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The recruits were woken up before dawn the next day, and Tarin groaned slightly as he rose from his assigned bunk. They were to quickly make the beds and clean the room, shared by all the first year trainees, before inspection, which was conducted every day. The other trainees had already warned Jim and Tarin about trying to take shortcuts to avoid the inspection. Sleeping in was also a punishable offense. Then the trainees would report to the yard for a practice drill in the pre-dawn light.
This generally consisted of sparring with a wooden post, similar to what Jim and Tarin saw the day before, but sometimes, they would be dueling with each other. Tarin learned very quickly to be totally alert during these practice sessions, or else get hit in the head or the hand by a flailing wooden sword. After the session, they'd have a plain breakfast of some kind of oatmeal, and there was time for a short, cold shower before the morning classes.
By lunchtime, another plain meal, Tarin’s head was spinning with tactics, geography, and mathematics. Word problems like “If you are leading a charge of fifty cavalrymen, and the average speed was 15 miles per hour, what is the estimated time to reach Faelwen from Krynn.” But the word problem never mentioned that the river is in the way, and that the nearest bridge might be 30 miles to the south from where you wanted to cross.
At the table, where Jim sat, wolfing down the simple food, Tarin just picked at his own meal absentmindedly, studying a map of Lollica in his textbook, tracing the roads that lead around the forest, but never through it. The forest itself was a great green mass, darkly shaded, and unlabeled. He stared at it intently, as if he could part the trees in the drawing and see the paths, the trails of the kingdom that inhabited it. The kingdom that sometimes pushed outward, to attack the people living on the borders. He hadn't asked about Nikkolus, or the first battle with the elves, almost 20 years ago now. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer. If they knew Nikkolus had become a sorcerer, if they knew Tarin was his son, he wasn’t sure what they would do.
After lunch, it was back outside to drill some more, running through an expansive obstacle course hidden away in the King’s garden. It was an artificially damp patch of ground, with water being pumped in constantly from the moat, and it was nearly impossible not to slip and fall into the black mud at some point during the course, which of course, meant you had to start over until you could complete it without falling. Somehow, Jim managed to complete the course without falling, while Tarin found himself tripping over his own feet. He managed to stay upright for the most part, but did fall once, covering his new uniform in sticky mud.
His hair still damp after another short shower, Tarin approached the dining hall for dinner when he heard the voices.
“I think that obstacle course was too easy for you,” said one.
“Maybe you should run it again,” said another.
“We’ll make it extra tricky, just for you,” said a third. Another voice laughed, a low, stupid sounding guffaw, but the fourth boy didn’t speak. The speakers were gone by the time Tarin rounded the corner, and he could see no sign of who they might have been, or who they’d been talking to.
He went and ate dinner, which was some kind of meat and potatoes. Another simple meal, but Tarin was hungry after the afternoon’s exercise, and that was all it took to make it delicious. When he was halfway through, he noticed that Jim still hadn’t come into the hall.
‘Or maybe he ate early, because he finished early,’ Tarin thought, slightly irritated that his friend didn’t wait for him, but he took an extra bread roll from the basket on the table and wrapped it in his napkin, putting it in his pocket, before heading back to his bunk to fill out the sheets of homework he had been given from the day. He was sorting through the last of the tactical problems, studying his map of Lollica again when Jim stumbled into the barracks, covered in mud.
“Where have you been?” Tarin asked casually, looking up at his friend. “What happened to you?” Jim didn’t reply with more than a grunt, as he reached for a change of clothes. “I didn’t see you at dinner,” Tarin continued. “I got you a roll.”
“Oh, thanks.” Jim snapped sarcastically. “You got me a roll, how can I possibly make it up to you.”
Tarin was taken aback, and he froze in mid-action as he’d made to take the napkin out of his pocket. This was a side of Jim that was unfamiliar.
“Well, next time I’ll see if I can take more,” Tarin snapped back. Jim looked apologetic, the mud on his face cracking.
“I’m sorry, Tarin, I’m just tired thats all. Thanks for the food,” He said as Tarin offered the bread again. Jim ate it in quick, tired bites, before heading off to the showers. Tarin finished off his word problems, and tucked the homework into his kit. Stretching sleepily, he rolled over onto his back, and was asleep before lights out.
After the first few months in the academy, It was clear that Jim thrived in the tough discipline and often pulled far ahead of his classmates in performance of both classwork and athletic skills. Tarin could keep up with his friend, athletically, but that was almost entirely based on his unusual strength, and not any special skill with the sword.
“Are you sure you aren’t Nikkolus’s son?” He asked Jim one night as he finished another stack of homework. Nikk had been hailed as a natural with the sword, but it seemed that Tarin had not inherited that skill. The teachers at the academy really piled it on, and soon there would be exams and tests, to ensure that the recruits would go on to the next year’s training. Jim didnt reply to Tarin’s question, and when Tarin looked into the bunk above his, his friend was nowhere to be found.