Kemp waved at his brother. His brother waved back, or did he? Kemp was lying in bed trying to remember if he had seen his brother wave back or if his brother hadn’t seen him waving. He chose to remember his brother waving back as he left for border duty. A border duty that he had never returned from.
“So, Kemp. Do you want to be a soldier like your big brother?” Kemp nodded as he stepped up to the recruiter. “Did you know I was there?”
Kemp looked at the man. “Is that what happened to your leg?”
“Yes. I lost it during that raid.” He motioned towards the stump that used to be his left leg. “Your brother saved my life that day. He saved many lives. I only wish he could have saved his own.”
Kemp nodded. “Me too, but I’m glad he helped so many.”
The recruiter sat a little straighter and grabbed his crutches. “Fancy a short walk? I want to get some fresh air while we talk.”
Hurrying to open the door for the recruiter Kemp watched how quickly he moved even with only one leg.
“Stop staring and get going.”
“Yessir.” Kemp almost had to jog to keep up. “Where are we going?”
“Oh, you’ve been accepted into the footsoldiers. We’re just walking to the barracks.” He slowed down a little. “Well, I was walking. You were jogging. That’s my fault. I don’t like moving around like this so I got in the habit of doing it more quickly.” He rested his left side against his crutch and pointed at Kemp with the other one. “You didn’t complain though. That’s good.”
Kemp stopped just beyond the end of the crutch. “Thanks?”
“You’ll make a fine warrior. I don’t know that you’ll be exactly like your brother, but there’s more than one way to be a good warrior.” He turned and continued at his accelerated pace. “Now that I know you can keep up I’m not going to slow down.
– – –
“These are your pairings. You will share a bunk with your squad mate. You will eat with your squad mate. You will train with your squad mate. You will use the toilet with your squad mate. You will become as one person. When that’s done we’ll combine you with another squad group and the four of you will become as one person. That’s how we train here. The foot soldiers are the backbone of the king’s army and that backbone must work with each vertebra in perfect conjunction. Is that clear?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” The foot soldiers responded.
“Good, a select group of you will be sent to Prince Amir’s advanced squads. Be competitive, but don’t sabotage each other. We work together or not at all.”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Now go get to know your pair-mate. Dismissed.”
– – –
Kemp, Ellain, Dorve, and Aaron got called to the mess hall during morning drill.
“Well, looks like the four of you get out early. Well, get going.”
Jogging toward the mess hall Kemp voiced the group’s question. “I wonder what’s going on?”
“It’s not disciplinary action. We didn’t do anything.” Ellain eyed Aaron. “Did we?”
“Not this time, I swear!” Aaron motioned towards Dorve. “I always run my ideas by someone now, right?”
“I wish you would run them by Ellain. You’d get some sense knocked into you.”
The banter stopped as they slowed down to enter the mess hall.
“Group 4-8 reporting,” the group said in unison.
Amir, the prince, looked up from his light snack. “Yes, good. Give me a moment will you.”
Kemp bowed by himself at first while the rest of the group registered that it was the prince they were reporting to and they too bowed.
Amir put the last bite in his mouth and chewed slowly, eyeing the soldiers. “At ease.”
The group straightened.
“So, you are the best four-person group at this training camp. You have surpassed most groups. Even those of you that have a slight decision-making problem.” He looked pointedly at Aaron. “Overall your group has the best scores out of all of them. If you accept you can join my advanced guard. You’d see less action, but you would be at any key engagement and would get special assignments. You would be trained in all aspects of the king’s military as well. Do you accept? Your decision is on an individual basis, but I’d love to take all four of you. Feel free to confer here. I’ll wait outside.” The prince stood and put his tray on the cleaning rack then turned and exited the mess hall.
Kemp looked at his companions. “Well, I’m going to accept. What do you guys think?”
Ellain looked at him. A half smile on her face. “You know what they say. Follow your pair-mate everywhere.”
“I’m with you guys, what about you, Aaron?”
Aaron had a lopsided grin on his face. “Well, even the prince has heard of me. I’m in.”
– – –
Kemp, Ellain, Dorve, and Aaron were stationed around the prince’s castle when a giant explosion went off. When the dust settled Kemp searched the nearby rubble for his companions. The only one he could find was Ellain who was carrying an orange-skinned woman into the castle.
“I found her in the rubble out front.” Ellain paused as she opened an intact side entrance. “As far as that explosion, it came from inside.”