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The Shadow's War by Jeremy Lee
SUMMARY: A man is pressed into the army when a civil was rips his country apart. He watches as his life is stripped away from him and he steps out into a wild wide world.
He watched his wife tenderly as she fussed about the house pointedly not looking in his direction as she cleared the breakfast table. Picking up the pack that laid by the door he went through it one more time to see if he had forgotten anything. The crash of a plate on the wood floor made him jump. Natalie bent down picking up the pieces, pricking her finger and she stared at the blood as if in a trance. She sobbed a little and then she looked up at Jacob, her eyes glistening with barely restrained tears, "You don't have to go."
"You know I do." He said as gently as he could. He had been waiting for this conversation ever since the conscription detail had left the day before. "I'll be labeled a deserter if I don't show up. It won't be so bad." He crossed the room and knelt down beside her, taking her hand in his and kissing it lightly. "I'll be home and driving you crazy before you know it."
She laughed a little, desperate, laugh and kissed him. She could not bring herself to move, her hand holding his tight. "Don't make a promise that you can't keep." She finally whispered.
"I'm coming home." He swore and kissed her, realizing that it could be for the last time.
The two of them sat there for a long time, crouched on the floor beside the table, cradling each other and saying nothing. Jacob slowly pulled himself away and the walk across the room to the door was the most agonizing of his life. He hefted the pack and slung it on his shoulders, now it was his turn to refuse to look back at his wife, he stepped out into the day with his legs barely able to take each step. The countryside outside of Abriciel was a lurid green at this time of spring. The fields where the grape trees should have been tended day after day were empty, the trees shriveling with neglect. The war had sapped the workforce dry. He had never really understood the war, it struck him as a fight between people far away over things that never really concerned him, but now that the fighting was treading onto his doorstep the whole affair felt much more imminent.
He walked down the road all day, a trip he had often taken into Calais for the day with Natalie. The common road felt wrong, foreign despite the familiarity. Jacob could hardly help but think of the song that all the young men had taken to singing in the pub, "Off to fight for the Royalists". The monarch had certainly never done him any favors but the oligarchy trying to take over had a nasty sound to it. Though he would never say so aloud Jacob often thought that he would settle for the corruption he knew rather than chance one he didn't. He wondered into the winding streets of Calais with a wary feeling pulling at him.
It was not hard to find the army's headquarters, they had commandeered town hall to organize the operation. A stream of farmers, merchants, children, and old men were filing in through the great double doors. A wry smile split Jacob's face, they were not the best, they were what were left to make an army out of. Most of the young and able men were already in the field, or dead.