Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”
He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.
Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.
Rumors spread that a force was being sent to counter Kraznir’s army which was thought to be assembling just outside Hagg Forest, too close to Siln to be ignored. Archers, crow bow wielders, horsemen and all varieties of wizards were to travel, forthwith.
Since I had no fighting skills and limited magic, I figured I would remain inside the castle grounds, but oh, no, that was not to be. An emissary from King Taden appeared in the barracks where I lived with a dozen other females late one evening. “Touchfire?” he called.
I rose and stood at attention, as dictated by protocol. The King commands you to prepare to join the battle force. Pack your bags and head to the stables.”
“But I’m useless! I’m just a trainee and a poor one at that!”
“Do as commanded or I have been instructed to remove you to the dungeons.” He waved his right hand and two heavily humungous soldiers entered.
I knew by their armor that they belonged to the King’s Guard, the mostly highly skilled soldiers in the kingdom. There was no way I could fight them and live, so I bowed my compliance. Once they were gone, I pulled my stuff-bag out from under my bed and shoved in clothes appropriate for travel: a heavy cape, a split-skirt, winter boots and two tops, one long-sleeved and one Sherpa-lined sweater.
The weather had turned while I was training. The days were chilly and the nights downright cold. I would need whatever protection my garments would provide.
I slung my bag over my shoulder and trundled to the stables. Ruthie was brushed, fed and saddled. I lashed my bag in place, then stood by her muzzle until instructed to mount.
We were all agitated, riders and mounts alike. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be a battle in which we died? Or would someone negotiate a treaty to stop a useless war? I prayed for the treaty. I didn’t want any more of my friends lost and I certainly didn’t want to die either.
The pounding of boots approached the doors. When I heard them coming, I thrust my shoulders back and stood at attention. Captain Nix, wearing his best blue uniform, strode in with a sneer signaling what he thought of his so-called army. “Well, well,” he snickered. “How can a bunch of misfits defeat Kraznir’s well-trained armies?” He stopped in front of a short, stubby scout named Will.
“I don’t know, sir,” he croaked.
Nix sauntered down the line of us, flicking dust of the shoulder of one, slapping the back of another, harassing each person he passed. Until he stood before me. Then he laughed. No, guffawed. A loud, deep, gaggle of sounds erupting from the bottom of his chest. “What good are you?”
I cast my eyes downward to show deference.
“I can do a little magic.”
Nix turned to a soldier standing behind him. “Check with the quartermaster. I don’t recall asking for someone who can do ‘a little magic’. I wanted a master magician.”
The soldier bowed so low that his chin would have touched his knees were it not for his armor strapped tightly to his chest. He turned without saluting and left.
We stood at attention while Nix paced in front of us. He fiddled with a harness on Athor’s horse, the saddle on Will’s and had just reached toward Ruthie, my trusted mount, when the soldier returned. I let out the breath I’d been holding. If Nix’s fingers had gotten any closer, Ruthie would have snapped them off. I would then have been executed as a traitor.
The soldier bowed. “She’s coming with us,” he said.
“By whose orders?”
“But she’s useless!”
“Taden says no other magicians are available. They’ve been dispersed to the outer villages for weeks now. All except for Old Oscar whose blind and this one. Taden says Oscar remains and this one goes.”