Sarah was dead tired after the testing. She’d fought four different men. All four of whom had, eventually, disarmed her. Of course, she didn’t use any of her martial arts on them, remembering Jason’s comment about it not being fair in a joust; not that it was a joust. But her idea of keeping her martial arts to herself had been ruined when they’d gone against her in hand to hand combat. She’d fared better in that at least.
The next thing they had her do was Archery where her results were laughable. Not only had she not held a bow since she was ten, her arms ached from the fighting she’d done earlier. And then, Sarah still couldn’t believe this, they’d had her run a mile. No it was probably more than that, she thought, five miles more likely and over rough terrain.
Struggling against exhaustion and hunger, Sarah now sat waiting for Commander Josiah to come out of the meeting room. His voice and those of her testers sounded through the wall, but she couldn’t focus enough to hear what they were saying. Instead her ears managed to listen to men trooping into the dining hall that she knew was behind one of the other doors. If she hadn't insited on eating breakfast she would have fainted by now.
“Hopeful Smith,” Commander Josiah’s voice brought Sarah out of her reverie.
“Commander.” Sarah felt herself go dizzy as she stood too quickly and reached for the wall.
The Commander smiled slightly. “You’ve done well for yourself, Smith and perhaps Phoenix is right; however,” Sarah’s slight smile faded, “you still have a lot to learn. But first,” Commander Josiah clapped her on the back, "let’s introduce you to your fellow Hopefuls and get some food into your belly.”
Sarah’s stomach rumbled in agreement as he led her into the dining hall. Inside men milled about moving platters to their tables. Curious glances were cast their way, yet Commander Josiah said nothing. Talk escalated as each man stood next to a table. Seven to each and only three of the eight tables filled Sarah noted. A metallic thud made her jump and silence settled over the room. Attention now upon him the Commander stepped away from the wall.
“Listen up Hopefuls,” Commander Josiah’s voice projected through the room. “We have a new recruit joining us.” Whispers went up and down the tables. “I know it’s a bit unconventional but the order came from the King. Not to mention he comes recommended by Scout Sergeant Phoenix.” More whispers floated around the room. “I expect you to treat Hopeful Smith as you would any other Hopeful in this room. He’ll be joining Class B.”
One of the men standing at the left middle table spoke. “Class B is full Commander.”
“I am well aware of that Hopeful Marcus.” Commander Josiah gave the man a hard stare. “Smith has been tested and Class B is where his skills lie. A spare bed will be added to your room. As I said before I expect Smith to be treated just like any other Hopeful of Class B.”
The man looked about to say something else. Commander Josiah looked him directly in the face. “Have I made myself clear?”
It was everyone in the room who responded, “Yes Commander,” but Sarah swore Marcus only mouthed the words.
“Good.” The Commander nodded to Sarah and gestured her to Class B’s table.
Sarah strode over as confidently as her exhaustion and hunger allowed. The nervous knot in her stomach made her think of her best friend from home. This must have been how Andrea felt when she’d been introduced to the class mid-year. One of the Hopefuls opposite Marcus shifted, indicating a place by him for Sarah to stand. She gratefully took it.
A double rap sounded from the metal. In near unison the room began the scout oath. Sarah’s voice stumbled along after them as she tried to remember the words she had just learned.
My life for my country and all that it’s worth.
My King and Commander rule my berth.
My faith in the Gods till I am dust.
My sergeant who leads me; in him I trust.
Chairs scraped across the floor as they all sat down to eat. Marcus glared at Sarah as he served himself.
“Pretty boy,” she heard him mutter and the other two next to him chuckled.
Sarah narrowed her eyes but said nothing as she helped herself to the food in front of her.
“Don’t mind Marcus,” the Hopeful next to her whispered confidentially, “he’s been a stiff shirt since he was appointed head of Class B, thinks it makes him a Sergeant.” The boy opposite him nodded.
“I’m Reed,” he grasped Sarah’s arm in greeting. “That’s Aaron across from me.” Aaron nodded, mouth full of food. “That there is Kirk next to him, London here next to me.” Those two gave Sarah the barest of nods, though Kirk was eyeing her curiously. “The other two,” Reed lowered his voice, “are Michael and Bennett.” He indicated each with a slight nod of his head. “They’re Marcus’s lackeys so don’t pay them no mind.”
“Thanks,” Sarah tried to deepen her voice.
Trying not to pile too much food on her plate, she looked about. There were two things that stood out to her. One, she was probably the oldest Hopeful here and two, these boys were young. Heck they probably weren’t much older than Henry, Bear’s son, and he was only fifteen.
Reed piled some of his food onto Sarah’s plate. “They never feed you during testing.”
“Thanks.” Sarah said again as she smiled back at him. Oh how nice it was to not have to remember so many manners, she thought as she began to wolf down her food.