“I’ll be ‘aving none of it!” Mrs. Davies declared loudly, making a shooing motion with her hands. “I’ve tol’ you lot before, I ‘ave, my boy’ll not be goin’ off with you!”
“Madam, please be reasonable.” Sergeant Horgan replied calmly. “We know how difficult your son’s affliction can be on a family of modest means. We only wish to offer-”
“You only wish to take ‘im off on some fool’s errand to be doin’ your dirty work for you!” She cut the man off. Despite the dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep over the past several days, her ire had brought a fire to her gaze. “I’ve ‘eard what goes on the other side of that Rabbit ‘ole I ‘ave. Mad men that make the dead walk, ‘eaven ‘elp us all, and you lot gone traipsing right in the middle of it!”
“Enough, Mary.” Her husband interjected. He likewise was showing signs of severe exhaustion and stress, though his from working additional hours at the mill rather than tending to their son. “You’ve chased away every recruiter that’s come knocking on our door before they can even get a word in. We can at least hear what the man has to offer.” The tone of his voice belied his displeasure at the prospect, but to the sergeant’s keen ears, it also showed his desperation to how the situation had been unfolding. Not surprising given the circumstances; he’d seen this same story play out a dozen times already.
“Thank you, sir.” The sergeant replied, giving a polite nod before adjusting to address them both. “Now, I know the difficulty of your situation; those who have come down with the Fever of the horned variety are more common than you may think, and the challenges are shared by far more than just yourselves.”
Mrs. Davies just gave a “Hmph” and kept switching her glare between the sergeant and her husband as the former went on.
“Being able to fuel their ravenous appetite is not an easy task, both logistically and financially. Even after the Fever subsides when the change occurs, they’ll still need much more to keep them going than what the average work aday wage can afford. They can quite literally cause an entire family to be eaten out of house and home.” He paused for a moment here for dramatic effect to let that sink in. He had given this same speech plenty of times before, and knew exactly what pressure points to hit. “For those in service to the Crown, of course, this is not a concern. Her Majesty sees to the well being of those in service. Not to mention the bonus for enlistment can go quite far to assisting one’s family-”
“You think we’re about to just sell ‘im off?! ‘E’s our son!” Mrs. Davies interrupted again, no longer able to contain herself. “You don’t just go ‘andin’ off family for a bit of coin!”
“Mary, please.” Her husband tried to cut off a further tirade, turning to face her directly. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but the sergeant is right. We can’t keep this up. Even if he gets bette-”
“WHEN!” She wailed at him.
“When he gets better.” He corrected. “He’ll still be needing more than we can provide. This will at least keep him fed, and it’s good honest work, even if it is dangerous.”
“’E’s only sixteen!”
“Mum, enough, please.” Came a voice that was simultaneously deep and gruff as well as frail from the open window above them. A rattling and creaking could be heard inside the house, obvious by the sound that its timbers were not accustomed to handling the kind of weight being moved around. Along with this came several clumsy and heavy foot steps, making their way down the stairs and out to the front stoop to where the three adults stood. Emerging from the doorway was a young man that clearly looked to be in pain, half way through transforming into a troll. Rough patches of skin had formed all over, and horns had begun to sprout from his head. His limbs were not fully uniform in their growth yet, his right arm and left leg swollen up at least half again the size of their opposite limbs with new muscle and sinew, though the others were on their way. His mother attempted to usher him back in the house, but he waved her off.
“Mum, Dah, I appreciate your trying to keep me safe.” He continued in that same voice, with vocal cords that were just starting to stretch out to his new form, and fighting the weariness that was the toll taken on his body for his transformation. “But I can’t ask you to keep putting yourselfs out, not if there’s a chance for me to come out of this supporting myself.” He turned then to face the sergeant directly. “You can give me that chance, can’t you?”
The sergeant turned to his assistant with a hand extended, who then offered up a bag that jingled with coin. “If you sign the papers today, I can leave you with the sign-on bonus right now, and you can report for duty as soon as you are well enough to do so.”
The young man stood up as straight as he could and gave an awkward salute with an arm that was still a bit too big for his head. “For Queen and Country then.”
The sergeant re-seated his cap on his head as they turned away from the house, with the family turning to go back inside. The father struggled to help hold his son’s weight as he stumbled in, having been out of bed far too long already for his condition, and his mother wailing too much to be of any help. “Send word to the recruitment office,” He remarked to his assistant. “Let them know we’ve got another one, and get his papers filed right away.” As his assistant saluted and turned away to get the message written up, the sergeant smiled and spoke to himself. “Another troll will go a long way to filling my quota for the month.”