The bump of the horse over a pothole woke me up. Frederic and I were on our way to Wolf Castle, and this was our third leg of the trip. We stopped to camp twice now, each time right before the sun set, and we were up and on our way as soon as it rose again. It was hard going, but we took shifts napping in our saddles while the other lead both horses. I looked over at Frederic on his horse, his posture comfortable after many years in the saddle. Compared to me, who had only about a year of riding under my belt, the experience gap was huge, but we managed to make it work. I stretched my arms out. They were stiff from being in one position for a long time. Glancing around, I saw that we were still in the woods, so that meant that we were at least thirty to forty miles out from the main village. Wolf Castle was the masthead of the village of Mistwood. Mistwood was a pretty large community, but it was not spectacular either, so most people called it a village, but if a resident heard you calling Mistwood a village, you'd be hearing about it for a while.
Frederic looked over at me and smiled, his dimples exploding out of his face. "Nap time over?" I nodded, fighting a yawn that started to come out.
"Your lousy riding skills woke me up- the horses were complaining about your handling." We smiled at each other, though I swear I could see him anger just a little bit.
"Well, I was just thinking we should stop and feed and water the horses. Don't you agree? Then I could see your handling skills for the last part of our trip." I nodded, and we kept riding in comfortable silence until we came up to a natural ford, the last source of water before Mistwood's river. We dismounted.
I opened up one of my horse's saddlebags and took out our map of the surrounding area. We were at Shepherd's Ford, roughly thirty-one miles from Mistwood, as the crow flies. Adding in the twists and turns of the road, and we had a thirty-five-ish mile journey ahead of us. At the pace our horses were going now, we would need about five hours to make it there. I looked up at the sky. The sun was already past it's apex, and was on its way down. Looks like we still had time to make it to Wolf Castle, seeing as how we were expected by tomorrow afternoon either way. We could make it by nightfall if we kicked up the speed a little, maybe to a canter. I looked over to Frederic, who was busy trying to get my horse to drink from the river. A steady stream of curses swam over from his direction, and I couldn't help but smile at his frustration. No matter how well he could ride, he never could quite get an animal to trust him. It was sad, really. All those years of experience and he still can't get a horse he's been with for years to drink.
"Frederic, do you think we could push the horses a bit to make it to Mistwood by nightfall? I'd prefer to be within the village so we could have a good night's sleep before we start our formal training. We do have the coin to spare, right?"
Frederic nodded. "We have a few silvers to spare, and if we want a warm breakfast, we have the copper for that too."
"Well, if we can push to a canter, we can make it to an inn before nightfall, so we should saddle up and head out before we waste any more daylight." We gritted our teeth. Our buttocks were already sore from so much riding, it was a struggle to collect the courage to get back into the saddle. As I put the map away, I looked at the picture I brought with me. It was Frederic, his father, and I standing in front of Emanuel's home, all dressed in chainmail with swords out, all smiling like mad. It was the only picture I really cared about. After all, I considered Frederic and Emanuel more of a family that my adopted family. I'll make them both proud, I thought to myself as I hoisted myself up on my horse, and we pressed on.
The trip was uneventful, though we did pass by a traveler heading away from Mistwood. We exchanged hellos and news that we'd heard. Apparently Lord Kaerin was out for a few days, but we would begin receiving our instruction tomorrow regardless of that. According to him, there were "quite a few young hopefuls such as yourselves" gathering in Mistwood, and when we asked him where they were staying, he told us that he noticed everyone heading towards the castle like they were flies drawn to garbage. We smiled and thanked the traveler for the information and we parted ways.
When we arrived at Mistwood, it was close to nightfall. We had a good few minutes before sunset, so we still had to push to the castle on the sole hill in the middle of the village. As we got closer, I took in the grandness of Wolf Castle. It was a gigantic affair, with spires that seemed to be reaching for the heavens. I found myself in awe of this giant in front of me. It would take ten men my height to scale the walls, and I doubted that the guards would let anyone who was unwelcome get even remotely close.
The drawbridge was down, and the guards standing out front looked us over. The one closest to us stopped us.
"What are you two doing here?"
I took the liberty of responding. "We're here to begin our training, sir."
The guard looked at us like we were crazy. "Are you sure you meant the training camp taking place here? This is for those who are already familiar with fighting and basic soldiering."
"With all due respect sir, we really are here for the two year training course."
His face hardened. "You have my condolences. Get off your horses. Training began today at midday. You two can catch up with what everyone did by running the track over there." He motioned over to a well-worn path that we saw stretched around the castle and the surrounding gardens, our eyes bulging as we saw how much we had to run after traveling for so long.
"Where should we saddle our horses?"
"Well, you can head to an inn and drop off your horses and belongings first. Don't complain that I am not fair. But in exchange, you need to be back here in seven minutes. The nearest inn is roughly three minutes away if you canter, so you'll have to sprint to be back in time."
Our eyes widened.
He smiled a wicked smile, his eyes hard.
We turned our horses around and galloped away.
The guard turned to his partner guarding with him and said "I give them a week until they drop out." His partner simply nodded, looking at Frederic and I as we galloped as fast as we could to the nearest inn.