Dan stood at attention with the other recruits as Carr watched them. For a time Carr was silent, observing them with black eyes peering out of a weather-beaten brown face. And then he spoke.
“You’ve reached the end of your training,” he said.
There was no sound in all of Llynar.
“Today, you are recruits no longer. You are soldiers of Vydar. I realize some of you still might not like this position, or the part you will play in this war. That will pass in time. Look to those who have been here longer than you. Look to those who have decided that they never want to return to their old life. Look to those who have made Valhalla their home. For any who wish it, Vydar will return you home when the war is over. He has promised as much. But do not think of Valhalla as your prison. It is your escape. It could be your future.”
Dead silence. All the villagers were watching, from behind the new recruits, but there wasn’t so much as a whisper.
“Now,” Car said, assuming a more relaxed position (Dan and the others did not relax a muscle), “today is the day you leave Llynar and return to Montfre. You’ll get your orders there, and be off to the four corners of Valhalla before long. Before you go though, I want to impress upon you two important lessons from your training.
“Firstly, everything you learned here is designed to do one thing and one thing only: give you a chance. When you’re out there, fighting Utgar or beating back Valkrill’s hordes, you’re going to go up against beings against which you have no defense. This training has given you a chance where before you would have had none. That’s all: a chance. Do not for a moment think that, because you are now a soldier of Vydar, you can take on anything Utgar throws at you. The day you think that is the day Utgar throws something at you which you can’t handle. Because you are a soldier of Vydar, you have a chance. We have trained you to use the chances you get, and make the most out of them. Do not waste them. Do not ignore them. Remember your training.
“The second thing I want to remind you about is this: when you’re facing off against a troll, or hundreds of hungry orcs, or the marro swarm, and you feel like you have no chance, don’t let them know it. Never give the enemy an ounce of hope, because you’ll get none back. Even if they are stronger, faster, and better, don’t show it. Bluffing can be as effective as any weapon. Use it.”
Carr stepped down from the improvised platform he had been standing on.
The few recruits who had relaxed their arms snapped them back to their sides at their commander’s cry.
As one, the new soldiers of Vydar spun to the right.
“Down with Vydar!”
There was a collective gasp from the crowd behind the new soldiers. A few heads turned, trying to find the one who had shouted, but no one moved.
“Down with Vydar!” the voice cried again. “Down with the tyrant! Down with he who—”
There was scuffle somewhere in the crowd, and a moment later three figures detached themselves, two struggling with a third. Several officers ran over.
“What is this?” one of them called. “What’s going on?”
“Stand against the tyranny! Stand against the imprisonment! Stand under the banner of Kelad! Let Vydar know that there are still those who resist—”
The kyrie went down as the officers reached him. A murmur went through the crowd. Kelad. Dan remembered the name. He was the one Aviir had told him about. The one who had wanted Vydar’s wellspring for himself.
The kyrie was dragged from the field.
All faces snapped forwards.
In unison, the new soldiers of Vydar marched forwards. Dan risked a quick glance to the left, and saw the follower of Kelad being led inside the first bunker.
Kelad. There was something else Dan remembered about him, which Aviir had told him. She had said he had tried to blackmail Vydar.
Dan had thought of that. He had thought about doing what Kelad had done, and using his information as leverage against Vydar. The only trouble was that Dan had the same problem Kelad had. Kelad had known that Vydar could easily imprison him, so he had told another, as insurance. But Takuya had betrayed him. And that was Dan’s problem. There was no one in Valhalla he trusted enough to keep the secret. Certainly not the followers of Kelad. They might be sympathetic, but Dan expected they would use the information for their own purposes.
He would return to Montfre tonight, which meant he would be able to talk with Vydar the next day. But he had no plan. He couldn’t just walk into Vydar’s audience chamber and tell him what he knew. He’d never leave the Citadel, unless it was on his way to some distant cell. He needed some sort of insurance, but nothing had occurred to him.
Dan snapped his head forwards before any of the officers could see him. Carr was at the head of the new soldiers, walking in step with them.
Carr. What had he said? “Bluffing can be as effective as any weapon. Use it.”
Bluffing. Could that actually work though? Could Dan simply pretend to have told someone, like Kelad had told Takuya? He thought about it. Unless Vydar could read minds, he would never be able to know if Dan was bluffing or not. It wasn’t infallible, of course, but it was better than nothing.
‘In fact,’ Dan thought, ‘it’s the best chance I have. I won’t get another opportunity like this. If this works… Vydar will have no choice but to summon Heleer.’
These thoughts in his mind, they marched off of the training field, heading for the line of carts which was waiting for them.
“I hope to see you again, Dan.” Maren offered his hand and Dan shook it. “See if you can be stationed here at Llynar. I’ll stay here for awhile before moving on.”
Dan glanced up at the walls. They were outside Llynar, carts lined up outside the gate, being loaded with supplies and the newest additions to Vydar’s army. It was twilight, the last rays of the sun flickering over the tops of the walls.
“I won’t be coming back if I can help it,” Dan said. “I’m ready for this war to be over.”
“Don’t be too quick to leave the war,” Maren said. “I wanted to leave Llynar too, remember? I wanted nothing more than to return to Joren. But the war isn’t that bad. It’s actually exactly where I wanted to be. I just didn’t know it.”
Dan doubted Maren’s words applied to him, but had to admit he was right. Maren had been like Dan, angry at Vydar, anxious to return to his old life. The change in him was obvious. What Dan wouldn’t give for that: finding where he belonged. For as long as he could remember, he had been focused on what he couldn’t have, first on Isadora, and now here on Valhalla.
“It’s all Carr,” Maren said, glancing to the head of the line, where Carr was sitting in a cart. He was returning to Montfre. “Without him, I would never have realized what I have.”
“Everyone in!” a commander called.
Dan pulled himself onto the nearest cart. “I know what you mean,” he said half to himself. As they began to roll away, and Maren waved goodbye, Dan caught sight of the strange red star in the sky, twinkling in the gathering darkness.
“I need you, Heleer,” he whispered.