Edu joined the group of children gathered in the center of the village. A pair of men wearing bearskin jackets overlaying black leather armor lit torches and distributed them through the group. All the boys there were older than Edu, but none older than sixteen, and all were dressed in shades that mirrored those worn by the warriors. Some had already been going to school for many years, while others had just begun last year. Each received his torch with a heavy air.
Edu’s father squeezed his shoulder. The boy looked back to see his father exchange glances with one of the men, and then, a quick nod. The blacksmith turned his back on his son and went back into the house.
Edu started to turn back. He wanted to go after his father, go back to his mother and his brothers. But before the boy could complete the movement, a hoarse voice called him. The pre-morning silence gave it the clarity of a shout:
“Come closer, boy.”
Edu looked over the man from head to toe. The warrior was younger than his father, black eyes and beard, and curly hair of the same tone. The boy felt a shiver as he noticed the scar running from his right ear to his chin, an ugly, uneven tear. Then his gaze descended to the stamped figure of a tower on his right breast, and then lower still, to the ax the warrior wore at his waist.
“Well!” Grunted the man, kneeling to get more level to the boy. Edu’s eyes had already reached his boots and had stayed there.
“Do you have a name, lad?”
“Very well. And you know what’s going to happen, now? Did your older friends and your parents tell you what lies ahead? ”
“Very well.” The warrior rose and ran his hand through Edu’s hair. “We have to be at school by dawn. After you have made the journey a few times, we’ll entrust you with a torch, but for now, focus on keeping pace with us. Whatever happens, do not stray from the group. If anything comes up, use what your father gave you. Understood?”
“Right.” The man turned to his partner. “Boris, we have spoken. Are the others ready? ”
“They are,” said the second warrior, a grey-haired man with a mane that covered his black coat to the chest, almost entirely concealing the symbol of his order. His nose was crooked and one of his eyes, half-closed. He made Edu think of an old bear.
“Let’s go, guys! Let’s go to school! Forward, in line, two by two, and do not stray. Move forward! “He called, waving his torch in the air. Two by two, the boys started following Boris, the bear, toward the gates of the village. Boots buried deep into the snow with each step, leaving a trail behind the children.
“You’re coming with me,” the younger man said to Edu, taking his place at the end of the line.