The breakfast rush was over, the dishes had been taken care of and it was not yet time to start preparing for lunch. Not that lunch was very hectic anyway, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Paivi sat on the bench outside her little pub and stared out over the grey waters of the lake. She was sucking her old wooden pipe and cursed quietly now and then. In her hand she clutched the source of her frustration, a Letter from the King.

For the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Viller a Letter from the King meant only one thing, military service. Paivi had already completed here basic training nearly 15 years ago, but as all good citizens she was required to partake in Guard Duty every few years.

The kingdoms army was based on conscription and every healthy man and every healthy woman without children were required to do military service. No exception. Once the military service was completed a citizen of the kingdom could expect to be called to guard duty every three to five years. No exception.

Guard duty was, as the name implies, guarding the country from internal and external threats. If you got lucky, it could be the rather pleasant task of guarding the royal castle, or patrolling by boat the river Vil. If you were unlucky, like Paivi, you would end up in the Gotecan Hills, patrolling the border to the Republic, or as it was actually named, the United People’s Republic of Yggdras and Fuurland.

It wasn’t that The Republic was particularly hostile or that the guards were likely to be killed in action. It was just that the Gotecan Hills was a horrible place to be in for anyone who wasn't a sheep. Paivi had done her guard duty there twice before and she wasn’t pleased to have to do it a third time.

The Gotecan Hills were mostly uninhabited. The only people who lived there who weren’t tied to the army were sheepherders. Something in the ground or in the air caused the sheep to produce the best quality wool in the known world. The milk the sheep produced was also supposed to be extra healthy.

The worst thing about the region was the hills themselves. Patrolling, by foot, the border between the two nations meant constantly walking up or down the massive hills day in and day out. As far as Paivi remembered, it was constantly raining or about to start raining. She counted herself lucky not to have had to patrol the border during winter.

Normally guard service wouldn’t have been such a big deal. It was troublesome and inconvenient, but it wasn’t actually that bad. In fact it was pretty good to get out of the city and get some fresh air and exercise. She could leave her assistant to take care of the pub while she was gone. He was a bit of a nut job, but he could get some help from somewhere and it would have been fine.

Not this time though. As if it wasn’t enough that she’d have to leave the pub during the busiest month of the year, her assistant had been called in for Guard Duty as well. She’d have to close the pub down for an entire month.

That was bad. Her pub was a little bit out-of-the-way and she didn’t get that many customers to start with. Many were locals or regulars and would probably be back once she re-opened again. She still worried that they would find new haunts while she was gone though.

She served great steak and stout pies, the best in town some would say, but other than that the pub wasn’t that different from any of the thousands of other pubs in town. She was likely to lose customers over this. She didn’t know anyone else well enough to trust them with the running of the place while both she and Ali’ast were gone.

Ali’ast Slaneeth was her assistant. He’d been with her for nearly ten years now, which was almost as long as she’d owned the place. At first he’d just been a loud and slightly obnoxious customer who’d come in during the afternoons to talk or rant endlessly about whatever occupied his mind for the moment.

He’d ended up helping out behind the bar one night after Paivi herself had gotten hit over the head with a bottle when trying to break up a fight. It turned out he was a natural at keeping the pints coming and was soon a fixture at the place.

They were good friends but they weren’t a couple, though one could be excused for thinking so. Paivi kept telling herself she had no time for relationships and had no real interest in sex. Ali’ast had plenty of interest in sex but had a hard time maintaining a relationship. He was also one of those men who wouldn’t take a woman taller than he was. Paivi was well over a head taller than him, even without heels.

So they were friends and they had been so for ages. They ran the pub together and they were happy doing it. Paivi worried it would change though. She feared opening up the pub again in August when back from Guard Duty and find her regulars gone and not returning.

Paivi sucked one last time on the pipe, cursed her wicked luck and went back inside the pub. She nodded to the dark-skinned little man sweeping the floorboards and headed for the kitchen. Ali’ast yelled and cursed after her for walking with dirty boots across his newly cleaned floor and then proceeded to explain to their only customer what was so good about the milk from the sheep of the Gotecan Hills.

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