The Training Begins
Edgar woke the two boys up early the next morning at the rooster's cry, pushing aside their grogginess until their excitement for their new training kicked in and pushed their tired bodies toward the training field. The fort had the classic number of labyrinthine hallways and a damp jail cell or two--four tall towers capped the four corners of the fort (the two on the south side of the fort taller than those on the north side). The majority of the middle of the southern end of the fort was occupied by a large training field, used to rally troops (the small amount that the fort garrisoned) and store weapons and animals.
It was to this field that Edgar brought the two newest recruits. He pointed them in the right direction and went off to his own duty for the day.
"You two don't get into any trouble--don't get on Captain Breton's bad side, and Turnip--don't you sully the name Halfspent!"
"Sure, sure, Edgar, you don't have to be Dad," replied Turnip, showing his dislike of authority and obvious ability to handle things on his own.
They got there a bit early and joined the group of other recruits who were aimlessly fidgeting away the minutes before their first day of training. Most of the others were about the age of Hand and Turnip--the young age after childhood but right before adulthood. It was obvious that Hand and Turnip were the only ones who actually knew each other before they came to the Fort; the rest were sitting individually, twiddling thumbs, breaking sticks, pulling up grass, or hitting stones together. One lay on his back, looking at the sky and counting something on his fingers.
"Everyone looks really excited," whispered Hand to Turnip.
"Yeah, tell me about it. Hey--watch this," replied Turnip. He picked up a rock off the ground and threw it at one of the rocks that another recruit had been idly tossing in the air. The two rocks collided in mid-throw--one bounced back onto the chest of the girl throwing the rock, the other careened straight at the guy who seemed to be daydreaming in another planet. He caught the rock right before it hit him in the face, invisibly placing it on the ground next to him.
"HEYYY!" yelled the girl who had been tossing the rock, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Just breaking the monotony, that's all. Everyone looks like they're at a funeral."
"Well, considering..." Hand mumbled.
"I mean, come on, it's not like there's much we can do before our trainer gets here," said the girl.
"Ah, well, speaking of which," said Hand, noticing a tall, armored officer carrying his helmet in his hand coming out through the north door of the training yard with another man, equally arrayed, following him.
"New recruits, line up!" said the first officer, clearly and plainly, but not over-loudly. Everyone followed his instructions, in their own way. Hand and Turnip were the first two in line, followed by the girl Turnip had been fighting with, the odd array of other recruits standing in various levels of attention, and the daydreaming guy standing unbothered and aloof at the end of the line--as though he had still been lying on the ground but the world had re-oriented itself 90 degrees to accomodate for him.
"What do you think, Lieutenant Tanner?" said the man in charge to the main standing behind him.
"Seen worse, Captain," there seemed to be a sigh of relief from the hesitant line of "soldiers", "seen better, too, though." And everyone tensed up again.
"Well, whatever it is," continued the Captain, "you're the future of the Markland army. Or, at least, Markland army is your future. Make the best of it. My name is Captain Breton, but you can call me by my first name--Captain. This is Lieutenant Tanner, he will be your trainer until you get out onto the battlefield. I look forward to seeing you there."
He turned and walked off the field, back through the door he'd come in through, and disappeared behind when it closed. Lieutenant Tanner stood walked up and down the line, looking each recruit directly in the eyes before he walking to the next person in line. Sizing them up, it seemed. Some of the recruits wavered in their spot, some tried to stay fierce and determined, others didn't even give any care to the fact that they were being inspected. Nervously Hand surveyed the line, up and down, noticing how Tanner reacted to the different recruits, and how they reacted to him.
Finally he said, "Well, it looks like we've all got quite a bit of work ahead of us, and less and less time to do it in. Training begins every day an hour after sunrise and continues until we break for lunch. Afternoon training begins two hours after lunch and continues until dinner. There may be evening training sessions, so be prepared for those, too. From here on out, your time is no longer yours, it is the battalions. Any questions?"
Silence was the only answer. Tanner began explaining their physical tests during the day, running, jumping, carrying potato sacks around the fort: every day would begin and end with these soon-to-be torturous tasks. After that began the weaponry training sessions, usually finishing in time for lunch (although not always). When the sun got hottest in the early afternoon, the recruits had time for a siesta or brief nap--or, more likely, studying for the regular tests they had in micro- and macro- battle strategy that occupied the late afternoon. Their day closed the same way it opened, with strict drills and menial tasks, leaving the recruits ready for dinner by the time it came.
And, over the few weeks, the young adults came to know each other better; strengths, weaknesses, talents, personalities. Everyone became bonded together in the close ties brought by a pursuit of a common foe, knowing that the lives of their families depended on their sacrifices. And, when you're around the same group of people all day and all night, you're bound to get used to them.
Except for the "Daydreamer" as everyone called him now. He never spoke unless specifically spoken to (and asked to respond) and he never made an effort to get to know everyone. Katrina (the girl who Turnip had thrown a rock at the first day) more than made up for his silence, though, always causing a fuss around the barracks and pompously showing off the skills she had. Although, to give her credit, she certainly did have skills.
It was only a month before they saw Captain Breton again, although it was the first time they'd seen him since the first day of their training. And the news he brought wasn't positive.