasn't going to cry in front of Violet.
"Well, it's been a long day for you, Kate. How about some guitar?"
I smiled, and nodded. "Yeah, guitar sounds good."