War is brewing on the eastern border of Arden. The shaky truce between Arden and the neighboring realm of Shiraz has all but dissolved, and both sides are building their forces for battle. But in the quiet farming community of Willowdale, the rumors of war are the least of young Gibben Nemesio’s concerns. With both parents dead and two younger brothers to care for, Gib doesn’t have time to focus on anything besides keeping food on the table. Everything changes the day he receives a conscription notice and must report to Arden’s capital.
In Silver City, Gib is forced to leave his life as a farmer behind when he enters the legendary Academy of Arden as a sentinel trainee. If called to war, he will have no choice but to go, for the Sentinels of Arden are the realm’s first line of defense against the evils beyond the border.
A newcomer to this breathtaking city of stone, Gibben finds himself thrown into a world of cutthroat politics and scandals that run deeper than he ever imagined. Caught between the responsibilities to his family and to his country, Gib struggles to find balance. When he unwittingly overhears a sinister plot–that if seen to fruition will bear dire consequences for all of Arden–the young sentinel trainee must find a way to warn those in power before it is too late.
Liza lifted her face and the smile that had been present the moment before was gone. “I have news for you.”
The sentence was simple, but Gib could feel the weight of the words pressing down on his chest, threatening to suffocate him. He’d known. Little chance existed Liza was here for pleasure. She was here to deliver bad news, he was sure of it. Gib held his breath and waited for her to continue. The silence was insufferable.
She seemed to sense his dread and glanced back toward the loft as if to be sure the younger boys were out of ear shot. Her mouth pressed into a thin line as she reached into a deep pocket on her uniform. Gib winced at the sight of a small scroll sealed with the royal emblem of Arden—the rising phoenix. This wasn’t just something bad, it was something important.
Liza reached out to hand the document to Gib, but his arms were suddenly as heavy as lead and he couldn’t lift them. Instead, he felt his mouth open and the hushed words spilled out without consent. “Is it war then? Are you going to leave us as well?”
She flinched as if she’d been bitten and withdrew the scroll, holding it in her lap. “You know I would never willingly leave any of you, don’t you?”
Gib lowered his head, feeling foolish. “I’m sorry. Of course I know you don’t have a choice. I just—what am I going to tell Tay and Cal?”
Her dark eyes met his in an unknown emotion, and Gib’s guts turned to ice. Liza’s voice trembled. “This conscription isn’t for me.”
Oh Gods. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs had collapsed and his throat closed up. No air. He slammed his eyes shut, shaking his head. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be for him, could it? He was the eldest son of his family but did that matter when his elder sister had already joined the sentinels? He didn’t know. The laws concerning the entry of women into the military were still so new and unrefined.
“Uh.” His lungs shuddered back to life and he gasped for air. “It’s a draft notice? For me?”
Liza couldn’t meet his eyes. Her cheeks were an ugly red. “I tried, Gib. You have to believe me. I tried to convince my sergeant it was unnecessary for you to be drafted seeing as I was willing to go to war. He wouldn’t listen. You know how they are! He feels that it’s still ‘a man’s responsibility’ to go to war for his family.” She turned her face away from him and spat. “Fools, all of them. Who are they to decide who is worthy of going to war and who isn’t?”
Gib nodded, knowing it was true. A lot of hard feelings were going around about the recent changes that had given women permission to join the army. Indeed, Liza was the only girl from their entire village who’d ever gone to Academy to become a soldier. It had earned the scorn of many of their neighbors at the time, and some of them, especially the women, would still give Gib a sideways look in the market. It was widely whispered that his sister didn’t know her place and that she tempted fate by remaining away from home and not marrying.
She set down the scroll, still rolled tightly and sealed, and took his hands in hers. He wondered distantly when his had grown to be the same size as hers. “It’s not war yet.” It was meant to be a comfort, but it did little for his trembling nerves. “And if the King and Queen have their way, it will never come to that. It’s the damned High Council—”
Gib understood. “They’re still pushing for war.”
“Over a ridiculous land dispute.” She sighed. “Be that as it may, you’ve been called and you have no choice but to answer.”
“Yeah.” His voice sounded distant even to himself. He didn’t remember taking his hands from his sister’s but the next thing he knew, he was picking up the parchment and clumsily peeling at the wax seal. It fell open easily, as if it didn’t carry the command for him to drop his life where it was and march to Arden’s aid. How could something so harmless looking be such a threat? But it could be the very thing to seal his doom. It was calling him to a war he may not come home from. A shiver raced up his spine.
The text was laid out in fine, unsmudged ink, and it was obvious that whoever had written it was well schooled. The letters flowed together and the line of script was straight and appealing to the eye. Gib squinted, wishing that any of those things would make it easier for him to read it. Raising two brothers and working the farm had left little time for proper schooling.
Liza reached forward to help him. “Here, let me. We had to do some basic schooling at Academy.” She took up the scroll and scooted closer to the fire, her dark eyes reflecting the guttering flames.
“Let it be here-by known,” Liza began, her voice choppy as she picked away at the message. Gib was proud of her. The women from the market who thought little of her surely couldn’t read at all. “By dec–declar–ation–declaration of King Rishi Radek, on behalf of the country of Arden, one Gibben Nemesio has forth–with–forthwith been called upon to aid the army of Arden.”
She swallowed and Gib felt like he couldn’t breathe once again. They both took a short break there, letting the severity of the situation settle over them before she pressed on. “Soldiers are to report to Silver City for training. Failure to com–comply will be judged treason.”
The air around the two siblings was heavy with their shared silence. No words could describe the rolling pain in his guts as his mind ran swiftly with all the possibilities of death and hardship that might befall him. The full realization of what he needed to do crashed over him like a wave.
Shiriluna Nott is a 20-something gal from the northeast, currently residing in Texas with her long term boyfriend and four fur babies (three dogs and a cat).
She and fellow author SaJa H created the world of Arden and its many colorful characters during their teenager years and have been writing short stories about it ever since.
Believing that the fantasy genre is overflowing with traditional characters, it is Shiriluna’s goal to feature non-conventional leads in her novels, including quite a few LGBT characters. Some of the authors Shiriluna is most inspired by include Anne Rice and Mercedes Lackey.
Feel free to follow Shiriluna on Twitter @ShirilunaNott or ‘Like’ her author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shiriluna-Nott/979093392120327).