Ch. 27 The Tricks of the Trade
 
Sergeant Kova nodded which apparently she immediately regretted as it caused her to wince and then fall on her butt. I walked up to her and put my hands to her head, called up my mana and gave her a quick examination. She had a concussion which was fairly obvious based on her slow response time and her lack of balance, she also had a pretty nasty case of shin splints, probably from all of the stress she’d placed on her legs. I healed the concussion first as every good medical student knows you should treat someone’s head before their legs. I dealt with the little bit of blood I’d managed to knock loose and repaired the broken vein before I restored normal blood flow and rebalanced the ions in her brain cells. Afterwards I sent my mana down through her legs repairing the micro tears in her muscles and filling in the small cracks she’d managed to make in her shin bones. While I was down there I fully repaired an old break in her ankle that had left its mark.

After finishing the repairs I opened my eyes and saw that the Sergeant was giving me an incredulous stare. She asked her voice full of wonder, “How did you do that?”

I responded with a smirk, “You seem surprised? You saw me do the same thing just minutes ago after you gave me a concussion…”

She shook her head marveling at the lack of pain and said, “Well sure you healed yourself, but the way you healed me felt different than any other time I’ve been healed I don’t feel groggy or exhausted…”

I nodded while patting her on the shoulder, “That my dear is because instead of simply dumping mana into you in order to encourage the natural healing process I went about actually fixing the problems I found. I could go into detail about what a concussion is and how to treat it, but the biggest difference between my healing and the healing you have likely gotten can best be explained like this.  When a healer deals with a wound they typically give a simple command to their mana, close this cut, or heal this sickness and then the mana as it enters a person provides the body with energy to speed up the action.  So for the cut instead of taking days to heal it takes only minutes.  You normally feel terrible afterwards because your body isn't designed to heal that fast and so it uses up a lot of resources to do so.  same thing with the fever the mana is just allowing for an accelerated rate of healing it isn't actually fixing the problem on it's own your body is doing most of the work.  When I heal I am actually using my mana to do most of the work, if you are cut I'm killing all of the bacteria in the wound then pulling it back together and only then does your body have to close the wound.  With a fever I would use my mana to scour as much of your body free of the bacteria or virus causing you the illness and only then would I encourage you immune system to fight off the illness. That’s why you don’t feel so depleted as I’m using mana to do things that would take your body a lot more effort and time to accomplish.”

My erstwhile patient continued to stare at me, apparently lost in thought, so I got up off my knee and asked, “So did I fight well enough to meet your approval?”

She numbly nodded her head and replied, “Yeah, sure, you did fine, but back to the main discussion, are you telling me that you are better at healing than the master mage Raha keeps on retainer?”

I shrugged, “I don’t know, I’ve never met the man, if he is in any way comparable to my mom then yeah I’m definitely better than him. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m probably the best healer in the country if everyone else uses the same techniques as Mom. Of course Mom never exactly mastered healing magic so I could be grossly underestimating the skill of the other healers in this country which is why I never even thought of using my talents on anyone except people who desperately needed the healing. I wanted to go to school to verify my theories first.”

Sergeant Kova’s face grew more horror struck as I explained that I was the creator of the healing techniques that I’d used on her. She exclaimed, “You mean to tell me you used untested healing techniques on me!”

I smiled and replied, “Well untested is a bit harsh, after all I have been healing myself and the people around me for the last three or four years using this method to no ill effect. In fact the two barbarians would be dead if I hadn’t healed them using my methods as the standard healing spells would have drained them too much for them to survive. Trust me at the very least my method won’t have any ill effects for years to come, personally I think you’ll be healthier because of them, but then I haven’t been doing this for long enough to have the data to back up that claim.”

The Sergeant looked confused so I patted her shoulder once again and said, “Don’t worry about it, you’re fine and won’t suffer any ill effects because of the way I healed you. Now should we move on to my other capabilities or is it time for you to inform me of my responsibilities as a lieutenant?”

Sergeant Kova shook her head and responded with an exasperated sigh, “Okay glossing over the fact that I should be angry at you for using an untested healing technique on me, I do feel fine, so I’ll let it slide for now. I also don’t think I can handle whatever else you’ve been up to on this farm so let’s skip your other skills and abilities whatever they might be and focus on what you need to know and what will be expected of you on this trip. You’ll be a part of third squad until we reach Meadow Rest, you’ll do you best to learn from this veteran squad all the tricks of the trade. We’ll spend two days in Meadow Rest loading supplies and preparing the caravan before we head out to Tehoton. In that time you’d better figure out what you’re supposed to be doing because you’ll be put in charge of a batch of fresh recruits for the journey to the capitol. If a majority of your squad is taken into Raha’s service then you’ll continue to receive his patronage, if a majority of them are deemed ill equipped then Raha will leave you to fend for yourself. Make sure to read the book the Captain gave you and ask Third squad as many questions as you can. Now let’s head out it’s time to introduce you to your temporary squad.”

With that inspiring little pep talk we made our way toward the caravan that was all but ready to go. Of the seven carts Raha had brought with him four remained empty having nothing to take back with them. The other three were loaded up with extra two by four’s I’d cut when making Raha’s country estate, along with some extra pelts Dad had acquired from hunting and in the last cart was Gurt and all of the luggage and supplies for our little caravan. He looked a little lonely sitting in the back amidst of our gear, I’d have to make sure I spent some time with him tonight so he wouldn’t feel abandoned.

We arrived at the centermost wagon and I was introduced to a pack of scarred veterans. “This is Sergeant Ovela, and he will be your keeper for the next three days.” The Susi in question was a relative giant, he not only had a few inches of height on me, but at least another 90 pounds of muscle. His dark brown fur and the dull sheen to his eye made me think the man was a bit dim, but the strength he exuded and the way his squad looked at him let me know he wasn’t a Susi to be trifled with. Next to him stood a brute of a woman, she was almost exactly my height but where I had a lithe athletic frame, she was nothing if not bulky. I’d say she’d give Sergeant Ovela a run for his money in terms of strength and the numerous scars crisscrossing her body and face told me she’d seen more than her share of fights. I also noted the difference in their weaponry for while Sergeant Ovela carried a round shield and spear with a sword strapped to his hip this large intimidating woman carried two hand axes and one giant two handed monstrosity of an axe. Sergeant Kova continued her introductions, “The beauty next to him is Corporal Kukka, She’s the closest you’ll find to a mother in this outfit, just be careful to not piss her off, because I guarantee you won’t like her spankings.”

Corporal Kukka spoke up, “Now Sergeant that’s not a very nice description, I’m sure this little man and I will get along just fine…”

She gave me a wink and posed in a seductive manner. I did my best not to shudder and responded “I’m sure we will mam.”

She pouted a little in response but Kova didn’t let the little bit of byplay derail her. Next to be introduced was “Private Kasi” I had a few inches on him and about 30 pounds, he nodded in acknowledgement of the introduction and continued playing with a wicked looking 8 inch knife.  He had black fur like Sergeant Kova and if I had to guess I’d say he was probably the stealthiest member of the group. Next to him was “Private Hampaat” another Susi close to my size with grey fur and a ready smile. He spoke up after his introduction, “Nice to meetcha kid, let me know when you get lost, uncle Hampaat will help you out.”

I bowed my head slightly and answered, “Thanks, I look forward to your guidance.”

With the introductions out of the way Sergeant Kova addressed the squad, “Alright third squad, do your best to watch over little Swift here, impart upon him all the knowledge and experience of a veteran squad, be thorough and efficient because if he fails his test I am going to blame you guys for it. Oh and don’t be gentle the boy is an excellent healer so he can recover from even the most stringent of disciplinary measures and the most difficult training. You have three days to get him ready to lead Susi into battle, don’t let him or yourselves down.”

She glared at the squad and while most of the squad seemed to straighten up under her scrutiny, Sergeant Ovela merely smirked and replied, “Oh no worries the kid is in good hands, by the time we’re done with him he’ll be a right old leader of men, a stalwart Susi prepared for battle.”

I cringed a bit at that last rejoinder for while Sergeant Ovela’s smile looked innocent enough, the smirk on private Kasi’s face was downright sinister. Sergeant Kova nodded and left me in the clutches… I mean hands of the honorable veterans of third squad. I refocused on Sergeant Ovela and asked, “So what now Sergeant?”

Ovela’s smile shifted from innocent to sinister, mirroring Kasi’s smile perfectly. He responded, “Now we are going to work you to the bone making sure that you don’t embarrass us in front of Raja. In order to do that we are going to have to jam close to two years of knowledge and experience into your head over the next three days. I really hope you didn’t have any plans on sleeping, because we don’t have any time to spare. Our main focus is going to be on tactics and command, I’m hoping your dad taught you how to fight because we don’t have time to turn you into a warrior, we’ll be too busy teaching you how to lead soldiers without getting them killed.”

Sergeant Ovela took a deep breath and started barking out commands, “Third squad, form up behind the fourth wagon, it’s about time the caravan got moving. Swift, you shadow Hampaat for now. Hampaat, it’s going to be your job to explain exactly what duties he can expect from a private, you are to explain exactly what he can expect a new recruit to know and what he will have to teach them. Make sure he knows exactly what to expect by noon, because then he’ll be following Kukka for the rest of the day. When we arrive at the Meadow Rest Kasi will take over, showing him the ins and outs of sentry duty. I’ll be checking in on his progress boys and girls so don’t let me down. Now let’s move out!”

What followed was one of the longest days of my life, private Hampaat spent the next five hours lecturing me on the duties of a private, which could be summed up in just a few words. Privates were to do as they are told at all times and should be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice. I probably would have gotten annoyed if Hampaat wasn’t such an easy going and upbeat guy. Of course it doesn’t really matter how upbeat you are when you drone on about how to hold a spear or the regulations on cleaning your gear for hours on end. I did my best to remember everything, but I know by the fourth hour I was starting to tune him out. It simply wasn’t interesting, learning how to fight, sure lecture me for hours, the anatomy of the human body, okay I could stay focused for eight hours straight, but lecturing me on the proper depth to dig a latrine for a squad vs. a platoon, vs. a company… I’m sorry but I just don’t care enough.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective the lecture came to an end around noon when corporal Kukka took over my instruction. Her lecture consisted primarily of the duties of each squad, from first squad’s scouting duties, to third squad’s support duties. This was a little more interesting as it dealt a little bit with tactics and strategy. She explained why third squad was traditionally the smallest squad, and all about what I could expect from convoy duty for my future squad. The lecture was interesting, but the sexually suggestive comments the sergeant was dropping made me more than a little uncomfortable. It had been a little over nine years since I’d had any female companionship and Kukka’s version of flirting was more than a little aggressive. Apparently the fact that she was 15 years my senior didn’t really bother her.

I did my best to ignore her offers to make me into a real man and focused on the information she was providing me. I learned a lot especially about our proposed route. We would be following the river south until we passed the forest and hit one of the major crossing points, a small village called Joki, after crossing the river it should be a straight shot all the way until Tehoton. Honestly guards on the caravan should prove largely unnecessary, there might be some beasts we’d have to fight off, and apparently there is some kind of big cat called a Leijona that normally ate Lehma but might come after lonely wagons. 

Kukka didn’t seem very concerned with that possibility so I asked her about my biggest concern, “What about bandits, do you get a lot of them along the route, or is it relatively quiet?”

She gave me a seductive smile that held far more teeth than I was really comfortable with and replied while doing her best to caress my cheek, “Oh sweetie you don’t have to worry about bandits, there aren’t any groups big enough to take on a caravan of our size. Bandit groups don’t really get above ten members or so because the army runs down any group that gets too big. Besides you’re under the Banner of Raha, he could send an open cart filled with gold without any guards and it would arrive at its destination unmolested. He has a reputation for having any group that dares attack his shipments run down and killed. Our boss isn’t one to allow bandits to get away with anything, so fret not cutie you’re safe so long as you’re with us.”

She winked and I suppressed a shudder before continuing with the line of questioning, “Okay I can see how his reputation might discourage attacks, but say we run into a particularly stupid group of bandits, what would third squad’s role be?”

She sighed before explaining, “It depends on how many times first or second squad blow their horns. As you should now understand our job is close in support for the caravan, we make sure the merchandise is safe and the carts remain unmolested, once we are sure that there aren’t any hidden attackers waiting to surprise us by attacking the carts directly we then would move to support whichever squad is under the heaviest assault. Say for instance first squad runs into a group of bandits that outnumbers them three to one, their leader would then blow the horn twice to announce a fighting retreat. We would then wait a minute to hear second squad’s response, one blast from their horn would indicate that our rear is clear and they are moving up for close in support, this frees us up to support first squad by either directly reinforcing them, or by flanking the bandits. Two blasts from their horn would indicate that they have run into a similar number of bandits and will also be conducting a fighting retreat. Should that happen it would be our job to scout out the enemy forces and circle up the wagons creating a strong point for both squads to retreat back to. If we hear three blasts from their horn that would be there is a small force with which they must engage. Three blasts means their confident in their victory and will focus on destroying that force as opposed to delaying it. Our job would then be to stay with the caravan and ward off anyone trying to use the frontal assault as a distraction.”

It went on like that for a while, the horn system was fairly simple, but it required our squad to wait around for information before reacting to any attack. It really made me miss cell phones as it was kind of a pain in the ass to remember exactly what each series of horn blasts meant on top of everything else I was supposed to remember from almost 7 hours of lectures.

We arrived at Meadow Rest before the sergeant finished her talking and then proceeded to dash my hopes that she’d quit upon arrival. I didn’t really get a chance to look around at my new surroundings as every time I looked away from Kukka she would rap me on my nose and say, “A lady should hold your undivided attention, you won’t have much luck with women if you can’t keep that simple fact in mind.”

I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t exactly my type but one look at her bulging muscles helped me hold my tongue. I didn’t want to find out how hard she could slap. We arrived at Raha’s warehouse and he immediately disappeared inside dragging Gurt and my humans along with him. I wanted to follow them in but Kukka decided now was the perfect time to pass me over to private Kasi. She entered the warehouse giving me a final smoldering glance before disappearing inside. I shuddered a bit before refocusing on private Kasi. He smiled a bit at my inattention and said, “You seem to have wandered off there a bit, don’t tell me you’ve fallen for the corporal…”

I shook my head to deny it, which just made Kasi’s smile get bigger, “Don’t worry lad you wouldn’t be the first to fall to her charms, but a powerful woman like that has a lot of suitors so you’d better be able to impress her if you want a shot. So I’d best ensure you have that shot by making sure you don’t get us killed by failing in your duties. The goal of tonight is to observe people actually on sentry duty, I’ll be pointing out what they do correctly and how their failing. Your job is to follow me, and don’t get seen. If we’re found out it will cut into your training which you don’t want to happen.”

He ghosted out of Raha’s compound and I did my best to keep up. His black fur allowed him to blend in much better than my own as he slinked from shadow to shadow. It was like trying to keep up with a ninja. The problem wasn’t so much that he moved quickly it’s that he moved in perfect silence and surety. He never paused or hesitated as he advanced which gave him a speed I had trouble matching as I was doing my best to move quietly and stay out of sight. I did my best to copy him and use everything years of hunting in the woods had taught me, but moving quietly on cobble stones requires a different set of skills when compared to moving quietly in the forest. In the forest you have to be very aware of your footing and if you make noise it tends to blend in with all of the other ambient noise, you just have to pause of you make a sound louder than a rustle. Cobblestones should have been easier, but the claws on my feet kept making a clicking sound whenever they hit the ground. I’d never really noticed they did that because frankly I’d been on cobblestone so rarely it never came up. So instead of using my normal gait I had to use an akward mincing step in order to cut down on the noise.

Needless to say I was falling behind and Kasi didn’t seem to be willing to coddle me so I decided to change things up a bit. We were still in the nicer part of town so all of the building around me seemed to be made of either stone or wood with solid looking shingled roofs. So if I couldn’t hide the noise I was making it was time to go vertical. I moved into an alley and used on of the walls as a backboard to leap off of. I sunk my clawed fingers into the roof tiles and pulled myself the rest of the way up.  I then sped off across the thieves’ highway… kind of… not really. Instead I started moving and immediately felt the shingles under my feet starting to shift. Not wanting to make too much noise I held still for a second and then carefully began my advance. Moving slowly seemed to work well, but I was now even further behind my instructor. I advanced across the rooftop, carefully navigating along the slanted and somewhat treacherous footing until I arrived at the edge, then I leapt across the gap to the next roof…

I sprinted to catch up with my current mentor and away from whatever caused the giant hole to appear in someone’s roof. I really needed to catch up to Kasi because based on the noise people were making it’s likely that the guards were going to show up soon. As I caught up to Kasi he stared at me incredulity clearly visible on his face, he asked, “Are you and?”

I smiled sheepishly embarrassed to no end, “Probably… I was falling behind and I had this idea I thought might work… it didn’t work…”

Kasi shook his head and snorted, “Okay well I’ll go a little slower from now on, but this does provide us with a good starting point for our lessons on sentry duty. Now an alarm has been raised inside the camp, watch and listen for the town’s response. In one of our camps, the outcry would be handled by the sentries stationed in the center of camp ready to respond at the least sign of trouble. Here in town one of the nearby patrols should arrive soon.”

We waited for close to 5 minutes before I heard their approach. It sounded like a mid-sized squad but I couldn’t be sure until I saw the six armor clad Susi running toward the scene of whatever broke the roof of that family’s home.    

We watched as they took a statement from the distraught family then spread out in pairs to search the surrounding area.

Kasi broke the silence, “Notice how they move in pairs, they know that one person cause the incident so they make sure they will outnumber the perpetrator so they shouldn’t have too much trouble taking him in. They also insure that should one of them fall the other will at least be able to call for backup should the perpetrator prove too much for them to handle. Now let’s get out of the area before they find the idiot that broke someone’s roof.”

I nodded in agreement and we made our way toward the wall, I did my best to copy the veteran’s movements and I am happy to say I made some progress, not a lot, but at the very least I managed to stop clicking with every step. When we got within sight of the wall Kasi hid within the shadows of an alley and pointed out the various patrols and lookout posts. We stayed in that position for hours and I began to see the pattern within the patrols. They were on a schedule when I mentioned this to Kasi he responded, “You’re right, the patrols follow a regular schedule, which is both good and bad. It is good because it allows the townsfolk to know that they can expect guards to be nearby at least once per hour, criminals know they only have so long before they will be noticed and it allows for a relatively quick response time for any problems. The downside is that it is too predictable, anyone with a little time and some planning can accomplish a lot in the time between patrols, plus being predictable means they are unlikely to stop anything except for unplanned crimes. The best way to overcome the issues of regular patrols is to supplement them with random patrols, having a group or two of guards moving wherever they want throughout the night changes everything.”

I grunted my acknowledgement of his point, before he elaborated, “Normally you want someone with authority with the group not on a particular patrol route as this group tends to monitor the stationary sentries and goes outside the standard perimeter of the camp.”

Kasi didn’t seem to want a response to his last statement so I remained quiet and we continued to observe the sentries and patrols for a while longer before he motioned me to follow. We slinked along a route only Kasi seemed to know, navigating the pathways between the primarily wattle and daub houses until we arrived at one of the sentry posts where the guard had fallen asleep. I was surprised the guard had managed it since he was standing up, but somehow I could hear him snoring as he leaned against the wooden tower atop the wall.

Kasi pointed toward the guard and said, “Take note of the guard and the commanders mistakes, the guard was foolish enough to lean against something while tired, this allowed him enough slack to fall asleep. Sentry duty is not meant to be easy, give your sentries too much slack and not only will they fail you, but they will open you up to attack when you thought yourself secure. The commander should have placed two men here, to keep each other awake, either that or he should have someone patrolling the walls ensuring that his sentries don’t fall asleep or die.”

I nodded in agreement, then Kasi broke off a small chunk from the wall he was hiding next to and threw it at the sentry. The clod of hardened mud hit the sentry in the helmet knocking him over. He landed face first and started screaming, “Enemy attack!! Enemy Attack!!!”

The downed guard sprang up snout bloody searching for the enemy he’d just been screaming about and found nothing. Meanwhile the screaming attracted guards from other positions on the wall along with what sounded like several patrols. We slunk away from the scene doing our best to avoid the converging patrols and I could make out Kasi’s grin as we disappeared further into the shadows.    

   ?V