They came through the Riddlemarch, as they always did, at the tail end of winter; enough had grown hungry by then to consider their offer. To see them in worn but warm clothing, riding instead of slogging through the muck, to smell venison or rabbit roasting on the spit over the fire of their camp on the village swards, and to think the dangers of the Grimdark were not so fearsome, perhaps, as the brutal chill and the gnawing hunger that was a fact of life on the borderlands.
Still, most would think once, twice, and turn their faces away from the men Lord Coalstar sent to recruit. There was a price to be paid when you took the coin, and the clothes, and the mount, and the food. There was a price that came with the plain, wicked-sharp sword, the bow of yew, the cold-iron mail. A price that, soon or late, would only be met when you breathed your last.
Many considered in the cold and the muck of the late Riddlemarch winter, but few consented.
Some, too young to consent, were given over to the lean, hollow-cheeked mean who wore the badge of Coalstar on their breastplates or tabards, and the red-gold coin was passed to a parent's grimy hand. Some cried; parents, children. But not often. The Riddlemarch was not a place that encouraged tears. And when Coalstar's men rode away with their new brother- or sister-to-be, not as many as you might think looked back on what they left, which was little enough. Yet few looked forward, either. What lay ahead was the Redoubt, and eventually, when they were deemed ready, the Grimdark.
Jorig was one such. Neither looking forward nor back, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the deep green woolen cloak of the man he was mounted behind, and pushed away his mother's face, and the sullen faces of his older brother and sister. Too, pushed away the words spoken by his mother when Coalstar's man had approached her.
"Aye, you c'n have him. This one thinks. Has dreams. No place for such a one here, innit? Takes him, an' I'll feed these two other posts with your lord's gold. For a time, at least."
And so it was done.
None had spoken to him, and none would until nightfall, when the camp was set.
Jorig was the only recruit that season.