Naomi Novik

“The soldiers were already laying pikes along the wall by torch-light, with the points bristling upwards; they had draped cloaks over the poles to make small tents to sleep under. A few of them were sitting around small campfires, soaking dried meat in boiling water, stirring kasha into the broth to cook up. They cleared hastily out of our way without our even having to say a word, afraid. Sarkan seemed not to notice, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry and strange and wrong. One of the soldiers was a boy my own age, industriously sharpening pike-heads one by one with a stone, skillfully: six strokes for each one and done as quick as the two men putting them along the wall could come back for them. He must have put himself to it, to learn how to do it so well. He didn’t look sullen or unhappy. He’d chosen to go for a soldier. Maybe he had a story that began that way: a poor widowed mother at home and three young sisters to feed, and a girl from down the lane who smiled at him over the fence as she drove her father’s herd out into the meadows every morning. So he’d given his mother his signing-money and gone to make his fortune. He worked hard; he meant to be a corporal soon, and after that a sergeant: he’d go home then in his fine uniform, and put silver in his mother’s hands, and ask the smiling girl to marry him. Or maybe he’d lose a leg, and go home sorrowful and bitter to find her married to a man who could farm; or maybe he’d take to drink to forget that he’d killed men in trying to make himself rich. That was a story, too; they all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren’t alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves.”


Naomi Novik, Uprooted
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Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
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