Authors: Igor Ljubuncic
Copyright © 2013 Igor Ljubuncic
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781481913027
eBook ISBN: 978-1-63001-095-9
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
For me mom and me dad,
who made me perfect so
Having your second book published is just as important as the first one. This would not have happened without the help and advice of quite a few people. You, my readers; your pointers and suggestions helped me flesh out the plot and even out some of the bumps that you didn’t like in The Betrayed. The team at
, especially Erin, who made a splendid job of editing my English into something reasonable. Last but not least, my wife for her killer role in being the sharpest critic, fan, and editor, all at the same time.
akin was an outpost built for soldiers with a troublesome streak. In the far reaches of northern Eracia, if you didn’t follow orders, you got punished. But you weren’t locked in a cell, beaten, fined, demoted, shouted at, or even berated. Nothing of the sort. Commanders in northern Eracia had a much simpler way of polishing morale and discipline. They shipped troublemakers to Pakin.
Dejan and Bill had been labeled troublemakers, and now they served at the outpost.
The big problem with Pakin was not the odd supply wagon that failed to arrive sometimes, the driver having decided he was better off peddling the food at some local market somewhere, leaving them hungry. It wasn’t the fact there were no brothels within a month from the outpost, or the fact that the cook was also their surgeon and basically a drunk with a cleaver. It wasn’t the meager pay they couldn’t spend, because there was nowhere to spend it. Neither the harsh weather nor the awful conditions did it for Dejan and Bill.
It was the boredom of the Abyss itself.
Dejan and Bill often stood watch together. It wasn’t as if anyone cared when you did the watch, or who you paired with, as long as you stood your half day watching nothingness for any signs of invasion against the monarch’s realm.
Pakin was the northernmost outpost in the whole of Eracia, and there wasn’t anything to the north of it. Just an empty stretch of land, devoid of any towns, any people. The edge of civilization, the place where criminals in uniform went for rehabilitation.
Dejan sometimes wondered if he should have stopped himself from raping that woman. He had never been much of a thinker, and a place like Pakin made him spend too much time pondering, rolling the same thoughts over and over, a feverish nightmare that never ended. He was amazed, and even slightly awed, how some men could spend hours thinking, savoring it like the best drinks or women. He wanted nothing of the sort. He wanted his mind to stop thinking. But Pakin was made for thinking, because there was nothing else to do.
The outpost was a simple square of logs, sharpened at the top, as if someone would dream of clambering the wall and sneaking in. Inside, there was a handful of buildings, their barracks, their kitchen, the latrines, the smith’s forge, the shed that used to house the sergeant’s horse before it died, and sometimes housed the horses of the odd supply wagon, when it came.
More imaginative people might have tried to grow their own vegetables or herd animals, but for the likes of Dejan and Bill and their friends, imagination and initiative were dangerous concepts best left alone. Soldiers with some semblance of humanity might choose to better their agonizingly monotonous stay at this open prison, but its current inhabitants could only wait to be relieved when their one or three or ten years of punishment trickled away.
You could flee. Yes, you could. It would take you several weeks on foot to the nearest settlement, if you had it in you to last that long, with whatever your small backpack could carry. And then, if you didn’t die or get eaten, you would probably be killed for deserting.
Or you could march north, into the endless ripple of low, grassy hills, and die when food or water ran out or wild animals found you. Because no matter how strong or tough you were, there was nothing north of Pakin. Everyone knew that. ’Twas the end of the world, Dejan knew.
There were no rivers or streams around Pakin, no forest. Just grass, brown and gray green and weedy and tough, thorns more than stalks, rolling away into the horizon on all sides. The earth was hard, rocky. A stillborn attempt at a well reminded Dejan that work was a futile effort at Pakin. Some of his fellows had tried to dig a water source once, several years ago, probably when a supply wagon had failed to arrive too many times in a row. They had burrowed a few paces into the soil before giving up. You could probably grow turnips, but that would be too much work. Goats could live off that thorny grass, but that would be too much work, too.
Pakin had no delights or sights to offer its tiny garrison. Animals kept away, because there was nothing tasty to be found at the outpost, just a few scrawny, leathery humans. Birds didn’t care for the wooden perches, not when humans tried to eat them every time they landed there. Even the birds had learned to stay away from Pakin.
Dejan had considered leaving. First, he had mulled killing the sergeant and stealing the horse, but had never sweated the courage needed for the task. The sergeant may be one of them, a troublemaker, but he was a mean son of a bitch, and wouldn’t let any of them best him. Really mean.
The sergeant was a kind of man who would repay a bad joke by slicing you up and serving you for dinner. He had been assigned to Pakin for life, and he did not intend to let any upstart little thug outsmart him. Oh no. You didn’t even blink the wrong way at the sergeant. You made sure you were very, very polite, and he forgot about you.
The sergeant didn’t care what you did with your spare time or when you showed up for your watch. But he did check the post and marked down those who showed up and those who didn’t. And those who didn’t got their stay extended by one month every time. You could come to Pakin for one year and stay forever.
Dejan had considered leaving even after the horse died. No need for killing, just walk away. Steal some bread and some water and walk. If he struck east and persisted, he knew he would reach the seashore somewhere. And if he walked into sunsets, days on end, he might get to some nomad tribe. It was possible, if he could handle the idea of traveling hundreds of miles alone.
He could go south, back to sanity and life. Only a week as the food cart lumbered, in a straight line, quite longer on foot, over low, gnarled hills overgrown with brush and tough grass. If he were smart enough, he might steal some clothes from a wash line and toss his threadbare uniform away. He could slink into one of the villages or towns and look for work. It was doable. He just needed some initiative.
But that was exactly what soldiers stationed at Pakin didn’t have. You also had to be extremely resourceful, an alien concept for the troublemakers. And then, there was the slight problem of things being very precise at the outpost.
Bill had tried hoarding food once, tried gathering enough hard loaves for the journey. He’d reckoned maybe two weeks if he were lucky, one stingy meal a day. Only he’d forgotten that in a camp of twenty-odd people, bread was baked by the head, and anything stolen from the oven meant someone going hungry. The cook could easily bake some more, sure, but that would mean dwindling preciously thin and precise weekly rations further down, against the risk the wagon might not rumble by sometime in the coming days. So when food went missing, what the cook did was talk to the sergeant.
That was how Bill got his extra year of stay at Pakin. No shouting, no berating, no talk, just an entry in the sergeant’s log.
Dejan had considered long and hard taking his chances against the weather and wild beasts, taking no more than his daily share of water and food so he did not evoke any suspicion. But he knew that he would be dead long before he saw any sign of civilization.
Eventually, Dejan had decided against going anywhere. Pakin was boring, but you could count on the outpost to be there when you woke the next morning. Count the days away, and then you would be seated in the back of the supply wagon, going south, over thorny bushes, vast expanses of grass, hills as flat as his sister’s chest.