By the time the sun had begun to peek above the horizon, Nuren had gotten quite a ways away from Shell Beach, losing sight of it an hour after down the road. Not that he had seen it well in the darkness once he’d passed the boundary marker on the edge of the village. He could still smell it, hear the few animals the villagers kept to supplement their fishing.
The animal sounds had faded into nothingness, and the scents of the evergreen forest masked the smells he was walking through. Pine needles crunched under his boots as he walked. He had visited these woods before, but that was only one time and a little more than a year ago under his mother’s supervision as part of a lesson in local geography. She hadn’t taken him all that far into the forest at the time. She’d said she didn’t see the point.
I suppose she’s thinking something different now, he thought, stopping to take a sip from his water skin. I doubt she ever thought I would join the army. I hope she suspects nothing. It will not do for her to suspect my motives. From what I’ve seen since I told her what I was going to do, she seems surprised but pleased at the same time. Those are reactions I can deal with.
Reflexively, he looked upwards. The tree canopy blocked his view of the sky. He couldn’t see the moon, but he could sense its presence in the back of his mind. It was comforting just knowing that the moon was up there.
He walked all morning, stopping only briefly to open up his packet of smoked fish to eat as he continued walking.
Shortly before noon, he came to the edge of the forest. On the horizon he could see the edge of the Great Basin Lake. It looked a lot closer than it was. Even if he walked all night, it would still take him until morning to get there. As the lake wasn’t his destination, he turned westward towards the town of Daenas Bluff. The headquarters for the northern division of the Dovalian army was stationed there with the training camp not too far away from it.
It’s believed that Daenas Bluff is one of the safest places in Doval after Wolf Rock and Summer Waters. No one has ever been able to prove or disprove it, and so life goes on based around what may well be a false belief. Nuren shook his head. I can see why they’d think what they do, but even so. Why pride yourself on something unproven?
With his belly full of fish, he kept walking, maintaining the steady pace from his early start.
If this were Jiinal perhaps more people would pay attention to me, regardless of who my parents are. Mother always seems so pleased that my legs are so long. I lived there for a long time and even I don’t understand why long legs are so fashionable. It’s not as though anyone can help how long their limbs are. The ridiculous fashions concocted to feed into that insanity are mind numbing. You may as well say that long necks are fashionable. He laughed. That seems like something the Zalites would do. They’re all crazy over there. I think I would like to meet one some day if only to see if what people say about them is true. I have a hard time imagining anyone with red hair.
Lost in thought, he didn’t notice that the sun had almost set until he tripped over three rocks in a row and a small shrub. He stopped, looking back at the offending shrub with a sour face.
Perhaps I should stop for the night, he thought, looking around him. No inns in sight and I don’t know this area well enough to know if there is one anywhere around here and if that hypothetical inn is close enough to continue walking.
All he could see in the area were grassy fields. The occasional shrub and a few rocks broke the stark landscape. There was nothing around that he could use as a shelter of any kind save for the knee high grass.
He set his satchel down and sat down on the ground, his legs crossed and his hands in his lap. I’m glad that my mother gave me that dagger before I left. Recruits aren’t supposed to bring weapons to training camp, but I wouldn’t feel safe out here tonight without one. He looked up at the thin sliver of silver hanging in the sky, surrounded by glittering stars. Moon, watch over my mother. Let her know I appreciate her thoughtfulness.
He reached into his pack and pulled out the thin blanket. He wrapped it around his shoulders, glad that the season was warm for that part of the country, even late at night. He took out some more of the dried fish and wolfed down a few pieces, discovering that he was starving. He forced himself to save a few pieces. There was no way for him to know just how long it would take to get to the camp the next day. It was always nice to have something to eat in the morning as well.
Let’s just hope that they give us something to eat after we get there. I don’t know how long I can go without even something simple to eat. Mother wasn’t able to have much food in the house, but we always had something.
He drank down the last of his water, pulled the blanket tight around him, lay down, and went to sleep.
Daenas Bluff was a medium sized town ringed by a tall wall made of clay bricks. It was the only town in Doval to have such fortifications. It was a small part of why the town claimed it was as safe as they said it was. Most Dovalians saw it as unnecessary, and they made many jokes about the wall, but never in front of anyone from that town. Doing so could get you badly hurt.
There was a very bored young man in the most basic Dovalian army uniform standing guard beside the gate, clutching his spear in front of him with both hands. He looked up blandly as Nuren approached. He looked him over, noting the recruit uniform.
“The recruitment office is at the end of the main street,” he said.
“Thank you,” Nuren replied, walking past without giving the soldier so much as a second look. It’s lucky for him I’m not the enemy. He shouldn’t have assumed that I’m friendly because I’m wearing a recruit’s uniform. For all he knows, I could well be a Jiinalese spy who killed a young Dovalian boy and stole his uniform to infiltrate the army. It’s also lucky for him I’m a lowly recruit and not his superior officer. I wouldn’t stand for that kind of laziness. I can’t think of a suitable punishment for that kind of slack behaviour but I’m sure one exists. Then again, perhaps this posting is a punishment for some previous offence.
The streets were hard packed dirt just like the ones in Shell Beach, though these had more right to the name. There were clear signs of maintenace. From the look of things, they were smoothed down not too long ago. Tidy houses and shops lined the street and people went about their business in a leisurely manner. No one gave him so much as a second look. It pleased him that he fit in with the Dovalians so well, but at the same time it made him furious.
These people are so complacent in their safe little town. They should question my presence, seeing if someone can vouch for my identity. If I ever get any real power in the army, these are things that are going to change.
The soldier’s directions were accurate; Nuren found the recruitment office with no trouble at all. It wasn’t busy. There was only one soldier on duty. He sat behind a desk, scribbling something down on a long sheet of paper with a quill made from a long hennas bird’s feather. That surprised Nuren a little. Those are quality quills and above that soldier’s pay grade. Either this army station is well supplied or that soldier is well connected.
Nuren cleared his throat to get the soldier’s attention. He ignored Nuren and continued to write for a few more moments. When he finally looked up, Nuren did not look happy.
“My apologies for the wait,” the soldier said. “My superiors in Summer Waters want these reports and they want them three days ago. There’s just no use in trying to give them any kind of explanation.”
“I can’t say that I understand your situation, but I would appreciate it if I could get this over with. It’s been a long trip.”
“Where did you come from? You’re obviously Jiinalese but if you’ve enrolled in this army, then you must have come from somewhere around here.”
“I lived in Shell Beach.”
The soldier nodded. “That’s not too far. At least you didn’t have to hike here all the way from Northwall.”
“Thank the Wood Lord for small blessings,” Nuren forced himself to say.
“So, then. I am Captain Rijad Falcorsi and I am what passes for the highest ranking officer in these parts. What is your name?”
“Nuren of Shell Beach.”
Rijad raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Nuren swallowed. “Yes, really. That is what my mother named me.”
“I thought the word nuren was an unflattering name to the Jiinalese.”
Inwardly, Nuren cursed. I’m being tested. Why else would I have run into quite possibly the only person in Doval to know anything about Jiinalese names?
Outwardly, Nuren shrugged. “I don’t know where you get your information from, but that’s untrue. My mother is Jiinalese; do you think she would have given me such a name?”
“I suppose not,” Rijad said with reluctance. “Is your father also Jiinalese?”
“I don’t know, I never met him. My mother tells me he died when I was very young. I never got to know him, and mother won’t talk much about him. Everything I know I know from comments she’s made over the course of my life.”
Rijad leaned forward slightly, his elbows up on the desk. “How did she react to news that her only child would be joining the army?”
“How did you know that I am an only child?”
“You didn’t mention any siblings. Most people do. You referred to it as your lifetime and not our lifetimes, which would have told me you had siblings.”
“As well you should be,” Rijad said. He sounded satisfied as he sat back in his chair. “You seem like a decent enough young man. You’re sixteen years old?”
“Good. I know whoever recruited you would have checked your age before giving you that uniform, but it never hurts to double check.”
“It certainly does not,” Nuren agreed, relaxing. I only just met this man and already I like him. He isn’t a personable man, but he seems more intelligent than the average. He bears closer watching.
“Let’s get you set up,” Rijad continued. He shuffled through a stack of papers with names written on them. “There are openings in the Fifth and Seventh companies. Do you have a preference?”
“That’s a strange question. Don’t commanders tell people where to go and expect their orders to be followed to the letter?”
“That is true; however, I believe in asking the opinions of those around me. If you know what your men are thinking, then you know better how to lead them. Some officers believe that order is best maintained with an iron fist. I believe that there’s a time and a place for such things, but you get more respect from your men if you know how to talk to them. Not as equals as that would destroy the chain of command, but if you treat them as human beings as well as subordinates you get better results.”
“That’s an interesting theory.”
Rijad shrugged. “It’s something that won’t work for everyone. Some just don’t have the personality or the people skills to be able to pull it off.”
“But you do.”
“It’s worked so far with excellent results.”
“I’m glad it works for you.”
“Now, will you answer my question?”
“I think I would be suited for the Seventh.”
Rijad raised an eyebrow. “Do you feel comfortable making that decision without asking what the Seventh does?”
“This is a training camp; as such, I imagine that the Seventh is no different from the other trainee companies.”
Rijad laughed at that, although why he thought it was so funny escaped Nuren.
“You are a strange one, Nuren. You’re right, however; the Seventh is just the same as the others. Most people would have chosen the Fifth.”
“Five has never been a lucky number to me.”
“Fair enough.” Rijad selected the sheet of paper with a large number seven at the top and scrawled Nuren’s name and village of origin at the bottom of the list of names. “Could you tell me your mother’s name?”
“Why is that necessary?”
“This is only a training camp, but we have known accidents to happen. Besides, one day you will graduate and move into the army. Should the unthinkable happen and you die while in service to His Honoured Majesty, someone will need to notify your next of kin. In this case, that would be your mother. While I doubt that a Jiinalese woman would be hard to find in a place as small as Shell Beach, often the people sent to deliver such messages only have names and dates and nothing specific about the deceased.”
“Her name is Keairen. She’s all I have for family.”
“My condolences,” Rijad said as he wrote the information. He took a smaller sheet of paper from a neat stack on the right-hand side of the desk and wrote a few things on it, and then he handed the paper to Nuren. “Welcome to the Dovalian army, Recruit Nuren. Take this to Quartermaster Lenuus in the building next door. He will make sure you get the supplies you need. Dismissed!”
Nuren saluted as best he could and then turned around smartly, leaving the building.
Nuren’s positive thoughts about Captain Rijad being an exemplary soldier were reinforced by his dealings with the Quartermaster. Corporal Gurein Lenuus was a short, round man with a sour disposition. He took one look at the sheet of paper Nuren handed him and barked out a series of orders to the group of privates who had the poor luck of being assigned there. As unhappy as they looked to be there, they knew their jobs. Nuren had his regulation supplies in very short order. He thanked the young men for their quick work, trying to see if Rijad’s theory was in the right place. Judging from the surprised but happy looks on the faces of the young men, it seemed to be.
One of the young privates handed him a slip of paper with directions written on it. He explained that these would take him to the training camp. Given how far it was out of town, it would take an hour or two of walking. Nuren sighed but thanked the young man and left, walking around the Quartermaster to avoid making the man angry.