Leigh clutched her enlistment papers tighter in her hand, her legs shaking from the weeks she spent at sea and her heart beating a million miles an hour. The dry Celedonian air ruffled her hair and kicked up sand, making Leigh’s eyes water and her lungs scream. Someone jostled her from behind, sending her flying forward, and once Leigh steadied herself she forced her legs to move.
She had been standing in the middle gangplank, taking in the crowded Celedonian docks. Behind her someone jostled her again, and Leigh forced herself to move faster, to move out of the way so whoever it is who wanted to get off the ship so bad could get off.
Fresh soldiers spilled off the ship as she moved out of the way, their stiff brown uniforms still unsullied by battle. A loud laugh ripped through the group, and Leigh’s eyes found Simon Weaver, a new recruit they had found picked up in Eznos.
Staring at him, Leigh could not help but think that once he got to the war camp, he would not be smiling for much longer.
Once the last of the soldiers had filtered off the ship, Leigh took a deep breath and began to follow them, through the crowded docks filled with harried sailors and other fresh recruits. Ironclad ships bobbed on the docks farthest, the docks reserved only for military uses.
Leigh didn’t see how the Ironclad ships could help in the war against the Nightwalkers, though. Not when nothing but magicked iron and pure fire could kill them.
The new recruits disappeared into the crowds, and Leigh picked up her pace. She wore the same brown uniform as the rest of them—a rough brown shirt, scratchy brown pants, and sensible leather boots—except for the three blue lines sewed onto her shirt labeling her a Healer.
With a sharp sigh Leigh sidestepped a angry looking sailor, practically tripping over her feet in an attempt to keep up with the recruits. Eventually the hard wooden planks under her feet turned to sand-colored cobblestone, the strong scent of the ocean and dead fish fading to something much more pleasant. The wind blew again, and Leigh’s eyes watered from the sand it kicked up.
The city of Cley was lively, even with the war with the Nightwalkers looming over it like a shadow. On the corner someone was selling vibrantly colored rugs, while across the street from him a woman cooked sizzling crekeku— lamb with traditional spices— on an open faced grill.
In front of her the recruits came to a stop before the table set up to check them in and direct them in another direction. Behind the table were three horse drawn carriages—or wagons, Leigh thought as she came to a stop at the end of the long line snaking away from the table. The carriages had no roof, and were made out of mismatched wood that looked like it was barely holding together.
When in times of war, Leigh thought, you have to make do with what you have.
With the hot Celedonian sun beating down on her back, waiting on the line seemed to take hours. Leigh didn’t know how her mother had survived twenty-five years of her life in this brutal heat. But Leigh also didn’t understand many things about her mother— like why she married a Zexhyaen slaveholder, or how she could stomach living on the sugar plantation without complaint.
Leigh surely couldn’t, which was why she was here in the first place. To get away from the slavery that her father had built his wealth upon, to serve in the army as a Healer and get the three gold marks in return.
For the University—which was in this very city, so close yet so far– and the slaves she had left behind on her father’s sugar plantation. So she could one day return to them with a higher education and free them, just as she promised when she was twelve.
Shifting from what foot to another, Leigh pushed those thoughts away. She couldn’t dwell on the slaves she had left behind or the sisters who she had never been particularly close to or the mother who never cared enough to actually talk to her. Instead she flipped through the set of papers she had in her hand.
Her identification card, her enlistment papers, and the stamp that proved she was a real Healer. Slowly Leigh took in a deep breath of hot, dry air—she just had to get through the mandatory two years of service, then she could attend the University.
The line inched forward, and by the end of the hours Leigh was the next person. In front of her Simon Weaver chatted with the Celedonian officer, his smile never fading, even as the officer told him he was going to be relocated to the Southern continent, which was another boat ride away.
When Simon Weaver finally left in the directions of the docks, Leigh stepped up, her hands tight around her enlistment papers. The Celedonian officer’s skin was dark, his black hair closely cropped. Around one of his fingers was a gold wedding wind— married then, perhaps with kids. His hands were covered with cassouls, telling a story of a lifetime of hard work.
Leigh took this all in in a matter of seconds. Her lips pulled into a frown, the Celedonian officer scrippling word foreign to her in crooked handwriting on piece of parchment.
Finally he glanced up to her and asked in heavily accented common tongue, “Name?”
“Leigh Katsatsu-Fallows,” She answered, her common tongue smooth.
“Interesting name you have,” The officer remarked, his eyes roving down the roster he had before him. Finally his eyes snagged on her name, and he demanded, “Papers?”
Leigh handed them over, twisting her hands together as the Celedonian officer flipped through them. When he reached the paper verifying her as a Healer he heaved a sigh and produced a small dagger from his belt.
“I’ll need you to prove this,” He said tiredly, as if he had done this a thousand times before. “With the money we’re giving out to Healers for joining, many are trying to lie to get in.”
Then he unceremoniously cut his palm open, holding up for Leigh heal. Gently she grabbed her hand, her power raising to meet her. Her power was like water—calming, healing, nourishing. Silently she ran a thumb over the open wound on his palm, her hand glowing a faint blue, the wound stitching itself back together.
When she was done she dropped his hand, watching silently as he inspected his healed hand. After a moment he scribbled something onto the parchment before him.
Finally he said. “Head over to the wagons. In an hour we’ll be leaving to the war camp a few miles out of the city, although I bet you’ll be transferred to the war camp in Astreea the second you get there. You’re money will be waiting for you at the camp.” Then the Celedonian officer dismissed her with a wave of him hand, looking down at his parchment again and screaming, “Next!”