It has happened. The forces of Le Maréchal have come to Armorica.
A recruiting sloop came to Bois-de-Bas late this afternoon, landing on the green before the church and scarring it horribly. The lieutenant in command sent his troops to scour the village and gather us in. We men were made to form a pair of lines; the women and children, including Amelie, stood behind us in a frightened mass. Then the lieutenant, an officious over-inflated little popinjay, made to us a speech.
"Gentilhommes", he said, "the Grand Army of Provençe is fighting for glory in Andalus, in Hanondorf, in Illyrica. Le Maréchal has need of brave men, men who can fight and win. Nothing is too good for the men who serve the Motherland in this way!"
He went on in this vein for some time, trying to engage our enthusiasm, our cupidity, our fears of being thought cowardly.
We listened politely, because of the guns; there are few fools in Bois-de-Bas. But the little coxcomb did not get any takers, which seemed to offend him. He was eyeing us with a sour expression when several of his men came up to him and stood at attention. They had been searching the village. He turned and heard their report, making notes in a small book. At one point he seemed surprised, and cast us all a long look.
The soldiers saluted and rejoined their ranks; and then the lieutenant turned back to us.
"In this time of war, the Motherland may call upon her people at need. If you hear your name, step forward.
"Jacques Pôquerie. You are a cabinetmaker, a worker of wood?" Jacques stepped forward and nodded. "Le Maréchal has need of men like you to build his siege engines. Go, stand over there."
"Non," he said. "I will not."
"And yet you will," said the Lieutenant, and waved his hand. Two soldiers stepped forward. One leveled his weapon, aiming it at Jacques' belly. Jacques sneered at him, then leaped, taking the man to the ground. The struggle did not last long, for the other soldier clouted Jacques on the head with the butt of his gun. At a word from the lieutenant the soldiers carried Jacques off and laid him on the ground in the shadow of the sloop.
I stepped forward. I'd known this moment was coming since I had seen the lieutenant's look of surprise.
The lieutenant inspected me. "You are the shopkeeper?"
"Yes," I said in Provençese. "Please, my wife is expecting. Do not take me from her, I beg you." I felt like a coward to be pleading with him; but it was necessary.
The lieutenant made a gesture as if to throw that away. "Le Maréchal has need of quarter-masters. You will be made to be useful. Yet there is something else, I think. My men tell me surprising things about your shop."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, I think you do. Your sign, it claims that you are a thaumaturge? It is too absurd."
"I am, though. You can ask anyone here."
He swept the crowd with his gaze, then looked back at me.
"Bah. Why would a thaumaturge leave Toulouse, the City of Dawn, for a place such as this? But no matter. Le Maréchal shall discover the truth, and you will serve like all other true sons of Provençe. Go over there, with the other."
I saw movement in the trees behind the church. It was time for a distraction. I stood up straight, hoping I would not get clubbed for my pains, or worse. "But I am no son of Provençe," I said in my purest Cumbrian. "Armorica is my home, but Le Maréchal has no claim on me. Death to the upstart!"
The soldiers all stiffened, and the lieutenant scowled. "Cumbrian scum! Provençe is not at war with your land, not at the moment, but its time will come. I live to see the day! And as for you—"
And at that moment there was a hiss, and the lieutenant fell back with an arrow through his throat. It was the first of many.
We had made our plans, we men of Bois-de-Bas, gathered in the hot springs of a Sunday. At the first sight of the sloop, the young lads of the village had scattered into the trees and made their way to the surrounding farms.
In the Old Lands the farmers huddle together in the village for fear of armies and bandits, and go out to their fields each day. But Bois-de-Bas is a peaceful place, and the farmers and their men live on their farms. And the woods of Bois-de-Bas are wild woods, filled with game and savage beasts, and every man born and raised in Bois-de-Bas is a skilled hunter.
The lieutenant's men gathered us up they found only those of us who lived around the green. And the rest, hunters all, were well-prepared.
More soldiers will come when the recruiting party is missed. It is late, now, but tomorrow we must hide all signs that the sloop was ever here.
And I think we must do more than that. I have one or two ideas.