Sam woke for the fourth time that night. He hadn’t been able to sleep soundly for some nights. His thoughts were racing. He couldn’t get the images of his new life out of his head. He had just completed the probationary stage and was now considered a full member of the academy, albeit as a new recruit. It had been a little over a month since he had met with Baron Maddox who assigned him to his posting. It had started off pleasantly enough, most of his time had been on introducing him and his peers to the weapons they were to use, learning for what qualities set a good weapon from a great one and how to find one best for each of them. Thrown in with some disciplinary rules and by the end of the first week, he had his own sword, selected to cater for his balance and strength. In the weeks since though, his teachers had showed him that the training to become a knight would be tough.
He had struggled to come to grips with the pace of things initially, which had later been revealed to test the resilience and attitudes of them towards their position. It helped their teachers work out who had what it took to work through it, and withdraw those that couldn’t. Sam had watched as many of the recruits packed their things and left the barracks. It was at this moment that he figured he must have shown his teachers some of the qualities it took to be in the academy.
He had formed bonds with some of the other new recruits. There was a sense of companionship between many of them, having each gone through the same process and experienced the same difficult trials together. Many were the same age as Sam, some they knew wouldn’t make it past the first semester’s exams. The bonds that were formed though often made a lasting impression on those that remained and it gave them the feeling of being a part of a unit and it helped develop the ability to work as a team and learning to look out for the man beside them.
As Sam’s teachers had said on his first day the lifestyle didn’t suit many applicants, what it did offer was friendship and the importance of adaptability. It was a harsh and strict life to lead and at such a young age, coping with the change to their way of life paved the way for some of the life skills they would need to make it in such a difficult world, for the time they were no longer a part of the academy.
The day after their induction had left Sam, along with many others, exhausted and physically drained. And every day from now on would be the same, until such a time that he learned to cope with it. Over time, the grueling regime and practice would become easier, though the exercising and the tactics and strategy development would continue to grow more complex, they could focus on the new developments as they came up. “You never stop learning” was one of the first things his masters had started drilling into him.
Each day began with breakfast at promptly seven o’clock. They were then divided up into their different classes where they would commence daily tuition of tactics and general strategic work, history, geography and of course practical studies, which was built around strengthening their muscles and working on their combat drills. In between all of this, were the mid-morning and lunch breaks.
Throughout the day, the classes would be monitored with teaching staff keeping an eye out on any potentially remarkable recruits. Strict behaviour checks were also employed both in and outside of the classroom, bed-checks, assignment tardiness and general observations were included to help judge a recruit’s placing in the academy. If there was a lack of discipline or dedication to their work, they would find themselves without a placement.
Dismissal wasn’t an unknown thing to them. Two recruits had been given orders for dismissal after they failed to complete the first two tactics reports based on worst-case scenarios for his tactics class. Sam enjoyed these classes and the work they involved, though there was often a lot of background work and significant amounts of time spent scratching at heads, Sam enjoyed that moment of coming up with a perfect solution and seeing it all fall into place as a coherent process of steps.
There was also the combat training and he’d learnt the basics of defense. It would be some time until they moved onto attacking, this was laying the foundation for the next phase of their fighting skills. Everyone had protested at the need for it, Captain Howell was quick to show them the importance of it though. In a drawn out duel with one of his associates, he had employed an entirely defensive approach to the fight, never once giving ground until finally, his opponent weary from his exertions, he mimicked a quick lunge to end the fight. While a less than tasteful method, it was successful and conserved his energy for when it counted. Sam and his class mates worked with each other in pairs with wooden practice swords. One would simulate attacks with their wooden swords while the other defended, at the sound of Howell’s call, they would swap over. It was basic and repetitive work, however it was necessary for building up their confidence and instilling the major fundamentals to fighting.
All in all, the academy life was one that most would taxing on their physical and mental states, leaving very little time for recruits to relax. After a while of course, the shock factor would lessen and practicality and common sense would begin to take prevalence, but not until some of the weaker students were weaned out.
On the off chance that he happened to find some relaxation time, Sam found his classmates weren’t very open to talking, not that he blamed them, with the constant strain the work had put on them they all seemed to spend their time out in the fresh air during the day or resting quietly in the warmth of their cabins.
“Reid and a few others seem to be decent enough, though” he said to himself. Reid was one of the recruits that he shared the cabin with. Ten recruits occupied each to begin with, as time went on space would open up. Howell had said numbers in the cabins usually halved, making it easier separate yourself from others when you needed to, though recruits moving between cabins seldom occurred. Once a recruit was firmly was assigned to a cabin, friendships would form and the academy had found in the past that dynamics of a group could alter for the worst if they weren’t careful. At the end of each fortnight, recruits were given a day off, primarily to study, for those that were up to date, it gave him time to talk with the other recruits, some of whom, without some of the pressure of classes and the watchful eyes of their instructors, took the opportunity to ask him about his home, Reid in particular, had been the most open.
Sam heard a light shuffling at the door, then the dull knocking from outside. “Come” he called. The door swung open, it was Sir Bryan, the battlemaster’s third in command. He was tasked with handing out orders from his superiors and delivering mail to cabins once a week. Once in battle, he would be tasked with managing the younger recruits, and was generally responsible for making their lives a little easier. He was a strong man as was customary for a man of his position, though he was getting on in his years. Sam estimated that he was approaching fifty.
This man was also his history teacher and he had already been placed in the man’s good books. Sam was slightly taller than him but whereas Sam looked slightly on the stocky side, Bryan was well-built, and obviously knew the secret, that many didn’t, between eating and keeping fit. “Yours and the rest of the boys’ orders for the coming week” Bryan said, pulling back the hood of his cloak, Bryan revealed a bound package and passed it to the boy.
It had rained constantly that week. Even in the short time it took from the main offices at the academy to the cabins, a person would be soaked. As Sam had the thought, Bryan moved towards the fireplace. it was positioned in the center along the left wall of the cabin. In such a well-protected area of the cabin the heat radiated throughout the cabin, keeping it warm and dry. Bryan rubbed his hands together briskly, trying to get the blood flowing again. The man cast a view around, ensuring that Sam was the only one in the cabin.
Sam knew that his cabin-mates had gone off for the evening to do their own thing. Some needed to visit one of their teachers about some extracurricular work, while the others spent the day celebrating passing their trials. Sam had been invited, of course, but he’d sustained an injury to his shoulder during the week while running one of the obstacle courses, he’d visited the infirmary quickly for a check-up and after a few minutes check-up the surgeon gave him the all-clear, telling him that apart from some serious bruising, he was fine. The surgeon simply told him to take it easy for a few days while the bruising dispelled and get as much of his outstanding work done.
Sam noticed now that Bryan was still standing by the fire, huddling up as closely as he could to get as warm as was possible. “Sir, could I ask a question?” Bryan looked up at the boy, taking off his gloves now to work his fingers, Sam knew it was something that he always did, every five or so cabins he’d stay a few minutes at one to dry himself off.
Now, he turned the apprentice with his gloves in hand trying to put them back on, “You just did…ask away my boy” he said after a moment’s silence as Sam realised it was a joke. One of the many reasons that Sam liked the man was his humour and his good nature. “I was just wondering what the orders were?” he asked the man. Bryan regarded the boy kindly.
He was a good lad in his opinion and already he had seen the enthusiasm in him and since the first day of the semester Bryan had done his best to guide Sam along the right paths. “Well if you really want to know, before you loosen that knot and find your letter.” He said pointing at the package now in Sam’s hands, “It’s just an indication as to whether or not you have passed the initial phase of your time here at the academy. Considering you’re still here, I’d say that’s a fairly good indication that you’re fine.” He informed the student.
“Very well, I guess I better sort these out and put them on everyone’s bunks” Sam said. Bryan, acknowledging that was his cue, bade farewell to the youngster and left the cabin so Sam could tend to his task. One by one, Sam placed the sorted letters and packages on each of his comrades’ bunk. Once that was done, he eased himself back onto his bed, rotated his shoulder slightly to keep the muscle warm so it didn’t seize up on him and started to read the letter.
To Samuel Rushdale,
I wish to congratulate you on your completion of the probationary trial period in your first year here at the academy. We look forward to seeing your progress through your tuition up until your graduation and thereafter. I as acting battlemaster of this academy, acknowledge your performance in your first month here, and grant you a position as a recruit in the King’s army. Make the most your time here, we expect the very best of you. The academy has also given you a week off school, use this as advantage to recover from any injuries or complete any outstanding work.
Sam smiled at the news. As Bryan had said, it was to be expected since he was still here, though Sam thought you could never be sure. It was the confirmation that he was now a part of the academy. He brushed his hand on his pants, water had seeped through the bound package and had dampened all of the letters, smudging a little of the writing in the process. “Rain will do that” Sam muttered to himself. The letter was everything that he was hoping for.
Sam could now look ahead to the prospect of becoming a knight. He had passed the time where a recruit was at their most vulnerable stage and he knew that few people left after this period as they were able to cope with the life and pressures here. Sam prepared for bed, and was soon fast asleep. Tomorrow he would write Eamonn about the news.
Eamonn had well and truly settled in to his life as a stable hand. He’d spent all of his time at the breeders situated two hours from the castle. The previous week had been stressful for. He’d been sent on his first job in the field as an assistant to his mentor, Lyverild. One of the villagers from a town further to the north had appeared in the early morning, informing them of a predicament involving disappearing livestock. This wasn’t exactly a regular job for people such as stable handlers. Seeing as how the man had already travelled for some time to reach them, he’d be spending even more time if he were to go onto Faraday. Lyverild had called Eamonn, insisting that he accompany her, putting it down to his need for experience and a real task was just what he needed.
Lyverild was an expert animal handler. She could see just from the way an animal’s tracks were formed as to the number and the health of the animals she was following. The one-on-one time it gave them would allow her to pass on some of her knowledge to track certain animals around the lands. Eamonn picked up these tips quickly. His time exploring the forest in Wildwood with Sam as well as his hunting ability held him in good stead. Without even knowing it, he’d picked up on many of the skills that Lyverild was now going through with him.
Initially, Lyverild had been hoping to take the horses with them, however the man cautioned her against it, “It’s a real problem for us, and we have hunters strong enough to deal with them.”
Eamonn was baffled by the statement and couldn’t understand why the villager couldn’t just take care of it. Nevertheless, he and Lyverild were on their way and a quick investigation at the village told them that a wolf had been stealing a chicken or two every night. Lyverild and Eamonn had been led to the spot and waited for the next attack. The villager was less than pleased, that was until Lyverild produced three gold coins, “I’ll buy the animals from you, now can I take care of this, please?”
The villager nodded vehemently as he inspected the coins, he couldn’t believe that the woman was handing over so much, just for a couple of chickens. After the second occurrence, Lyverild and Eamonn had waited some minutes before setting out to follow the animal. It wasn’t long before they were led directly to the animal’s hide.
Lyverild then lured the wolf out of its den, successfully caught the animal and set about relocating it and any of its family members. Eamonn had inquired at the time as to why they hadn’t simply removed the threat altogether, then he wished he hadn’t as Lyverild turned a withering gaze on him. “Just because it’s stealing the livestock doesn’t mean it deserves to die. Like us, the animal needs a way to survive, we’re often the trespasser in their homes, not the other way around,” she had told him.
Finally, they had returned to the breeding stables late afternoon the next day. Immediately, Eamonn had carried on with his tasks of repairing the saddlebag to one of the horses in the stalls he was in charge of. He’d taken a quick nap in his room before he tended to each of the animals in their care. Along with the general care for the animal, he had been looking after the rehabilitation of a young mare. The horse had taken a rather nasty fall and had bruised some of the tendons in one of her lower legs, forcing her to little more than a limping walk. Eamonn had taken on the project under the constant guidance of Lyverild, nursing the injured animal back to health, but today had been a very rewarding day. He had looked on as the horse broke into a canter, Eamonn smiled he watched the animal that he had cared for over the past month ran like she was born to.
With the excitement of the day gone, Eamonn relaxed in one of the recreation rooms, seated by the fire, he was busy making an adjustment to the last of the riding equipment for the mare, knowing that the mare would be back in her owner’s care in the morning. Lyverild had spent a lot of time working with him, teaching him how to look after and repair a horse’s equipment and was always on the lookout for something new or challenging for him to break up the boy’s day. The owner had come in late in the day, watching alongside Eamonn, telling him that he would be needing her back the following day. As his way of saying thanks, he invited Eamonn to take her for a run, and he and Lyverild had seized on the opportunity.
She was fast and Eamonn could feel the confidence coming back for the mare now that she was back to her best. He’d put her through her paces until Lyverild called him in to hand her over to her owner. “You ride her well,” Lyverild told Eamonn as he dismounted and handed over the reins.
Eamonn felt nothing but relief as the mare cantered away, fully recovered and happy once again. He thought about the satisfaction his job gave him and was beginning to feel glad that Maddox had sent him here. Although seeing the animals in his care leave saddened him, it showed that they had been successful in their efforts.
He was brought out of his day dream as he heard the calls of one of his fellow handlers struggling to calm an animal in one of the stalls. He dropped what he was doing and rushed across to assist, he noticed that it was one of those that belonged to the scouts. Small in stature but amazingly loyal creatures, he was a tall gelding and not in the mood for attention. His legs were long and well-muscled, giving way before the long sleek body. Though his mane and tail were ragged and unbrushed, he was remarkably striking for a horse. He snorted loudly, dancing nervously inside the pen. The gelding watched out of the corner of his eye as its rider was approaching, the dull blue and deep grey colours of the cloak, along with the quiver of arrows on their back, marked them as the King’s scout he was expecting.
Eamonn had never seen a horse react in this fashion, he knew them to be majestic runners, capable of moving extremely quietly as needed in a scout’s line of work. They were also known for their ability to run for long periods of time.
“Calm boy…settle down now” Eamonn crooned as he came to the anxious horse. He hoped that the peaceful tone of his voice would help settle it. Softly, he began to rub the horse’s long nose, looking into its large and intelligent eyes, repeating his words aloud. He grabbed an apple from the nearby bin and offered it to the horse. He struggled to control the sudden burst of laughter as the horse licked his hand trying to remove all traces of apple from it as it munched happily, bumping into him again as it looked to see if the strange boy had another apple for him.
Once again, Eamonn patted the horse’s soft muzzle, “Nothing to worry about, you’ll be okay.” Eamonn smiled up at his new found friend, a sense of satisfaction filled him. The horse, was now trying to burrow into one of his pockets, looking for another apple. The youth grinned back at the horse and handed him another of the juicy fruit from the bin.
“That was good work, my friend.” said a voice from behind him. He turned to see the man, nodding his head in recognition of the scout’s praise. “Thank you” he replied before continuing, “A wonderful horse that you have here, he must be able to run for miles” Eamonn said with a grin. Likewise, the man nodded in confirmation of the boy’s statement, “He sure can, I was out on a routine job, it had been some time since I’d brought him in for some care, now that I know the talent of the people here, I’ll be more likely to stop by in the future” the scout told him. Smiling again, the scout thanked the boy for his efforts, slipping the boy a couple of silver coins in the process and stood by his horse, speaking quietly with it. Looking down at the coins in his hand as he went back to his work, Eamonn thought that there certainly were some benefits to life in the stables.