CHAPTER 18 - Marta

Ace’s team stood back as Corporal Lavall inspected their efforts, feeling pretty pleased with themselves. They’d had to hit as many as they could of a mixture of targets inside a set time.
“Very good throwing,” said the corporal. “No misses. But you could have hit more if you’d organised yourselves faster. You were a bit slow there, Ace, but I’ll let you off, as it’s full moon.”
Holland and Germany threw next, and they did well too. Ross gave his orders fast, and they only had a few misses. Will watched Olm and Beuk carefully, as he always did when they were near Jasan, watching for any sign, or even glance, between them. But there was nothing.
They’re just gang-thugs, he thought. Jasan’s probably someone important. He’s got all the skills. But it’s nice to know he’s not as good as the real thing.
He was feeling quite happy today. You just couldn’t feel miserable at full moon, and Ace was two days nearer the railway line.
“Come on then, Poland,” called the corporal, and Zoza’s team stepped forward confidently, and listened carefully as Zoza told each one what to aim for. He was slow about it, and they had quite a few misses, but they weren’t far off, and the corporal was very pleased with them. This team was improving, fast.
“Very good try, well done!” he smiled. “You can all buzz off now, and have a swim if you want to. Got to look your best for tonight!”

Jasan grabbed Will’s arm as everyone started moving, and pulled him aside.
“What’s going on?” he said.
“Don’t you know?” said Will. “I thought you knew everything. It’s full moon tonight. We can go and see the Tree. Touch him, and hear what he wants to say to us. What’s up, Jasan? You frightened?”
“Don’t use my name! Someone might hear.”
“It doesn’t sound dissimilar. And I’m not calling you by his name. I’d rather die. I think you ought to come and see the Tree. It might do you good.”
“Is it compulsory?”
“No,” said Will. “Now and then people make themselves scarce. Probably got something on their conscience and can’t handle it. But it’s unusual.”
At that moment, Will realised they mustn’t go. The sense of disappointment hit him like a punch, but they’d have to go forward together, and Jasan would soon work that one out.
“I’m not going near the thing,” said Jasan firmly.
“Suit yourself,” said Will. “Then neither will I. You’re less likely to be missed, then.”

Will and Jasan lingered longest in the pool, keeping out of the way as the others started rushing to get dressed. Then they followed behind. Everyone else had gone, the floor was wet and slippy, and all the towels were soaking.
“No, here’s a dry bit,” said Jasan. “I’ll make another one.”
He got dry, and threw the towel to Will, then started trying to comb his hair, wincing at all the knots.
Will laughed, and Jasan said crossly,
“Why do you have to have such long hair!”
“Oh, that’s a long story,” said Will. “Loud music, and a human called David, and freedom…nothing you’d understand.”
He fished in his pocket for the comb he’d started carrying around, and had his own hair neat long before Jasan had finished. But then the trumpets started, and Will’s face crumpled a bit with sadness.
“You really want this, don’t you? It means that much?”
“Oh, yes,” said Will quietly.
“Like I said,” sneered Jasan. “Pathetic.”
He turned a little too quickly, and slipped on the wet floor. Will reached out a hand to grasp his arm and steady him.
“Thanks,” said Jasan slowly. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“No problem. You’re still an elf, whatever else you are. That’s the sort of behaviour we expect, in the army.”

They wandered through the Southern Forest, not talking much. Jasan was trying to message his friend, and wondering why he couldn’t get through. It was as if there was some massive interference, tonight. Will was just being quiet, hoping against hope that the Tree would understand, and speak to him anyway. And he did, though his words were a bit frightening.
Not a leaf falls,” he said, “but I know of it.
What did that mean, Will wondered.
Maybe that he knows everything, he thought. And I’m sure he does. But there’s a sadness in those words. It’s nearly autumn. Maybe someone’s going to die.
He shivered, for the first time in months. It had gone cold, tonight. But that wasn’t why. It was a warning, he knew it was. There was grief ahead.

Ace had been travelling all night, watching the full moon rise and set, and thinking what he was missing back at Fjaerland, and he’d discovered that the Tree could reach you, wherever you were. That made him very joyful, because he didn’t feel so alone, and he’d felt full of energy, speeding through the trees alongside the road that led north from Selbu, until he came to another small town. Elvran, this one was called, and he looked around, hoping to see a railway track, but there was no sign of one. He wasn't there yet.
The road took a sharp turn west here, so it was time to leave it behind and head north across country. But now it was morning, there was a nip in the air, and he had to admit, he was very tired.
If they know about the railway line - and they probably do - they could be following me, he thought. I'll keep going for a bit. Too open, here.

The land was sloping gently down towards a river. There were fields, and a little red farmhouse, but there was forest covering the slope on the far side of the valley. All he had to do was cross the farm, and he could rest. He jumped a few fences, then found he was in a field with a cow in it. He’d never seen a cow so close before, and he approached it cautiously. After staring at it for a minute or so, he shook his head.
“I still think it was a wind-up,” he said.
He turned away, ready to jump the fence, when the cow let out a tremendous moo. Ace had never heard such a noise, and it startled him completely. He jumped badly, caught his ankle on the top rail of the fence, and crashed to the ground.
“Ow!” he screamed, for a moment in too much agony to move. Then, wincing with pain, he dragged himself upright, and straight away fell over.
“Oh rats, I don’t believe this! Now what am I going to do?”
He’d broken his leg.

He twisted a sliver of wood off the fence, and imagined it into a crutch. At least he could stand up, then. With a tremendous effort, that made his brow break into a sweat, he managed to move a few inches. With a baleful glare at the cow, he sat down on a stone, utterly dejected.
“It was all going so well!” he groaned. “At this rate I’ll never get home. I suppose Major Inari could organise some help…Will knows where I am, roughly, a surgeon could find me. But that’s really going to give the game away.”
He frowned, thinking. He wanted to know what Special Brigade were up to as much as Gran did.
“If I wait for it to heal by itself, how long will that take?”
He tried to remember. He’d broken his leg before, when he was about twelve. Two or three weeks, he thought, but then he’d been nice and warm in his bed, with Will keeping him company and Cory bringing him milk every single day. He could set the bone, he knew how to do that.
But I can’t splint it myself. And if I stay outside, without even a blanket, it’s just asking for pneumonia. I can’t handle this without some help.
He tried to reach Will, but Will was obviously still asleep.
Of course, thought Ace, morning after full moon, everyone sleeps in a bit.

Then he glanced up as he heard a sound he’d not heard for days, an engine. A yellow bus was grinding along the little valley road in low gear. It stopped outside the farmhouse, and a girl ran out, her long fair plaits jumping around on the top of her schoolbag. She climbed onto the bus, and it drove off.
With a thoughtful look on his face, Ace weighed up the distance to the farmhouse. About 500 metres.
It’ll probably take all day, he thought. But I can do it. OK, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot. But it’s better than sitting around waiting to be rescued. And this way, we still get to beat the geek.
He struggled to his feet, and a wave of pain flooded through him. But he just clenched his teeth and tried to ignore it.
“We’ll beat you,” he said defiantly. “There’s only one Ace Moseley.”

When Will woke up, he realised Ace wasn’t moving, and guessed he must be asleep, so he didn’t try to get through. Major Inari did, though. He’d been talking to Ace every day. He didn’t know him as well as Gran did, and was seriously worried at the thought of a first year tackling such a journey alone. But he didn’t get through either. A highly-experienced Signals officer, he knew by the slight pulse of delay that Ace was concentrating on something too hard to tune in immediately, so he broke off contact at once. The last thing he wanted to do was disturb him if he was doing something tricky.

“Katti! Kom hit!”
Marta ran across the yard, as the school bus trundled off again, but her cat didn’t come to her. He seemed to be sniffing something on the ground. Marta ran over, and bent to stroke him, but then stopped in amazement, and pushed the cat away.
“En alv!” she breathed. “Stakker, han er død!”
With a sad face, she bent down and picked Ace up, and carried him into the house. She went into her own bedroom and sat on the floor, with Ace in her lap. She stroked his face very gently with her finger tip, and nearly screamed when Ace shook his head and opened his eyes.
“Oh! Du er ikke død!”
“Pardon?” said Ace. “Oh, it’s you! Wonderful. I knew you’d help me. But of course, you’re Norwegian. This is going to be tricky.”
“Trikken?” said Marta, wondering why he was talking about trams. “Du er syk?”
“Sick?” said Ace. “Yes, I am. I’ve got a broken leg, look.”
Marta saw what he was showing her, how the bone was sticking out.
“Brukket bein!”
“Brukket? Does that mean broken? Yes, it’s brukket. Can you help me fix it?” he asked pleadingly.
She realised he was talking English, she’d started learning it at school, though she had no idea what he was saying. But she could see now that he was injured, and needed help. She laid him down gently on a rug, and fetched the smallest pair of scissors she could find.
“Oh, not my best jeans,” sighed Ace, but he knew it had to be done.
“Urgh, grøne blod!” said Marta, and Ace could guess that one.
“Yes, green blood. Don’t worry, it’s normal. Can you find a stick, and a bit of cloth?”
She looked blank at that. They smiled at each other, trying to understand. Ace mimed what he wanted to do, and Marta got it. She went out of the room, and came back with her mother’s first aid kit.
“Wonderful,” sighed Ace with relief. “You’re a brain, you are. Let’s have a look.”
By the time he’d made two splints and shrunk a bandage, Marta understood.
“Now for the nasty bit,” he said. “It might make me swear, this, so don’t listen.”
She was wrung with pity, watching the agony on his face as he pulled the bone round into its proper position and held it there.
“Go for it!” he panted, and nodded at her, and with nimble fingers she fitted the splints either side of his leg and bandaged them tightly.
“Oh, that’s better,” he sighed. He touched her hand, gratefully. “Thank you, thank you so much.”
“Så tapper,” breathed Marta. “Du er så tapper.”
She left the room again, and came back with a cushion, a little bowl of warm water and a scrap of sponge. She put the cushion behind his back, so he could sit up comfortably, then bathed his hands and face, washing away all the mud and blood and dust and sweat.
“Oh, that’s nice,” said Ace. “Oh, I could get used to this.”
She could tell by the tone of his voice that he liked it. Then they heard a voice calling Marta’s name, and Ace could see she was explaining that she’d have to go.
“I understand about mothers, and tea-time,” he smiled, and Marta scurried downstairs.

Ace leaned back against the cushion and tried Will again.
About time! said Will. Have you been asleep all day?
No…just not moving very fast.
What’s up?
Promise you won’t shout at me? I really don’t know how to say this, but, well, I’ve broken my leg.
Ach, you’re joking! Oh, Ace, how did you do that?
Something startled me, just at take-off. I didn’t clear a fence, and just crashed down. It was this cow, Will, it made a noise, like, mooo!
Did it? I didn’t know they did that.
Oh, good. If you didn’t know, it must be pretty secret information.
Never mind the cow, you half-wit. D’you want me to get them to send a surgeon? Or d’you want me to come?
said Ace, and explained what he’d done, and why.
Oh, I see, said Will. That’s not coincidence! You’re in the middle of nowhere, and you just happen to be stranded near the home of a girl who likes elves!
You reckon this has happened for a reason. Could be. Oh…! That makes sense, now!
What makes sense? You don’t, that’s for sure. Oh, do you mean something the Tree said? Well, I don’t know what more proof you need. If it’s meant to be, we just have to bear it. I’ll cope with the geek for an extra three weeks or so, and you’ll have to sit around being pampered by a beautiful girl.
You get all the fun,
said Ace.
I’m trying to think of an answer to that without any swear words in it, said Will, but I can’t think of one. D’you want me to tell Gran?
Yes, you’d better. He’s up to something, and it might affect his timing. And ask him what saw tapper means, will you? She keeps saying it.

Gran was definitely not impressed.
He’s held his own with Norway 1, distinguished himself in a real fight, escaped from Special Brigade - with your help - and you’re telling me he’s broken his leg because he was frightened by a cow!
He’d never seen one before!
said Will. Or heard one, either.
Never seen a cow? I don’t believe this. I’m going to tell Sergeant Olt to introduce some animal familiarisation into the training programme. I had no idea cities were getting that big. But you’re sure he’s in safe hands?
In the lap of luxury, with a slight language difficulty. He wants to know what saw tapper means.
Så tapper? Is that what she thinks of him? Well, you could tell him it means, ‘what a twit’ if you want a bit of fun. But actually, it means, ‘so brave’. And he must have been, too.
I know. He scarcely mentioned it, but it must have taken him all day to struggle to that farmhouse. Then a cat came after him, and he tried to go faster, and fell, and passed out. Then the next thing he knew, this Marta was looking after him.
Bless all Norwegian girls, they’re all darlings. Here’s another word you can tell him, I know he’ll want it because he’s got beautiful manners. Takk - it means, thank you.
Got that,
said Will. Where are you today, Gran?
Seville. It’s like an oven. But the remnants were joining in today, much better. It’s working.
That’s good. And when you get back, think how lovely and cold it’ll be here.
Mmm. First snow inside a month. Lovely.

Ace was very patiently trying to keep still, so the bone would have a good chance of healing cleanly. But he wasn’t bored, because he and Marta were having such good fun trying to understand each other. She’d brought him some food, tiny pieces of bread, cheese, cherry and apple. It looked very pretty, and Ace hated to disappoint her. How was he going to explain that one?
“Mat,” said Marta. “Legg i dere.”
“I can’t,” said Ace sadly. “It looks lovely, but elves don’t eat.”
“Eat?” said Marta. “Jeg kan si! ‘I get up, I eat my breakfast, I go school’!”
“Very good! I get up, I tear about the camp for a bit, I drink my breakfast,” said Ace hopefully. “Usually tea. Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it isn’t. And I like coffee, and coke, and beer, and I really, really like milk.”
“Melk? Liker du melk?”
“Ja,” said Ace, hoping that meant what he thought it did.
“Ku eller geit?”
“Jeg forstår ikke,” said Ace. “I don’t understand.”
Marta thought for a moment, then searched along a shelf for a book she used to love when she was little. It was full of pictures of farm animals. She pointed at a cow.
“Ku,” she said. “Geit.”
Ace looked, and reeled. A goat! Milk from goats! Whatever next?
“I’ve gone off cows,” he said. “Geit melk, ja, takk.”

Marta had to go to bed at nine o’clock, but Ace didn’t mind, he was tired out himself, and very sleepy, now he was full of milk. He managed to speak to Will again before he fell asleep.
Goats! he said. Can you believe it? Goat milk! And actually it’s very nice. Better than cow milk.
Are you delerious?
No, just tired.
You in a lot of pain?
Not now. It’s easing off. I’m all right, Will. Don’t worry.
Sleep well, old lad. Talk to you tomorrow.

Will smiled, and stretched, and brought his mind back to coping with reality. It wasn’t going to be over as soon as he’d hoped, he had to get used to the idea.
But why was I thinking it’d be over as soon as Ace got back? he thought. The whole point of all this is to find out what they’re up to, and we won’t know that till Jasan makes his move.
“D’you want some coffee?” Jasan asked him.
“What?” said Will, irritably. Ace never interrupted him when he was thinking. He just knew, somehow.
“I said, d’you want some coffee?” Jasan repeated, with a tolerant smile.
“OK,” said Will.
He didn’t notice the puzzled look Rose and Clover exchanged, he just wrapped himself up in his thoughts again.
If Ace gets back before anything happens, Gran could just order him to stay off camp until it does. Oh, I wish I knew what he wanted. He doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. He’s digging in, getting himself completely accepted. He’s waiting for something. But what?
“There you go,” said Jasan.
“Thanks,” said Will, making an effort. “Where are Fran and Peter?”
“Gone to look at the notice-board. They heard a rumour something interesting had gone up.”
“Oh, right,” said Will, knowing he ought to speculate what it might be, but he couldn’t bring himself to. Not with someone who despised everything they were doing here.

Jasan shrugged, and looked at Clover with a smile that seemed to say, What more can I do?’and wandered off to talk to Kiefer.
Will’s heart sank when Clover came and sat next to him.
Here we go again, he thought.
“Will, what’s the matter?” she asked. “You’re not yourself at all, lately. Not since Ace got back from that mission. Are you sulking ’cos he went and you didn’t?”
“No,” said Will, hopelessly. “But even if I was, d’you expect me to say, yes?”
“Something’s the matter. Have you and Ace had a row? You’ve hardly got a civil word for him.”
Will looked her in the eye. He wasn’t going to tell her, not against Gran’s orders, but he’d give her the answer if she had the logic to get it. She knew he didn’t tell lies.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong between me and Ace,” he said firmly.
But he could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn’t believe him.

Fran and Peter barged into the mess, with a crowd of other elves, all talking loudly and excitedly.
“It’s our camping trip!” said Peter. “Tents, and boats, and loads of nice stuff. We’re going miles off the mountain.”
“Wilderness survival,” said Fran. “And,” he added impressively, “you have to bring steel and leather. You know what that means!”
“Hey, that’s cool,” said Betch, joining them. “We get to make our own knives, at last?”
“That’s right. Corporal Lavall told me we have to get used to handling them before we start weapons training.”
Oh, this isn’t fair, thought Will. So many things we learn, Ace already knows, but this, that he needs probably more than anyone, he has to miss!

Will’s mind went back twelve years, to a winter when Ace had woken up from hibernating in tears, and wouldn’t speak about his dreams. It was then it had started, Will was sure of it. Ever since then he’d hated the very idea of knives, hating seeing them, talking about them, touching them. It was only a few weeks ago he’d even managed to make a penknife. How was he ever going to cope with a combat knife?
But that thought gave him pause.
Maybe it’s all for the best, he thought. If he’s not ready for this…he could have lost it in front of everyone, and lost their respect.
It helped a bit. He looked up, and realised with a start that he should have been concentrating, not getting lost in thought again. Droz was quizzing Jasan, and Jasan looked a bit at a loss.

“Are you saying you’ve never fought with a knife?” Droz was asking, in disbelief. “A good fighter like you?”
“ ’Course he hasn’t,” said Will, putting a hand on Jasan’s shoulder. “We fight with our fists in England. Not like some people, who arrived here with knives, and got them confiscated!”
“It was special, that knife,” said Droz forlornly. “My senior sprite gave it to me before he died, before our colony was scattered.”
“Maybe you’ll get it back, once we’re allowed to have them,” said Will.
“He will,” said Gran. “And I’ll get mine. Once they give the order to go armed, it will be returned to you.”
Jasan was looking pleased, and interested, and Will got the feeling it was genuine.
The real Ace wouldn’t have been looking very pleased, thought Will, watching him. So maybe you’re doing us a favour. I don’t know that I’m looking forward to sharing a tent with you, though. Not once you’ve got a knife.

In the morning, the elves gathered on the Concourse, talking loudly and checking their backpacks, full of all the things they’d been told to bring, and quite a lot that they hadn’t. Will was at the edge of the crowd, hoping Gran might get through to him before he left. If he didn’t, that was it until they got back. But Gran knew all about it, and had a particular instruction for Will.
Good morning, sir, smiled Will as he heard the general’s voice in his head. Where are you today?
Don’t ask,
he groaned. Cadiz! This is nearly Africa! I didn’t know such temperatures existed.
Why don’t you amalgamate all of Spain with Finland or somewhere?
Don’t tempt me. So, you’re off today, I know. Now listen, Will, you’ve got to keep your wits about you. People get talking on trips like this. Don’t let him blow his cover. If he does, he’ll cut his losses and run for it - but not before he’s killed you.
Oh, terrific,
said Will.
I know. So take care. How’s Ace?
Much better. Swanking about how much Norwegian he’s learning, and raving about goat’s milk.
Oh, goat’s milk,
sighed Gran enviously. It’s gorgeous. So rich and strong. He’ll get better quickly on that. Tell you what, Will, one day I’ll take you both camping in Herdalen and teach you how to milk goats.
said Will. I’d love to see where you come from.
We’ll do it,
said Gran. That’s a promise.

Sergeant Olt and Corporal Lavall came out of General Headquarters, looking cheerful, and led them all down to the beach.
“Four boats should be enough,” said the sergeant. “I know some of you can make engines, but we’ll stick to sail, today. Sails are very useful if you’re in danger of being seen. You just lower the mast, and hide under the sail. If you’ve made it a nice dingy colour, no-one will notice a thing.”
The sergeant allowed no rushing or competition. He showed them how to make the wooden sides fit together so they wouldn’t leak, how to raise a mast, and where to fit ropes so you could control your sail. This was new to Will, and he was fascinated, and quickly understood.
Sergeant Olt watched him work, so neat and skilful. He was looking a bit happier today. Like Clover, the sergeant had noticed something was wrong, though he couldn’t tell what. Ace seemed to have calmed down a bit recently, he wasn’t so quick to interrupt or voice his opinions, though the standard of his work had slipped a bit, too. Will just seemed unhappy.

“Corporal Lavall and I will sail the first two boats,” he said. The third he allotted to one of the Swedish elves, who came from the island of Koster, like Revebjelle, and was used to sailing. “You can take the fourth boat, Will. You’ve obviously got the hang of it.”
“Good for you!” said Jasan delightedly.
Will wished he wouldn’t. It was so insincere. He liked Jasan a lot better when he was being horrible. At least then, he was being himself.
But it was great fun sailing the boat, concentrating on wind direction, and currents, and the best angle for the sail.
Like maths that’s alive, he thought, as they jumped into the shallows on the far shore and pulled the boats aground.
“Lovely crossing,” said the sergeant. “When we come back, we’ll be sailing down the fjord, for a long way, and some more of you can have a go at the ropes. Now, we’re not going to light a fire. It’s not cold, you’d only do that at mid-day on a winter journey. Just have a drink of water, and we’ll be off. We have to head east, up this mountain. And you don’t know who lives there, or what dangers there might be. Zoza, what would be the safest route?”
“Through the canopy,” said Zoza firmly.
“Good. Meet up again once you’re past the tree line. Off you go.”

As they crossed the beach towards the forest, Will took his chance to try to speak to Ace.
Oh, it still works! said Ace, delighted. Two hundred miles apart and both off the mountain! How cool is that?
said Will. Oh, what a relief. I thought it’d still work, but you couldn’t be sure. What you up to?
Looking out of the window. Marta’s at school. I can see her parents, out on the farm. They don’t half work hard. But oh, I wish I was with you, Will, going up that mountain.
I know. But don’t get too stressed about it. It might be for the best. We have to make knives, Ace.

Ace went very quiet, but Will knew he was still tuned in. All the same, he was startled when Ace did finally speak.
You mean you’ve got to share a tent with the geek when he’s got a knife!
Yeah, that’s about it.
Now listen! You just keep your wits about you, d’you hear me!
That’s what Gran said. I don’t know what it is with you two. Honestly, you’d think I was always daydreaming or something.

Sergeant Olt knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t mention knives until the elves were far from home, getting tired, and daunted by the vast, rocky plateau where they were to spend the night. Here, they would listen to him, and no-one should get too excited.
“Knives are weapons. You fight with one, you may kill or be killed with one. This is serious, and not to be taken lightly. In the spring, you will start combat training, and weapons training. Everyone takes combat training. But weapons training is an honour, that will be taken away for foolish behaviour. If you show off, or mess about, or start fighting, you will be straight in detention. And for a second offence, you will be banned completely from weapons training. So if you’d rather learn fine art, with the fairies who aren’t doing weapons, you know what to do.”
It was all the sergeant could do not to laugh at their horrified faces. No-one would mess about after that. They never did.
“Now, you do not go about with a knife stuck in your belt, unless you’re
about to go into action,” the sergeant continued. “But you should be able to have it in your hand, ready to use, in two seconds, like this.”
In one swift movement, he pulled his own knife from his pocket, slipped it from its sheath and expanded it to the right size.
“The handle must be the width of your own hand, and the blade the length of your own hand, and neither too wide nor too thin. The sheath covers the blade only, and must be a perfect fit, neither too loose nor too tight. Steel and leather, you were told to bring. Get them out. You can make them now.”

A few of them had made knives before, and used them, but even Droz was overawed by the seriousness of the sergeant’s tone, and didn’t show off, just concentrated on doing a good job. When they’d finished, the sergeant checked each one carefully, insisting on corrections of the smallest mistakes.
“Good. You’ve done well. Now, the edge. With practice, you can get the edge right at the same time as changing the size. For now, I don’t want battle-sharpness, but I don’t want blunt, either. Somewhere in between. If you haven’t already put an edge on, do it now.”
Will already had, and glanced at Jasan. He was taking some edge off, by the look of it.
He’s doing a good job of looking as if he’s never done it before, he thought objectively.
“Now lay the blade lightly across your own hand,” said the sergeant quietly.
When they did that, about a quarter of them made their hands bleed.

“That’s what happens when you don’t listen!” said the sergeant. “That’s too sharp. Patch them up!” he added, patiently, and Will realised Jasan was one of them.
“Can you do it?” whispered Jasan.
“I’ve got a better chance than anyone else,” Will whispered back. “At least I know who you are. It might be all right, I’ve had a lot of practice at healing.”
But his first try didn’t work, and Will started to panic. If he couldn’t do it, they’d get some very awkward questions.
“Keep still!” he whispered fiercely. “You’re going to have to tell me what tree you really are.”
“Ash,” said Jasan.
Will took a deep breath, looked at Fran for inspiration, and tried again. It wasn’t neat, but the cut was healed.
“Get a move on, you two,” said the sergeant, amazed at how long it was taking them.
“Sorry, Sergeant,” said Will. “We’ve finished.”
“All right. From now on, you carry your knife all the time. And you practise, until it becomes part of you.”
He smiled then, at the serious young faces watching him.
“Some of you will carry the knife you made today to the end of your lives.”

Corporal Lavall took charge of pitching camp.
“You can make your tents now. In dangerous or unknown terrain, in circles around a fire. We’ll have two fires, as there are so many of us. It keeps the circles smaller.”
By the time they’d done that, it was getting dark. The corporal showed them how to light the fires so the smoke wouldn’t tower, using the same trick Ace had learned with Norway 1. Then he and the sergeant made themselves a tent and a fire between the two circles.
“Make sure you know who’s the youngest!” smiled the corporal, leaving them to it. “Goodnight!”

“Well, it’s not me,” said Wayne. “I’m the oldest.”
“Why does it matter?” said Kiefer.
“Youngest has to get up first and get the fire going,” said Gran. “You never listen, do you, Kiefer?”
“I do, sometimes. So who is it?”
Will realised Jasan wouldn’t know how old he was meant to be, so he shook his head, almost imperceptibly, knowing he’d be watching for a lead.
“Who’ve we got?” he said. “Sure it’s not you, Kiefer? You’re only twenty-one, aren’t you?”
“That’s what’s worrying me. Come on, any advance on April 10th, 1980?”
“It’s you, Kes!” laughed Droz.
“Same year, June,” Kes admitted.
“I’ll help you,” said Vin. “I’m only three days older. Nearly twins!”
Oh help, change the subject, quick! thought Will. “It shows,” he smiled at Vin. “But I didn’t know you were so young. You don’t seem it - you’ve been through so much.”
“Too true,” said Kes, stretching his arms. “Trees killed when we were only thirteen, and bullied into a refugee camp.”
“Is that where you met Droz?”
“Yes,” said Vin, with a grim smile. "He laid out three police the night they brought him in. By the time he led the break-out, we’d learned a lot. Like who was responsible for all the mess, and what to do about it.”
“Is that why you went to prison?” asked Kiefer.
“Sort of,” said Droz. “Might have got away with a warning if I hadn’t tried to knife one of Special Brigade, who was beating people’s heads in. I don’t know what judges are like this side, but in the east they’re all Parliament stooges. And Parliament looks after its own.”
“It’s not that bad yet,” said Ross. “But straws in the wind, you know? Last year, at the Hollow Hill near my home, the judge died. You’d have thought his assistant would have taken his place, a wise old fairy with years of experience. But the local envoy insisted on Parliament’s veto, and appointed a friend of his own. Conviction rate doubled overnight. Not too scrupulous about evidence, by the sound of it.”

Wayne got up and wandered off. It was how he coped when he couldn’t say what he really thought, and wasn’t in the mood for pretending. It was a good tactic. Made it look as though the conversation annoyed him, without actually having to stick up for Parliament.
Droz was one of the people who knew what Wayne was doing, and he backed him up superbly, casting a look of disgust at him as he departed.
“They’re revolting,” he spat. “Fingers everywhere. But we’ll get them. When the war comes…” he grinned, whipping his knife out just as fast as Sergeant Olt had done.
“Skill,” said Betch, practising himself. “Hope the war doesn’t come before I’ve learned to use this thing.”
They were all trying it now, and Jasan did too. He tried to do it slowly, but he wasn’t slow enough.
“Hey Ace, you’re fast!” said Alnus. “Where d’you learn that?”
“Just seems to come naturally,” said Jasan.
“Like leading,” said Will.
Their eyes locked, and Will’s were full of challenge. Thanks to his kind, Wayne had to spend his life pretending. Jasan could do a bit of pretending himself, however much it stuck in his throat.
“You going to lead us into battle?” he said, though only Jasan heard the taunt in his voice.
Jasan swallowed hard.
“You bet,” he said. “England 1 - all of it - marching to Wielkopolska and burning it to the ground.”
“Roll on the day,” sighed Droz happily. “Balkans will be with you.”
“And Spain, I hope,” said Alnus.
“Everyone will,” said Gran. “The whole army will rise up, and the people will follow, and we shall have a queen again.”
It was a solemn moment. No-one cheered or spoke. Then Kes and Vin filled everyone’s cups again, and they raised them, as a silent pledge.

“That was very clever,” said Jasan, as he and Will crawled into their tent, later on. “But don’t do it again.”
“No, I won’t,” said Will. “When I saw you like that, surrounded by your enemies, I almost felt sorry for you. I won’t be doing that again.”
As usual, once they were alone, Jasan stopped pretending, and that made it a bit easier.
“How’s your hand?” Will asked, as they took their boots off.
Jasan had a look.
“Still bleeding a bit.”
“I’ll have another go,” said Will. “It’ll look odd if anyone notices it’s not healed.”
Jasan held his hand out, and in the quietness, Will did a much better job.
“Thanks,” said Jasan. “You’re neat.”
“No problem,” said Will. “But come on, Jasan, loosen up, will you? How is he? Is he all right?”
“He’s all right. You’ll get him back. No-one’s beating him up for the fun of it. We’re not all thugs, you know.”
“Try telling Droz that.”
“He’s a thug himself! It’s not what side you’re on that makes you a thug or not. If you two were Special Brigade, he’d be a thug and you wouldn’t be.”
“Maybe,” said Will. “I do see what you mean. But what side you’re on does make a difference. Droz has changed, since he came here. If he found out who you really are, he wouldn’t kill you out of hand. But he would have done when he came.”
“His motive is still hatred, though. Hatred of Parliament.”
“Yes. True. But here he has the chance to learn a better way.”
“Oh, right,” sneered Jasan. “Like calling a human girl our queen. That’s what Gran wants. You’d think he’d have more pride, he’s big-headed enough.”
“He’s an odd character, I agree,” said Will. “But he’s Norwegian. They can’t forget that the first queen came from Norway, they feel it’s up to them to put that right again.”
“What a waste. You’ve got some good people here, and you’re all wasting your time. And what about you, Will Moseley? What’s your motive? Oh, but we know that, don’t we? Allies. Your precious humans.”
Will just looked at him, and looked away. There was more to it than that, now, but he wasn’t talking about that to Jasan.
“You will die for it,” said Jasan, in a matter-of-fact voice. “All of you. Just like those idiots in Immindingen.”
“So you know the name of the place. You’re the first person I’ve met who can remember it. Been there, have you?”
“Maybe. But it won’t be me who kills you. And I’m glad about that. I like you - you’re intelligent, and you don’t fuss.”
Then he rolled over, and laughed a bit.
“Oh, what’s the point worrying, anyway. We’re all under orders in the end. So tell me - how old am I supposed to be?”
“Twenty-seven,” said Will.
“Twenty-seven? It’s a long time since I was twenty-seven. Oh, well. I’m going to sleep. Get ready to pretend I don’t know how to navigate the wilderness or cross a glacier. Goodnight, Will.”
Will was astonished at the glimmer of humour in his voice, and amazed himself, too, by his own answer.
“You’ll cope,” he said. “Goodnight, Jasan.”

Will lay quietly for a long time before he tried to get through to Ace. His thoughts were in turmoil, he wanted to get them straightened out. They hadn’t blown Jasan’s cover, and Jasan hadn’t tried to knife him. Those were the things he’d been ready to cope with. But not this strange feeling that they’d slipped beneath each other’s guard. Somehow that felt like an even more dangerous thing.