Chapter 3 (Cora)

Cora hadn’t seen Everin since their talk in the field. She worried about him. There weren’t many other fifteen-year-olds in the village as it was, and she didn’t think Everin was close with any of them. He’d had plenty of friends until that awful night. It wasn’t that the rest of the youths in the village had shunned him for being an orphan, but Everin appeared to bring isolation upon himself. He wouldn’t venture from Margoline’s farm. He wouldn’t talk to people or would start crying at random moments when he did. There wasn’t a specific moment when it happened, but gradually, Everin’s friends stopped being his friends.

Now, Cora felt that she was the only one left. And it was hard to be Everin’s friend. Not that he meant to be a burden, but it was so difficult to be around him without his mood bringing her down as well. That didn’t stop her from trying to check in on him as often as she could, however. She felt a kind of protectiveness towards him, even though she was the same age. Progress was slow, but she believed that she’d eventually be able to help him move past whatever had transpired the night his parents died.

She knew the details that most of the villagers knew. Two bandits had tricked Everin into letting them into his home. They’d killed his parents, looted and burned the house, and disappeared. Nobody was sure why Everin had escaped the encounter with only a cut on his arm, just as nobody could explain why Everin insisted that the men weren’t bandits. It was especially strange because when they asked him, Everin had no answer for what the men really were. There were other details as well. Only Everin knew exactly what had transpired between him and the men that night. Cora hoped that, in time, he would share the details with her, but she never pushed him for information.

The morning was bright, with a few clouds scattered overhead and a cool breeze drifting through the collection of homes and shops that made up Greenshadow Village. Cora surveyed the bright spring day out the window as she pulled loaves of bread out of the oven and rested them on the countertop to cool. She heard the pattering of feet behind her and turned to see her younger sister, Crista.

“Is it time to see the soldiers yet?” She asked.

Cora smiled. “Almost. The royal procession should get here any moment now, Cris.”

Her sister’s eyes widened. She was only seven, and she already knew enough about the angels to be excited about the possibility of seeing one in person.

“So, can we go now?” She pressed.

Cora glanced toward the open window. Everin still hadn’t shown up, not that she’d expected him to. Cora removed the last loaf of brown bread from the oven and pulled off her mitts.

“You remember my friend, Everin, right?”

Crista nodded vigorously, the brown curls of her hair bouncing on her shoulders.

“I’ve got to go find him, so I’ll meet you and mom and dad at the procession, okay?”

“Are you going to make it in time?” Crista asked.

Cora patted her sister on the head. “Come on, Cris. You know I wouldn’t miss a chance to see an angel,” she said.

“Dad!” Cora called out. “I’m going off to find Everin. Can I meet you and mom at the procession?”

The pudgy figure of her father appeared in the entryway to the kitchen.

“Alright. Just make sure you don’t miss it. It’s not every day that we get to hear news from up north,” he said.

She smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

She gave the bread one last glance before leaving her home and walking off to the edge of the village, where Margoline’s hut stood. Cora knocked on the thin wooden door, and after a long wait, the short woman answered.

“Ah, Cora. So nice to see you,” she said.

“It’s nice to see you too, Margoline. Is Everin home?”

She nodded. “He’s out back in the fields.”

“Thanks,” Cora said. “Are you going to see the royal procession?”

Margoline shook her head. “I think I’m going to stay in. Too much noise and excitement for me.”

“Oh, I see.” Cora nodded. “Well, I hope you have a relaxing day.”

“I’ll certainly try,” the old woman murmured.

Cora smiled at her and headed around the small hut to the plots of dirt arranged behind it. At the edge of the property, she saw Everin. The boy was knelt before the low fence, hammering a fresh new board to replace wood that had rotted away during the fall and winter months. Cora approached.

“You’re still planning on watching the royal procession, right?”

Everin turned around and stood up.

“Huh? Oh, hey Cora.” He looked surprised to see her, as if he hadn’t been expecting her to follow up on her invitation to watch the ceremony. “I’m not sure. Margoline gave me a lot of work to do today,” he replied.

“Everin, you promised. You’ll be back at Margoline’s with plenty of time left in the day.”

Everin sighed. She was right. Cora felt bad for twisting his arm so much to make him attend the ceremony, but she hoped that being around the bright atmosphere of the royal procession would do him some good.

“Okay, I’ll come,” he finally decided.

“Great!” Cora grinned. She grabbed his hand and led him across the field of freshly tilled soil.

Everin and Cora arrived at the village square just as the first soldiers in the procession rounded the hill and came into view.

“Look! Look! Here they come!” A young boy sitting on his father’s shoulders shouted excitedly as he pointed off to the distance.

Murmurs of excitement rippled through the crowd. Cora raised a hand over her eyes and peered in the direction the boy had pointed. Sure enough, she could see a line of the king’s soldiers, marching two by two, making their way towards the village. More soldiers streamed over the hill, leading the caravan of vehicles across the landscape.

Soon, the procession arrived. The gathered villagers clapped and cheered as the soldiers paraded through the center of the village. Their alumin armor shone brightly under the rising sun. Alumin was a sleek, lightweight metal that, like hardglass, could only be mined at the ancient ruins. The feather of an eagle was painted in yellow across their chest plates. The eagle’s feather was the symbol of King Valen and the national symbol of Allomoria. The soldiers all carried swords in scabbards that hung from their waists or held long spears upright at their sides.

Men and women all around them waved their arms and called out to the men and women in armor. Cora looked over at Everin. He quietly clapped as he watched the soldiers pass.

After row upon row of soldiers marched through the village square, the wagons finally arrived. The large vehicles were pulled by powerful horses. Inside the first few wagons were food and supplies for the soldiers. These wagons consisted of a wooden platform covered by a plain canvas sporting the King’s golden feather. The wheels of these wagons were made from polished gray metal with rims of black cushioning material. The wheels were relics from the time of the old gods. They were much sturdier than wheels made of wooden spokes, and the black padding wrapped around them made the ride much smoother. Their usefulness made it worth the effort of scavenging them from the ruins.

After the supply wagons came the last two vehicles in the caravan. Both of these wagons were larger and decorated with ribbons and ornate painted symbols. The first contained a mounted platform elevated several feet above the ground. Atop the platform, donned in elegant yellow and white armor, was one of King Valen’s angels. He was tall with locks of sandy blond hair, and he held himself with an easy confidence. From what Cora knew, this was Ichoron, the third angel. Ichoron raised a hand at the crowd, and the citizens of Greenshadow Village roared in excitement.

To her left, Cora heard Everin whisper, “He looks pretty young.”

She jumped a little, surprised to hear Everin speak without prompting. She squinted her eyes and looked harder at the figure standing atop the moving platform. Everin was right. Ichoron couldn’t have been older than twenty. While his body rippled with powerful muscle, his face was still youthful. He probably couldn’t have grown a beard if he tried.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she whispered back.

Ichoron’s youth surprised Cora. Like the other two angels, he was one of King Valen’s most powerful weapons. Even in a village as small and isolated as theirs, she’d heard plenty of tales of their power. The three angels would mow down dozens of enemies each in the field of battle, all without sustaining so much as a scratch. All of them wielded some kind of mysterious power that gave them an enormous advantage over their foes. Ichoron was the third and newest angel. According to rumor, he was gifted with the strength and speed of a dozen men.

“How old do you think he was when he started serving the king?” Everin asked her.

Cora had been doing the math in her head even as he spoke. Stories of a third angel performing heroic feats in border conflicts had begun to circulate three or four years ago.

“He must’ve been only a year or two older than us when he started fighting,” she said.

“It looks like he’s taken it in stride,” Everin commented.

He was right. The young man looked completely at ease. Today, he wasn’t the war machine who mercilessly executed his opponents. He was a hero of Allomoria basking in the awe and wonder of the people he fought to protect.

As Everin and Cora spoke, the wagons had continued to roll through the village square. Now, the final vehicle was pulled by a pair of horses into the middle of the crowd. This second ornate wagon was covered with a large canvas. This one was designed to house the royal messenger and their company. A figure pulled back the opening to the canvas and clambered out. He stood at the front of the wagon and raised a horn to his lips. He blew a long peal that carried over the whole village. As one, the soldiers came to a halt and the men and women driving the wagons pulled on the horses’ reigns, bringing them to a stop.

The noise from the villagers dropped down to a quiet murmur. This was why the procession was traveling from town to town. The king must have some important news to convey to his citizens. Another figure emerged from the final wagon. It was a tall woman dressed in elegant gold robes – a royal messenger. Ichoron stepped down from the elevated platform and stood at its base, beside the man with the trumpet. The messenger climbed up and took his place atop the elevated structure. She looked out over the expectant throng of villagers.

“People of Greenshadow village, King Valen offers his regards.” Her voice boomed loud and authoritatively across the village square.

There were cheers and whoops from the villagers in response. The woman smiled and let the noise die down before continuing.

“I come to you with important news. First, King Valen intends to declare war upon the country of Meronne.”

The noise from the crowd flared back up again. Cora turned to Everin.

“That’s crazy! We’re not too far from the border!” she said.

Everin seemed just as shocked by the news, although he didn’t raise his voice. Everin never raised his voice.

“King Valen better be confident that he can win this fight quickly,” he responded.

Meronne was the powerful country that bordered Allomoria to the south. Both countries had taken part in small skirmishes at the border for at least the past decade. King Valen and Queen Rispara of Meronne hadn’t declared all-out war in the past because they suspected that their empires were an equal match for each other and that war would likely mean exorbitant losses, even for the winning side. Because of this mutual respect for each other’s’ destructive power, the monarchs preferred to let border skirmishes fizzle out without their meddling. King Valen only sent one of his angels to end fights if they lasted for more than a few days and threatened to spill over into neighboring towns.

The crowd took much longer to quiet down this time. Once they finally did, the royal messenger spoke again. While the villagers had been talking amongst themselves, she’d produced a scroll from the folds of her robes. She unrolled it and read the page as she spoke.

“In the words of King Valen himself, ‘I have studied the country of Meronne for years. I have bided my time until the opportune moment to strike presented itself. I tell you, my people, that moment has presented itself. We have surpassed Meronne in the strength of our numbers and the power of our angels. I am prepared to vanquish this threat to our way of life once and for all. There is only one more thing I need, and that is you, my people.’”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” A man standing off to Cora’s right demanded.

“Quiet!” Ichoron barked in his direction. The man’s face turned white as the angel’s angry glare fell on him.

From the top of the platform, the messenger responded.

“What this means, is that King Valen is confident of our chances of victory. However, in order to win a war, he needs an army.”

Cora felt her chest fill with the weight of dread as she realized what the woman was saying.

“Thus, your king has declared a draft. Healthy men and women from the ages of fifteen to thirty have been randomly selected from every community in Allomoria. The purpose of this procession is to gather those who have been drafted and bring them to the nearest training camp to begin their service.”

Even before she was done talking there was uproar from the villagers. Cora felt the dread in her chest drop all the way to her stomach as the woman gave her decree.

Someone behind her shouted the thought that was on her mind. “Fifteen-year-olds can’t be drafted! They’re not of age!”

“We need as large a force as possible to decisively crush Meronne’s army. This is King Valen’s decision, not mine. I certainly hope I didn’t hear anyone challenging the King’s orders just now. That would be treasonous.” The woman replied and mockingly cupped a hand over her ear, pretending to wait for a response. None came.

Cora turned to Everin. “You don’t think we’re going to get drafted, do you?”

The boy turned to face her and gave a defeated shrug. “I guess it’s up to chance.”

Cora felt her heart racing as the seriousness of the situation hit her. “Everin, I can’t fight a war. Look at me. I can’t fight people like them.” She pointed at the soldiers standing in formation on either side of the wagons. “They’d kill me in an instant. What would my mother and father do? What would Crista do?”

Everin didn’t respond for a few moments. Cora realized he was probably just as shocked as she was.

“Sorry, I’m sure you’re nervous about getting called too.”

“No, don’t be sorry,” he finally responded. Everin rested a hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “If it comes down to it, and your name gets called, I’ll volunteer to take your place,” he said.

Cora gasped involuntarily. “Everin, I can’t ask you to do that!” she said.

He shook his head. “You don’t have to ask me. It just makes sense. You have a family who cares about you and a future in Greenshadow Village. Margoline won’t care if I’m gone, and honestly, there’s nothing for me here, not anymore.”

Cora was at a loss for words at Everin’s offer. Before she could respond, the royal messenger began to address the crowd again.

“I will now read off the list of those who have been selected for the first round of the royal draft. Mara Ormann, Ford Holten…” the list of names continued to grow. There were shouts and cries from parts of the crowd as people heard their names or the names of their loved ones called.

Cora was swallowed up in a mess of fear and anxiety as she watched the woman read. She was so caught up in listening for her own name that she nearly missed it when the woman read, “Everin Thornwood,” off the list.

She grabbed Everin’s hand and the two young people turned to look at each other, a desperate expression on both of their faces. Cora was at a loss for words, but she didn’t dare speak for fear of missing the next names to be read off the list.

The woman continued in her indifferent monotone. “Brandt Amath, Edwin Goodridge, Cora Lazure…”

Cora froze. She felt Everin squeeze her hand even tighter as he processed the words as well. By the time the woman had finished, she was hyperventilating. This couldn’t be real. What was going to happen to her and Everin? To her family?

“If your name was called, step forward. If you try to hide, there will be consequences for you and your families,” the royal messenger called out.

Everin released her hand and began walking forwards. Cora snapped out of her shock and began to wander towards the large wagon and the imposing angel who stood before it. She twisted her head back and forth, trying to find her family, but she couldn’t spot them in the crowd.

Above them, the royal messenger cried out, “Behold, the newest soldiers of Allomoria!”

There were no cheers from the crowd this time.

Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-4-everin/

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