A Fine Training Opportunity
Baron Trendel strolled across the compound at a leisurely pace, his hands clenched behind his back, as he headed towards the first of his mornings’ visits. Each day, after breaking his fast and completing the usual exercise, cleaning duties and prayers, he made a point of visiting each training station to speak with the instructors and see how the current crop of Border Guard advanced students were withstanding the course. It was one thing to expect the various experienced Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants of the Border Guard to successfully complete the initial training Baron Trendel had driven them through, but it was quite another for a man fresh off a potato field or a masonry crew and only in uniform a few months or more. Even though these first true trainees were all supposed to be veterans of at least a year or more in the Border Guard, a year is a little enough thing when balanced against a lifetime as a professional soldier, such as the more senior men of the Guard had had under their belts for their time through the Grinder.
Still, Baron Trendel had as yet found little cause for complaint amongst the men. Even as he approached the first training station, where men strengthened their fighting arms by repeatedly attacking stout ironwood posts with heavy solid iron bars, he was reminded how different some of the men who volunteered for the Border Guards tended to be.
As Baron Trendel stopped beside the primary instructor for the pole practice, he watched the current crop of trainees as he spoke to the man beside him. “Good morning, Sergeant Willikens. I see the post for position three is looking a little worn again.”
The instructor glanced once at the man that had come up beside him, shifted the plug of tobacco he was chewing from one cheek to the other, spat a thick brown stream of juice at a small tan lizard that had chosen that moment to cross the hot sands between the Sergeant and Trendel, missing it by a wide margin, and then turned his attention back to the straining men swinging their bars at the posts. From the corner of his mouth, he spoke while keeping his body turned towards the men. “Aye, sir, I’d have to say it’ll have to be replaced either tonight or tomorrow. Give us a good excuse for a log run around the compound, not that we really need one. An excuse, that is.”
The Sergeant sounded like he was looking forward to putting the men through the log run. Baron Trendel had to restrain a smile as he remembered the results of the Sergeants’ first log run during the instructor training sessions. The sight of five senior men unused to working as a team doing menial labor, running around the compound carrying a trimmed fir log on their shoulders as they ran, each lead man peeling away from the group only to fall in again at the rear while at a run, and the many times the log fell to the ground accompanied by savage swearing and cursing was perhaps only funny to the watcher. And after you’d been through it enough times, you did tend to look forward to someone else getting the short end for a change. Still, the drill did its trick, although Baron Trendel often wondered whether its main purpose was to help build teamwork, or to ensure the men truly hated the instructor. A sudden thought struck him, and the urge to grin suddenly became hard to restrain.
“Well Sergeant, if one post needs to be replaced, then I’m sure they all do. And it wouldn’t do for only one team to enjoy the pleasures of a log run. Let’s see to it that everyone has their turn. Perhaps as a race?”
The Sergeant showed admirable poise for a moment, keeping his face utterly impassive, but he couldn’t control an involuntary swallow that sent a good amount of tobacco juice coursing down his gullet. He tried like hell to hold it, but doubled up coughing hoarsely, and spitting for all he was worth. The tobacco plug came out to fall in the sand, and Baron Trendel had to marvel that nothing else came up with it.
Straightening up, the Sergeant got a hold of himself and calmed back down. With a remarkable lack of glee, he replied “Well sir, that’s a mighty fine idea, but if we make them all do a log run when just the one post gets too beat up, won’t they all ease up on the work to save themselves the pain next time?”
Baron Trendel was already one jump ahead. “That would probably be the case, Sergeant, except that we’ll use more carrot than stick. Since the men typically aren’t good for much physically after a normal log run, why don’t we schedule the run for the morning, and make it a true race. The winning team gets liberty this weekend up at the Caer, so long as they stay together as a unit in the fortress, and after the race itself we’ll have a large outdoor cookout with roasts and a hog, and spend the rest of the day doing outdoor classroom work, instructing the men in theory and tactics, and give them a chance to heal up a bit.”
Sergeant Willikens seemed about ready to go along with the idea, but Trendel could see he was working it around the way a real field sergeant should, looking for the holes the men would surely find. The sergeant pulled out a doeskin tobacco pouch and got another good-sized plug going before he brought up his next point. “Well sir, I agree with you that a prize like that would certainly motivate the men to make a good run out of it, and if the plan is to do this every time the posts get too worn, then I’ll bet you’ll be seeing a hell of a lot more effort with them swinging them bars, too. But I have to wonder at the wisdom of setting a whole team of these fire-pissers loose in the big city for a whole weekend. The lot of ‘em ain’t got the sense Tyr gave an armadillo, and giving them an order to stick together has as much chance of actually working as a full whiskey jug has of making it from one end of the barracks to the other unopened.”
Both men stood silently for a moment out of respect as they continued to watch the cause of post three’s need for replacement. Curling Bryant, a huge man so covered with thick wiry hair that he seemed more bear than man, and arms easily as big around as a good sized tree trunk, swung his iron bar with deceptively slow-looking, cross-body strikes at the post. The entire post bent back from the force of each blow a good two feet before snapping back into place, and wood chips flew across the sand. The impact was so brutal that the shockwave felt like a physical slap across the face to the two men watching, and yet each time the massive hairy giant of a man just drew the bar back over his shoulder, and swung it around again, with no sign that he felt the impact or the shivering of the bar held in his ham-sized grip.
Baron Trendel replied to Sergeant Willikens’ latest verbal lunge with the killing thrust. “You’re absolutely right, Sergeant. Expecting the men to stick together as a team this early in their training is unrealistic. That’s why we’ll need each team’s primary instructor to run the log race with them. That way the instructor can earn the right to ride herd on his team during the liberty. You do still have primary command of 3rd Squad, don’t you?”
As Sergeant Willikens doubled up again in another sudden coughing fit, this time with the green of panic rising in his face, Trendel noticed a thin young man in the scarlet and yellow trimmed livery of Duke Arneghast trotting across the sand in his direction.
Baron Trendel called out to Sergeant Willikens over his shoulder as he went to meet the page halfway. “Carry on, Sergeant. You might want to get that cough looked at. Nasty sounding thing.”
The lad trotted right up to Trendel, clearly having sought out the tabard of dark blue with the gold trim and golden sunburst upon the breast that marked a Knight of the Order of Radiance. Still, no sense making unwarranted assumptions. “Are you looking for me, son?”
The young page stopped in front of Trendel, and drawing a huge breath, asked all in one go, “Do I have the honor of addressing Baron the Lord Terin Trendel, Knight of the Order of Radiance, Commandant of Doneghals’ Border Guard and Scout Academy?”
“Yes boy, you do indeed. Do you have something to tell me?”
The young boy, surely no more than 15 or 16 years old, shook his head no, as he reached into a deep leather shoulder bag with his left hand and drew out a thick parchment scroll, tightly wrapped with a yellow and red striped ribbon. “No, my lord, I’ve instead been instructed by my master to ask you to hold out the hand that bears the Signet of Mosley Vale, and to touch this scroll to the displayed ring.”