Kei was asleep when the men came.
There were three of them in total, all wearing the same blue and black robes and traditional single-edged blades at their sides. When his father answered the door, they entered and dropped a sack of silver khama, the currency of Shai-Ryam, on the low kitchen table. It was a grim business, recruiting, for who wants to be the one to tear a boy from his family? The men knew the sorrow they would have to witness.
After a short procedure of business—the signing of a contract and the exchange of money—the father was sent to fetch the boy. His mother sat weeping in the corner during the entire wait. She had known this day would come, but it was still hard for her to let go. The three men stood uncomfortably near the door, speaking idly about irrelevant matters in hushed voices, attempting to ignore the woman’s grief.
The boy had been lying in the small cot near the window, but he had awoken when he heard the knocking. When his father slid open the door to the bedroom, he pretended again to be asleep. But his father roused him regardless, telling him to get dressed quickly and get his shoes ready. The six-year-old began to dress himself, but his father, in a strange, dazed fashion, pulled the shirt over his son’s head and helped him into his pants.
Kei normally would have insisted on dressing himself and stubbornly taken the clothing away from his father’s hands, but something in the man’s dark, sad eyes left him speechless. So his father dressed him.
He carried his worn shoes out into the kitchen, following closely behind his father’s thin frame, and he was nudged forward. The strangers greeted him politely. They each told him their names—noble names, he knew—and they addressed him by his own, common name. Nothing else was said for several minutes, until his father grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him toward the men. In alarm, he fought and struggled, scared in his confusion.
“Enough!” his father yelled, making Kei very still. “Get out of here! Go I tell you! Leave! We don’t want you anymore!”
His mother’s weeping increased in volume, making the boy’s hair stand on end. But it was his father’s words that hurt him. He looked at his mother, opening his mouth to speak, to get an explanation, but she could only shake her head and bite her tongue to keep from wailing.
Finally, the men pried Kei from his father’s arms and led him outside. The sound of the door shutting behind them reverberated in his ears, mingled with his mother’s choking sobs and the memory of his father’s last words to him. He no longer fought, no longer spoke, as they took him away.