Tish took to a stand and walked behind the lectern. “May I have each squad leader’s attention? Highland, Penvil, Tuton, and the two from Bronzescale?” She appeared somewhat saintly. Those in Macestar wore all white with light blue embroidery. Tish also wore a scarf about her head that partially hid her light blonde hair, an accessory common for priestesses of Eatha. “How many here are actually lacking knowledge in Violet Region dancing?”
Ten of them raised their hands. Tish counted them quickly with her finger bobbing gracefully about the air. A gentle smile resided on her face as she did so, adding to holy appearance. When she was finished, she gave a small nod.
“That’s two girls and eight boys. I see that Grimstone and Moontear are our biggest problems. Miss Fletch, I assume you can handle Mister Byers’ training yourself?” She took the tired wave from Mila as a yes. “Good. Nine left. So, my dear captains, I have a proposal. On Ninth Summer Satyrday, we should host a formal dance.”
There was a collective groan from the group, mostly from the girls. It was less than a week away and it was also their first day off. Many of them wanted to do their own celebrations centered around surviving their first week at Braytons. Others, mostly Peter and Basil, leaned forward in their seats with interest. Tish simply clicked her tongue and carried on.
“We’ll select our prospective dance partners by giving them mystery gifts.” She clasped her hands together and grinned mischievously. “Girls may give gifts to boys and boys may give gifts to girls. Wear the gift to the dance and use it as a way to find your partner. To make things even for the genders, we’ll open up the dance to everyone. We can all benefit from the experience of the older classes.
All gifts should be delivered to our squad room with the name of the recipient on them. We’ll deliver them out the Eighth Summer Triaday evening. That should give you enough time to sort out everything, yes? Now all of you stop making those faces this instant! This will be fun!”
Vincent stood up and tapped his knuckles against the table to get everyone’s attention. “Baron Squad agrees to Macestar’s proposal.”
Veximarl raised a hand. “Grimstone Squad feels as though they might be left out of said proposal.” He winced at his choice of phrasing. “Well, perhaps not all of Grimstone Squad. I simply have some concerns about a selection of our members.”
“Yeah,” quipped Alton. “A ‘selection’ of our members.” He held no worries that he would be fine. After all, he only needed to dance with Sybil. She wouldn’t want to deal with suitors, and keeping them away would get him some much-needed points. Alton raised his hand. “Grimstone Squad agrees to Macestar’s proposal.”
“We… W-we do not,” muttered Veximarl in a dejected manner.
“If no one gets you anything, Mister Tuton, I promise that I’ll teach you myself.” Tish flashed him a wider smile.
Looking off to the side out of embarrassment, Veximarl began to mutter again. “I suppose that Grimstone is open to accepting Macestar’s proposal.”
Sybil gave him a pat to the back of his hand. “I don’t know much about court dancing, but both me and Zaniyah will help you out whenever you need it.” Veximarl didn’t like being pitied, and the look was apparent on his face. “Think of it as practicing footwork. It’ll be good for your agility.”
“Moontear accepts this proposal!” Peter waved his hand around. He was abruptly yanked back down to his seat by the back of his tunic.
Emery spoke up as he shot a warning glare Peter’s way. “Moontear Squad will accept Macestar’s conditions as long as it doesn’t get in the way of our studies.”
Tish let out an excited giggle. “I’m certain it won’t be a bother at all! Ah, before I forget! If you haven’t figured it out, all gifts should be something easily worn and visible. It’ll make it easier for us to find each other.”
Upon a general agreement, Tish went to sit back down between her two squadmates. She was rather pleased with herself. Macestar was a group that prided themselves on aiding others, and that included finding solutions to possible conflicts before they arose. Also, matchmaking fell into her role as a Priestess of Eatha, but she chose to leave that part out.
The rest of the squires stretched out their limbs for the remainder of their break. Some disappeared, only to return after a few minutes. Sybil felt the occasional glance of someone on her back and ignored it. She couldn’t help but notice when someone was looking, it was one of the abilities of the sheath of her sword. She knew at all times exactly how many people were looking at her. It was an odd sensation that she was going to have to get used to.
Though there was one that hadn’t bothered to look away from her. She rotated in her seat and glared at the grinning Alton. “... What?”
“We could cheat. What do you want me to get you?” He put on his most charming smile and gave her a look over. “You look cute right now. Do you want a dress? Something that isn’t in squad colors?” She was appalled by the compliment. “We could go on a date to Tilrey, and I’ll pay for us to go on a shopping spree. Nice food, maybe spend the night?”
Sybil made a gagging noise as she turned away. She then pinched the bridge of her nose and dipped her head forward in an effort to ignore everyone. This was the position she kept until they had all settled back into their seats.
A young man was their next instructor. Remi Moss was the youngest knight at Braytons, claiming that he was twenty-four years old. There were few who bought that, as a rumor had spread among the first years that he had graduated from Braytons last spring. He was the emergency replacement after the Jewelclover knight had left before the exams began. With little time to prepare, he felt as though he had much to prove. Striding in with a set of fashionable glasses on his nose, he wore a fancy purple tunic that was somehow more outlandish than the uniforms his squires wore.
“Welcome to leadership.” Moss ran a hand through his perfectly coiffed hair. It was a faint blonde color that had an almost a greenish tint to it. “Being a warrior is one matter, but knights are expected to be a cut above the rest. The composure one carries must be an aura that commands respect, authority, and trust.
I teach lessons that pertain to such. Battle strategies, court style dueling, and the skills needed to rub shoulders with the army elites. But with this being your first official day at Braytons, we should take a break from book studies. Please break off into pairs. Today’s lesson will be about Haztooth Blitz.”
Haztooth Blitz was a board game involving a multicolored map with a hexagonal grid. Each player was given a set of different character tiles. A cavalry rider, a footman, an archer, a cleric, and a mage. Players could only have ten pieces and one fort at the start but could gain more by building forts in conquered areas. It was similar to chess if the players were allowed to construct their own teams.
The goal was to force the other player off the board by capturing their starting fort. Carefully selecting your starting army and first fort position were critical to winning. Baron Squad already had a clear advantage. Moss had them running drills as part of their free studies in the days leading up to the first official class.
This led to most of the squires frowning when Moss brought up the idea of playing the game. It seemed like he was eager to show off squad superiority early on. But despite the practice, only three members of Baron squad had skill in the game. Anais often struggled to get her pieces to move as a unit and selected them based on how much she liked their tokens.
Sybil, Alton, and Chickadee had no issues with the game. Two of them had Lydia’s lessons, and Alton had a tutor who taught him when he was a child. He also had Lydia berating him with unwanted advice. Zaniyah had never taken the lessons to heart, and Veximarl had never heard of the game before today. The two of them along with some others were rounded up by Moss so that they could learn the basics.
“We could play again.” Sybil gestured to the board in front of her. “And again, and again, and again.” She leaned back in her chair, folding her arms and grinning widely as she did so. “As long as you feel like being a loser, I’ll be around.”
Alton let out a growl. “You don’t even have clerics!” He tossed a glare at Lydia, who let out a low whistle. The boy should’ve listened to her.
“One does not need clerics when one does not get hit,” replied Sybil in a sage-like manner. She wagged her finger about the air, scolding him for his misplaced pride.
“One should stop cheating when one is being a dirty little cheater,” he snapped back.
Intrigued, Vincent stepped over and set a hand on Alton’s shoulder. “May I?” Alton stood up in disgust. He moved over to where Chickadee was playing a match against Chester while Vincent took his place.
Sybil shook her head, failing at hiding her smile as she did so. “It’s just a board game. I doubt this is how real battles actually work.” She began to reset the board with Vincent’s help. “Though Toval needs to stop repeating the basics that they teach beginners. He’ll never win against experienced players that way.”
She ignored Alton shooting a glare her way and selected her starting position. Vincent didn’t reply, following a nearly identical layout as Alton had used. Clerics and archers with a dash of footmen. Sybil preferred to stick with mages and cavalry herself. It was better to go in quick and hit them hard. Clerics were pointless.
“The boards in Carapace are easier to play with,” Vincent muttered as he moved his pieces about.
The ones they had at Starsons were designed using the modernized ruleset, which simplified much of the game by removing redundant rules. Moss stuck with the traditional Violet Region rules, much to his dismay. He moved one of his clerics forward with a heavy sigh.
“I feel inclined to tell you that Sir Grimhawk will be our instructor Martday morning,” he added.
“My mages cast fog over this region.” Sybil plucked some of her pieces from the board and set them temporarily off to the side. The Violet ruleset didn’t bother her, but she did prefer the boards they had in the core. “He said to wear full gear and to prepare rations. We already guessed that it was going to be another forced march. He did mention during the exam that we were supposed to do those regularly.”
Grimhawk had run part of the entrance exam for students from Dogfall and Starsons. Rather than the usual obstacle course, or skills test, he chose to have them run for four hours with all of their gear on. It wasn’t a pleasant experience that Sybil wished to go through again, and Grimhawk seemed like the type to prefer such a method of training.
“My squad will be riding there.” Vincent had his archers take an unclaimed region. “He said to dress as though we were marching to battle. Horses and mules are often used in times of war as transport.”
Sybil looked up at him as he tapped a finger against his temple. “I suppose there’s no point in hiding information from each other anymore. We are all allies here.”
“Of course we are, Miss Twist. Now let us continue our match.”
They fell quiet as their game became serious, with Vincent beating her by a slim margin after a long match. Sybil was annoyed by the loss, but it was at least more entertaining than rampaging over Alton’s sloppy playstyle. Vincent managed to whittle down her superior forces down slowly, and she was unable to break through his defenses.
Class finished with Moss giving them a list of books that he wanted them to start reading. Copies of them had already been placed on a bookshelf in the second-floor lounge. He also encouraged each member of the class to continue building upon their Haztooth Blitz skills. The squires feigned interest, but the majority of them were more interested in having lunch over getting back to studying.
Stretching out her arms, Zaniyah relished in being able to stand out in the sunlight. “Is this really what it’s going to be like? I thought it would be three straight years of combat training. This doesn’t feel all that different from Dogfall, except the classes are more boring and I’m getting this awesome tan.” She studied the back of her hands. The golden tint that had developed on them made her grin.
Veximarl enjoyed attending class. It meant that he wasn’t dying out in the sun. He was also less into tanning and more into blistering when it came to sunlight. “First-year squires are expected to focus on classwork until Eighth Winter.” He let out a sigh of contentment. Two months of this, and after that were missions that would take him all over the Gilded Region. That would mark an end to his physical torture.
Sybil couldn’t care about tans or missions. Everyone in her squad had separate afternoon schedules, and she was worried that the others might struggle with their work. “What’s everyone doing after this?”
“I think we get handed out to different squads, right?” Zaniyah bit her lip at the idea. It would be more fun if they could stick together. “Stonetoe says that I get stuck with him because I’m too smart to do anything other than axe fighting.” That wasn’t what he said, but she couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the specifics. “I’m supposed to spend the rest of the year beating up whoever is in the afternoon class.”
Mostly she was around because Stonetoe wanted to scare some of the third year squires into shape. When they weren’t on missions, their time was expected to be spent polishing up their sword skills. It would be their last chance to do so before they graduated in the spring.
The third years were the largest year at twenty-three squires. The majority had gotten in due to their noble parent’s influence, leading the entire group to slack off as a result. Stonetoe wanted to give them a taste of what the upcoming generation was like. Maybe then they would start to take combat lessons seriously.
Mulling over his own worries, Chickadee whispered a response to Sybil’s question. “Horsetalon.”. It was a second-year squad lead by Mordiern Pegasus. Due to the low number of mages that passed through the barracks, Sir Pegasus handled the mage lessons whenever he could.
“Musical lessons with Till again,” muttered Alton with disdain.
He let out an annoyed sigh. Till had told him that he had an excellent talent that should not be allowed to go to waste while he flitted about like a social butterfly. Alton argued that he had spent several years as a professional musician, and she said that meant nothing as long as he had no appreciation for the basics.
Veximarl beamed. “I will be venturing forth with Macestar Squad today. We will be at the ranch in order to assist an animal cleric with health checkups. Tomorrow, I will be attending Sir Moss’ extra lessons with Baron.” He didn’t care what he was assigned, as long as he didn’t have to do any physical labor.
“I think I’m with Moontear today? I need to double check.” Sybil couldn’t remember if she was with them or Bronzescale. Moontear did their training outside of the barracks, so hopefully, she’d be able to work with them today.
Zaniyah frowned. “I guess we really don’t do much as a squad.” Her frown increased. “But at least we have our breaks and evenings to talk and do stuff.”
Chickadee and Sybil agreed that it would be fine. Not like they’ll have to much trouble keeping up with those whom they shared a room with. They’ll be fine as long as they saw each other for some part of the day.
The three years had different morning schedules. Instead of classes, the second and third years spent their time preparing for missions or their individual squad studies. Breakfast times were staggered to accommodate for this. It was a similar situation for dinner, when different groups got out at different times. Several squads chose to just send one or two people to grab food for everyone and eat elsewhere as a result.
Lunch was the only time the entire barracks of squires, knights, and workers had an hour off together. A buffet of food was spread across a single table located on the far wall. Squires lined up somewhat orderly, but there was still some arguments on who got the last of particular dishes. There were also always one or two squires who would take handfuls of buns and start chucking them at those further back in line so they wouldn’t starve while waiting.
“Let’s make a new vow.” Sybil hung her head off to the side. “We should grab food during our class break and never have lunch here again.”
Chickadee waved at them to go back outside. “Stay.” He vanished out to the back of the building while they lingered about. After a few minutes, he showed up with a basket under his arm. Helping the kitchen prep food for the day as a morning chore did come with certain privileges, and being about to sneak out emergency rations was one of them.
They went to sit on the rampart, eating sandwiches and drinking bottles of tea. Veximarl had his feet over the edge of the wall and was looking over the courtyard. He gestured to the members of Moontear and Evan from Macestar as they entered the building near the forge.
“So the hunt for a date begins at the tailor’s,” muttered Veximarl. “Miss Maplehammer did specify that gifts had to be worn.”
Chickadee shook his head. “Measurements.”
Alton’s eyes lit up. “It would be perfectly normal to ask for help from the tailor if you were looking to buy an outfit for someone secretly.” He stroked his chin and nodded in appreciation of their efforts. “Interesting.”
“Only to perverts like yourself.” Sybil sneered before taking a heavy swig of her cold tea. “I doubt Miss Mandroux would give out that information to anyone who asked. Especially when it comes to guys like you.”
“Highland believes otherwise.” Alton gestured to the paladin looking nervously before slinking into the tailors. “Not so clean now, are you?” He snickered. It was only a matter of time the man would fall to temptation. Give a pent up paladin some freedom, and he was bound to go wild the first chance he got.
“No way!” Zaniyah fell to her knees and peeked over the side of the rampart. “I mean, he’s probably just doing courtesy gifts for all the girls in his squad… Right? Nothing to worry about?”
“I’d rather not spend my entire time here guessing who is going to hook up with who.” Sybil rolled her eyes at Alton gesturing between her and himself before giving her a wink. “I need to go put on my armor. I’m going to be back late since we’re going hunting. Don’t worry about saving me a portion for dinner. I’ll probably get something with them when I get back.”
“... Sometimes things like young love are important,” Zaniyah muttered to herself.
“It was clever for Miss Maplehammer to come up with the dance.” Veximarl waved a hand to Sybil to keep her from leaving. “A warning for you. Several of the second and third years may attempt to haze us over the coming weeks. Beware of any kindnesses they attempt to show up, as it may be a trap.”
“You’d think it would be easier to just challenge us to duels and beat us up,” she replied.
Veximarl preferred the opposite. “I assure you that Miss Maplehammer’s intentions were merely to stall any attempts by our upperclassmen.” He paused as a sense of dread overtook him. “The beating us up part would mark the end of the hazing ritual. The knights arrange a ‘War of the Years’ towards late autumn, where we are expected to compete against them directly.”
Zaniyah let out a laugh. “Well, that’s no fun. I’m already beating up all of third year by myself.”
Alton folded his arms at the thought. “I was told the second years were the stronger group.” He had heard rumors but didn’t bother to confirm them yet. “Be careful out there, alright, Twist?” She frowned at him. “... I can’t hope you’ll be safe?” She narrowed her eyes, and he raised his voice as a response. “Have a safe trip, Twist! I’ll miss you dearly! Look forward to seeing you when you get back!” He made a heart shape with his fingers as she turned her back to him.
Sybil quickly bid her goodbyes to everyone but Alton and left for the squadroom. She used her mist-step to render herself unseen, just in case someone chose to bother her while she moved about the barracks. It was good to say goodbye to the dress and wear her armor again. Darkly colored, hid her figure and came with a large cloak. Shame she couldn’t wear the cloak during the heat. How dare heat stroke get in the way of her fashion sense?
She settled for keeping the gray and copper ribbon in her hair, just to show a little pride in Grimstone, but the rest was the armor she had brought with her from Carapace. Her mist-step kept her unbothered again as she made her way outside the fort where Moontear was waiting. They had a cart set up, and Sir Oceans was standing near it.
Moontear Squad went without armor but wore matching tunics. They were made of a dull green cloth with thick leather bands woven into it. All of the materials were scuffed as to not reflect light and treated with a special dust to help reduce their smell.
Galwen Oceans was dressed in a similar garment, with the majority of his features hidden away beneath his clothes. His shorter height made him seem more like a rookie member instead of their knight. He had large, dark eyes, and a button nose. His motions were minimal as he spoke, and he spoke in a quiet and hesitant voice.
“Lady Flay and Dalkirk have issued a warning for us to stay away from the caves for now due to possible wolf sightings. Fret not, w-we will be far away from those areas. Until then, we’re waiting for Twist to show up and-AAH!” Sybil deactivating her mist-step next to him, leading him to hop back a few paces before falling over.
“... Sorry.” Sybil held out her hand for him to take.
He ignored it, instead, he took a moment to rub the dust into his clothes. “It’s fine, Sybil.” It was nice that he spoke more casually than the other knights. Having to remember everyone’s full names titles had been a bother. “We should get in the cart while we can. We’ve got a mission to do and little sunlight to do it in!”
They filtered into the cart one by one, sitting on the benches that were along the sides. Oceans sat on the driver’s bench in the front. With a shake of the reins, the mules began to trot forward. Sybil’s heart soared with elation. Dealing with those horrid morning classes wasn’t so bad now. As long as she could take breaks like this every day, she’ll find a way to make it through.