“And one of those children, the little ones, has climbed from stool to table, and from table to mantelpiece, and touched with a daring hand the hilt of each sword . . . and then climbed down, to dream of songs and battles.”
-From Prologue, The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon
Enarra took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. It was nearly halfway through the recruiting season and she had been afraid that the Duke’s company wouldn’t come through and she’d have to go looking for them. But here it was, the maroon and white booth, just like in Old Dorthan’s scroll that she had been listening to for as long as she could remember.
The two soldiers stood on either side of the spears holding up the front, staring straight ahead like statues. She tried to imagine how Paksenarrion, the aunt for which she had been named but had never met, must have felt standing in front of this booth all those years ago. Had she been this nervous? Or was it easier running away than going with her family’s blessing? She glanced over her shoulder to where her brother, a year too young to join up, was standing on the far side of the main square in Three Firs. He grinned and made a shooing motion with his free hand towards the booth. Time to go in.
The man sitting behind the desk was just like the man described in the scrolls, grey haired with warm brown eyes, though he had a beard to go with his mustache.
“This is a recruiting station for Fox Company,” he said. “Can I help you?”
Enarra blinked. Had she gotten it all wrong? Was there some other company with the same colors that recruited in this area? “I, I was looking for the recruiting station for Duke Phelan’s company,” she managed to stutter out, and then blushed to the roots of her hair in embarrassment.
The man grinned, not unkindly. “This used to be the Duke’s company, oh, about 15 years ago. But then the Duke became king of Lyonya and his senior captain, Arcolin, runs the Company now. Guess the news hasn’t made it this far out yet.”
Enarra chewed her lip, trying to decide what to do. Arcolin was the name of Aunt Pakse’s captain in the scrolls. Did she still want to fight, if it wasn’t quite the same company her aunt had fought for? Yes, she decided. She still wanted this.
“I’d like to sign up then, sir,” she said, managing not to stutter this time. “I’m 18 winters this past winter, and strong and healthy. I can read and write and I’m honest and hard working.” The man held up his hand as she took a breath to go on.
“I see you know something about this, but I have to tell you the terms before we go any farther, just to make sure you understand the specifics of this company. You agree to serve for two years beyond your basic training, which takes four to six months. You get room, board, gear and training as a recruit, but no pay. Your pay as a private in the Company is low, but you'll get a share of any plunder. Understood?” Enarra nodded, then added a “yes, sir” when he seemed to be waiting for a verbal response.
“Do your parents know you’re here? You’re of age so we’ll take you even if you ran away, but we do like to know if we have to worry about angry parents in the future.”
“Oh, my parents are fine with it. I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. My brother is planning on joining up next year, too, since there are plenty of others to take over the farm.”
“Very well. I’m Sergeant Devlin by the way. Have a seat and let me see your hands.” Enarra sat on the low stool in front of the table and placed her hands on top. The man nodded and flipped a page on the book laying to one side of the table.
“Arñe!” he called, and a woman poked her head in through the back seam of the tent.
“Another one already?” she asked with a smile. “Oh good, we need more women around here. Be back in a jiff.”
Shortly Arñe returned trailed by Arrin, the merchant who bought much of their wool each spring, Sorrin the baker, and the town judicar.
“Finally found them, did you,” Arrin joked with a grin. To the man desk he said, “This lass has been down here five times since spring thaw looking for you lot. Very specific about which company she wanted to join.”
Sergeant Devlin raised his eyebrows at Enarra. “Any particular reason you were set on our company?”
Enarra hesitated a moment. She didn’t know how famous her aunt was, or if this man would have known her. And she wanted to make it through on her own merits, not because an aunt she had never known had been a good soldier. “I’ve heard about this company, well, Duke Phelan’s Company, and knew it was honorable and that some weren’t. I guess I’m assuming it still is,” she finished somewhat sheepishly.
“That is a dangerous assumption, but Lord Arcolin is a good man and runs a fair and honorable company. Now, if you’re still sure, let's get you on the books.” He looked up and waited for her nod before picking up his pen and pulling the book in front of him. “What’s your name?”
“Enarra Sedlinsdotter of Three Firs,” Enarra responded confidently. She was going to make her way on her own name, even if it was her own nickname.
Sergeant Devlin wrote that down and then looked up. “Now repeat after me in the presence of the judicar and these fine witnesses: I, Enarra Sedlinsdotter, do desire to join Fox Company as a recruit and agree to serve two years in this company after recruit training without leave, and do further agree to obey all rules, regulations, and commands which I may be given in that time, fighting whomever and however my commander directs.”
Enarra repeated with only a minor stutter at the beginning.
“Now sign your name here,” Sergeant Devlin spun his book around and indicated a line below where he had printed her name. Enarra signed and then moved over so that the two witnesses could sign and the judicar could put his seal at the bottom of the now full page. Then Sergeant Devlin thanked the judicar and witnesses and they turned to leave, except Arrin, who hung back.
“You come back and visit once you’ve finished your time lass,” he admonished, and clapped her on the back so hard he nearly knocked her over. Enarra nodded mutely and turned back to Sergeant Devlin.
“There is food in the barn for lunch, the other recruits will start eating shortly, then we’ll head out. Arñe will show you the way." The woman from before emerged from where she had been blending in with the wall of the tent.
“Welcome to Fox Company,” she said and led Enarra out onto the square and into her new life.