"Zora, listen to what you are saying!" Leroy shouted across the dinner table. He was older now, officially an adult at the age of 15. His emerald eyes glared angrily at the female before him that was the same age. However, Zora didn't waver under the intensity of his anger. She had expected it.
"I know what I am saying, Leroy. I have already put a lot of thought into this," she told him steadily, brushing her long, black hair behind her shoulder.
Leroy stood up hurriedly and pointed his finger at the girl. "No you haven't," he spat out. "There is no way you are running off to join the king's army!." He turned from the table, picking up his dish and left to clean it off. Zora could practically see the heat of anger radiating from his body. She knew that this was going to be hard for him. They were the only ones that each other still had around. Leroy and Helmir's mother had passed away a couple of years ago, and Helmir had joined the army shortly afterward to make money for them to live off. Her decision would leave Leroy all along in their forsaken village. But her decision was also final.
"Zoran!", a voice called out in a quiet shout. "Hey, earth to Zoran!"
Zora blinked her eyes to find herself walking in line with a unit of men in uniform. They were the royal army, and the man talking to her stood just besides her with a worried expression. She gave him a small smile.
"Oh there you are," he sighed. "You looked completely zoned out for a second there." He was a kind looking boy with a small frame. He didn't look much like a soldier, but Zora neither did "Zoran". Zora and he became fast friends throughout their training.
"Yeah, sorry about that Liel," Zora, who had to disguise herself as Zoran, a male, whispered back. "I was just thinking about my brother." She went to push her hair back behind her shoulder, a habit she developed throughout the years, only to realize once again that it wasn't there. Her midnight hair was now cut short.
Leil shook his head. "Again? One of these days you are going to get lost up there in your mind and end up messing up or worst, dead."
Zora smiled and waved his comment off. "Nah, I will be fine. I just hate that we never made up after I told him I was leaving." She felt a gentle pat on her back as Leil opened his mouth to say something. But he was interrupted.
"Halt!", a bellowing shout was called out. Everyone turned their attention to Commander Greer. The commander was a tall, strong man that had some years on him. He glared back at his men with his scarred, fierce eyes. "This is where we camp for the night!" he shouted out. And with that, the entire unit went to work setting up the camp. Quickly, the tents were sent up and the fires were started. The army cooks began making some sort of food for the night, and the soldiers could relax.
Zora found herself sharing a fire with Leil and a soldier she didn't know. They sat in silence for a while in the warm glow of the flames, waiting for a bowl to be given to them.
"Listen Leroy, I have to do this!", she calmly told the boy in front of her, her eyes turned downward such that she was looking at the palms of her hands.
Leroy spun back to look at her with fierce anger still in his features. "No, you don't." He stomped his way back toward the girl. "You don't even like the king, so why join his army?!"
Zora sighed. Even though she was aware that he was going to be like this, she still wished he would have taken the news more calmly. "Because Leroy, I need to do something!", she said, her voice raised. "I can't just ignore the people that are suffering from the king's rule. I can't just get married, have children, who are will either die off or suffer in this place, and just forget about the fact that my terrible life would still be better than a lot of others in this kingdom!."
Leroy looked at her for a second, finally not shouting straight back at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but Zora interrupted him first. "Listen, I am joining the army because I don't know how else I can help. I am not going to be fighting for the king, but for the people. And maybe I can do some good for them by defending them." She stood up, ready to end the conversation.
"But women aren't allowed in the army," Leroy said, in the calmest voice he had all evening.
"I have already been told by some of the travelers that pass through here of a physician that has helped many women like me get in before. And besides, dying with a purpose would be better than withering away here."
Leroy sighed, probably hoping that the rule against women would stop her. "But that won't help anyone. The army just does what the king wants. If you want to help the people here, then ... I don't know, you should rebel against the king, or something."
Leroy continued,"Well, the only thing that would help the people is the death of the king."
Zora smiled softly at her long-time childhood friend. "The people don't have the strength for that." Then, she left. She knew they could argue about her choice for days, but she was leaving and that was final.
Zora was snapped back into reality when a warm boy was pushed into her face by Leil. "Hey there scattered brain. Would you like to eat?" She smiled at him and took the bowl, offering him her thanks.
With food came conversation. The two men by the fire began talking amongst themselves, while Zora quietly ate her meal. It wasn't anything great, just some bread with a warm stew of some kind, but for someone who was mostly starved for most of her life it was great. If nothing else good came from her joining the army, she would always be thankful for the food.
"What about you, Zoran?", the stranger asked, getting her attention back on the two men she was sitting with.
"Huh?", she said, dropping the bite of food she was just about to stuff in her mouth causing the boys to laugh. Leil shook his head probably thinking about how "scatterbrained his friend is."
The stranger, who somehow learned her name, asked his question once again, "Do you got anyone back home to return to?" Instantly, Leroy popped in her head, followed by the usually mix of guilt and sadness that accompanied thoughts of him. She nodded at the man.
"Yeah," he said, nodding his head. "I have this little flower of a woman back home." A smile appeared on his face as he spoke. "She told me that she will wait for me to return to wed her. She's a real pretty lady, too." He looked so proud talking about her. "Is you're friend a nice, little lady too. Are you just waiting to return and woo her into marrying you with your war stories, eh?"
Zora almost dropped her spoon. "No, no", she said feeling her face heat up.
The stranger's smile grew as he laughed. "Oh sure, sure."
Zora quickly finished the last of her meal and set the bowl down. "No, really," she began, "The only person I got back home is a stubborn brother that probably hates me right now." She tried to laugh it off, waving her hand in an attempt to dismiss the continuation of the conversation. How could she talk about wooing a girl?
"I don't have anyone at home waiting for me", Leil said softly. The stranger patted his back gently. Zora looked down at her palms. That was common in this kingdom. People often get left alone here in life. She wanted to change that.
Note: So summer happened, and I actually have no time to write during the summer. But I wanted to get back to this.