You know, my top-tier patrons on Patreon are far enough ahead that the last chapter of this arc was released for them today ;)
The last few classes the Knight Academy taught its trainees during their training cycle were a random mash-up of various other aspects of a knight’s job that the trainees would have to know. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to go into detail, so the burden of educating them fully in these parts of their jobs would fall upon the knights who the trainees would serve during their squireships.
The first class was camp construction. Leon had an easier time with this class than most of the other trainees, thanks to Artorias’ education. Artorias had used most of the same principles in building their fortified home in the Forest of Black and White as the Instructors were teaching in the Academy, and he had made sure to teach Leon those same principles. As a result, Leon’s squad was able to build their camp wall and tents during their practical exercises faster than anyone else in the battalion.
The rest of the classes weren’t so smooth for him, however.
Leon hit the ground hard, landing on his back with a look of intense anger and frustration on his face. The horse that had just thrown him off turned around to stare at Leon, it’s bright eyes looking smug and self-satisfied to the young mage.
“This fucking animal!” Leon muttered bitterly. The horse had thrown him onto the ground half a dozen times, and he was more than sick of it.
As if it could understand what he said, the horse snorted haughtily—or so it seemed to Leon— and turned its head away. Once Leon rose to his feet and approached the horse to remount, it bucked its legs and took off running across the field, leaving Leon standing there feeling quite foolish and very frustrated.
“You alright there, Leon?” asked Castor as he rode over on a horse that seemed as tame and well-trained as an old herding dog.
“I’m fine,” Leon said, his tone making it clear just how much of a lie his statement was.
“Need some help getting that horse back here?” Castor asked, looking perfectly willing to go after the running horse.
“No,” Leon answered. He started to emit relatively small amounts of killing intent as his eyes followed his horse around the training field, and Castor awkwardly laughed and rode away, leaving Leon to his own business.
Leon took a few deep breaths and released some magic from his soul realm into his blood. The horses the Knight Academy used for training weren’t anything special, but Leon would still need to utilize all of his third-tier speed to run down his horse.
After galloping away across the training field, the horse had slowed down and started to follow some of the other horses around. It had noticed Leon didn’t immediately run after it, so it wasn’t worried at all. Several minutes later, once it felt an ice-cold killing intent envelop its body, it knew that it had made a mistake by not paying any attention to Leon. Leon, seeming to appear out of nowhere, tackled the startled horse to the ground, aiding that realization.
Fortunately, neither the horse nor the extremely angry Leon was hurt, and the horse struggled to its hooves with Leon back in the saddle. Leon didn’t have nearly so much trouble for the rest of the class as he had in the beginning, but that wasn’t to say the horse had suddenly started cooperating with him. It only stopped trying to throw him off. By the time that class ended Leon still hadn’t gained control of the horse.
“I fucking hate horses,” Leon bitterly complained in the Snow Lions’ ground-floor common room, “and I hate that fucking horse in particular…”
“Well, you may not have had the best time, but it sure was funny seeing you getting tossed on your ass so many times,” Henry said with a laugh. Had anyone not in the small group of friends Leon had accumulated said the same thing, Leon would’ve responded with a potent blast of killing intent. But, after nine months around these guys, he had learned to just roll with the good-natured ribbing.
So, he only shot the snickering Henry a brief glare before sarcastically saying with a shrug, “At least there’s a silver lining.”
“Yeah, but I have to say, it’s weird seeing you not be good at something,” Bohemond said to Leon. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you really struggle at such a simple task as riding a horse.”
“There aren’t any horses in the Northern Vales! Where would I have ever learned this shit before coming south?!” Leon asked rhetorically.
“You could’ve taken the horseback riding class rather than whatever it was you chose for your second elective,” said Charles. “You had the opportunity to learn, but you didn’t.”
“To be fair, that horse was kind of an asshole,” Alain stated.
“It was, but a skilled enough rider would’ve been able to compensate and take control without their killing intent,” said Henry.
“Maybe. Maybe that horse was in heat or something; it kept following the mares when it got away from Leon. Horses go into heat, right?” Matthew mentioned.
“If it was a male horse, then I doubt it was in heat; that’s a female thing. Was it male?” Leon asked.
“… Yes, it was,” answered Matthew after a moment of stunned silence; he clearly thought the horse’s sex had been obvious, but it apparently wasn’t to Leon. Or at least, Leon hadn’t paid nearly enough attention to his horse, which was perhaps one of the reasons why it was so uncooperative. “I mean, it was a stallion unless that fifth leg it seemed to have actually was a fifth leg…”
“That poor horse,” Charles said sarcastically. “All he wanted was to take a ride with some fine lady horses, but instead he had to be ridden by this surly goon. My heart aches for him, it truly does.”
Leon sighed. He wasn’t in the mood to fire back at Charles, so he simply repeated in a low voice, “I fucking hate horses…”
The horse class lasted less than a week, not nearly enough time for Leon to actually improve in his horse riding skills. He was barely able to get his horse to move where he wanted it to, let alone pull off the fancy maneuvers that many of the third-tier nobles showed off to each other.
In fact, Leon’s lack of skill with a horse had become something of a joke among many of the nobles. There were a couple of bets going on how long he’d be able to last before being thrown off his horse again. Of course, Leon was hardly alone in having serious trouble with his horse, but he was the only third-tier trainee who had such problems.
However, for the several dozen nobles who took great joy in seeing Leon finally seem to fail at something, one nobleman was notable for not taking the opportunity to deride Leon: Gaius. As a matter of fact, Gaius had been strangely quiet and reserved for months, though no one was upset enough at his relative silence to actually ask him about it.
When many of the other nobles quietly laughed at the sight of Leon struggling to control his horse, Gaius watched impassively and didn’t say a word—or make any sort of reaction, for that matter. The young nobleman merely maintained his silence and kept to himself.
Fortunately for Leon, the next class was an introduction to the signals used to command Legions on the battlefield—a significantly easier subject than riding horses. The second-to-last week was spent learning the flag and horn signals in a classroom, while the final week was spent on the training field, putting those classes to practice.
The training units were arranged into three lines, staggered into a checkerboard pattern, and made to move in time to the signals they had learned the week before. Everything from battle commands to parade marching was covered—though the latter was only given a few cursory hours, as opposed to the days of the former.
And, when the last day was over, the training units retired to their towers to rest. They had the next week off, and then it was on to the FTX, the two-month long final test of the skills they acquired in the Knight Academy. It would involve all ten units fighting against each other with the goal of seizing as many banners as they could.
The results of the FTX would have a major impact on where the trainees would be sent for their squireships. Since most lords and higher-ranked knights kept their former squires on as knights in their own units or retinue, where the trainees would be sent for their squireships was essentially where they would spend the majority of their career in the Royal Legions.
Thus, most trainees considered it of the utmost importance to perform well, so that they could be sent somewhere pleasant. ‘Most’ trainees, of course, meant the commoners; the nobles were confident they’d be sent somewhere befitting of both their nobility and education in the Knight Academy, regardless of their performance in the end. But that wasn’t to say that they didn’t take the FTX seriously. To beat the other units would be to confirm their own greatness, an incredibly attractive prospect to the proud and egotistical nobles.
The Snow Lions were no exception to the general state of things in the Academy. Every trainee in the unit wanted to win, a desire that was amplified by the fact that they hadn’t done any fighting since seizing the Deathbringers’ banner; they were ready for a good fight, and the FTX was the perfect opportunity. To that end, Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus convened in the third-tier common room to discuss their strategy going forward.
“We’ve been passive for too long! We need to go on the attack!” said Alphonsus emphatically.
“I agree,” added Leon, “and the sooner the better. The longer we wait, the more chances everyone else will have to not only find us but also to dig in and fortify their camps.”
“Indeed. Fortunately, we already have a fortified camp…” muttered Castor, causing Alphonsus to frown slightly. The latter truly hated that cave the Snow Lions had moved into for several months, and the idea of going back certainly wasn’t appealing to him, even though none of the units were allowed to stay in their towers during the FTX; they had to venture out into the training grounds and build a fortified camp to stay in, rather than stay in the comfort of their towers.
“Any idea about who we should attack first?” Castor continued, letting the other two speak their minds before him.
“The Black Vipers!” answered Alphonsus immediately. “That shit stick Tiberias took part in that attack on our tower, and we haven’t gotten our revenge yet!”
After a silent moment of thought, Leon said, “Works for me. The Black Vipers still have their banner, a surprise attack on the first night could work…”
“Hmmm… I was actually hoping to go after the Steel Century for that ambush they pulled on you back then,” Castor said while looking at Leon, “but if the two of you are in agreement, then we can go after the Black Vipers first. Then the Steel Century.”
Alphonsus laughed in anticipation, but Leon only nodded stoically.
“Beyond that, how do you two think we should fight?” asked Castor. “I’m thinking we ought to go out as light infantry and archers, attacking at night and disappearing during the day back into our caves. Thoughts?”
“I like it, especially the nighttime raids; however, I think we should also have a couple squads of heavy infantry just in case,” Leon said.
“I can certainly take the heavy infantry in that case,” Alphonsus said eagerly.
“Alright, Al your squad will take that role. Choose another squad to join you. If anything should go wrong, you’ll be our shield wall that’ll buy us time to escape. Hopefully, we won’t need you…” Castor said, to Alphonsus’ glee.
“And you,” Castor continued, turning to Leon, “I’m going to put you in charge of three squads of archers. I think you’ll be able to inflict plenty of damage with them.”
“Most definitely…” said Leon with a sinister smile. “I also have a few more ideas about how we should proceed after the attack on the Black Vipers, whether win or lose…”
The three stayed up late that night planning their moves, but there was one more detail that they had decided on that didn’t sit quite right with the rest of the unit: they’d be forgoing the week off to move back into the caves early. They wanted that extra time to prepare and fortify the caves further. Alphonsus certainly wasn’t happy, but since he was only staring down two months in the caves, he held his tongue and accepted the decision.
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