For this initial dip into The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road trilogy, I wanted to explore one of that book’s new characters a bit. Martoh is a crook, but he’s in the kind of prison he’s never been in before, the kind that’s landed him in the infirmary. Now, with a war on, there’s a chance for him to get out:
A few seconds later a gentleman stepped behind the curtain as someone else held it for him. He carried small wooden stool in one hand and a black leather case in the other. His black suit was neat and fresh, implying he had some kind of official position. The fine grey dust from the stones out of which the prison had been built had yet to infest his clothing. “Martoh Isukar?” He put the stool down beside the bed.
“Who are you?” Martoh had long ago learned to be wary of men in clean suits.
“May I sit?”
The man sat down and began pawing through his case. “It really was quite a journey to reach here, you know.”
“Why is that? And who are you?”
“I’m sorry.” The man sat up straight and pulled an official looking piece of paper from his case. “My name is Anea. I am from the Ministry of War.”
Martoh rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is they told you I did, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
Anea looked at him with a frozen expression that said he knew Martoh was the right man. “You are serving a term of life in prison, is that not correct, Martoh? May I call you that?”
Martoh gave silent consent.
“Due to your sentence, you will die behind these walls. Why would I have to think anything else about you?”
“I’m not a killer.”
“It says something very different here.” Anea held up a clutch of papers and began shuffling through them, for Martoh’s benefit, most likely. “It says here that you stole some small trinket from a shop, were caught in the act, and pursued by the shop keeper. As he gave chase in the street he tripped, fell, and upon landing broke his neck. Died instantly, sad to say.”
“My bad luck.”
“His bad luck, I would say. But the court has already decided this. You are guilty of causing death while in the commission of another offense. Same as if you put a blade in the poor man’s back. However, the circumstances of your crime did, at least, save your life.”
“Put me in this cage, you mean,” Martoh said. He tried not to get agitated as any movement caused a bolt of pain to rush through his body.
“Martoh, you have never lived a life in harmony with His Majesty’s law, have you?” Anea let the question be answered by silence. “Although I suspect you never thought it would take you this far.”
“Obviously. It’s one thing to get locked in here for shooting a man or stabbing him. It’s entirely different when you’re here because of a mark’s poor foot skills.”
Anea didn’t take issue with him.
“If you are not here to pin something else on me, why are you here?”
Anea grinned, ever so slightly. “I am here to give you a way out.”
Martoh turned away from him. “I’m in no mood for games.”
“This is no game, I assure you. I am here on behalf of the Ministry of War, looking for recruits. You do know that there is a war on?”
“I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that the Neldathi might have a right to be angry.”
Anea cleared his throat in a way that suggested he would take issue with that position. “I am not here to discuss politics. I am here only in search of recruits.”
“Conscripts, you mean,” Martoh said, turning back to face him. “Typical. Use prisoners to put down an uprising caused by your own damned fool policies.”
Anea sat for a few moments. “Is everyone that cynical in your world, Martoh?”
“In the world I came from, one steals because that’s the only way he has to feed himself or his family. In the world I live in now, any other random person might try to kill me, just to prove he can. Pardon me if I seem a bit cynical when a stranger comes preaching salvation.”
Anea heaved a deep sigh. “Cynical or no, Martoh, you are not a stupid man. If His Majesty was going to conscript prisoners to go fight the Neldathi, why would I be here?”
Martoh had to concede that, but he wouldn’t admit it. “So what’s the deal?”
“Deal? There is no deal,” he said in a way that made it clear such horse trading was beneath him. “There is only an opportunity to serve your King and defend your homeland from barbarian invasion.”
“In return for what? Look, you’ve given the game away admitting that there will be no conscriptions. I get to say no thanks and stay right here. So why shouldn’t I?
“Freedom.” Anea let the word hang in the air while he got another paper from his case. “If you agree to fight, you will be free.”
Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.