Read Recruited Mage Online

Authors: David Fredric

Recruited Mage (6 page)

BOOK: Recruited Mage
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Now t
his is your first assessment,” he said before he was interrupted by Donal.

“What? Assessment? For what and why?” Donal spluttered out.

“Look, all will be explained; there was a change of plan that I will tell you about later. For now you have to do this. The man said there was no time for a full brief and this is all he told me; this is an explosive. It contains a large jar of fireshot powder and this.” He pointed to the string that had came from the bag. “This is a fuse.” We all looked at each other confused at what he meant. “A fuse is a special string that burns slowly along its length until it reaches the fireshot powder then it explodes it. You have to explode that bit of wall,” he pointed at the section of palisade. “As it explodes you will hide behind that barricade, which should shield you.” He then pointed to a small pile of wooden items. “You will use this to light it.” He pulled out a small stick with something black on the end. “When you strike it on this it will light.” He passed a block of something and the stick thing to Donal. Next he handed the explosive to Oldross, and said “call them a fire and block, now take the explosive and place it at the base of the wall, then unravel the fuse and bring the lose end back behind the barricade  and light it. Now go, the quicker the better! Run!” We obeyed and climbed into the hole, helping each other down. We ran to the section of Palisade and placed the explosive next to it. Then we quickly unravelled the fuse and brought the lose end of the fuse to the barricade. When we all were hunched down behind the barricade Donal struck the stick on the block and the end of the stick caught fire brightly. Donal then touched the fuse with the stick, sparks erupted from the fuse and the string started to burn, leaving no trace of the fuse behind. We were shaking with nerves; none of us had seen an explosion before. We peeped around the barricade, watching the fuse burn up towards the explosive.

Put your fingers in your ears this is going to be loud.

I quickly put my fingers in my ears and told the rest to do so. It was just in time before there was a huge bang and the ground shook. Earth was thrown past the barricade and high in the air. We all jumped in shock and my ears started ringing. There was a lot of acrid smoke burned my throat as the sound pierced my ears.

What could do that? I can’t stand this!
I peered around the barricade; there was a small hole where we had put the bomb but the palisade had gone. Then I realised that the palisade was all over the ground in the form of hundreds of splinters. I stood from beside the barricade and walked to the small hole in the ground. Donal, Oldross, and Rador joined me. We started coughing in the smoke and all that was said in the next minute was “Wow!” Suddenly Tain shouted for us to run to him and we did. Donal who was holding the burning stick, that seemed to have not got any smaller whilst it had been lit, put it out by sticking it in a puddle. The men were walking around the hole toward the gate. We helped each other out of the hole and presented ourselves in front of Tain who seemed a bit pleased. 

“Good.” He said. “Now that they have seen what you are like they would like to see you lot
doing something else. They want you to climb the main building to the top.” We looked at him to see if he was joking but he was not.

“Are you serious?” asked Rador and
Tain nodded.

“You will
have to work together,” said Tain, “or you probably won’t be able to do it. They are going to watch so try and do well. Now let us follow out.” We went around the hole to the gate, the men had already disappeared. As we were walking I started to think about what Tain had said.

What could he mean about an assessment and a change of plan? What is going to happen?

There was no time to ponder as we were already by the building. Now was the only time I had really looked at the building. In some places it was just the ground floor with a roof but the rest had another floor. Where the men were standing it was just the ground floor but after about ten metres another floor rose and on top of that was a small flagpole with the Emperor’s emblem on. “You all have to touch the flag pole.” Tain finished.

This is madness!

Why?
We looked at each other making sure we each had heard right.

Why? But we must not question their orders; who kno
ws what the punishments will be?
I could tell by each of our expressions all four of us where thinking the same thing.

One of the men shouted
“Go!” and we ran to the nearest wall. Donal had an idea and he told us to lift him onto our shoulders. We did and he managed to get on to the thatch from the position. Then he shouted for us to lift up Oldross and Rador and I lifted him up by supporting his feet. He found it very hard to balance and I almost dropped him a few times, but eventually Donal grabbed him and pulled him up. Next I lifted Rador a bit until he was grabbed by the other two and pulled on to the roof. Then I used a nook in the wall to balance on and stretched out my hands to the others who took my hands. Together they managed to pull me up onto the roof. Once we were all up we stood and walked carefully to the next wall. We tried the same again but it was much harder as the thatch was slippery and wet from the rain. It took us a few minutes before it was my turn to jump up to them. They caught me but were almost pulled off as they pulled me up. When we were all up we walked to the flagpole. There was a small trap door on the roof, which was most likely for accessing the flagpole. We all turned to the men on the ground and purposefully showed them as we touched the flag pole so there would be no doubts if we touched  it or not. It even looked like the men were impressed. Then we had the task of getting down, which was harder than we thought it would be. We had to lower each other one by one onto the slippery thatch and then onto the ground. We were all panting by the time we got to the bottom. We looked awkwardly at the men around us. I dared to think they were impressed but then I looked over at Tain and saw that he looked a bit sad.

Then one of the men
, wearing a blue cloak, stepped forward. “Well done, you have impressed us so I, Commander Beasley, graduate you  to Advanced Training” he said.

What? But we have only spent one day training?
Rador, Oldross, and Donal looked confused and I assumed I looked the same.

“If you are wandering why, it is because the Emperor has comma
nded that before we invade the Southern Kingdoms we will clear The Free Islands. The Engineers are to play a major part in the upcoming attacks so we must advance training immediately. Now go and get your kit, we are about to leave.” We paused, not really understanding what he meant and we looked expectantly at Tain who nodded at us. We took that to mean we had to go, so we walked toward the building.

“You think they are serious?” Donal whispered once we were out of hearing range.

“Well they must be,” Rador whispered back.

They have to be. Diryn?

Yes they must be. Just do what they say and everything will be all right.

I heard someone behind us and we turned
to see Tain coming after us. We kept walking until we reached the bedroom. We climbed up to our beds and packed all our kit into the travel bags that I noticed the others had as well. Tain had come in behind us and when we had packed our bags we went to him.

“I just wanted to say good luck and try your best. You are well suited for this role and you should do very well. Now go and maybe
I will see you all sometime. Ok?” He smiled sadly and showed us out of the Door. As we walked off we waved him goodbye then continued out to where the men were waiting. They called us to them, then we walked out of the compound to where three wagons were waiting. They were four-wheeled with roofs. There was a man waiting by the carts, tending to the horses; he looked up when he heard us, smiled and walked over, still looking at us.

“So they alright? Good!” The men nodded to him. “Ok the horses are ready so let’s go.” Then the man turned to us and smiled. “My name is Gannon you’re in the back wagon, come on bring your bags.” We followed Gannon to the back cart. The wagon had a material roof strung over a thin skeleton of metal. There was no sheet at the back as that was where you got in. We dropped our bags in then climbed up into the back
. Gannon to our surprise climbed in beside us. We heard a man get onto the front and we were off. We sat in silence for the first few minutes then Gannon started talking. “Well done you lot. It is quite an important job you’re doing and you will crush the enemies of the Emperor. The main part of the test was if you could stand the fireshot powder as most boys get scared out of their minds and that is no use, you boys however managed to take it in exceptionally well. Fireshot powder is quite expensive so it was a bit of a waste even though it was necessary.” We looked at Gannon, listening to what he was saying. “You will be doing an awful lot in training, and there is even thought of a show in the Grand Coliseum. I doubt many of you have been there before?” We all shook our heads, which I presumed meant that the others, like me had never been to the Capital. Gannon continued. “Well the Grand Coliseum is a huge open amphitheatre. There are huge gates for competitors to enter the arena which is
two hundred
metres across and the seats can sit
eighty thousand
people! Some of the new Engineers, well, you lot will apparently fight beasts “from another land” to show off your fighting skill. Now I can’t wait to see what they put in front of you lot but I can tell it will be amazing. Did you know I once saw men fight a Scarab! Do you know how utterly terrifying they are? They are like giant leaches but with legs. They apparently burrow underground and to eat they feed on whole herds of cows, I wander how they capture them?” The man paused for a moment, then continued. “It will take us only a few days to reach Rayne and there is nothing we need to do until then, although we could do some theory if you are interested. During the journey you can just relax all day long and also sleep. You lot must be so tired after all you have been through. You probably have not had a rest in the three, four or however many days since you were recruited. Tough luck on being chosen but you will get lots of glory on your return.” Gannon stopped talking and watched us weirdly for an hour before he eventually fell asleep. After a few more minutes we assured ourselves it was safe to talk.

“We are invading The Free Islands?” Donal said. “Well I su
ppose they should really as they are quite powerful. But haven’t there been about five invasions already?” I had barely heard about The Free Islands.

Rador replied, “yes but they all failed. Every I
sland is heavily fortified and every invasion has failed to take any of the fortified Islands of which there are about twenty. All they have taken are a few scrap Islands where all the captured trade ships are taken to be sold or broken down for materials.” Rador finished this with sigh, “no army could do it.”

“But why?”
Donal was now intrigued. “Surely they could be taken? Starved if not.”

Rador shook his head. “The cities are said to have huge fish pens withi
n the walls that can last the Islands indefinitely. It is also said they grow and eat a lot of seaweed. They could potentially last forever.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“My grandfather was a commander in the last invasion.”

I nodded,
he must have been told a lot.

I was about to ask about his grandfather but Donal cut in.
“But. What about an attack? Surely we could scale the walls or batter them down?” Donal asked, as if what Oldross had just said was stupid.

“There are three
reasons. The first is that the Islands have many natural defences; most of their coast is shear, vertical cliff. The second reason is the Islands are ringed all the way around with walls, with ballista or catapults on every tower. The beaches are covered in rocks stopping any siege equipment and there are some structures in the water to stop ships getting anywhere near. And if you thought that the ports were weak spots the harbours have huge walls in the water with double doors that only open if the other door is closed; a mechanical wonder. The third reason and probably the most important is they have the best defence.” Donal was captivated. “What?” he asked and Rador said nothing but Donal wanted to know. “
What?”
Rador shouted as loud as he dared. Rador looked up obviously not wanting to say and so he did not and we sat in unhappy silence, pondering what he had been going to say.
Why can’t he just say it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7
Road Block

 

 

The rest of the day passed very slowly in the cart, everyone was tired. There was almost no one using the road apart from a few traders. All there was to do was look out the back at the road receding behind us. Finally when the sun was setting we stopped. We were cold very quickly but all we had to do was unhitch the horses and string up a cover for them between three trees. Then we got back to the carts and were told to sleep. We took out our blankets and laid them out. Then we tried to ma
ke ourselves comfy and the others slowly drifted to sleep. I could not as I was busy thinking about the day.

We bar
ely arrived and now we are being taken somewhere else. Tain was nice and we probably will not see him again. I wish I were home at the Guild. I want to back. Why can’t I just leave? Why me?

You are just unlucky.

I flinched,
I will never get used to you doing that. Anyway why me? Why am I a mage? Why am I a mage? Why was I recruited and not the other hundred or so boys that passed Ormond?

You can’t do anything about it so stop worrying. And practice magic whilst you are at it.

You can’t tell me what to do.

No, but I can tell you what you should do.

Alright now go away.
I heard nothing more from Diryn so I got out my needle and tried to levitate it. It stubbornly did not move as I willed it to rise. As the night outside got deeper and deeper I still could not move it but then as I was nodding off I managed to raise it a millimetre and turn it around to face me.

I did that, all on my own.
I fell instantly asleep.

I woke the next morning with a large jolt. The sun was already in the sky and we were already on the move so I presumed
the cart going over a bump had waked me. I started to hear the other three talking to Gannon about how much food an army eats or something and I sat up to listen in but they stopped talking when they saw me.

“Morning Sam.” Oldross said. “We were just talking about the amount of men and money it is going to take for the great armies that our cities are churning out.” I nodded but I really wasn
’t interested. “Apparently the Barons have been saving grain for years. Well I think that is a good idea as if the little Risina is to produce ten lots of three hundred men; that is three thousand! Then think about how many other cities are going to pull together!”

That is actually a lot of people and as just one hundred of us ate about the size of three large sacks a day. For three hundred that is nine sacks; most of a small cart’s load. And there will be around one hundred thousand of us. Well it is not our problem and I think we shouldn’t think about it too much.

“Ok, that is interesting.” I replied. “But can we change the subject and talk about something useful.” Gannon who had been saying nothing sat forward.

“Yeah good point, we shouldn’
t worry about it. We should get…”

Suddenly the cart ground to a halt and we looked around questioningly. Gannon stuck his head out the back then hopped out. We heard him walk around to the front then quickly exchange words with the man. In a second Gannon was at the back again, he had a strange and exited look about him.

“Quick!” He said. “Everyone out, we have to do something important.” We climbed out as quickly as we could. “Someone is on the run from some soldiers. It is our duty to stop them so quick! Come!” He ran to the front wagon, which had a solid roof with us following closely behind. The wagon was pulled across the middle road and standing on top was Commander Beasley. He was holding a telescope to his eye.

“Quick up here, grab the spring bows.” He ordered without looking away from the telescope. Gannon quickly went to the bac
k of the cart and pulled out Tain’s four spring bows.

Why do they have them?
There was no time to think about that as the spring bows were passed to us and we climbed up a small ladder to the top of the wagon. Only now did I look and see we were at the top of a hill with the road straight out before us easily for a mile or two. Quite far away there was a man on horseback who seemed to be being chased by at least fifty mounted men.

“Town W
atch from Reanda, a small town a few miles forward. Now quick, load then lie down on your front.” We were passed bolts by the rest of the men who were now out of their wagons and standing around. Then I noticed they were being handed swords and when they got them they stood on either side of the wagon in a line that blocked the road completely. When we had loaded we lay down on the wagon and put the spring bows to our shoulders. The rider was closer now and I could see him better. He was wearing black with a cloak billowing behind him. As he rode even closer I saw that he was wearing some sort of mask and I could just make out a curved sword strapped to his side.

When he sees us he will just go through the trees!
I looked to either side of the road and saw that the trees were quite close together.
Still, I would try to get through the trees if I had a roadblock ahead of me and a squad of soldiers behind me.

Then I noticed there were strands of something across the gaps in the trees. The strands had big red thorns all along them.

Blood Thorn! now I would definitely hesitate; I do not want to prick myself again on a blood thorn.

Tell
me why?

I once pricked myself just once and was ill for the next week; apparently it would have been a lot worse is I hadn’t pulled it out immediately as Master Morrin said it had not fully injected the venom.

Commander Beasley climbed off the wagon, onto the road and walked a few metres in the direction of the rider, who was now barley two hundred metres away. The rider was riding flat out but now he saw the wagon and started to slow. The Reanda Town Watchmen however did not close the gap and they kept their distance. The man slowed his horse to a trot and stopped in front of Commander Beasley who was holding a sword in front of him. We all tensed and pressed our spring bows tighter to our shoulders. Nervousness ran through my body, making me shake. The man looked at our roadblock but it was hard to see where he was really looking through his mask, which I could now see was made of rough leather. The man drew a small curved bow and put an arrow to the string. Commander Beasley stepped back a pace and raised his sword into a defensive stance.

We are not going to have to shoot him are we
?
“Lay down your weapon!” One of the Town Watch shouted, and the rider turned his horse towards him. “You are surrounded and we
will
kill you.” The rider started laughing, loud and deep and slow.

“You are all doomed! You will all die by
the swords of my people.” The rider shouted. “There is no beating the true Emperor. He has the God of War and Wisdom on his side! He was chosen to choose and he chose her and she is behind him. He is unstoppable.” As he said the last word he turned toward Commander Beasley and drew the bowstring back and then he span his horse around to face Commander Beasley but before the rider could fire his bow, there was a twang and an arrow flew from just to my right. I saw it fly and before I knew what was happening ,with a low thud the bolt struck the man in the centre of his chest. The man flew backwards off his horse onto the road, landing with a thump. Blood started pooling around his body and he didn’t move. I looked to my right and saw Donal, now sitting up with no arrow in his spring bow. Donal swore loudly, I noticed he was deathly pale and was covered in sweat. I sat up next to him and wiped my brow as it was as covered in sweat as his.

Donal shot him!

Most of the Town Watch was crowded around the dead rider but a few were looking with weird expressions at Donal. Donal started sobbing then slowly the sobbing turned into to crying. I stood up and put my arm around him. All around us everyone was moving on; the Town Watch started carrying the body away and the rest of us started packing up to move on again. Before Donal could cry much more I helped him down from the top of the wagon and into our wagon. I sat next to Donal as he cried, eventually he just stopped and sat in silence. No one wanted to talk to him and everyone kept their distance and it was well into the afternoon before everyone got in and we were off again.

The rest of the day was solemn and we bar
ely talked. It started raining as the sun set; cold and relentless it kept me awake and it did not stop until late at night. I was too tired to practice magic and the water seemed to be making the inside of the wagon damp.

The next morning the sky was clear blue and there was no wind. The wagons were now sitting in a huge puddle of water and mud that came up to my ankles. With the help of a passing m
erchant, we managed to pull out the wagons. Very soon we were off again along the road. We had some bread and an apple each for our breakfast but nothing else. Gannon got some beef and even some milk in a wooden jug.

At about midday
we stopped in a small offset from the road. We clambered out and I jogged up and down the road a bit the stretch my legs and remove the cramp that had built up in my legs all morning. Donal still hadn’t recovered and did not join us when we sat talking about yesterday. All the men were shocked and explained that he was the first recruit to kill someone on the way to training and that it was usual to cry after killing for the first time. We then talked about how much an explosion certain amounts of fireshot powder can make, how a cart full of fireshot powder can easily flatten a medium sized city hall and how a barrel full can blow apart a reasonably sized stone wall. I was fascinated and listened carefully to everything they had to say. When we were on our way again Gannon talked about how to get those explosives to wherever they are needed. He then explained that of course it was our job apart from some rare occasions when they use a ballista or catapult to throw them over walls and other large buildings.

We passed a market in the afternoon but we didn’t stop. Late in the afternoon we came to the stop at a bridge that spanned a river that crossed paths with the road. We all climbed out apart from Donal who hung back. I turned back to get him.

“Come on, let’s go.” I said to him and the only answer I got was a no. We didn’t even know what we were doing. “Come,” I pleaded “
please!”
Donal looked at me then grumbled something spiteful and reluctantly climbed out.

We were told to stand on the edge of the bridge with only a tiny
stone wall between us and a two-metre plunge into the river and we wilfully obeyed. We were told that some tasks would require us to along very thin walkways and as a test of that we were to stand on the stone wall. We nodded nervously and balanced ourselves precariously on the wall, knowing that to fall would mean an icy cold plunge in the deep river that none of us wanted. Donal was frowning deeply and so lost his balance and almost fell in. Commander Beasley stepped in front of us with a grin.

“I guess none of you have really worked it out yet?” He said grinning even more. “None of you have washed in days.” I
realised that the river was where we were going to wash and they were going to push us. Donal noticed this at the same time as me and we tried to get down from the wall but the men had already rushed forward and now gave each of us a shove. We lost balance and tipped backwards and fell from the edge. Donal gave a cry of fear and my stomach felt like it had dropped to my toes. We hit the water with a crack less than a second later and I felt myself turning in the freezing water around me. The air was forced from my lungs but I bobbed up again a second later gasping for air. It was so cold I started shivering and Goosebumps appeared on my arms. I paddled until I had got a few more breaths into my lungs before swimming for the bank after Donal, who had already got a head start on me. The uniforms were very heavy in the water and I could barely keep from sinking and pull myself on to the bank. I was shivering so hard and all my strength seemed to have left me. Despite the cold I felt fresh and clean, but I struggled to get to my feet so just sat panting and rubbing my numb fingers. The men had run down to the bank and were now laughing hysterically and patting each other on the back. I looked across at Donal who lay on his front shivering violently. He turned to look at the same time and I grinned stupidly at him but his face held an angry look of hatred.

What? Oh yeah, I got him out the cart, ha!
I reached down to the water, got a handful of water and before Donal knew what I was doing I splashed it in his face. He jumped up suddenly and flew at me. I rolled out of the way and scrambled to my feet myself before bringing my fists up ready for him. He was steaming with anger and rushed at me. I dodged to one side but too early and he just turned towards me a bit and came smashing into my side. I was pushed back over a small log and tripped over backwards with Donal falling on to me. We were on a small slope and I tried to roll down it but Donal wouldn’t let go and we both rolled down about half a meter before scrambling to our feet. Donal barrelled into me again sending us both further down the slope and into the river. The water had the same shock as the first time and we both were shivering again instantly. Once we had pulled ourselves out again we sat panting heavily from the effort. Donal slowly started laughing and it built up to uncontrollable laughter. I started laughing too but stood to get towels that the men had brought for us to dry ourselves.

BOOK: Recruited Mage
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Shorelines by Chris Marais
Mariah's Prize by Miranda Jarrett
That Christmas Feeling by Catherine Palmer, Gail Gaymer Martin
Motocross Madness by Franklin W. Dixon
Replicant Night by K. W. Jeter
The Sinner by Margaret Mallory