“Be swift about it, lad.” The Warden of the Houses places a folded piece of parchment in my hand. The wax seal is still soft. Father told me that I would have the best job, since I would be privy to the all the news the City has to tell, but so far all the messages I have taken are like this: closed shut, so that I cannot peek in, even if I wished to.
All the same, I bow and say “Yes, sir,” as I always do, and then I hurry along to the Citadel as I have been told. A part of me wishes to linger in the Houses a few moments more; it has become one of my favorite places on the Sixth Circle, for it is always full of people. Also, there are some kindly women here who seem to dote on me a great deal, although I do not say this to the other boys lest they think me some sort of coddled baby. Which I am not: I must keep brave and strong for my City, as Father said.
Father knows I can be brave when I have need of it, but Mother did not want me to stay here. She begged him to make me go with her and my sisters to the coast—she even wept, which frightened me, for Mother never cries—but Father stood firm, and said I could do what I liked, for I was a strong lad and must not be treated as a girl or an infant. Mother left one week ago, and I have not seen Father for nearly two days; his company guards the Second Circle, and I have heard that there is still much to prepare on the lower levels.
I make my way through the Sixth Circle, clutching the Warden’s message tightly. Most places are not so busy as the Houses; the City is so different now, and so quiet, as if the very walls were holding their breath. We boys are a company unto ourselves, and we can play in the streets as we please, with no one to scold us. At first we played at every free moment we could find: we explored the empty courtyards, ran footraces in the deserted alleys, peered in through the cracks between the boards that cover some of the windows. But now we do not play so much, or so loudly; after a while our shouts began to sound strange against the silence.
My footsteps echo as I go up to the Citadel. I do not mind that, for before the evacuations I had never much heard the noise of my own walking, and now I am still growing used to it. Tonight I will eat my supper with the other boys in the barracks, sitting in a row at the long tables there, with the soldiers and guardsmen all around. I used to pretend to be a warrior for Gondor with my friends, but now we are all proud to say that that is the one game for which we no longer have any use.