With a satchel full of heavy supplies, Nuren made his way back towards the town gate. His stomach rumbled plaintively as he walked. He put one hand over his stomach, rubbing in a clockwise direction in an attempt to ease the hunger pangs. The soldier standing at the gate took notice of it and stopped Nuren from leaving town.
“Do you have all of your papers in order?” he asked.
“Papers?” Nuren repeated.
“You know, papers. Do you have that piece of paper that they’ve been giving to all the new recruits? It is this big and usually has directions scrawled on the back?” The soldier mimed a rectangular shape with his hands while balancing the spear in the bend of his arm. “Not that you would know that the untidy scrawl is supposed to be directions. Someone needs to send those idiots back to school to relearn how to write. Just because Gurein is a harsh taskmaster doesn’t give them the excuse to write like a child who knows no better.”
Nuren blinked and handed him the paper with the directions on it. “I don’t have a problem reading that. It seems quite clear to me.”
The soldier squinted at the paper. “It still looks like gibberish to me. It must be something in the Jiinalese blood that makes this look readable. Every Jiinalese book I’ve ever tried to read looks like the scribblings of a depraved mad man. No offence to you and your countrymen.”
“None taken,” Nuren replied. “I’m not too impressed with my people either. Things over there are so intolerable that they forced my mother to live here instead.”
“That sounds awful,” the soldier said. “Granted, if you were to ask me, Doval is a much better place than Jiinal.”
“You’re also biased towards your homeland. I can understand that. I’ve never lived in Jiinal, and yet I would still prefer it to this place. The stories my mother tells are so vivid that I can almost feel the sea breeze on my skin and taste the food.”
“She sounds like a good storyteller.” The soldier sounded almost envious of that. “I’m Lonhar, by the way. Private Lonhar Adruus.”
“Nuren,” Nuren said, extending his hand. Lonhar shook it.
“It is good to meet you. So, if you take this piece of paper to any of the food shops in town, they will give you something to eat. It will not be the greatest food, but it will at least be edible. Bread, cheese, water…you know, the basics.”
“It’s better than having to do a two-hour hike on an empty stomach. Thank you for your advice, Lonhar. I won’t forget your help.”
Lonhar rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. “Don’t thank me too much. It’s part of my job here.”
“This is your regular posting? I thought it was some kind of unusual punishment.”
Lonhar sighed and shook his head. “I’m not very good at soldiering. The army needs all kinds of people, so ones like me who are not good at fighting get stuck with these menial postings while those who are good at fighting get the prime positions.”
“That makes sense, but I suppose that’s of no comfort to you.”
“It’s not.” Lonhar sighed again. “My only real hope is that I do a good enough job to get a few promotions and merit a better menial position.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Maybe I will get to have a Quartermaster’s position when grouchy old Gurein retires, which should be some time in the next five years.”
“I wish you luck with that.” Nuren took back the piece of paper.
“Do you have any ambitions?” Lonhar asked.
“Not really,” Nuren said uncertainly. It was a complete lie, of course, but he could not very well tell some lowly Dovalian soldier about his goals.
“Oh, come off it. Everyone has them. Let’s start with something simple. What do you want out of your service to the army?”
“That seems easy enough to answer. To start with, I want to be able to send enough money home to my mother to keep her healthy.”
“Is she ill?” Lonhar asked, alarmed.
“No, no, but I would like to keep it that way if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, I do.”
“Second, I would like to get high up enough in the ranks to have some kind of power, but that could take at least a decade so I am not too concerned about it at the moment.”
“Maybe you should ask about officer training and work towards getting your own command posting,” Lonhar suggested. “That seems to be to be the best way to go about it.”
Nuren eyed Lonhar. “Are you sure that you are no good at soldiering? You seem to know a great deal about things.”
“My father and my grandfather and all the men in my family going back to before the Beginning of Days have been soldiers,” Lonhar said proudly. “In fact, my ancestor Kijilin was the right hand to the man who became the First Emperor of Doval.”
“Is that so?” Nuren tried his best not to look impressed. “Many people make claims like that to make themselves seem more important than they actually are.”
“I swear it to be the truth,” Lonhar said solemnly, raising his left hand. He balled his hand into a fist save for his pinkie finger which he raised upright. It was the common gesture for invoking Kal Kiterr the Wood Lord. It was not a gesture used lightly, implying that what was being spoken was the absolute honest truth.
“I can see that you mean what you say. I am impressed.”
“I wish it were otherwise; my lack of skill is a disappointment to my father. In truth, I would rather have been a historian like my great-great-grandfather’s brother was, but father will hear none of that.”
“At least you have a father with an opinion about your future. Not all people are so fortunate.”
“You’re right, of course, but it doesn’t make things any easier.”
“Cheer up, Lonhar,” Nuren said, experiencing an unusual sense of sympathy for the man he had been so angry at only hours earlier. “Should I ever become a powerful man I will have you transferred to be on my staff. Every warrior needs proper equipment after all.”
Lonhar looked startled and nearly dropped his spear. “You would do that for a complete stranger? All I have done for you is to tell you where to get food.”
“My mother tells me that my family has a proud military heritage. I am only too happy to help someone in a similar situation. It will not do to have your father disappointed in you. If my father was still alive, I would want him to be proud of my accomplishments.”
Lonhar looked at him, a shrewd expression crossing his face. “I know what you’re doing. You’re cultivating an alliance.”
“That, too,” Nuren agreed. “It never hurts to start early. Loyalty is stronger the earlier it begins.”
“Well, if you ever get what you want, I will be willing to enter your service.” He looked Nuren over. “I have a feeling that you’ll be a great soldier. It won’t take you long to get places in the ranks.”
“I’m certain you will gain your goal someday,” Nuren offered.
Lonhar snorted. “I’ve been a private in this army for the last four years and there has been no sign that my rank will change any time in the next four years. The pessimist in me thinks you’ll be a general by the time I get the rank I need to achieve my goal in life.”
Nuren made no reply to that but rubbed his stomach again as it growled at him.
Lonhar shook his head. “And here I am jabbering away at you when you would rather eat something. Go on then; go get something to eat. There will be plenty of time for talking another day.”
“Do recruits get leave at all from their training?”
“It’s necessary to keep the recruits focused on their studies, but yes. They get leave once in a while.”
“Then I’ll come here for my leave and we can talk more about the future. For now, though, I’ll go get some food before I pass out at your feet.”
Lonhar grinned. “It’s lucky for you I’m not a woman. All the girls in town I know would love it if you passed out at their feet.”
“There’s just no accounting for taste, now is there?”
Lonhar roared with laughter as Nuren grinned and went back into town.
The food stall Nuren stopped at had been more than glad to supply him with a basic meal. The owner’s daughter had batted her eyelashes at him as he waited for his food. Unsure what else to do, he tentatively smiled at her, earning him a wide, pleased smile in return. Her father came out of the back and handed her the bundle before scurrying back inside. She glanced back to see if he was occupied before she eased open the knot and slipped some smoked meats and a large chunk of apple inside before retying the knot and handing it to him. She winked, telling him that if he ever came back to Daenas Bluff that he should come and visit her again. Nuren thanked her and went on his way.
Perhaps Lonhar was right about the local women. They seem to like me or at the very least like how I look. The way that girl was talking made it sound as if she wanted a private visit. Strange that she would make that kind of offer in public. None of the girls in Shell Beach would’ve been so bold. Of course, if they’d ever been caught making the offer or following through on it there would have been no end to the trouble. The trader girls were safer and I would guess that they were far more willing to experiment with a foreigner. I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it or not but they certainly seemed to.
Food in hand, he went back to the gate. He noted with some disappointment that the shift had changed and a different young private was standing guard at the gate. He shook his head.
I’ll talk to him the next time I come to town.