PART TWO: FIRST SURGE
By morning, it was still raining, although not as heavily as during the night. As Tui had predicted, the army's course was reversed, and the men began the muddy trek back to Vorti. No official word was passed to the soldiers about the reason for the change of plans, but rumors of Tsab's destruction had reached every ear.
Sor was in a grim mood, his attitude not helped by the weather or the fact that every inch of his body was cold and wet. With each sodden step, he wished more and more fervently that he had never agreed to join the army. Even images of Lea at her prettiest were beginning to pale before the fantasy of sitting by a blazing fire in his parents' house - warm, safe, and dry.
If there was one thing to be thankful for, it was that Fir was nowhere to be seen. Sor's current companion, Tui, was more amiable than the older man had been.
"So, have you got a girl back home?" asked Tui. Despite the weather, he was in a good mood. Most of the men in the militia relished the idea of going into battle; Sor didn't think Tui was one of them. Regardless of how he felt about fighting, though, Tui loved to talk. He would often ask a question, not really expecting an answer, just so he could launch into another of a seemingly endless supply of stories. Sor wondered how many of the other's exploits were fabricated.
"Sort of," replied Sor.
"I do," said Tui. "A real fine woman. Name of Eli. She's two years younger than me and works as a serving wench in the Drunk Doxy. My parents don't want me marrying her since she's from common stock, but she's fun to spend time with and she's great for a roll in the hay."
"You know, peasant born. Given my family's history - I told you my father's father was a Marquis - my parents want me marrying someone of similar distinction."
"The nobility's outlawed in Vorti," said Sor, aware he was stating the obvious.
"It is now, but how long can that last? Every year, we get closer to re-instating titles, and when the ban against classes is removed, those with pure bloodlines and traceable claims will be the first reinstated. That's why the woman I marry has to be descended from a respected family."
For some reason, this reasoning disturbed Sor. He had been brought up to believe the nobility had been banished forever, that Vorti would always remain classless. It came as a shock to meet someone who took it for granted that not only would the class barriers be re-instated, but it would happen sooner rather than later.
"Eli will have a big welcome home celebration for me tonight, if you know what I mean. Just the kind of thing a man needs after spending all this time in the cold and the wet. Almost makes the whole trip worthwhile."
"I'm not so sure," muttered Sor.
"So, what about you? Who do you have waiting for you?"
"No one in particular."
"A few minutes ago, you said you 'sort of' had someone. Do you or don't you?"
"Well, there is a girl I'm interested in - she's real pretty and all that - but she just thinks of me as a friend." He didn't know why he was telling Tui this. It was something he'd never confided to anyone. Whatever he said, though, he wouldn't reveal who the object of his affection was.
"So show her what she's missing."
"What do you mean by that?"
In rather graphic terms, Tui proceeded to tell Sor exactly what he meant. By the time he was finished, the younger boy's cheeks were red. Fortunately, his companion wasn't observant enough to notice.
"I don't think I could do that. I don't think I want to do that."
Tui shrugged. "Then find someone else. It's not as if there's a shortage of women in Vorti. Hell, most of them will probably do it for free. You can't get all hung up on love and that crap. It's not real. You can waste your whole life looking for the 'right woman.' What you've got to do is find someone who likes having fun, doesn't mind getting drunk, and will let you...you know. That's about the closest thing you're going to find to a perfect match."
"So, you don't believe in love?"
Tui laughed. "Depends on what you call love, I suppose. If you mean the physical act, then yes, I believe in it. If you mean the emotion that produces all those vacant stares and silly smiles, then no. The whole thing's overrated, anyhow. Why would any man in his right mind want to be in love?"
Sor didn't have an answer for that. "I don't know."
"You're in love with this woman, right?"
"I suppose so."
"And what good has it brought you? Happiness? Companionship? Even a little sex?" Without waiting for his companion to respond, Tui went on, "None of those, I'll wager. Misery, that's what love has meant for you. And that's my point. Having fun with a woman is one thing, but letting it get more serious than that... you've got to be out of your mind."
"So how do you fall out of love?" asked Sor.
Tui chuckled. "Damned if I know. You got yourself into this situation. It's up to you to get yourself out of it."
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