Author's note: In this chapter onwards, there will be multiple storylines taking place in a single chapter. A change in story lines is marked by a horizontal line. In this chapter, the lines signify the transition between Darrom and Josué, and the King of The Dorn. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 2: A Kingdom Prepares for War

Only six months previously, Darrom was a simple farm hand on his uncle's farm. Though the man was not really related to him, he and all of the younger people at the farm called Necro their uncle. Most often you could find Darrom either working in the fields or talking in hushed voices with his favourite way to pass the time: Josué. She had had beautiful long black hair, shining blue eyes, and clear olive skin. She had the grace and beauty of a princess, but was humble, and even shy. it had taken Darrom a long time to get her to open up and for them to start talking as friends, much less as boyfriend and girlfriend. However, it had been worth it. the two did not function as a unit in the same way as the other young couples they knew - they actually talked to one another. neither understood the point of their peers simply sitting and staring at each other for hours on end - could their faces really have changed all that much in the past hour? The few times either of them had broached the subject to the others, they inevitably received a sigh, a roll of the eyes and the line,
"You just don't get it do you?"
spoken with such pity you'd think they had informed the person on a serious illness.

Darrom was spending time with her when some soldiers arrived, three armoured men with the characteristic blood-red cape that told Darrom that they were soldiers of the Dornic Royal Army. Josué, shy as always, gracefully slid away from the gates and retreated to the kitchen door where she surreptitiously watched the conversation unfold. Darrom stepped forwards.
"Can I help you at all, sirs?"

"Yes lad, I think you can. Is this Blackwood Farm?" one of the soldiers asked Darrom, "Yes, sir" he replied. The soldier who asked the question turned to the others and nodded, he was clearly the leader. "Ring the bell lad, gather the Farm together here."

Darrom did as he was told; the deep peals of the bell demanding that everyone should congregate there. The farm itself was simple enough - four squat buildings (a smithy, a stable, a granary and a kitchen block) which formed a courtyard that was largely filled by a much taller farmhouse which could boast of being the largest for about twenty miles in any direction. The farm's had a long tradition of being passed from father to son, and the family that had owned it for the past two hundred years had a reputation of being both fair and shrewd in their dealings. Its current owner, Darrom's uncle Necro, had felt unable to live up to the legacy of his forefathers when he was younger, so joined the army for some ten years. He had returned after his service was over to find that his father had become increasingly infirm over the years Necro had been away (with his mother dying when he was a young boy), and so he settled down and nursed his father through his final years, and running the farm in his stead. When his father had finally passed away few years later, Necro had taken over as farm owner on paper. he had proved to be as just and clever in the business as his father, and had earned the respect of both his staff, and (more grudgingly) the merchants.

As soon as everyone was gathered, the leader took a roll of parchment from a slot in his belt and began reading:

"By the order of His Royal Highness King Edwin Vestari Strongfeld the VI, any and all able-bodied men over sixteen years of age, and under forty-five years of age are hereby conscripted into his Majesty's Royal Army. They will be given four month's training, and will be posted to Fortocus to complete their training, and bolster the garrison currently defending the city." The soldier paused to swallow and allow his words to sink in, then continued.

"His Majesty would like to extend his condolences to all of the families involved, and wishes it to be known that he has no wish to separate these aforementioned families. His Majesty extends his gratitude to you for your co-operation." The leader finished, leaving them all in shock.

One of Darrom's closest friends, Vedmas, was the first to break the stunned silence.

"My brother is a member of General Deneé's army," he proclaimed, "And he wrote me saying that he was at Fortocus now, and there is a ceasefire in place there, and Markaresh's men are in Deer'ka and are showing no signs of movement. Firstly, why has Deer'ka been surrendered back to the Rakeen? Many brave Dornic men gave their lives to take that city. Also, why is the call for arms so urgent and wide-ranging? Surely the Rakeen army is as depleted as our own."

The lead soldier replied smiled thinly at him, " Deer'ka was surrendered to Markaresh and the Rakeen Empire in exchange for a six month cease-fire that will allow us to prepare for the Rakeen assault. Unfortunately, the Rakeen army is not depleted by any great amount, their reserves are enormous. The Shadow of the Rakeen, General Markaresh, has drawn up conscripts from every walk of life, from the peasants that roam the streets of Rakium'ka to the sons of wealthy noblemen."

Darrom spotted Josué silently listening to the soldiers with tears in her sapphire blue eyes. He began to walk towards her, thinking that he should talk with her, but when he caught her eye, she fled, vanishing into the kitchens. He was unsure of whether to follow or not, when a hand clasped his shoulder, not unkindly. It was Necro.
"Let her have a little space, my boy," he advised "If I know that girl at all, she needs a little time to work through this. Talk to her after dinner tonight."
Helplessly, Darrom nodded, and returned his attention to the three soldiers.

Necro, sighed deeply, bowed his head, then shook it and shrugged his shoulders and simply asked, "When do the boys leave?" (at fifty-five years old, he was a shade too old to join the army).

"Tomorrow morning I'm afraid" one of the two other soldiers said, his regret reflected on his voice.

"Very well", Necro replied, "We'll have to make tonight the best that they have ever had on my Farm. May I offer you a meal and some beds?" He asked the soldiers.

"I would be honoured to accept your hospitality, however we have many more farms to visit before the day is over. I am truly sorry that it has come to this. Know that conditions in Deneé's army are actually very good, and that the lads will all be paid handsomely for their efforts in the war." The leader said, "We'll be back shortly after dawn to collect them, and to check if there are any others. Apologies for the intrusion, but we have to check".

"Of course," Necro replied, "I'm certain that many a loving family will be quite unwilling to allow their sons to leave home in such a fashion."

Necro bade them farewell and turned to the farm's head cook and asked that she should cook up "something special" for their last night at home. The cook responded with a mountain of venison, chicken, and pork. The casks of beer, which had been in the cellars for years, were opened and most of the boys had their first experience of being drunk. Darrom's uncle wove tales of heroes and their conquests to the feasting workers, and the young men determinedly enjoyed themselves, disallowing the foreboding dread of the certainty of leaving for the war the next day to darken the mood.

"Now," Darrom's uncle said, "Tonight, I want you all to stay up late and…enjoy yourselves. I will make sure that everyone is awake for the coming of the soldiers, and that you all have time to say your goodbyes," Everyone caught the hidden meaning in his words, and many chuckled.

Darrom grasped Josué's hand, and led her outside to where a cook's assistant who could play the lute was doing so excellently. He was an older man, and had avoided the call to arms. They began dancing, in time with many other couples. They became lost in the music, and each other and did not stop for nigh on an hour, then Josué led Darrom away to a quiet barn, and they lay and talked for hours. At one point, Darrom sat up, looked Josué straight in the eye and said "Don't wait for me...If things go wrong at Fortocus, don't wait. I love you far too much to think of you living your life alone, so, if the battle is lost, don't wait. My dear -" he trailed off, noticing that Josué had begun to tremble with barely controlled sobs. Darrom wrapped his arms around her, and she began to weep. He shushed her, ignoring the tears streaming down his own face. There they lay, and there they slept, in silent embrace until dawn smiled down on them, heralding in a few more tears.

The next morning became a frenzy of packing. Darrom was helped by his mother who told him what to pack, and often how to pack it.

"Come on Darrom, frame yourself!" she shouted when he paired up an old tatty hole-filled sock with a new one. Darrom began to chuckle. When she closed the bag he was taking with him, she burst into tears, so they hugged each other until she was cried out, then broke apart as the bell rang. It was time to go.

When Darrom reached the gate he found his uncle standing at the gates solemnly, wishing good luck to everyone as they passed through. When Darrom reached the gates, his uncle told him,

"You are a strong-willed, tough young man and when I look at you I can see myself, only better. You are stronger in the mind and the arm than I was or ever shall be. I am proud to call you my nephew, and given time, I know that the Dorn will be proud to call you one of our greatest heroes. I have met many people in my life, and I can tell when one is destined for greatness. You have the look of a hero about you, and I am convinced that you will do well in the wide world beyond the edges of this farm."

"Thanks" was all Darrom could say, choked by the words of his uncle.

"Thank you, you may go" the King bade the messenger. Not good news. Not good news at all. Fortocus was besieged. He had known it was coming, but Markaresh had broken the ceasefire two weeks earlier than anticipated. This would mean that the recruits that were raised across the rest of the Kingdom would not reach the city in time to supplement those raised in the surrounding area. King Edwin Strongfeld was a decisive and instinctive monarch. He did not hesitate to make tough choices in the heat of the moment, and his judgement was seldom poor. It frustrated him that there was no way that he could act to increase Deneé's meagre forces attempting to defend the first bastion of defense for the Dorn. Instead, he had called an urgent meeting of the Council of Nobles - the most powerful men in the Kingdom (barring himself), his most valuable advisers, and his most outspoken rivals. Every noble of import was gathered in the city of Dorn to discuss the situation in the north.

Strongfeld looked out over the thirty something nobles seated in the room, and cleared his throat to herald silence to the room. He spoke clearly, calmly and somberly,

"Greetings to you all. I have little time to stand on ceremony, so we shall avoid the traditional formalities and focus on the problems at hand. The latest report tells me that The Kingdom of Dorn is at war once again with the hordes of the Rakeen Empire. It has been just under six months since we signed a peace treaty with them. Now, the imperialistic ambitions of their Emperor, and his evil pet Shadow, Markaresh, have pitted us against them once again."

The effect of Strongfeld's words had an instant and stunned silence.

The king, however, did not allow the shocked nobles respite. He pushed on brutally,

"When the Rakeen attack, Fortocus is in the direct line of attack. The ancient defender of The Dorn will bear the brunt of any attack. My intelligence network informs me that over one hundred and fifty thousand battle-hardened Rakeen warriors are sallying forth across the Isthmus of Fortocus. The vanguard has already reached the wall."

"There are only ten thousand militia in Fortocus at the present time, just enough to allow the people to escape, then beat a hasty retreat themselves. The general Charles Deneé leads them. Deneé's own army consists of a further ten thousand troops making a total of twenty thousand defenders in Fortocus."

"I am not standing here to act as your messenger though," Strongfeld

The king then went on to give the nobles their orders. They were to raise armies of their own, no less than ten thousand from each province, and preferably many more. He bribed them by saying that the more men take to the field, the greater the reward for the noble would be.

Strongfeld then bade the nobles a farewell, and retired to his chambers to eat, and sleep.

Copyright 8/25/2012 - present day by Ross Steven