Almost a hundred new people arrived very early the next day, traveling by torchlight. Roughly half of them had no experience at all with manual labor. After a breakfast of bread with strawberry preserves that tasted old but not off, I trained the new, inexperienced people on how to safely and effectively use and take care of wood cutting tools.
Early that morning, after breakfast, Doctor Sven had me soak my leg in hot water for fifteen minutes before replacing the poultice yet again and warning me to let him know if there was any pain or noticeable increased swelling. He also gave me a set of crutches that were tall enough for me, which I greatly appreciated.
While returning the too-short crutches and unused twine, I mentioned to the quartermaster that the axes I had seen were fairly dull; we’d do more work if they were sharper. I wasn’t the first to mention that to him. The experienced woodcutters and the two carpenters had already voiced their displeasure. The stonecutters had already been assigned to sharpen woodworking tools.
In order to assist that effort, I was directed by Quartermaster Brown to help the stonecutters gather stones from the river to improve their work area so they could concentrate on improving tools. The elefants were moving logs. The draft horse and oxen teams were being used to clear brush and move stones to start building foundations for the permanent camp. My swine were the only available draft animals.
At the direction of the stonecutters, I used Hoss and Bigboy to drag several large stones from the river to their work area. I would have spent more time with them, but some of the stones they wanted moved were simply far too large for the boars. After the boars moved what I felt was safe for them to move, the stonecutters made requests to the quartermaster for draft animal time. The two stonecutters were amusing in their combination of professional paranoia and curiosity about each other. Watching them watching each other, while they simultaneously tried to hide what they were doing from each other was hilarious. Neither of them was interested in having me help them directly with shaping stone. My occasional outbursts of laughter probably didn’t help.
At lunch, I ate with Anu, Sara, Kelvin and Ely again. About halfway through another bowl of rice and beans I noticed Riko walking nearby, looking directly at me. When he saw me looking back at him, he looked away quickly.
My first thought was What was that all about?
My second thought almost made me slap myself on the head when I realized what Riko might be thinking. I was sitting on a log next to Anu, and fairly close. I needed to knock that thought right out of Riko’s head. Anu was married, she seemed like a good person, and she had potentially saved me from a worse trampling from my swine than a single hoof on the calf. She was smart and willing to learn. There wasn’t any sexual attraction from my end, and I was fairly sure not from hers either. She was a lot older than me too – at least twenty-three.
For the rest of the meal, I wasn’t very talkative as I tried to figure out the best way to deal with Riko without potentially offending Anu. After we finished eating, I tapped her on the elbow. “Would you mind talking to the scouts with me? They wanted to hear about the snake. You were there too, and saw things from a different perspective than me.”
She looked at me for a couple seconds. “Sure. But we have to do it fast, I’m expected back soon. The mahouts are rotating those of us without heavy callus through different jobs so nobody completely ruins their hands. I don’t want anyone to think I’m shirking when it comes to taking my turn with an axe.”
I reassured her by saying “I’m sure it will only be a couple minutes. I need to get a new task from the quartermaster too, and I certainly don’t want to be seen as a slacker myself, even if people might give me some consideration for the leg.”
She agreed and we walked over to the group of scouts eating lunch. There were only eight present, including Riko. I assumed the rest were probably on patrol or asleep. There were two people that the scouts were seemingly including in their number who I didn’t recognize as all from the meeting the other day. Some of the new people were apparently scouts, or maybe they showed up after I left town, but before the scouts left in advance of the rest of us.
As we walked up, I announced us. “Sergeant Gonzalez, you mentioned yesterday that you and the scouts wanted a retelling about what happened with the rattlesnake? Anu here was there with me and saw it all. She’ll kick me if the tale starts to get too tall.”
The scouts all either smiled or chuckled, even Riko. There was good-natured eagerness, and a few non-scouts gathered closer too.
“I’ll what?” Anu looked at me in confusion.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s your job to tell these ladies and gentlemen when I start exaggerating too much. I’d really rather you not kick me in the bad leg though.”
Anu grinned, catching on quickly. “Sure. I can do that. Let me move to your other side. I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of kicking.”
The scouts were in a good mood, there was more low laughter and smiling.
Three or four minutes later, Anu had only kicked me, gently, three times – each time getting a chuckle from the scouts. I tried to give her a bigger role in rescuing me, but she hadn’t accepted it.
They all burst into laughter when I told them that one of my swine had goosed me from behind as I was almost clear of the snake. When Anu didn’t kick me after that, to indicate I was exaggerating, they got thoughtful.
A little later, when I explained how Anu had waded into the sounder of swine and dragged me out, she got some respectful glances. There was a lot of nodding after she said that the next time anything like that happened, she would try to remember to try to stop the animals with a whoah command. It didn’t surprise anyone that I’d forgotten to try to do that after barely escaping a snakebite to the face.
Several of the scouts asked other questions as they were eating and listening, but none of us had time to dawdle, so the storytelling was short.
Riko had been watching Anu more than me throughout the storytelling. When we were done, he shook her hand. “Thank you for what you did. That was good thinking for someone in an unfamiliar situation. My grandaughter will be thankful to you for keeping her future husband from being crippled by his own swine.” He turned his head to me, with a large, toothy grin. “I’m sure Marza will find a way to tease him about it too.”
Anu reached up to tousle my hair, but I dodged. “Allen’s a good fellow. Seems to have his head on right. I’m definitely learning a lot from him, and so are others. He’s been more willing than most to help those of us that don’t have the skills that we need here. Your grandaughter is a lucky woman.” She paused a moment and looked at Riko before continuing. “If I were a few years younger and unmarried, I might have even tried to do a little chasing myself.” She lightly kicked my good leg again. “I would have insisted that he gain at least twenty kilos though. It would have been quite a disappointment to break him after I caught him.”
The scouts loved that, even Riko. Two of the scouts were beating their chests with their fists, trying to dislodge rice or beans that had gone down the wrong pipe. I felt my face get hot and elbowed Anu in the ribs. She ignored me and laughed. The scouts laughed harder after I elbowed Anu.
This wasn’t supposed to devolve into making fun of Allen, I thought to myself, a little darkly.
After a cough to clear my throat, I shook my head and spoke to Riko. “If you’re sending a letter to Marza telling her about the snake incident, I’ll have to do the same. Otherwise there’s no telling what she’ll think happened.”
“That would probably be for the best anyway.” Riko nodded at me with a grin.
As everyone stopped laughing, Riko held out his hand to Anu. “Thanks again for helping him, Anu. You need a favor, ask me. Please, however, remember that I’m a sergeant first right now, so there are some things I can’t or won’t do.”
Anu grasped his hand and they shook. “Thank you, sergeant, but it’s not necessary. Making a friend was enough of a reward.”
As the three of us said our goodbyes and walked in different directions, I hoped that I’d settled that issue with Riko. I needed to have the doctor attend the leg and then speak to the quartermaster again.
Finding Doctor Sven wasn’t hard. He was checking out the marked foundations of the building that would become his medical facility. It and the kitchen were priority buildings. We walked back to my carriage and he replaced the poultice again. He had to rewrap the pressure bandage as well, as the swelling was coming down a little bit. That was a good thing, and indicated that applying more heat tomorrow, for a longer time, would probably be of benefit. Doctor Sven wrote me a letter to give to Quartermaster Brown, requesting I be assigned to some useful task I could perform when soaking my leg for an hour, three times per day.
When I handed that note to Quartermaster Brown, he read it and frowned. “Well, you obviously can’t go out and mark trees when you’re soaking that leg. I’m not so good at figuring out what needs to be done as opposed to figuring out how to make it happen. You came to me with an idea once; do you have any ideas this time around?”
I thought about it. It seemed silly, but… “I can carve spoons, sir? A lot of people are eating with corn husks and folded leaves. It only takes me a couple minutes to make one, and a lot of people here can’t carve.”
The quartermaster nodded. “If you have one on you now, show me. If you don’t, go get or make an example of one, then return and show me.”
I pulled my spoon out of my pouch, rubbed the sand off of it, and handed it to him.
“Hmmm. A bit crude, but serviceable. Make me as many as you can. Bring them to me at the beginning of every day after breakfast. That’s your job every time you are soaking that leg, or until I tell you differently.” He started scribbling madly, two copies of his orders for me, one for him, the other for me.
“What else should I do? Has anyone been complaining about needing anything, sir?”
“Everyone is complaining about needing something.” The quartermaster complained, knuckling his forehead. Then he perked up. “You hauled some fairly substantial stones from the river for the stonecutters earlier, I was told. Can your swine haul water if we get you some large water skins?”
“How big are the skins? My boars won’t pull more than a hundred fifty kilos up a slope like the one between us and the river on a travois. Also, water is very dense; I think it would be bad to try to haul more than a hundred kilos, it might crack the travois poles.”
A couple minutes later, I had new written orders and was heading to the head cook, Mrs. Zeta, with five empty twenty-liter water skins, with orders to bring water from the river to the cooks, so it could be boiled and delivered to the workers in the field.
Mrs. Zeta was more than happy with that. “Thank you. This will free up two of my people to do other things besides carrying buckets of water.” She paused a moment. “How well-behaved are your swine going to be near the cooking fires?”
“I’ve never gotten them close to open cooking fires before, Ma’am.” I responded. “They should be OK, but maybe it would be a good idea to start a boiling fire a bit closer to the river?” I smiled at her. “If you set up a pit for food waste on the side of the road next to the boiling fire, I can pretty much guarantee the swine won’t be interested in getting close to the cooking fires.”
She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I’m not moving my kitchen waste pit. We’ve already started dumping waste in its planned location. You’re more than welcome, of course, to take your swine by the pit to eat all they can find that they want, so we won’t have to burn in the pit so often.” More chin tapping. “By the time we get a kitchen built, there will be draft horses or oxen available at any time to pull the water cart.”
I wasn’t sure how the comment about the draft animals fit into our conversation, but I didn’t say anything.
Pensively, Mrs. Zeta looked in the direction of the river, towards where two men were trudging uphill, each of them with a carry pole. Each carry pole having a bucket suspended at either end. She whistled between her teeth. “No offense, but your swine make me nervous around the cooking fires. I know how food-centric swine are. Even though yours are clearly better trained than any other swine I’ve seen, I doubt they are much different from the swine I know – though they do look a lot leaner.”
I turned towards her, annoyed, and trying to think of how to say something without being too rude. The head cook was the very last person I wanted irritated with me, for several reasons.
Before I could say anything, Mrs. Zeta apologized. “I’ve seen your swine in harness, and I’ve also been told that they are hands-off. That lean comment was in bad taste. Sorry.”
It took me a second, but the pun eventually registered. It wasn’t that funny, but it was funny enough for me to chuckle a couple times before nodding. “Bad taste. Heh. You are right that they aren’t that different. We use food to train them, and our swine train very well. That said, if they are going to misbehave, it’s almost always going to be because of food. I’d be happier if we kept them away from your cooking fires.”
She raised her voice slightly. “Pol. Start a new boiling station twenty paces closer to the river at the road’s edge, downstream side. Take Filip and Ivan off water hauling; have them clean themselves up thoroughly and then report to me.”
A man that I couldn’t see said “Yes, Ma’am” The voice might have been the same man that had brought the bag of waste food to my swine the night before.
Mrs. Zeta turned back to me. “Job’s all yours. Thanks for helping to free up some hands for me.”
I spent the rest of the day hauling water skins from the river to the boiling station with Hoss and Bigboy. All of the swine got their fill from the kitchen waste pit. The extra manpower that the swine and I freed up allowed Mrs. Zeta and her cooks to get dinner out on time, and not burnt in the least. It was interesting being directly useful to the camp with the swine, but that window would be short, I knew. We were able to keep up with the water needs of the camp, and then some. Still, at the end of the day, we still hadn’t brought enough water to serve the camp and completely fill all of the boiled water storage skins. The relative efficiency of my swine to draft horses for water hauling was proven when a single team of draft horses was pulled off lumber duty as the sun started to go down. One trip of the water from river to camp provided enough water to allow the boiling station to top off the boiled water storage, and my swine and I were dismissed.
That night, Doctor Sven was happy with my leg after replacing the poultice. The pressure bandage had to be tightened a bit, indicating that the swelling was still going down. He gave me willow bark tea to thin my blood a bit and then surprised me by telling me to follow him.
Confused, because I hadn’t asked to speak to the officers yet about Rikard, and couldn’t remember anything happening that I might be in trouble for, I asked. “Can I ask what this is about, sir?”
He didn’t answer my question, just beckoning for me to follow him. “It’s ten meters to the officer’s tent. Just follow me. You will find out when the others do.”
Others? I wanted to ask, but I did as I was told, and crutched along after the doctor into the tent.
As I entered the tent, I saw a lot of people. The person who drew my attention first was Rikard, who was apparently just as confused as I was, since he looked at Lieutenant Davis rapidly and then back to me with a scowl. I did my best to ignore him, and looked for the open seat farthest from him.
Lieutenants Davis and Baker were seated on either side of a man at the eight-place rectangular table in the middle of the tent. Rikard and a woman I didn’t know were seated at either end of the table, across from each other. Doing my best to avoid looking at Rikard, I examined the other two, who I’d never met.
The man was older. If I was forced to guess, I would say he was in his fifties, but he was not in good physical condition, and heavily wrinkled. Long black hair, heavily streaked with grey, was held back with a leather tie behind his neck. He was very pale, but I didn’t see the blue tracing of veins under the skin to indicate someone who couldn’t darken in the sun. When he caught me looking at him, he smiled a little and moved his arms. He had been holding his wrists and forearms together, parallel to one another, and was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. As his arms moved slightly apart, I saw that his sleeves were cut between wrist and elbow. Under his shirt, there were heavy leather manacles and several thumb-thick ropes woven into and through the manacles, connecting them together, with other ropes connecting to the manacles and running towards him, and then dropping off the table ledge.
After I saw the man’s restraints, my eyes popped back to his, and he smiled again, slowly easing his arms back together.
“Brad, please don’t tell me you think I didn’t see that.” Lieutenant Davis sighed.
The older man shrugged, and his eyes never left mine. “Wasn’t meant for you to see, or not to see, Lieutenant. The pup here was sizing me up. Figured I’d help him get a good measure.”
I was shocked, reeling. His voice reeked of anger and was flaunting that he was restrained. The man was clearly insane. My eyes flicked up to his forehead. There was no prisoner brand there.
“No. No brand. I have more control than that, pup.” The man said with a tight smile.
Lieutenant Davis looked irritated. “You mean that we put you in a cell at fifteen after you killed two people, and you’ve spent thirty-one years there with no opportunity to fight another person.”
Rikard looked sideways at Brad and scooted his chair a few inches farther away, despite Lieutenant Davis being between them.
Brad turned his head towards Rikard and smiled, smugly.
I stared for a second, shocked, trying to figure out what an insane, restrained prisoner was doing in the officer’s tent. Then I noticed the woman on the other side of Rikard was grinning a little in my direction, clearly amused by my reaction. “Brad’s quite the character, isn’t he?” She buffed her fingernails on her shirt before continuing. “I’m Fobi.” She, at least, didn’t have any restraints. Brown haired with no visible grey, a light tan, crow’s feet next to her eyes. A little stout. Maybe in her thirties.
I nodded to Fobi and she nodded back. I sat next to her, in the open seat farthest from Rikard.
Doctor Sven did not sit at the table; he sat on a stool several feet away, close to the entrance of the tent. He appeared extraordinarily unpleased to be present. I did a double-take and saw that Riko and Don, Rikard’s cousin, were both standing next to the tent entrance.
Captain Marko’s voice came from behind Brad and the lieutenants. “Well. Now that we’re all here, let’s get started.” As he spoke, he was standing and moving away from the small table in the back of the tent where he had apparently been sitting.
“As you all know, we’re being forced to mobilize to protect our own meager food reserves from New Tokyo. There’s still a chance of resolution if Second Landing agrees to sell grain at a reasonable price to New Tokyo, but from what I’ve been told by my chain of command, this hasn’t happened yet.” He paused. “It’s been almost a thousand years since we mobilized for conflict. At best, we’re clueless about how to fight a war.”
Pacing back and forth, Captain Marko started speaking again. “Historically, on Earth, we know that vast numbers of people were taken from agricultural duties during wartime in preindustrial eras, but we could not see how that would be a sane way of addressing a war that has been caused by a food resource shortage. The historical record shows that starvation in such wars killed more people than actual fighting.”
Brad snorted. “Albert’s historical record.”
Captain Marko stared down at him, sharply, before continuing. “I, Quartermaster Brown, my lieutenants, as well as three other captains, three other quartermasters, six other lieutenants, and our overall commanding officer, Colonel Duffie, have studied documents and records about how to mobilize a militia for years. What we have never done is learn how a militia would actually engage in a fight. Only law enforcement officers are allowed by law to receive militia mobilization training, and it’s been a law for hundreds of years now that law enforcement officers are not to learn military combat tactics until we are called to active status. The law’s documentation indicates that there was a fear that we might use those military tactics, somehow, during our law enforcement activities.”
I heard the captain’s teeth grit. “Part of the legal mobilization plan was that when we were mobilized, we would then have access to sealed books and documents with military combat tactics, but when Colonel Duffie went to access them he found…”
I made the connection in a heartbeat. “They were gone and Albert wouldn’t reproduce them.” I whispered. Then I realized I had spoken out loud, and slapped a hand over my mouth and closed my eyes, thinking to myself. Idiot. I am an unmitigated buffoon.
As I opened my eyes again, I saw Captain Marko staring at me, his body completely still, hands locked together behind his back. After locking eyes with me for three or four seconds, the captain started to speak again. “You are correct, Allen, and you will stay after this meeting and explain how you knew that. I refuse to believe you guessed.”
Everyone in the room seemed to be staring at me. I felt like I was about a centimeter tall.
“All four of you have a history of violence. To be completely open with you, we’re sitting on the border here, with very few ideas about how we’re going to deal with the New Tokyo militia. If they have maintained their military tactics documents, we could get swept aside easily.”
Brad started to laugh. “Oh, this is rich. I get put in jail for thirty-one years for killing two people, and then you want my help to teach the militia how to kill hundreds or even thousands of people, wholesale? What’s in it for me? More jail time? Do I get my life back?” He twisted his upper body so he could look at Captain Marko, who was not quite directly behind him. “Have your lapdogs take me back to my lock-up wagon and come talk to me later with your offer. I doubt I’m going to accept anything you’re willing to talk about in public.”
Captain Marko sighed. “You still have family, Brad. Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews. They visit you from time to time, I know, even now.”
“That is not an offer.” Brad said, flatly.
Turning his back on us and staring up at the ceiling of the tent, Captain Marko continued. “I want you all to try to think about two things tonight, and write down any ideas you have. First, if you were the New Tokyo militia, how would you attack us across the river? Keep in mind you must push us back to repair the bridge for draft transport with as few attacker deaths as possible. Second, how would you try to defend against an attack crossing the river, again, with as few defender deaths as possible?” He paused for almost a second. “I want at least three ideas on attack and defense from each of you. We’ve already been brainstorming these things, but we want to see if you come up with anything else. Brad, your guards will have writing materials. You can call out ideas to them, and they will write them down.”
I was starting to feel ill. They want me to help figure out the best way to kill people? The only person I’ve ever wanted to kill is in front of me right now, and I couldn’t even bring myself to kill him when I had the chance to do it twice.
I cautiously glanced at Rikard and Fobi. They were both looking uncomfortable, a little ill. My back was to Doctor Sven, Riko, and Don, but the two lieutenants were watching Brad closely, with no sign of discomfort.
Brad looked like he was in deep thought, but said nothing.
Captain Marko spun on his heel, back to face the table. “On that note, this meeting is over. This session’s entire purpose was to give you time to get ready to discuss tactics tomorrow morning after breakfast. Rikard, Fobi, and Allen, if you don’t have anything to write with, you will get paper and pencils from Quartermaster Brown as soon as you leave this tent. This is no secret. You can discuss it with others if you like.”
The very idea of talking with my few friends in camp about ways to fight with other people with intent to kill nearly made me spew my dinner. I took some deep breaths and swallowed my gorge.
As Rikard and Fobi stood to leave, I heard people moving behind me and the tent flap opening. Riko was holding the tent flap open and staring outside. Don was staring white-faced at Brad, ignoring the tent flap. Someone was puking close to the tent.
I heard one of the officer’s tent guards taking to Doctor Sven, asking him if he was OK.
Doctor Sven didn’t answer that I could hear.
The two lieutenants stood with Brad between them. He was taking very small steps. My eyes traced over his bonds. His legs were in heavy leather manacles bound closely together like the manacles that I had already seen on his arms. Ropes connected arm manacles to a waist belt and then to the leg manacles.
I still stood and moved away from the table, giving the lieutenants plenty of room to guide Brad out of the tent. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the nutcase.
After Brad was out of the tent, Captain Marko casually moved to the large table and sat down, gesturing to where I had been sitting before, obviously indicating I should have a seat. As I moved back and sat down, the captain looked past me and spoke. “Riko, stay in the tent with us, please. If anyone other than another officer tries to enter, turn them away for thirty minutes.”
Riko’s voice saying “Yes, sir.” helped ground me a bit. A familiar person, a solid friend of our family and Marza’s granpa. If there was anyone in this camp that I would want at my back, it was Riko.
“Allen, you look like a trapped rabbit.” Captain Marko sighed. “You’re young, but if you’ve had alcohol before and you want a single glass of wine or a shot of whiskey to calm your nerves, I’ll give you that.”
I managed to choke out an answer. “No, sir. I’ve had alcohol, but I’d rather not have it now.”
“Take some deep breaths then. Relax. I want some answers.”
And the last thing I want to do is give them to you, sir. I thought to myself, making absolutely certain to keep my mouth sealed shut.
All of a sudden, I realized that I really didn’t want Riko in the tent with us. What would he think if he found out that my Ma had been a martial artist? Would he try to break up the marriage between Marza and me? Would Marza want to have anything to do with me?
Could I manage to tell enough half-truths to satisfy Captain Marko but not give away Ma’s history? I looked at Captain Marko, who was leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, looking at me with curiosity. He was watching me, but not staring at my eyes. I strongly doubted they put a man with poor wits in charge of this many people, in charge of defending a roadway.
If I asked for Riko to leave, it was going to open up a huge trust issue between us. He knew full well that he was my best ally in camp, and if I pushed him away, it would irritate him at best, infuriate him at worst. He would demand answers, and I wasn’t sure if it would be worse to give them to him, or refuse to do so.
I had been planning on pretending to be some sort of fighting prodigy, making sure that all of our side knew Ma’s rules. That had seemed like a risk, because it might attract Albert’s attention to myself and Ma, but it had seemed like it was a very small risk, since I could conceal it as my own knowledge. But now? If Captain Marko and the militia was unaware of what Albert was doing to eliminate martial knowledge from the world, and I told them, and the word became widespread, would Albert hold it against me somehow?
I did not want to imagine Albert’s reaction to finding the law enforcement branches of every state on Nirvana initiating verbal traditions and brainstorming sessions to try to rebuild martial knowledge so we could properly fight one another in organized warfare. Everything Albert wanted to happen, put on hold for how many hundreds of years? Because of me.
My mind raced in tighter and tighter circles. I have no idea how much time passed with me sitting there, mentally paralyzed, arms wrapped around myself, having horrible thoughts about the future, but eventually something smacked down in front of me. A shot glass.
Captain Marko and both lieutenants were now seated at the table, looking at me, but not staring me in the eye. Lieutenant Baker was pouring whiskey out of a bottle into four shot glasses. The rich scent of the whiskey was something I recognized. I’d had a shot after harvest with the family every year for the last three years. It smelled very good, and I remembered the relaxed sensation a shot would give me. I wanted it badly.
I started reaching towards the full shot glass when Lieutenant Baker said “Go ahead, Allen, drink. One shot. At your mass, that should relax you some, but you won’t get drunk.”
With a shock, I realized that the last thing I wanted was to be relaxed, because I would also be careless. Instead of picking it up, I pushed the shot glass in front of me away. “No.”
Captain Marko looked at Lieutenant Baker and nodded.
Even in my mental state, I realized that Captain Marko was having Lieutenant Baker talk to me because she was female, and less threatening to me than a male would have been. Everyone learned that in conflict resolution classes. I almost smiled when she started talking in a calm voice. “Something’s obviously got you spooked, Allen. We see that. You didn’t even hear Riko talking to you earlier, as far as we could tell.”
I was startled, and turned around. “Sorry Riko, if I was rude.”
Riko looked at me, clearly concerned. “I don’t know what’s got you worried, Allen, but I’ve been working with these three for a couple days now. They aren’t family, but they are competent and fair.”
Lieutenant Baker touched my wrist with a single finger, briefly, which got my attention. I turned back towards her and she spoke again. “There’s absolutely no way you could be responsible for what happened to the training documents and records that were lost, but there’s also no way you should have known what happened to them.”
I coughed, and managed to croak out an answer. “Lucky guess?”
They all laughed at me. Even Riko. I really wanted that shot. My hand twitched towards it.
“Allen” Captain Marko spoke again, pushing the shot glass back to touch my hand. “If this is something that will help us defend ourselves, we really need to know about it. Our families are at risk here. You have a family to protect, don’t you? We know, at the very least that you’re planning on marrying Riko’s grandaughter Marza. We’ve barely been able to get Riko to shut up about how good of a match you two are for each other whenever we talk about family. Especially after a shot of whiskey.”
Riko grunted behind me, sounding a little irritated. “No need to give the boy a big head, sir.”
I couldn’t help but start to laugh. They weren’t going to leave me alone until I told them. If I didn’t tell them, my life might be ruined by an angry Riko. If I did tell them, my life might be ruined by an angry Albert. Arguably, an angry Albert was more frightening, but losing Marza would hurt more.
I picked up the shot glass and held it in front of my face, staring through the clear glass at the amber liquid. I’d already made my choice, without the ‘help’ of alcohol. With the decision already made, I decided to drink the shot to give me a little help following through. I sniffed the whiskey, took a breath, swallowed the shot all at once, and breathed out slowly. Since I didn’t choke or cough, I knew I’d done it right, just like Granpa taught me the first time I took a shot after harvest in the year I turned thirteen. The warmth in my throat helped me ignore the chill in my veins as I started telling them what they thought they wanted to know.
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