Finally, the day came for the Knight Academy trainees to receive their armor. The other units had to go to the training field for their armor, but the Snow Lions simply returned to their tower, where they found several dozen large boxes waiting for them.
If they hadn’t been accompanied by their Instructors, they would’ve swarmed the boxes in excitement, tearing them open in a manner more reminiscent of a riot than a cohesive unit receiving gear.
Instead, the Instructors had the Snow Lions organize themselves by tier and size, then had the third-tier mages pass out the armor. Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus had to roughly guess what size the trainees were and pass out armor accordingly.
As this was only the Knight Academy and not a place that expected to see actual combat, the armor given out was defective—unfit for any real battle. It could stand up against a couple hits of a training weapon, but any properly enchanted blade or arrow would pierce through it with no trouble at all. But the training armor was made from authentic materials and so was as heavy as the real thing. Training weapons were about as effective against it as a regular weapon would be against functional armor, so the Knight Academy could justify saving a little silver by using this armor instead, even if it was stretching the definition a little in calling it armor.
But all that didn’t stop the armor from looking authentic. Every trainee in the unit was issued a red gambeson for padding, plus metal greaves and a leather bracer for their sword arm. Finally, every trainee was given a skirt made of leather strips to protect their legs from where their greaves ended to the bottom of their torso armor, as well as a simple metal helmet to cover their head but left their faces bare.
However, the armor that covered their torsos differed considerably depending on the trainee’s power and effective rank, despite the rest of their gear being identical. The first-tier trainees were only given a chainmail shirt that covered everything from their upper bodies to just below their hips, plus their arms down to their elbows. The second-tier trainees were given armor made of tiny dark red metal scales, as well as a bright red sash around their waists. The armor given to the third-tier trainees were a series of interlocking metal plates much larger than the scales given to the second-tier trainees and providing a much more robust defense. They were also given black sashes to denote their rank.
This was the typical armor issued to members of the Royal Legion, to ensure that every soldier was adequately protected, though they could wear custom armor if they could afford to. Given what they were paid, most knights of the fourth-tier and up could absolutely afford better armor, though they were still required to wear their sashes or other highly identifiable marks so their subordinates wouldn’t have trouble distinguishing them from their enemies in the chaos of battle.
Despite normal armor being fairly effective, Leon found himself profoundly disappointed in what he was given. As this armor was defective, it would be returned at the end of the training cycle and he would be issued new armor when his squireship began, but it still represented the quality of what he would gain. And it made him seriously regret not buying armor when he had the chance.
He immediately made the decision to inquire about custom-made armor the next time he was in the city.
It took about twenty minutes for all the trainees to get into their armor. However, there were still several unopened boxes waiting for them. They weren’t filled with food, as Leon had already led a team to fetch their breakfast earlier in the morning.
Castor nodded to several of the waiting second-tier trainees, who immediately opened the boxes. Inside, they found several dozen short bows and hundreds of arrows. Each arrowhead had been made with the same white metal as their training weapons, so they knew exactly what they were for.
Both Leon and Castor wore wide smiles when they glanced inside those boxes, though Alphonsus chose to remain aloof. He had no love for bows, preferring to fight with swords where he could see his opponent.
But Castor held a much different attitude. He recognized the advantage that range would give them in battle.
“All we lack now are shields…” he muttered just loud enough for the Senior Instructor to hear.
“Those come later when we start running you lot through larger-scale training,” he responded.
Leon and a few second-tier trainees passed out the bows and arrows, and once they were finished, the Snow Lions took off back to their camp.
“First thing first! Who here can shoot a bow?!” asked the Senior Instructor as soon as they returned. Leon smiled and stepped forward, as did about two dozen other trainees, including Castor and ten second-tier trainees. After the Senior Instructor passed them a bundle of training arrows and a bow each, there were still fifteen bows remaining.
“Pick fifteen more,” the Senior Instructor told Castor, “though it hardly matter who, you’ll eventually get enough bows for everyone.”
“Who wants to learn how to shoot?!” shouted Castor to the Snow Lions.
Charles, Matthew, Bohemond, Hostilius, and five more trainees stepped forward. Castor randomly grabbed six more trainees of the second-tier, and the Senior Instructor gave each of them one of the remaining bows and arrow bundles.
Leon, Castor, and the Senior Instructor took over teaching archery to those with bows, while the other two instructors went with Alphonsus to run the rest of the Snow Lions through some sword drills. The Instructors kept at it for about an hour and a half when they transitioned to teaching the trainees about actual tactics and formations—most of which included archery—they would be expected to be familiar with if they were assigned to light infantry roles in the Legion.
This meant navigation in harsh environments, marching formations, and quickly establishing a defensive line in case of attack.
For the first three days, it was all archery lessons and tactical theory, but on Thursday, they put that theory into practice.
The exercise was simple: The Snow Lions would ‘patrol’ the gorge, walking from one end to the other, in squads of ten. This time, the third-tier mages would directly participate, unlike during the first-aid drills. The Instructors would watch these patrols, offering critique as they did so.
Unfortunately for the trainees, a few of the groups were failed by the Instructors during these patrols, usually from being unable to maintain a good marching formation.
Normally, such a small patrol would move through the forest in one of two formations: the first, a pair of staggered columns that moved quickly but was prone to flanking without other squads to support them. The second was a wide wedge that covered much more ground but was also easier to see by their enemies and harder to keep under control. The squad leader relied a lot more on the second-tier trainees acting as his men-at-arms in the latter formation.
The squads that failed couldn’t keep their spacing right, or trainees would wander too far outside of their assigned position and the leaders of the patrol weren’t attentive enough to correct them.
Needless to say, the Instructors were fairly harsh with their punishments. The offending trainees couldn’t run the circuit around the tower anymore, so the Instructors had them do squats in full armor while carrying logs or small boulders. Sometimes, if the Instructors felt like it, the trainees would be forced to run around a clearing that had begun forming around the mouth of the cave.
By the time the punishment was over, the trainees would invariably look half-dead.
Castor made great efforts to get the Snow Lions up to snuff, constantly reminding the second-tier trainees of their responsibilities and organizing additional training after the Instructors had left for the day. Leon wasn’t so zealous, but he certainly helped wherever he could in his own subdued way. This mainly manifested in training the first-tier trainees who weren’t running the patrol course in slightly more advanced sword styles.
The behavior of these two greatly impressed the Senior Instructor. He had been given a good first impression of Leon when he motivated some of the first-tier trainees to stay running with the group on the very first day of the training cycle, as well as not being a dick and cutting the line for dinner later that evening. His opinion of Castor wasn’t so positive at that time, but neither was it particularly bad. He was just another third-tier noble to the Senior Instructor.
But the both of them had really started stepping up to the leadership role that the Knight Academy expected of them, Castor especially.
However, Alphonsus was starting to become a problem. One of the squads that had performed miserably during some of the first patrol exercises was one that he had led, an unconscionable failure for a third-tier nobleman. Alphonsus barely seemed able to tolerate their living conditions, often complaining to his second-tier followers about the lack of amenities available to someone of his station.
Castor had attempted to get him to come to terms with their living situation, or at least to stop being so overt about his displeasure as his attitude was carrying over to many of the other trainees. Alphonsus and his subordinates barely participated in the training, doing what was required of them but not sparing a single second after.
Mostly, they stayed in the cave and sulked, much to Castor’s frustration.
At the same time, the other nine units were doing largely the same drills, though with a significantly lower intensity. In fact, by the end of that week, the absence of the Snow Lions was no longer something that most of them thought about. The only real reminder they had of it was the sight of the Snow Lion banner rolled up and rather unceremoniously attached to the Deathbringers’ banner upon the wooden platform during morning training.
But, a few of the third-tier nobles did miss the Snow Lions. In fact, it was only two of them that truly held strong feelings on the subject: Valeria and Alcander. Their reasons were basically the same, Valeria missed having someone so close to her own skill level to spar against, while Alcander desperately wanted to duel Leon himself. That Leon refused to skip his enchantment classes made it that much more difficult for the two of them to forget their desires, though Leon would always vanish after the first class of the afternoon which made challenging him somewhat difficult.
Since the Snow Lions were nowhere to be found and the Deathbringers seemed to be in no hurry to find them, the rest of the trainees had started to pay attention to a new source of drama. Over the previous weekend, a trainee in the pointlessly and dramatically named Blood Eagles had started a fight with another trainee from the Black Vipers, Tiberias’ unit. That fight had escalated into a brawl that dragged more than five others from both units into the mix.
There wasn’t any official retaliation from either side since then, but the air between the two units was tense enough that their Instructors and the knights assisting them started putting them right next to each other during morning training to stoke the fires of their conflict.
And those fires grew fast. There would’ve already been fighting had the knights not intervened by telling the units to save it for when training was over.
But, since the third-tier nobles who led those units hadn’t gotten past some jokes and friendly teasing about paying a visit to the other’s tower, there hadn’t been much actual progress in the conflict—especially since Tiberias didn’t particularly care about seizing banners.
This certainly wasn’t nearly so dramatic and exciting as the Deathbringers attacking the Snow Lions on the streets of the capital or storming their tower, but it was more immediate, so it easily covered up for the missing Snow Lions.
But just because almost everyone else in the Academy had stopped paying attention to their conflict didn’t mean it was over and done with. Castor, Leon, and Alphonsus met many times to talk about when they would take their revenge against the Deathbringers and steal back their banner.
Alphonsus wanted to retrieve it as soon as possible, then move back into their tower with their honor and dignity restored. Leon and Castor, however, were of slightly different minds. They could see how much improvement the other Snow Lions were making out in the gorge, and they wanted that to continue—not to mention their own general ambivalence toward such an esoteric concept as honor. Plus, the Deathbringers would be unable to retaliate against them if they didn’t know where the Snow Lions were, so returning to their tower wasn’t on their minds.
With both of the other third-tier mages advocating for more training and less immediate action, Alphonsus only grew more depressed, bitter, and quiet, until he eventually stopped talking to Castor altogether, saving his words for the occasional unflattering comment he slung at Leon when the latter wasn’t around.
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