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Authors: David Fredric

Recruited Mage (9 page)

BOOK: Recruited Mage
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I got over to him, trying to block all the shots fired at me and I grabbed one of Donal’s arms and pulled him to his feet behind my shield. As I did so a shot hit in my left shoulder and my left arm went numb. I almost dropped the shield once again but Donal
regained his balance and I grabbed the shield with my now free right hand.

I ran for the last step half pulling and half dragging Donal behind me. Once again Donal was hit and so was I
, again in the shins, and the last few metres we half stumbled and half fell before we sat against the step panting. Everything seemed hazy and I had a splitting headache. Donal whimpered beside me panting harder but he stopped when he saw me looking at him, and scowled.

Then the
other boys came over the steps. They had arranged themselves into a shield wall that was two shields high and behind it they carried all the logs at once.

The shield wall came under waves of shots but it stayed strong and whenever a shot wen
t through a gap the boy did not drop out but kept going.

After
manoeuvring over the step behind us the wall easily made its way over to us and in less than half a minute the other boys were spread out beside us and thanking us for drawing attention away from them.

T
he last stretch was still there. However with a line that was to be our final target still there, we turned our attention back to it. The step we were behind was just under head height so we had to crouch, especially now that the boys with the crossbows were only metres away.

“Do we even need to keep going?” I asked Donal. “It is insane to go any further.”

“Of course we have to keep going it is only a few meters and if we charge them and stop them firing,” he said in a matter-of-fact way. “Then we can bring the logs at our own pace.” Donal went along the line once more telling everyone the plan.

I
n just a minute we were ready. Six of us were to run forward and stop the archers then everyone was to follow after with the logs. My heart beat was racing and everyone else looked wide eyed. To stop the archers being ready one boy, who had bravely volunteered, was to jump up opposite us and distract them.

The boy climbed up behind his shield and instantly came under a hail of shots and I felt sorry for him for a second before Donal finished a quick countdown and we climbed up.

On the top I saw that the archers were just metres away and were nearly all loading like we had hoped. As quickly as we could we sprinted forward with our shields help in front of us.

A shot hit my shield but there were no others and in seconds we reached the boys who had now lowered their crossbows to the floor and shuffled about avoid
ing our looks of annoyance when we started worrying about our injuries. The other boys quickly brought over the logs and a few engineers walked over to congratulate us.

“Well done to all of you,” said an Engineer
. “Those of you up here were good shots.” At this we stared at the boys who had been armed with the crossbows and they grimaced and looked at their feet. “But also to the rest of you of course, not many get all the way up. You all did well and especially you.” He said and pointed to Donal. “We saw you pulling everyone together, what is your name boy?”

“Donal
, Sir,” he said and the man nodded.

“Well done then Donal, I might mention you to some other people. In the meantime however you will stay with the rest of us. Whoever was using the crossbows will be coming with me. The rest of you can go with that man over there.” This time I he pointed to the other en
gineer who had walked a few metres away and was observing the hill we had just been going up.

At that the engineer took the rest of the boys away and we went o
ver to the other engineer. The Engineer ignored us for a few seconds and I started to think about our injuries again. I reached down and touched where the wooden balls had hit my shins, and winced as I felt where the bruises were forming.

There was a sudden bang in the distance that sounded like
thunder, which made us all jump. The bang was quickly followed by a few others, each one seemed to be echoing around. I decided that the sound was coming from the opposite direction to where the compound was and peered through the tall pine trees even though I probably knew I would not see anything.

Whilst listening for
more of the bangs I heard a robin singing in the trees and I felt it was out of place against the loud bangs that were echoing through the entire hillside.

Event
ually the Engineer turned to us, “get climbing.” 

W
e paused, deeply confused. The Engineer gave us an exasperated look. “Do you see trees with red paint on?” The engineer asked and we looked around and saw a few metres away a group of about ten trees with red paint on them so we nodded, however we were still confused at his seemingly pointless question. “Then get climbing! They are all almost the same height and get as high as you can.” We finally understood and wanting to find the best tree to climb we ran to where the trees were and quickly made our choices of which ones to climb.

I chose a pine which, despite being one of the thinnest had branches which seemed to not only be far enough apart to climb between but close enough to easily climb from one to another. Also only one other boy chose to
climb my tree as well but thankfully I got to the tree first.

I reached up for the first branch and grabbed it before putting a leg in a hollow and pulling myself up. I pulled myself up to the branch but did not linger on it as it was, like most low branches
, quite thin and bent beneath me.

The next branches held my weight better
and did not move beneath. There was easily enough room to climb between them. I climbed a few more metres up before I came to a gap that I had not spotted from the ground. The gap was big enough for me to be able to stand on a branch and the next branch was above my head. The bark was clear of hollows and knots as well so I would not be able to support my feet. The next branch was high enough however that I could not pull myself up. I stood on the branch for a few seconds before realising that I would have to jump and would probably slip of and break my legs.
It’s not worth it.
I thought.

“Those of you that do not get above
the green marks on the tree, you will get a punishment,” said the Engineer and I saw that he was looking at me as he spoke. “You have to go for a
ten mile
run with a man on a horse following, making sure that if you stop you will be beaten. I hope you understand I am not joking.” I looked around and saw the green mark on my tree was about two metres above the gap and I swallowed.

I braced myself and, trying to keep as near to the tree trunk as possible I jumped up and pulled my arms over the top of the branch to pull myself up but suddenly I slipped back down onto the branch.

For the next try I stooped low and launched myself up and got my elbows up on to the branch but my legs were swinging precariously around. The bark on the branch dug into my arms through my shirt and I almost let go but straining with the effort I pulled myself further onto the branch that then started digging into my stomach.

I swung up my left leg and turned myself so I was lying on the branch and then, trying not to slip of
f, I swung my other leg up and with my legs shaking I slowly stood. Then I climbed up the next few branches, trying to tread as lightly and as close to the trunk as possible as the branches were getting perilously thin and a few almost snapped beneath me.

I reached the green mark on the trunk and congratulated myself sile
ntly. Then there was a crack beneath me and I looked down to see the other boy who had chosen to climb the tree had passed the gap and was coming up behind me.

Dam! I have to get out of his way so he can reach the mark.
I took a deep breath and continued up. Each branch was now only just thicker than my thumb so I stopped standing on the branches and wrapped my arms around the pine.

There was enough space beneath me for the other boy to reach the green mark and he did. The boy gave a whoop of joy which was loud and drew annoyed glances from everyone especially those who had not yet reached the green marks on their trees.

A minute later the branch beneath me started creaking and quickly moved to another branch. I was just in time as the branch gave way right at the trunk where I had been standing on it and it hung, swinging on a few green strands.

Soon the E
ngineer gave the order to climb down and I looked to see that, thankfully everyone had reached their mark. To start down the tree I slowly threaded myself between the branches that had seemed easy to get past but now blocked my way and I lost my footing several times and slipped.

When I reached the gap I had to pause to think it through. Should I slide down the trunk or lower myself from a branch until I almost reach the next branch and then drop the last few inches? I thought for a few more seconds then decided to lower myself down.

Spread slowly out along the branch that I had used to get up then steadily, I turned sideways so I was on my stomach with my legs dangling down. Then I grabbed as tightly as I could to the branch and slid of it so I was now suspended by my arms as planned only inches from the next branch.

I looked down and waited until I had stopped swinging and dropped down to the branch. I landed on the branch and almost slipped right out
of the tree but I flung my arms out and only just grabbed the trunk. I steadied myself, and then continued down to the ground to join those who had already climbed down and we waited for everyone else.

The E
ngineer ignored us again until the last boy joined us on the ground. “Well done I think, none of you failed to reach the marks so
none
of you are to be punished.” The Engineer said stressing the “
none”
too much, giving me the impression that he wanted it to be otherwise and I watched him closely as he said the next sentence. “You will now follow me to your next station for today.”

At that the engineer turned towards a path and started walking at a brisk pace down it. We followed behind him as quickly as we could, almost jogging to keep up with him.

As I followed everyone down the path I turned to see two more groups arriving at where we had just been. One at the bottom of the hill and one at the top.

We walked o
ut of the woods and down toward the compound that spread out in front of us and followed the Engineer to an open door. Through the door was a long corridor with another door at the far end, which was also open to the outside. All along the corridor were openings, out of which came the smells of cooking meat and herbs that made my stomach churn with hunger.

The E
ngineer walked forward along the corridor to an opening about half way along and he was passed a steaming bowl of what looked like potato soup, which he blissfully smelled. Presuming that the engineer meant us to do the same we walked up to the opening but the Engineer instead stepped in front of us and told us to go to the end one instead. We obeyed and walked over expecting to be passed a bowl of warm soup as well but to our shock we were given an apple instead.

I took mine with doubt.
Surely not just this? Just an apple
? I frowned and
I looked over the apple and saw that it was covered in bruises. We were lead outside to eat.

I bit into it and found that it was wet and soft and not at all a nice apple. I was still very hungry however and bit into the soggy and tasteless apple. I quickly finished the apple leaving only the
core, which was brown, and I dared not eat it.

The other boys had not eaten the cores like me and we stood awkwardly with the cores in our hands and a cold breeze seeming to strait through our leather tunics and our shirts.

The Engineer who had been standing inside, away from the wind ,now put his bowl onto a pile of dirty bowls by the door and addressed us.

“Now I hop
e you all had a satisfying meal,” he said.

I clenched my jaw and crossed my arms.
I bet you did.

“I certainly did. I am to explain to you how the food system works here; in the morning you do training and before midday you get a small meal.”

I don’t quit think an apple is a meal, even a small one.

“Then at the end of the day you will be given another meal so you can’t complain of ever being hungry. You have your first combat training now so follow me again.”

We followed him along another
path that ran around the far side of the far side of the compound. The path was well worn and led away towards the military camp. Once again on the surrounding hills I saw hundreds of boys like us in our uniforms.

The path joined to the road that we had come along when we fir
st arrived and we followed the Engineer along it.

All the carts along
the road had the emblem of the Emperor on them and had soldiers driving them.

The land on either side of the road between the compound and the army’s cam
p was open and spotted around it were groups of men doing various training exercises.

BOOK: Recruited Mage
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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