Shaden patiently waited on the floor.
“Goodbye, Mom!” shouted Rother as he rushed out the door, his face full of smiles and excitement.
“Have a fun time at the academy, honey~” called Melsei. “Dear, you do know where the academy is, right?”
“I went there. Don’t worry about anything,” reassured Garthan.
The father-and-son pair stormed down the stairs like the energetic males they were. Melsei shook her head in resignation and wished her son good luck on his first day at the academy. To be more precise, at the Danark Swordsmanship Training Academy. It was where Garthan had gone when he was younger and where Shaden would be sent to when he came to age. Graduates of the school became guards for the city, guards for the surrounding villages, bodyguards, and maybe even part of the Royal Guard if they excelled.
Shaden had learned that the guards of this world weren’t simple foot soldiers. He had been skeptical since the day he saw his father’s and brother’s hellish training. Expendable soldiers wouldn’t have to train so rigorously. In Shaden’s mind, they were equivalent to or higher than his world’s police force, and looking at his current home, he was probably right.
And Shaden was correct. In the country of Melern, jobs were passed down in a system similar to hereditary traits. During the Golden Age after Saiton the Sage unleashed his knowledge to the world, people discovered that some humans were suited for certain jobs than others. In the human nations at least, there was a movement to strengthen each’s own countries by assigning people to the best jobs they could handle.
This system quickly fell apart as no one liked being forced to a job, but the optimistic idea behind it remained. People who were physically superior to others kept becoming soldiers, and people who were smarter continued to become officials and magicians. The rest became farmers and such. Because they weren’t being forced to a job, they could change any time they wanted.
However, the schooling systems and the testing systems established during the Golden Age made sure people took on jobs they were suitable with. Only the physically fit had the right to become soldiers and the knowledgeable had the right to learn magic.
And since there was less and less war due to prosperity, people didn’t try as hard to make themselves fit or knowledgeable. There were schools where one could learn to climb the ladder to wealth and power, but even as a farmer, life was prosperous. There was plenty of food to go around and plenty of work to be done. Plus, anyone could learn simple magic to make their lives easier. Books had become widespread due to the magical printing devices.
There hadn’t been war in over two centuries. As a result, soldiers that remained were few but were one of the best-payed and hardest professions to obtain. Each soldier could take down a hundred men by themselves. No country was free without crime, and the small but elite military force was responsible for preventing and removing it.
The Swordsmanship Training Academies were the schools responsible for raising such elite soldiers. They taught almost every weapon, but swords were the most popular. The name was honestly a little outdated, but it carried a lot of prestige. Not all of the students graduated, but the ones that did were formidable. And the dangers they sometimes faced was just as bad. Like when Garthan saved Melsei during an investigation of an underground slave trade. But that is a story for another time.
Shaden approached the window and looked outside. The morning light made the alleyways look much better—there were even some people walking on the roads. He spotted his father and brother sprinting to the east and waved them good luck. His mother seemed to be preparing to go somewhere. He was in luck; he would be able to practice some magic soon. He patiently sat next to the window and waited for his mother to ready herself and leave.
“Alright!” exclaimed Melsei. “Time to go buy supplies~”
Yes mother, chanted Shaden. Let the greed fill you. The door is beckoning you! Think about your family and how they are famished! Yes, now approach the door. Let me practice my magic. No, don’t come here. Really? Darn it.
Shaden sulked silently as his mother came and picked him up.
“Let’s go shopping together~! You love being with mom, don’t you Shaden?”
Shaden let out a sad giggle and surrendered himself to his mother’s arms. Her skin was smooth and squishy as usual. Maybe going out wasn’t a bad idea. Magic practice could wait.
〄 〄 〄
The cool air felt great on Shaden’s skin, and he clung on to his mother’s shoulder as they strolled into the inner parts of the city. His mother carried a small bag made of rough cloth with her and hummed a little tune as they walked. When was the last time he had gone shopping with Mom? He wasn’t sure, but definitely many years ago. They rarely went outside together nowadays.
Shaden heard the noise of people gradually increasing as they neared the shopping district. His mother seemed quite knowledgeable of the city’s roads. Perhaps she had lived here before. Soon, Shaden began to smell oil and baked bread in the air. Signs of shops started appearing more frequently, like a sign with a pig with a hat on it, a sign with a fork and knife, a sign with a glass of…beer?
It would be natural for alcohol to exist in any world, Shaden thought. These shops all mostly looked like inns or restaurants. It was still before noon, so the people bustling around were few in number. A quiet peace hung in the air as for now. But as Shaden and his mother passed the shops and streets, the sound of the marketplace grew nearer and nearer.
They finally arrived at an open area after intersecting one of the roads. Shaden opened his eyes widely as he saw the commotion of the marketplace. Stalls of fruits and colorful vegetables he had never seen before were laid out in piles, and merchants called out to the crowds trying to advertise their new products from Bughast or Cantaronia. The bright sunlight enhanced the vividness of the noise and colors, making the coins gleam and jingle in gold as the shop owners haggled their way into buying cheaper resources.
It reminded him of the marketplace in reality except here, it was during the morning. And a lot louder. He even spotted some chicken-like beasts locked in caged to the corner of the plaza, except that they maybe had a few more heads than he was used to. Now that he looked at the fruits again, some of them looked normal while the others…not so much. Seriously, what was up with the hair-like tentacles?
At least the people looked energetic. For them, this was probably the busiest time of the day, when the shop owners and food stall owners came to buy their ingredients for their customers. Shaden guessed his mother came early since they had practically nothing at home to eat except for some bread and cheese. Fresh vegetables on the menu would be perfect.
They went over to some stalls and Shaden watched in awe as his mother’s beauty cut down the prices of what was listed on the signs. Merchants of every stall complimented his mother on her beautiful features and called out prices that were around 30% cheaper than what was written. His mother calmly smiled, inspected the goods, and picked out whatever she needed and paid in brown coins, probably copper.
By the end of it, her bag was filled with goods and food from the shops. His mother hummed a happy tune as they returned to their district. She looked at Shaden and smiled.
“See Shaden? You should never trust merchants. There is always something you can haggle down. And with your father’s looks, you can do even better than me~”
I think it’s your looks that did the trick, mother.
“It’s good to keep going to the same shops~ They’ll lower their prices for you! I’m glad I found a great place so early.”
As I said, of course they would want to keep seeing you. You’re very pretty, you know?
The mother-son pair happily returned home after a successful day of shopping.
〄 〄 〄
Garthan and Rother arrived at the large building with the crest of a sword sticking through a circle right through the middle. Upon closer inspection, the sword had a beautiful hilt and almost real-looking blade; the circle it went through down the middle was patterned with various symbols and words. It was beautiful in design and gold, silver, and red in color—this was the universal crest of the Swordsmanship Training Academy. A small bird with a leaf in its mouth was imprinted at the center of the circle, representing the emblem of the city of Danark.
“This will be your new school, Rother,” said Garthan. “Do you remember the way here?”
“Yes,” Rother replied.
“Good. From now on, you will have to run here every morning and run back home after school ends. Can you manage that?”
“Of course, dad. We ran way more than this at the village.”
Garthan smiled and ruffled Rother’s hair with his hands.
“That’s my son. Now, take this letter, go inside, and introduce yourself to the first desk you see when you enter the door. They’ll know what to do. Dad has to go to work now.”
Rother tucked the letter into his hand, determined to begin his new life.
“See you at dinner, dad.”
The son and father waved towards each other and went on their separate ways.
〄 〄 〄
Rother entered the heavy doors of the school nervously while sweat accumulated in his palms. He quickly wiped them off and made sure the letter wasn’t damaged. His father had told him to leave his wooden sword at home as he would get a new one, but the dark and tense atmosphere made him want to regret that decision. The giant halls stretched and curved to the sides and the stone ceiling loomed endlessly upwards for Rother’s short vision.
Just like his father had said, he spotted a wide reception desk right in front of the doors. It too was made out of stone. An elderly woman with glasses and thick clothes was scribbling something down while inspecting various papers and documents. Rother slowly approached the stone desk. His head barely went over the top.
“Excuse me,” he squeaked.
“Yes, what do you need,” replied the old woman without looking up from her work.
Rother wiped his sweat once more.
“I’m here to attend the academy.”
The woman raised her eyebrows and placed her eyes on Rother. They were scary to look at, and Rother felt himself shiver.
“Do you have a recommendation?”
Rother quickly placed his letter on the desk. The woman stretched out her long, veiny fingers and grasped the paper. She skillfully removed the lid with a knife and unfolded the contents of the paper, adjusting her glasses to get a better view.
“Hmmm. You are Rother, son of Garthan.”
“I see, I see.”
The woman placed the letter down on the stone desk and took off her glasses. She suddenly clapped her hands in a way no elderly woman could; the sharp, booming sound reverberated throughout the halls twice, and Rother reflexively grabbed his ears to protect them. Soon after, footsteps were heard and a single man, possibly a teen, appeared from the right side of the hall with great momentum. He gracefully stationed himself beside the desk and saluted.
“You called, Madame?”
“Take this boy to the trainer’s field and give him a sword. Tell the instructor to test him and assign him as a student at the academy. If he doesn’t qualify, lead him out.”
Rother suddenly felt the tension rise. Get kicked out? If he wasn’t enough? Had he trained enough? No; his father had sent him here. He was confident in his skills. He would definitely pass.
The wrinkled woman noticed Rother’s internal conflict and waved a hand at him.
“You are still very young. There is no shame if you fail. But, by the looks of it…”
The woman trailed off as if remembering something. She then put on her glasses back again and started scribbling once more.
“Here, follow me,” said the attendant.
Rother hastily saluted and bowed to the lady. He then rushed over to the attendant for his examination. The old receptionist watched as the small boy disappeared into the inner halls.
“Son of Garthan.” She let out a small chuckle. “You’ve really done it, haven’t you, boy.”
That boy was certainly interesting. He hadn’t visited, though he had the nerve to send his son here. Men were never honest with their emotions.
She shook her head and returned to her paperwork.