A long, low brick building lay next to the track that joined Spican Village to the long coast road to the west. Brown shields with two golden-hilted swords in cross sat above each entrance. Men and women wearing mail and brown tunics came and went from this building, all bearing arms. These were the Guard, the oldest militia in Timéaréska, spread all over the country and, unlike all the others, were comparatively passive, being more like a police force than a small army. They looked after hamlets and districts and organised the growing postal service, their age and relative cool-headedness affording them great responsibilities.
Sunset was the change of shift, and five young Guard members left the barracks, dusty and weary after a long day. The Horologe Canal lapped gently behind them, shadows of boats beginning to stretch forth. Some talked animatedly; others were quiet, pulling their cloaks close against the night or simply yawning. Again, there were no rank markings, an