by thefourpartland

The fifth installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.

“Okay, sarge, who’s the snotnose standing over there? He’s looking all bubbling and expectant, and it’s getting on my nerves.” Gwyth growled at Rhyfelwyr when he arrived.

“That’s Rhocas. He’s replaced Gwewyr.”

Gwyth looked at his feet for a second, then nodded. “Like that, was it? Yeah, we all saw it. Still, this fresh-face? Really? You couldn’t get us anyone worthwhile?”

Rhy shrugged. “Taflen recommended Rhocas. We’ll see if he’s worth anything. If he’s getting on your nerves enough, duel him, find out how good he is with a blade.”

“Worthless, just look at him. His posture’s wrong.”

“Well beat it out of him then.” Rhyfelwyr paused. “Just not too hard, he’s only got a month to heal.”

Gwyth grinned, and pulled his axe from over his shoulder, then unlimbered the shield onto his left arm. “Oi, Rhocas, we’re supposed to duel.”

The recruit looked up at that, then grabbed the sword from his belt and hefted his shield. “Are you sure, sir?”

“Oh yeah, positive. Just spoke to Sarge about it.”

“Oh, very well then.” Rhocas attacked, without waiting for Gwyth to get into position. The veteran was barely able to get his shield up, and grunted at the presumption of the recruit. Catching three more successive blows onto his shield, Gwyth decided that it was time for him to go on the offensive, and leapt forward, bullrushing Rhocas with his shield out in front, then spinning into a slice at the ankles with the haft of the axe. A solid thunk sounded from the impact, and Rhocas fell to the ground, surprised. He struggled to his feet on a sore leg, and peered at the standing Gwyth.

“How do you use that when you’re in a shield wall?”

“You don’t. Or you pray the man next to you keeps his shield up.”

“Right. Again?”

Gwyth growled again. “Presumptuous lad.”

The two exchanged blows for a few seconds, and then Rhocas spun into the same ankle-breaking strike that Gwyth had just used. Gwyth had to jump high and back to stay out of the way of the sword, and nearly fell on the landing. Forced onto the defensive, it took him a little while to recover and push back against the recruit. Eventually, though, Gwyth was able to use his strength to knock the recruit down again.

Rhocas popped back up and assumed the stance once more, and Gwyth sighed. He’d just been looking to teach the recruit a lesson for looking so flaming cheerful, not get caught into a long running duel. The fighting continued for some time, during which the others slowly gathered. Rhyfelwyr leaned over and whispered to Taflen. “Is Rhocas really a recruit? He’s got some moves in there that only the veterans know.”

“The boy is a sponge. Sucks up knowledge from everyone. Just needs to be shown a strike once or twice to learn how to do it. Given him enough training on the march, and he’ll fit right in with the rest of us.”

Nodding appreciatively, Rhy watched the fighting continue, until both combatants called it off due to exhaustion. “Rhocas, I’m sergeant Rhyfelwyr. This is Llofruddiwr, Locsyn, Taflen, and you’ve met Gwyth. Rather a few times, I think. If you’ve moved into our room in the barracks, that’s all there is to it, just follow one of us around and train as best you can. We’re all teaching various squads at the moment, trying to make them worth something.”

“I look forward to it, sir.”

“I’m not a ‘sir’, that’s for your officers. Just call me Rhy.”

“Yes, Rhy, sir.”

Rhyfelwyr shook his head. “You’re dismissed.”

Rhocas trotted off, while Rhyfelwyr turned to the others in the squad. “So, he worthwhile?”

Llofruddiwr answered first, uncharacteristic of such a silent man. “He’ll do.”

The next answer was from Locsyn. “Still a bit rough, and his striking isn’t smooth enough. We’ll polish him up.”

Still panting, Gwyth followed. “I beat him every time, but he made me work for it by the end. We’ll keep him.”

Rhy grinned. “And I know how you feel, Taflen. So that’s sorted. Good. Back to being trainers, now.”

The soldiers grumbled as they departed. Any more training and they’d be ready to turn on their own officers. Especially the young, know-it-all ones who seemed to get every lieutenant spot in the army.


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