“What do you suppose all of the commotion’s about? And don’t mention that blasted messenger,” Brandon said. A large crowd of people had congregated in the town square and all seemed to be yelling at once making it impossible to determine what was going on.
“Raised taxes, probably,” Jason guessed. “Can you think of anything else that could get these people so worked up?”
“No, but I also didn’t expect a messenger to arrive and leave in the heat of the day,” Brandon answered. “The more that I see, the more I think you may have been right. I would guess that it was his message that’s got everyone in an uproar, and even taxmen don’t move out during the hottest hours of the day.”
“I hope it’s something exciting,” Jason said. “Maybe it’ll even get us out of here.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Brandon said. “The only thing that is likely to get us out would be a war, and they’re never exciting, not for the rank and file. Trust me on this one. Besides, we’ve got it good here. Why would you want to leave?”
“Good?” Jason said incredulously. “You’re really going to stand there and tell me that we have it good? We barely have enough to survive and even go hungry a lot. In what world is that good?”
“The world that we live in,” Brandon shot back. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a lot of people have.”
“Let’s just see what this commotion is about,” Jason said sullenly. He hated when Brandon was right and refused to admit it. The only thing worse than a right Brandon was Brandon when you admitted to being wrong. The two men approached the crowd and stopped a woman on the outskirts of it.
“Mrs. Smith, what ‘s the commotion about?” Brandon asked.
“You know how the baron left the castle several days ago?” Mrs. Smith answered and Jason and Brandon nodded vigorously. “Well, now he’s calling for all of the men from sixteen to forty to join him at Lake Caplin.”
“He’s raising an army,” Brandon said thoughtfully. “That means war with someone.”
“That’s what everyone is saying,” Mrs. Smith concurred with tears in her eyes. “My Amos just turned sixteen. What’s going to happen to him?”
“When are we supposed to meet the baron at the lake?” Jason asked.
“As soon as possible,” Mrs. Smith answered. “But many of the people are talking about not going.”
“That’s crazy talk,” Jason said. “We don’t go and there will be hell to pay when the baron gets back.”
“That’s what some people are saying, but with the baron gone, it seems like we can stand up to him. They won’t realize their mistake until it’s too late.”
“We’ve got to stop this madness,” Jason said. “Brandon, get me to the fountain.”
Out of the two friends, Brandon had the muscles while Jason had the brains and relative eloquence, at least he could speak in front of a group without making a fool of himself, and Brandon knew it. If anyone was going to get the crowd to give up their mutinous talk, it would be Jason. With Jason holding tight to his belt, Brandon began to make his way forcefully through the crowd. He shoved people aside when he could and knocked them over when he had to, until he reached the large fountain at the center of the square. With one hand he picked Jason up and stood him in the top pool of the structure then gave a long bellow loud enough to bring silence to the mob. Jason nodded his thanks to his friend who stood by the fountain in case things got ugly.
“So, I hear that the baron wants everyone from sixteen to forty to meet him at Lake Caplin,” Jason said. Though his body was small, his voice was certainly not and could be clearly heard across the whole square. “We know that this means war.” There were shouts of affirmation all across the crowd. They were well aware of what was going on.
“The baron may be going to war, but he sure are heck aren’t,” one man yelled from the middle of the crowd. There were shouts of agreement all around him. This must be the pocket of men against going; Jason turned to face them directly and fixed his fiercest glare on them.
“That’s brave talk for a peasant when the baron isn’t here,” Jason said in a quiet voice that still managed to carry his anger across the crowd. “He’s gone and seems weak, but we all know what will happen later. Sooner or later, he will return, and then we will wish that we had gone to fight for him. I’m not very old at all, but I remember the last time that he was crossed. We all know that his retaliation was harsh and I shudder at the thought of that happening again.”
“So you want us to go and risk our lives and the lives of our sons for that tyrant?” the dissenter called. One thing was certain; while he was much larger than his verbal opponent, he was much weaker in voice. “There’s no way that I’m risking a single thing for him!” He looked at those around him for support and they called their agreement.
“I’m not asking you to risk your life for the baron but for your own family,” Jason said. “If we don’t comply with his orders, when he returns, and we all know that he will, he will kill you and your family leaving just enough alive to work his fields. I’m not asking you to fight for the baron but to fight for your family’s sake.”
“He won’t be able to take us,” the man called. He knew that he was losing the argument, a fact that was evident in his voice. “We can spend all of the time that he’s gone fortifying the town. When he comes back, he won’t be able to take us!”
“That’s a foolish idea, and you know it,” Jason said. “The baron’s army may be small, but it’s composed of trained soldiers, something that we don’t have here. They’ll overrun the city in a minute.”
“So you’re saying that we should let the baron win?” the man called. “Spill our blood in his army for his goals?”
“No, I’m saying that we should go to meet him,” Jason said. “The town guard is coming, so we have to disperse or we’ll end up in jail. I have a plan, so anyone who is concerned about joining the baron, meet me in the tavern tonight and I’ll tell you what it is. As for now, the town guard is coming, so we have to disperse or we’ll end up in jail.”
Brandon pulled Jason off of the fountain and pushed his way through the crowd to the nearest side street. They turned down an alley, walked across a street and down another alley. Brandon took a roundabout way of getting to a rundown hut that the two men shared, but Jason didn’t even notice the route. He had been embellishing the truth when he said that he had a plan. The beginning of one was in his mind, but he had to figure out all of the details before tonight.
It may have been the authority in Jason’s voice or the threat of the guard, but the peasants began to disperse quickly. Minutes later, when the guard arrived in the square, it was deserted.