Julia heard the call at the worst possible moment. She had finally been having a conversation with her father. It was the conversation she had been putting off for nearly a year. The conversation that she felt sure would finally reveal if her father blamed her for her mother’s death.
But the horn sounded far in the distance and she knew she had to run. Julia made her way through the forest that she knew so well. She could read the twists and turns on the narrow path far better than she could read her father’s emotional state. As she ran, she imagined the sigh of relief he must have breathed when they heard the call.
In the year since she joined the militia, she had never been late for the call. But she had witnessed as others suffered the discipline of their superior officers. Julia was certain that she would be comfortable living out her entire life without experiencing the end of that whip first hand.
In the city-state of Answain, young people were given a choice upon reaching their 16th birthday. You either joined up for five years of military service, or you go to work in the mines for seven years. Both of these options were, of course, noble choices and helped to protect and support the society in which she lived. But Julia had an irrational fear of the dark, enclosed places. So for her, the choice was a no-brainer.
Now, at 17, Julia had grown to love her new life with the militia. She just wished she could move a little bit faster. She weaved her way through the crowded streets of Answain, making her way to the Ellipse at the center of the city. The third call had not been made, so she knew she would be counted on time. She stood in line between two boys who were recent recruits. Her breathing was labored, but she felt like she could relax. She wouldn’t feel the whip today.
Answain did not have a lot of enemies. But the militia was there to protect the citizens from the few enemies that existed outside the city’s walls. Julia had only seen two real battles in her time with the militia. One was little more than a month ago, when a group of spies was discovered. They had not put up much of a fight, and Julia was pretty sure that the few who were captured alive were held for questioning. She shuddered to think what that questioning would entail.
She did not like to think about the first battle she had been in. It was only a month after she had signed up for military duty. Her father had told her that he was proud of her. Of course he was proud, she was following in the footsteps of both her parents. The militia was where they had met. It was where they had fallen in love. Her mother was proud, too, but she was scared for her little girl. Julia understood her feelings. All she could do was kiss her mother good-bye and tell her not to worry as she moved out of the house and began her intensive training.
Julia had barely finished her training with the sword when the reports came into the barracks that the south gate had been taken down. All members of the militia, even the new recruits, were called to take up arms to defend the city. Julia’s mind was filled with panic. It wasn’t because she was unprepared to defend her home, it was because her family’s home was located two blocks from the south gate.
She grabbed her sword and shield and ran south with the others. None of them were too sure where the battle would be taking place. They just knew to run in the opposite direction of the fleeing citizens.
Julia caught sight of an enemy. She recognized the uniform of the Red River military. She had heard stories about Red River. Their soldiers had no honor. This fact was clearly displayed by this man, who was attacking an unarmed woman who was simply trying to flee for her life. Julia knew that this man would be her first kill.
She charged at him, sword in hand, and ran him through without thinking. Julia turned to the woman and shouted at her to run. Immediately, her thoughts turned toward her family. Red River would spare no one in their quest for domination.
All around her, explosions were erupting. She ran through the streets, hoping to find more action, hoping to make a difference. She was in sight of her childhood home when an explosion rocked her world.
Heat and shattered glass threw her off her feet. Julia fought the urge to lose consciousness. She was a little confused, wondering how she ended up on the ground. She could feel the intensity of the fire coming from the store across the street. What kind of weaponry could Red River possibly have that would cause so much destruction?
Her body screamed at her as she picked herself up off the street. She moved as quickly as her legs would allow her, but felt as if the world were moving in slow motion. Up ahead, she saw her father and mother fighting for their lives. They had not been military for nearly 20 years, but they still knew what to do with a sword. In that moment she was proud to be their daughter, and she hoped that she could live up to their expectations of her.
More than that, she wished she could move faster, because there, before her eyes, she watched as her mother was killed at the hands of a Red River soldier. She watched as her mother fell to the ground. She watched her father turn to catch the love of his life. And she watched as the soldier who delivered her mother’s killing blow prepared to do the same to her father.
But Julia arrived in time to save him. She plunged her sword into the side of the man who had just taken her mother’s life. Her anger and sorrow mixed in a cry of agony as she drove her enemy to the ground.
She fell to her knees next to her father and grabbed her mother’s hand. Julia saw the faintest smile on her mother’s face and felt her squeeze her hand lightly before she passed on. She looked up at her father, who was gently caressing her mother’s face. He looked into her eyes and said nothing. She could only imagine that he was thinking the same thing that she was. Why couldn’t you have gotten here sooner? She would still be alive.
Without a word, Julia stood up. She charged into the fray where her sword took the lives of half a dozen more enemy soldiers. But the rest of the battle was a blur to her. Julia was numb, unsure how to feel anything else that day. The pain she felt, both physically and emotionally, was too much for her to bear. So she pushed it aside.
The sound of the third call broke her from her vivid memories. Julia stood silently as her captain walked down the line calling names. When he got to her, he gave her a slight wink. She could tell that he liked her, but he really was not her type. But the gesture was enough to make her smile anyway. Once attendance had been taken and it was determined that there were no deserters this week, the fourth call sounded and the troops went their separate ways to perform their various duties.
Julia made her way to the barracks, where she had been assigned evening guard duty for the remainder of the month. As she had done every evening for the past two weeks, she would stand silently, waiting for her replacement to relieve her at midnight. She knew that she only had her thoughts to occupy her time. She made a promise to herself that she would not think about the conversation she almost had with her father today. She would not think anymore on the events of the Red River battle. She would do her duty tonight and she would worry about the things she could not control some other day.