Chapter 3

Ben sat against a tree with the twins and watched the First Quarter Bridge. Darkness had fallen about an hour ago and there was still no sign of General Faust Cooper.

“I'm cold.” Kore whimpered, huddling up to her brother.

“It's OK Kore. Captain Soldier will look after us, and General Whooper.” Leo hugged Kore.

“Oh I'm not a Captain.” Ben smiled. “Not yet anyway. I'm only a Cadet, like a trainee soldier.”

“So you aren't a real soldier?” Kore asked.

“Oh I'm a real soldier.” Ben assured her. “It takes a long time to be a good soldier like General Cooper. Any fool can run at someone wanting a fight but if you want to be a soldier you have to learn to do more than that. Look at me, I don't fight just now, I've no need to. I practice so I'll be able to look after people who aren't soldiers and that includes fighting, medicine, thinking, and believing.”

“Believing what?” Kore asked.

“Believing yourself.” Ben answered. “And believing that what you're doing and training for is right. Soldiers don't hurt people just to say they can, in fact every soldier I know would rather help someone than hurt them. That's why we become soldiers, to help people and to look after what we love; our families and our homes.”

“But what about the bad soldiers who killed my daddy? Didn't they want him to look after his family and his home?” Kore said.

“Kore hush. Captain Soldier is helping us, he's nice.” Leo told his sister. Ben recognised a very intelligent child in Leo. He knew that Ben was an Azorian soldier, he knew that his mother had warned them away from Azoria, therefore it must have been the Azorian army that posed a danger to his family. Despite that he believed the evidence of his own eyes, ears and sense and realised the War was over. He couldn't hear it, and small groups of soldiers didn't wander about in the woods in wartime, as Ben had pointed out. He knew that both him and his sister had no option but to trust Ben, as an adult and the only person who'd treated them with kindness since their mother had died. In his own, ten year old way, he was trying to keep the peace by not letting his curious sister offend the Azorian Soldier who'd promised to help them.

“Well they were bad soldiers Kore, you're right.” Ben nodded and smiled at Leo. “They were bad because they were told to be bad by a very, very wicked man who threatened their families if they didn't do the bad things he wanted. They felt very sorry after they'd done all those horrible things, so bad that they didn't want to be soldiers any more. They all moved away so this wicked lunatic wouldn't try and force them to do anything like that again. That left Azoria with no one to look after it except this wicked leader. That's when they started a new army, a nice army that wasn't scared of the leader and that wasn't scared to have him put in jail where he belongs. We learned from the mistakes the old army made so we won't let it happen again. The Azorian army today know the War was horrible and they all know it was wrong and should never have happened. They'll do anything to avoid it again.”

“See? I told you we were going to be OK Kore.” Leo told his sister and Ben felt like crying. How could he guarantee that? He honestly felt like fleeing at that very minute with these innocent kids and contacting his parents in Tibrae to get them there. “Look Sir, lights.” Leo pointed to the bridge and Ben got to his feet. It was Faust.

“Frigging paperwork.” The General cursed.

“Were Marx and Pape ... OK?” Ben asked in disgust. They didn't deserve to be OK in any manner, in Ben's opinion.

“Both on urban duties indefinitely thinking themselves very lucky not to be patrolling the out-plains. Umm nice hair-do Astrella.” Faust nodded at the leaves and flowers and twigs that Kore had decorated his head with. “Come on, it's getting cold out here.”

Ben secured the twins onto his horse and instructed Leo to keep tight hold of Kore seeing as the poor child was almost asleep due to sheer exhaustion.

“Sir where are we taking them?” Ben asked of Faust as they neared Azoria. “Sir?” He repeated when he got no immediate answer from the General.

“Ben there's only one place in Azoria that no one takes any notice of, that no one checks up on and who's population isn't accounted for as strictly as the rest of the city.” Faust turned round to see if his most trusted cadet was understanding him.

“By the stars Sir, surely you don't mean the Pit?”

“I do.”

“Sir we can't take them there! I agree they aren't policed at all and they're a law unto themselves but that's a reason not to take them in itself! Sir there are no children in the Pit!” Ben objected. The Pit was an area in the Third Quarter solely turned over to the gladiators, and their instructors, and the overseers of the arena. It was a ramshackle maze of squalid huts and stone sheds and was surrounded by a thirty foot, barbed topped wall and secured at it's only entrance by a twelve foot wide, solid iron, double gate that was locked by the overseers when the services of the Pit's occupants weren't required. “Sir they're kids! How the hell can they function in the Pit? It's sole purpose is to train gladiators and produce gladiators.”

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