The Fantasy Inn is honoured to present the cover reveal for K.S. Villoso’s newest book, Blackwood Marauders!
Credit goes to Ash Navarre for the gorgeous cover art.
Blackwood Marauders is a standalone novel set in the same world as The Agartes Epilogues and The Wolf of Oren-yaro, but with different and unrelated events.
Glory is for the gods. The rest make do.
From the author of THE AGARTES EPILOGUES and the critically acclaimed THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO comes this coming-of-age fantasy about people trying their best to survive in a grim, unforgiving world.
Growing up in a quiet farm, Luc “Lucky” son of Jak didn’t think much of the world until he fails the military entrance exam and finds himself responsible for a group of vicious, bloodthirsty mercenaries. Raised to be honest, upright, and true, his own ideals clash with the mercenaries’ shaky morals. His problems take a turn for the worst when he falls into a trap set by Roena Blackwood.
The eldest of Duke Iorwin’s daughters, Roena is adamant that life can only go her way. A high priest’s prophecy causes her to rethink her options and take the path less travelled: that of a travelling mercenary.
But killing monsters and saving villages can only get interesting for so long. Luc and Roena find themselves in a twisted plot concocted by none other than the merchant Ylir yn Garr. Together, they must learn to set aside their differences and work together to prevent disaster, even if it means confronting what they ran away from in the first place.
Blackwood Marauders releases on the 5th of April, and is available for preorder on Amazon. Preorder is available for 99c and the book will be on sale for the rest of the month following release.
Kay has been kind enough to give us an excerpt from the first chapter to give you a feel for the book.
You don’t argue with a name like “Lucky” if you were lucky to be alive. Because all things considering, he shouldn’t have been when his father found him floating in that shipwreck, a tiny thing no older than a few days at most. Lucky to have survived the worst of the storm that tore the rest of his family into pieces, that a forlorn traveller seeking his fortune in Baidh happened to have looked over the railing at the last moment to spot him. Lucky that after the others had turned away, a young man chose to jump into the sea, saved his life, and raised him as his own.
Fate could be kind like that, when others call it fickle. For every child lost to the warlords’ quarrels in Jin-Sayeng to the east or taken as a slave along the coasts of Dageis to the north, there are others found abed at home. Warm sheets, fire at the hearth, a father who never lifted a finger against him, who beat him with kindness and wise counsel instead of a cane. Luck.
But that was old news to Luc. Twenty years had come and gone. He was no longer a babe curled up on his father’s chest, listening to old lullabies of a land he had never seen. Nor was he the same child growing sick of hearing how blessed he was that a man who had nothing to gain would choose to keep him. Tall, long-limbed, with wavy black hair that he kept in a short crop, the only thing that marked him as a foundling these days was the brown skin of his Gorenten blood. He had learned to deflect the looks with a grin—a foolish sort, non-threatening. He was told it wouldn’t be an issue in the bigger cities, but at least in the town of Crossfingers, he stood out like a sore thumb.
He recrossed his arms for what felt like the hundredth time that afternoon and finally caught sight of a figure hobbling down the street. Luc lifted his hand and whistled.
“Sorry I’m late,” Alun huffed, his normally pale face even paler now from the exertion. Sweat poured down his cheeks like rivers.
“Just stop for a moment,” Luc said, slapping Alun’s back. He had intended to make it a light tap, but Alun winced as his thin frame toppled forward. Luc gave a small smile. “You shouldn’t have been running, anyway. What would Da say? And Mother would kill me. I shouldn’t have gone ahead.”
Luc sighed and waited until Alun caught his breath. A man leading a couple of pigs to the market stared at them a little too long as he passed by—long enough that he nearly tripped over the rope in his hands. Luc was used to the stares, but he still had to wonder at it. Although the only thing they shared was the black hair—their father traced his roots to Jin-Sayeng—he and his little brother were a common enough sight in town, familiar to many of the locals. Their grandmother told Luc not to worry about it, but he couldn’t help his own thoughts most of the time. He didn’t like the implications—that he didn’t care enough for his brother, for instance, his father’s trueborn son. Or that he brought shame to his father simply for existing.
Today, though…he wanted to make a difference today. Today, he told himself, I’ll be able to look him in the eye and tell him his sacrifices had paid off. The thought made him grin.
“All right,” Alun said, getting up. “I’m ready if you are.”
He smiled as they began the long walk down the street. The silhouette of the Skellcilan Academy, Crossfingers’ single shining beacon to fame, stood in the distance. Panic gripped Luc for the first time. It had been a week since the examinations. Initially, he had left the hall feeling smug over his chances at passing the prerequisites for military training in the Hafed capital of Tilarthan—he’d even bragged to their grandmother about how he had been expecting harder questions. The sums were laughable. He didn’t have a merchant’s upbringing, but the priest had done well enough by them, and Luc had always been the brightest among the children, at least second only to Alun. Now…
Now, he wasn’t so sure. Panic and doubt crawled over his heart like his grandmother’s needles prickling his fingers whenever he tried to stitch patches on his trousers. Out of nowhere, he laughed.
“You’re nervous,” Alun said.
“I’m not,” Luc replied.
“You are,” Alun persisted, grabbing his wrist to look him in the eye. His younger brother’s face broke into a grin. “Who would’ve thought! Me with the clubfoot, and you, big, strapping Lucky, scared enough to wet your trousers. Wait till Ceri hears about this. She’ll laugh herself silly.”
“There’s been a lot of bed-wetting over these years, Alun. They’ve never been on my side.”
“Remember when you’d tell me there were no monsters hiding under it?”
“There weren’t,” Luc huffed. “You cried yourself to sleep, anyway. You and your damned imagination.”
Alun laughed. “And you’d hug me and tell me it’ll be all right. Hey, Luc,” he said, his face growing sombre for a moment. “It’ll be all right. You’ve got this.”
“Thanks,” Luc grumbled.
“I mean it. You’re smart. Even if Loma sometimes insists you were the dumbest kid she’s ever seen in her life.”
“And now you’re pushing it again.”
“We’ll pass. You’ll get to Tilarthan and be a general in the army in no time.”
“A general?” Luc snorted. “More like front-line fodder for when Dageis invades.”
“Which isn’t going to happen any time soon. And then I’ll be in Skellcilan studying to be a builder. Maybe I’ll have my first house up by the time you come home after basic training.” Alun beamed, his cheek dimples deepening.
“A house in your first year? Da was right—you do get carried away with the dreams.”
“Someone’s got to do the dreaming around here. Don’t tell me you want to join the army just to be fodder.”
“Of course not,” Luc said.
Luc gave a small smile. “Did you see the look on Da’s face when I told him?”
“He dreamed of joining the army once. Couldn’t knock that grin from his face for days. His precious Lucky, Hafed General!”
Luc wanted to pretend that such things didn’t matter to him, but he could feel the excitement as soon as he heard the words, quivering inside him like a secret waiting to burst. “They pay you for training, you know? We can get the kitchen fixed. Da always wanted an outside stove.”
“Grandma does, anyway. The stench of the fish she likes to fry…” Alun shuddered. “Speaking of food, I’m almost sure they’ll have a feast ready for us when we get back. Oh!” He grimaced. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you. Well, when we get home, act surprised.”
They came around the bend, drawing closer to the academy building and the main entrance, marked by stone steps that rose higher than the barn’s rooftop back home. When Luc had first seen it, it seemed endless, and he had been struck with worry over how Alun would navigate his way up without getting winded.
Alun grunted, as if hearing his thoughts. “The one thing I’m not looking forward to.”
“You’ll be in the dormitories. It won’t be so bad. Here,” Luc said, offering his shoulder. “One step at a time.”
Alun hesitated. “Come on, Luc. I don’t think—”
“We can get there faster this way.” He took Alun’s arm, and after a soft sigh, Alun conceded, gripping his hand with knobby fingers.
It was another common sight in town—the square-shouldered dark boy leading the thin, crippled one. The doubt returned, taking a different sort of form this time—one that revolved around his brother. If he went off to Tilarthan, who would watch out for Alun? You could only beat village boys so much before they start coming home bloody and their parents complained, which meant they never really learned to leave Alun alone. It was true that they were older now and that childhood squabbles ought to be left squarely in the past, but Luc wasn’t so naïve to think that his brother would ever be completely accepted. They used to steal his shoes and string them up on trees, claiming a clubfoot didn’t need them.
It was almost as if thinking about the bastards was enough to make them crawl out of the woodwork. Luc cringed as he heard the piercing whistle from the distance. “The ox and the turtle!” The statement was followed by raucous laughter.
“Ignore them,” Alun said.
Luc looked up. The boys from the village were there—at least five of them. Not boys anymore, he reminded himself, but it was difficult to see them otherwise. He glanced at the tallest one, the freckled, thin-lipped son of the farmer next door, the one with the eternally smug grin and the tendency to look over their heads, as if they existed as nothing more than mere toys he could step on if he wanted to. Luc hated that one the most. Michell, he was called, and just two weeks ago during the harvest festival, he had led his gang on a merry chase to botch Alun’s attempts to spend some time alone with Ceri.
“Ignore them, Lucky,” Alun repeated, breaking his thoughts. The bastards were jeering amongst themselves and Luc had to tear himself away from staring at Michell’s nose—which he had broken at least twice now—to look back at his brother. Alun squeezed his hand. “They’ll get their results and it’ll be over soon enough. We’re too old for this.”
“Tell them that,” Luc murmured, guiding Alun yet another step. “Didn’t Michell write the builder’s test, too? If he passes, you’ll be taking classes with him. You’ll be all alone.”
“He’ll be alone, too. I think the others went for the military test, and Flitch I know is apprenticing to be a scribe. I can handle Michell on my own.”
“You can’t even walk up the damn stairs on your own.”
Alun made a soft sound in the back of his throat. “Maybe I just let you help me to soothe your feelings.”
“Let it go, Lucky.”
He gave a sound of assent, though deep inside, he found it hard to. The doubt had now assumed the form of full-fledged worry—deep and gnawing, and nothing which the thought of glory and honour could fix for him. If he went to Tilarthan, who would patch the roof during winter? Da was still young, but he had fallen off the ladder a few years ago and Luc didn’t like the idea of that incident repeating itself. And there was only Grandma and Alun’s mother at home. Ceri, he knew, would help out whenever she could, but she had her hands full at her father’s farm and they had relied on her charity as a family far too often.
No way around it, he thought as they reached the top landing. Michell and his boys had already gone ahead, the double doors swinging as they stampeded through the halls. You’ve got to make this work. A year’s worth of training wages will be enough for Da to hire some help, and then maybe we can get some pigs along with the goats, and a cow or two for milk. If he made it so his father never had to work another day in his life, all the better.
Beside him, Alun laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Luc asked.
“I just never imagined we would get this far,” Alun said, patting Luc’s shoulder. His eyes all but disappeared when he smiled, a trait he inherited from their father. “We’re men, now, Luc. Men!”
“You’re unnaturally excited about this. Well, I suppose you would be, since you only started shaving last year…”
“You’ve never even kissed a girl.”
“Say it a little louder, Alun. I think Michell didn’t hear you.”
“Lucky’s never kiss—”
Luc clouted Alun on the head.
“And you,” Luc hissed, “don’t even have armpit hair.” He nodded down the corridor. “This is your hall, I think. You all right to go ahead by yourself, you runt bastard?”
“You’ve got to stop worrying about me,” Alun grumbled. “You go on.”
“Lucky,” Alun said. “Look at me.”
He did, and had the sudden glimpse of the small, sickly boy Alun had been, of how often he had been at death’s door. Whenever their father sang him lullabies, there had been a touch of desperation in it, a plea to Yohak and any other gods that would listen to spare his boy and let him live with a measure of dignity. If Alun could be brave, he could do this.
Luc took a sharp breath and smiled. “General Luc. It is growing on me,” he said. “I suppose I should get used to it.” He gave his brother a wave as he strode down into the next corridor.
Luc still remembered the day they had first arrived in Crossfingers seventeen years ago—him, his father, and the golden-haired woman he married, heavily pregnant with Alun. He couldn’t recall how his life had been before that, but he remembered gazing up at the buildings, overwhelmed by everything. There weren’t a lot—Crossfingers was a small enough town—but they had towered over the boy like trees, all solemn and grey and withered. His fears had been squelched by the feel of his father’s hand, rough calluses enveloping his smooth little fist.
“You’re missing the open road, yeah?” Jak had asked, the years he spent out in the west having stamped its mark on his speech. Luc didn’t know it then, but it made his family seem even odder—the thin, dark man, clearly Jinsein but speaking like a native Baidhan, the rotund, fair-skinned woman with eyes as blue as the sky, and the child, even darker than the man, with eyes like steel. “Well, we’ll find our home soon enough. Don’t you worry.”
Back then, and for all the years of his boyhood after, his father’s voice had the power to soothe his worries away. It changed in the last few years. Between trying to keep Alun from the village boys’ pranks and the chores that kept him busy in the farm, Luc had grown acutely aware of the weariness in his father’s steps, the way he would look at a crop ruined by early frost with lines under his eyes. They didn’t talk much about it—Jak believed in keeping his chin up, in hard work and toil yielding its own rewards, and he responded to Luc’s concerns with a grin, thin fingers clasping the young man’s broader shoulders.
Two months ago, the goats were killed.
A wolf, the guards had figured, though Luc had never heard of a wolf just diving into a pen and leaving body parts uneaten, ground into the mud like paste. Others from the village claimed it was probably a bear—a larger, vicious sort, coming down from the mountains to wreak havoc on the lowlands. Or—and as soon as that or was uttered, they fell silent, turning back to their tin mugs of gin and watered-down ale and refusing to speak any further. The Hafed could be cold, secretive like that, Jak used to say. Best get used to it.
Whatever it was, it killed everything, including the goat kids they were supposed to sell for money that would tide them that whole winter through. No crops, no goats, only five sacks of potatoes left in the pantry, and Grandma’s cough getting worse…suddenly Jak’s “Don’t you worry,” wasn’t enough, and his cheerful smile felt empty. And Luc felt empty, too—helpless, like the ground had opened up from under his feet. The man who used to carry him on his back now stood shorter than him, stooped, lingering on the edge of panic and despair.
Luc went to town that same day to try to get work, but none would take him. It was late fall, almost winter. Crossfingers wasn’t a rich town. And besides, why take the Gorenten when you could hire the neighbour’s girl down the street? After the ninth shop had closed their window to his face, Luc happened to glanced over the long line along the steps of Skellcilan Academy, where youth from many of the villages in southern Hafod were putting their names through in the hopes it would take them out of those dank hellholes and out into the wider world.
His mind suddenly swarmed with the possibilities. Luc had been eligible for the exam for years, but he had never considered it before. He belonged in the farm with his father. He was bright, but not bright enough, and he didn’t want his father worrying about where to get the coin to fund his studies. A proper education was Alun’s forte, as their mother had drilled into them since childhood. Alun was the scholar, Alun would bring fortune and carry the family name up in time. Luc was just a worker, which never troubled him before. But now—
“You don’t need to pay to get into military school,” a soldier near the door had been saying. “The kingdom will pay you all throughout basic training. King Elrend rewards his own.” He caught Luc’s eye and smiled. Luc felt…visible, for the first time. His Gorenten blood didn’t bother the man. It felt like fate, like that one shining moment in time when the stories say it felt just right and glory lay waiting for those brave enough to dare.
“Hafod is building up her army,” the soldier continued, puffing his chest up, his well-polished uniform gleaming brightly under the sun. “But there’s no wars, and you won’t be called into battle until you’ve got years of experience under your belt. It’s the perfect time to join. How about you, young man?”
Luc realized he was talking to him. After a moment of uncertainty, he came up the steps, and the soldier looked him in the eye with what appeared to be approval. “You’d do well in the military, my lad,” he said. “Have you ever been to Tilarthan?”
Numbly, Luc shook his head. He had as an infant, but he didn’t remember any of it and didn’t think it counted.
“You’d love it,” the soldier said. “There’s no city in all the western kingdom like it. Grey cliffs all around, and foamy waves that tower higher than the buildings sometimes.” He was clearly trying to stir up Luc’s blood, ignite fire in his veins at the prospect of adventure. “And the markets! More wares than you could imagine, and food from every corner of the continent, made possible by open trade and the busiest harbour in all the Kag. Exotic seafood fresh from Jin-Sayeng, the best dried fruit from Gaspar, or…” He dropped his voice an octave. “They have some terrific brothels too, if you’ve got no lass waiting for you back home. Or even if you do…they cater to every taste, get your cock hard like nothing else. Women with breasts like melons.”
Luc swallowed, trying hard to ignore the distracting image that conjured. “After the exam—”
The soldier’s eyes brightened. “Yes. You’ll be transferred straight to the Tilarthan Military School. Training is six months, and then you’ll be allowed to go straight home after before you’re assigned to a unit.”
“And we’ll get paid immediately?”
The soldier smiled. “One of those types, eh?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“Well, lad,” the soldier said, crossing his arms. His tone had shifted. “Not for me to judge, but money shouldn’t be the only reason to choose this life. You represent the long arm of the King, and even as the lowliest soldier, you’re tasked with upholding his honour. Honour, lad. Imagine!”
And he painted a picture that involved saving lives and getting paid and protecting the weak and getting paid. Luc was drawn to his words and the fervour in his voice, which nearly shivered in his excitement. About a half dozen other boys and at least two village girls were now gathered around him, listening. The soldier spoke of the great Hafed hero, Agartes, who helped carved the Kag from the wild, untamed land it had been to the bastion of civilization it was now.
“Agartes came from a farm, didn’t you know?” the soldier said, passing Luc a glance.
Luc did. Every child growing up in the Kag did. “What does that have to do with us?”
“Everything!” the soldier laughed. “If one man could do it, why not one of you? You—you smell like pigshit, lad. You reek of it. You come from a farm too, don’t you?”
“It’s goat, actually.”
The soldier’s nostrils flared. “Goat. Pigs. Sheep. And how long until that works out for you? I had an uncle, tried to trade in roosters in Kago. Killed by Jins in his sleep. There’s no soldiers in Kago, nothing but dirty mercenaries hired by merchants to keep them safe from everyone else. Of course—” He stabbed Luc’s chest with his finger, half-grinning at the muscle he felt there. “We don’t cater to cowards. You could die in the army, too. But it’ll be a glorious death, one that will have people singing you praises down to the grave. People will look at your family and think, yes, those wonderful folk gave their son to the king, they honour us with their presence…”
He found himself at the line, scheduling himself up to take the military exams. Holding that piece of paper felt like a dream. After he found himself shuffling down the stairs, past the late-comers from the villages further south, he held the yellowing parchment up against the afternoon sun and felt himself tremble at the sight of his name there. Luc, military trainee. The excitement ran through him the whole way back to the farm, beating like a pulse.
When his father saw the paper and the lines of grief on his face was replaced with a look of both genuine puzzlement and pure joy, Luc felt like his heart would explode.
“Everyone’s story is the same,” Grandmother liked to say. “It’s the details that change.”
Luc didn’t really believe her—not when he was the only Gorenten foundling in the village—but he supposed he got a sense of what she meant when he found himself in the hall amongst the crowd of military hopefuls. People chattered with excitement, their hopes and dreams splayed out in a frenzy of words. Not too many people from Luc’s village had taken the exam with him, but he spotted Ceri at the end of the hall and had to stop to think about that. He didn’t remember her being in the exam room at all. The last few days had rolled over like a whirlwind.
“Ceri,” he called out, swimming against the tide of bodies to reach her.
She looked troubled at the sight of him, though she gave a soft smile, just enough to tug at the corner of her lips.
“The military, Ceri? You never told us.”
“I…” Ceri shuffled her feet and glanced at the results in the distance, posted on the wall where a mob swarmed the entire corridor. “I didn’t want anyone to know until I was sure I’d passed,” she finally blurted out. Her cheeks turned red. “I saw you last week. I made sure…to sit in the corner away from you…”
“You sly fox,” Luc said with a laugh. “Whatever for? It would’ve been fun studying together, all three of us. You should’ve seen Loma. Feeding us raw eggs by the hour, some sort of Jinsein remedy for stupidity. Sent me to the shitter like you wouldn’t believe.”
Her face remained sombre. “My family doesn’t know, either.”
“Why are you keeping this a secret?”
“Because I wasn’t sure my father would let me,” she murmured.
“Well, he would’ve been surprised, for sure. You’ve never talked about this before. I didn’t even know the military life appealed to you. Wouldn’t you find it too dirty? You used to scold us for not taking baths.”
She drew her shoulders forward. “We didn’t know you wanted to join, either. And then Jak just strolls through the tavern one night and tells everyone that you’re doing this, you’re running off to Tilarthan and…” She fell silent, fingers clutched around her arm. “I signed up the next morning,” she mumbled.
“Are you scared of me being on my own?” He laughed again, remembering his own worries about Alun.
“No, you idiot. I just wanted…” She glanced away. “The farm could really use the money, too. Thought it was a great idea, anyway.”
“I think I see an opening. Let’s check our results.”
She said something under her breath as she followed him. He pushed his way through the crowd, squeezing between bodies until finally he found himself in front of the wall. He started scanning for her name first. “Cat…Camder…oh, here you are! Ceri afen Pol!” He jabbed his thumb against the paper, turning to her with a grin.
Her face was all red. “You don’t say?” she murmured. “Are you sure?”
“Read it for yourself.”
“Blessed Yohak,” she breathed. “It’s done. It’s really—”
They heard a commotion down the hall. Luc caught the note of a thin cry, a familiar one. He dashed through the corridor without a second thought. Right beside an alcove decorated with a statue of Agartes Allaicras, Champion of the Kag, Michell had Alun by the shirt collar with one hand and a raised fist in the other. Alun’s nose was bleeding.
That was all it took for Luc to see red. He charged Michell like a bull.
They crashed into the alcove, knocking candles and incense to the ground. As Luc scrabbled to get up, Michell slammed an arm against his windpipe and struck him on the head repeatedly.
Senses swirling, Luc managed to connect his fist with Michell’s jaw. It felt like striking a post. He felt blood drip down his brow, tasted it inside his mouth. He spat, kicked out, caught Michell on the groin with his knee.
The next blow near-rattled his brains. Luc was starting to see black. His breath wheezed out once, and then he felt the weight lift from his chest as Michell was dragged away.
“Fighting here, of all places!” a man cried. “Expelled before you began! Bloody idiots!”
Someone hauled Luc to his feet. “I’m all right,” he said, pushing himself to the wall. It felt blessedly cool against his sweaty skin. “Where’s my brother?”
“I’m here. I’m fine, Lucky. He got you worse.” Alun appeared by his shoulder. His nose was a little swollen, but the bleeding had stopped.
“He’s gone and done it this time,” Luc hissed. He managed to look up and saw the crowd gathered around the alcove. He wiped his face, grimacing at the amount of red he saw coating his fingertips. “What set him off?”
“We were at the builders’ hall. I was telling people I’d passed—I passed, Lucky! I’m going to study to be a builder!—and he came up and said, ‘Don’t be so smug, Apn Jak. They probably just felt sorry for you.’ And I snapped. I know I wasn’t supposed to but I couldn’t help it—I told him off. I called him names.”
“So you’re the bloody idiot.” Luc tried to sigh, but his head was starting to hurt again, as well as every single joint in his body. He managed to slump on a bench against the wall.
“I didn’t think he’d attack me,” Alun said. “We’re not kids anymore.”
“Did he pass?”
Alun scratched his cheek. “He did. He was just telling his friends and they were all so happy for him! So I don’t know why he got mad at me. Hey, is that Ceri?”
Luc looked up just as she shoved a wet cloth against his forehead. He felt a crawling, stinging sensation above his right eye, which explained where all the blood was coming from. “You are lucky,” she hissed. “People saw what happened and they put everything on Michell. They’re taking him up to the guardhouse now. Nobody even asked about you. Hullo, Alun. Getting your brother in trouble again? Nothing’s changed, I see.”
“It wasn’t me,” Alun said. He was red up to his ears. “You think he would’ve learned by now. What are youdoing here?”
“She took the test,” Luc replied, taking the cloth from her to press it against the wound himself.
“The builder’s? No, I would’ve seen—”
“The military,” Ceri grumbled, looking away like she was still ashamed of it.
Alun’s eyes widened. “What? Why? What for?”
“She passed, too,” Luc broke in with a grin, even as it hurt his face. “She’ll be heading off to Tilarthan in spring for basic training. Congratulations, Ceri.”
“You’ll be leaving?” Alun gasped. He looked like he was about to cry.
“They do send us home after six months,” Ceri replied.
“But you’re leaving.”
“With him?” Alun pointed at Luc.
“Let’s go and see.” Luc felt well enough to get up and began to make his way back. Alun shuffled restlessly behind him, followed by Ceri.
The hall was empty now, the crowd dispersed by the little show—most must’ve followed Michell and the school officials out to the guardhouse. Luc managed to limp his way to the list of results. He leaned against the wall and scanned through the names, stopping where his ought to be. Where he expected it to be.
It wasn’t there.
Cold fear gripped his heart, but he ignored it, reasoning that they must’ve spelled his name wrong or perhaps wrote it out of order. He started at the top of the list and worked his way down, imagining, all the while, what it would feel to tell his father what awaited them this spring. That Luc would be able to borrow money from the pawnshop in town using his papers to prove he had the means to pay them back, which meant they could buy flour and dried venison for the winter and maybe even a bit left over for something else. Amazing, almost, how the mind could disassociate itself from the heart at a time like this. That he could still somehow pretend he was in full control of reality, that things would fall into place just because he wanted them to. Because he needed them to.
He needed his name to be there.
“Well?” he heard Alun call out.
The sound broke the delusion, all of Luc’s hopes and dreams shattered with the realization that the world would keep churning, with or without him. Luc turned to meet his brother’s eyes. His whole body was numb. He had failed, and he didn’t know how to say it.