It’s been while, but here you go. Happy new year instalment.
‘Just fill in that form, already.’
Isrin seriously wondered how you could run a military with that much bureaucracy, but maybe there was so much bureaucracy here in the headquarters to stop it from interfering where it mattered. That didn’t make him comfortable dealing with it, though. By now the sun had reached the peak of its daily course, shining brilliantly through the high windows, and he could only hope the boys didn’t cause any trouble; he had planned this to be over with in half an hour or an hour at most.
‘You have to understand that we can’t issue a warrant just for asking. There are procedures to be followed. So, what did the culprit do?’ Captain Arris asked.
He was sitting behind a massive desk, empty except for three trays, inkstand, pen and a single page of paper, all of which had been carefully aligned to the edge of the desk. It made Isrin’s nails curl. He took a deep breath.
‘There is no culprit and I don’t want to issue a warrant. Do you never have missing persons around here?’
‘Oh. About a missing person, I’m afraid you’ll have to consult with Cap…’
He stopped in mid-sentence when he saw Isrin’s gaze, carefully cultivated in his over thirty years as village warden. It was remarkable how far you got just by looking at people the right way at the right moment.
‘On the other hand, I could make an exception, since you are already here and everything.’
‘That would be… kind of you.’ Isrin answered, cutting down on the irony in his voice as best as he could muster.
The captain opened a drawer of his desk and produced a single sheet of paper, which he carefully placed on top of the one already on the desk, making sure that the corners were exactly on top of each other. Isrin flinched.
‘So, this is the right form.’ the captain finally said and took the pen.
‘One: Name of the missing person.’
A lengthy pause ensued. The captain lifted his head, giving Isrin a quizzical look, that he returned with a blank stare.
‘You can’t be serious.’
The captain looked confused.
‘Why don’t you just copy it from the other form? The one lying below?’
‘Well, I guess I could do that…’
‘Oh, yes. I guess I could do that.’
Isrin rolled his eyes.
‘So that’s Laiva Azanee, female, eight years, dark hair, dark eyes. Place of residency?’
‘Pala, the village tavern.’
‘Ah, sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t help you then. The villages of the Southern Forest do not belong to the duchy, but are a protectorate of the duke. You need to go down the hall, to the right, the stairs up, then le…’
Enough was enough. Isrin had jumped up and grabbed the captain by his collar.
Before he could give the captain a piece of his mind, however, he was hurled backwards and slammed hard into the ground by two burly guards that looked as if spend their free time wrestling bears. Only then he realised that attacking an officer in the headquarters probably wasn’t the smartest of moves.
‘Isrin, Isrin. That could have ended really bad.’
Commander Rowrig took a careful sip from a delicate china cup. Seeing him balance it the massive hands his, looking more fit for crushing rocks, was quite an experience.
‘You are lucky I was summoned by the ruckus, old friend. Without someone convincing the captain that there had merely been a misunderstanding… Let’s just say that assaulting an officer is no laughing matter.’
‘The officer is.’ Isrin grumbled.
‘I choose not to have heard that. Although I have to admit Captain Arris is a bit… peculiar. He’s one of the replacements, you see.’
Isrin did see. It was an open secret that the trouble in the south took its toll, and the Duchy of Bonia was the one to pay it, having no border to defend itself. Most of the duchy’s original troops had by now been transferred to Iorn, and the replacements consisted of those they couldn’t use; mostly anymore, but there were others as well. Isrin could have sworn the captain belonged to the latter.
‘Anyway, this isn’t why you are here.’
The captain carefully put down his cup and studied the two partially filled in forms he had taken from the captain’s desk.
‘I take it, you are actually looking for a runaway and not a criminal?’
Isrin nodded and the captain stuffed one of the sheets into the already overflowing waste-paper basket.
‘That leaved one question, though: Why?’
‘Because she has run away,’ Isrin said firmly, ‘and it doesn’t matter what her chances are. I’ve seen my share of runaways – if there was anything left to be seen. But I’m not going to tell her parents that I didn’t do anything because I have simply given her up.’
A brief, but very uneasy silence ensued, although Isrin was at a loss why. It wasn’t as if he had asked the commander to comb the forest, or something to that effect. Once he came to think of it, he hadn’t asked for anything… yet.
‘Besides, all I need you to do is having the guards at the gates keep an eye open for her.’
All of the sudden, the tension was gone. The commander exhaled in relief; Isrin hadn’t even realised he had been holding his breath.
‘Well, if that’s all… I guess I can do that. So you think she’s going to try and hide here?’
‘Not as such,’ Isrin said, ‘there’s reason to believe… She is heading for the capital. She wants to partake in the trials.’
The captain started laughing, but then he noticed Isrin’s expression and amusement turned into disbelieve.
‘But she’s a girl! There’s no way they’d ever let her enter the order.’
‘That’s what we told her.’
Laiva put the flask down and grimaced. Stale water was bad enough, but stale blood was outright vile; at least the moving stopped it from clogging.
‘Don’t look at me like that.’ she said to Mynor, who had shot her a glance in answer.
‘You have had all your life to get used to the taste. It’s a first for me.’
And the last time as well, if she could help it. How could something being practically the same as blood sausage only taste so unlike it? Still, it was better than nothing, and the rabbits had been dead anyway. Going thirsty, while letting the blood go to waste would just have been stupid. Until the river she had to take what she could get.