The soldiers, four of them led their horses to the house and stopped.

They wore chain mail hauberks over their dark green tunics, with wide leather belts that held their scabbards for swords and knives, dark green capes with the king’s emblem on them, the shiniest of metal greaves that led to their just as shiny armored boots, and shiny metal gauntlets. They were striking figures, even without the sun making their armor glimmer. Their horses were festooned with tasseled reins and straps, and the soldiers sat on dark leather saddles that looked custom-made. 

Behind them were two more horses pulling a long cart that had banners on each corner displaying the king’s emblem, a rearing horse in a forest wearing a wreath on it’s head. In the cart were maybe a dozen young men sitting on benches that ran the length of the cart on either side who were collected as they made their way through the land. None of them looked happy as they sat with their heads down. One of them was crying.

One of the soldiers called out to Barouk as he pretended to not notice them as he worked in the field.

“Kind sir, a word!” He yelled. Barouk stopped his plough and looked around, finally settling his gaze on the soldiers. He feigned surprise, then approached them with a steady walk. As he walked he wiped his hands on his pants, and even smiled like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Good day sirs” he said. “If you’re looking for produce you’re a bit early. The wife and I just started turning the soil.”

“No, we’re not looking for potatoes” said the first soldier. “I’m Lieutenant Cromley of the King’s Army. I’ve come looking for recruits. There’s a war going on and we’re short on numbers. Do you have any boys of age?” 

By this time Tessa was working her way to the house. She  gathered up Emma and John around her and waited to see what would happen next.

“Well” began Barouk, “That depends on what you think is ‘of age’. As you can see”, he pointed to Tessa and the kids, “my oldest one is just about twelve years. Is that right Tessa?”

“Uh, yes, yes sir. Emma here is twelve years and John is turning ten in a few months.”

“But Mom” Emma cut in. “What about…”

“Hush, child. Can’t you see we’re talking?”

“But Mom” John tried.

“Hush the both of you or I’ll spank you both!” They hurriedly closed their mouths, eyes wide from the threat.

“You see,” continued Barouk, “unless you’re looking for children. Are you looking for children?”

Lt. Cromley looked at the The trio standing by the front of the house, then turned a suspicious eye on Barouk.

“I heard there were more than two kids here. I was hoping to fill my quota before I headed back. You’re not hiding anything from me, are you?”

“Why no sir. You can search the house if you want. The barn’s right over there if you want to look in there too.”

Cromley looked at him hard. He was not one to be messed with, and he had a feeling that that was exactly what was happening. He could search the house and the barn, but if they were indeed hiding their boys they wouldn’t be anywhere near here. However he couldn’t prove either way whether he was being lied to or not, and he didn’t have the time to peruse this further. But he didn’t like it.

“Well if that’s the case, we’ll be moving on.” He looked around again, then said “You know hiding valuable soldiers is a crime. You and your family could be locked up for a very long time. Well not your kids. They would be sold into slavery.”

Tessa gasped and clutched her kids even tighter. Barouk id his best not to show any emotion at all.

“We’ll we don’t have any boys save the young ones over there, so I guess we have nothing to worry about.” He looked steadily at Cromley, giving nothing away.

Cromley studied him for a minute, then relented. “I guess you don’t we’ll be on our way. Sorry to trouble you.” He waved at the other soldiers and prepared to leave, then stopped short.

“What’s this?”

Everyone turned in the direction Cromley was looking, to see Martin crossing the field.

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