Conlyn knelt along with the other men in his row. His bed was made, his place was set, and everything was exactly to specifications, not above nor below even a smidge. That’s how Conlyn was planning to get through the next three months—to blow through without being noticed on one side or the other. Then, when The Queen was off the street, Conlyn would go back, check on his mom, and see where he could get himself into the hierarchy again. Many people would be happy to see her go, and maybe his hand, however indirect, might help him up the ladder some. That would be nice.
The woman paced. She was the gossip of the town, a girl who wandered down from the Sisterlands and took the tests with no formal training, a big deal, everyone wanted to be noticed by her, be promoted to her ranks. Conlyn just wanted to be ignored.
“Upton, you’ll stay. The rest, dismissed for yard training.” Conlyn flinched as those around him moved, gathering their stuff to head out to the next part of their training. Eventually, there was silence, all that was left was Conlyn kneeling, still starting a spot on the floor about a foot in front of him, and this girl, this legend, this may or may not be real solider, standing somewhere on the other side of the room. “Conlyn Upton, son of Tara of Hardston Row. You were with the Mercs last year, weren’t you? Questioned after the death at Donner’s corner?”
“Yes Ma’am. I was told my past would be forgiven when I joined the guard.” Conlyn didn’t look up, holding the kneeling salute. He didn’t know what he had done to earn her attention, but maybe if he just made it through the interview he could go back to his basic training in peace.
“Oh yes, of course. I would never dare judge you for your past. What I will judge you by is what I have seen others in your position do.” Conlyn looked up, and was surprised to see her up close, standing only a foot away. She offered him a hand up, and pulled her to his feet. This legend looked perfectly reasonable, if not a bit simple, up close. But the look on her face was still stern, was intimidating, was—in a weird way—inspiring. “The Queen is on her way out, and I know that will come as no surprise to you. When she’s gone, you can be whoever you want to be in the new ranks of the Mercs, especially with the basic training from the guard. It’d be a pretty sweet deal.” She pushed a stray piece of hair behind her ears. Conlyn said nothing. He wouldn’t deny it so that in the future he looked like a turncoat. He wouldn’t confirm it because he wasn’t sure what she would do to him if he admitted he just wanted to leave. He just stood and let her size him up. She did, and her opinion seemed to be positive. “I’ve got a good spot on my squad, Upton. And you’re good. I’ve heard an awful lot about your potential. I’d love to add you to my team. But—I don’t want to give that place to someone who is going to turn around and dump me. Between you and me, I need you to be honest with me. Are you sticking around after The Queen is off the streets?”
Maybe it was the fact that Harlowe seemed to be an honest woman, and it was hard to lie to an honest person. Maybe it was because her accent did make her seem different from the rest of the guard. Maybe it was something else altogether. “No. I’m here because it keeps me safe while The Guard uses the information I gave them to get the Queen off the street. I’m not guard material, and I know what my life is supposed to be.”
“Hmm.” Harlowe considered him a moment longer. “I’ll make you a deal. You give me five days—Five days on my guard with my training to prove to you that this is something that you can do and that life isn’t necessarily what you thought it would be. If after five days, you still want out after The Queen is off the street, I will sign the discharge papers that assure a year’s salary from the day you leave. A year’s good money versus five days of extra training. I think it’s a pretty good deal.”
Conlyn thought there was something in there, a trick, or a something, but he couldn’t find it. It seemed too good to be true. But, if there was a trick, Conlyn was sure that he could find a way to trick Harlowe back into getting that money he promised. “Okay.” Conlyn nodded.
“Excellent,” a look crossed Harlowe’s face that Conlyn couldn’t quite place, “We’ll have your stuff moved. Take the rest of the day off, everything starts tomorrow.”