With all that remained important to him stuffed into a small bag Vrallos began to walk out of the village towards the waiting soldiers. He had thanked the elders for their hospitality these past few weeks for although it had never felt like his home, he had been made welcome there.
His volunteering had saved another in the village from the conscription, most of them strangers to him, but it seemed the obvious decision to make. With nothing left here for him, why should he not move on.
It was second nature to assess the danger they presented as he approached, but even though they appeared well armed with well made long swords, Vrallos was not impressed. The way they carried themselves showed they could fight, but their nerves at escorting with the tall dark skinned warrior were clear even though they outnumbered him.
“Hurry up recruit!” said one of them, “We have a long way to go”. Vrallos glanced at him and raised an eyebrow, knowing full well he would be able to leave these soldiers behind should he chose to.
“Lead way, I follow”. The words were strange in Vrallos’ mouth whilst he understood the ‘common’ tongue and had dealt with traders before, it felt uncomfortable to speak its words. The soldier muttered something to his companion that Vrallos couldn’t quite catch, but they started hiking down the hill so he began to walk after them.
As he suspected the pace set by the soldiers was an easy one that posed him no problems and thankfully as they kept their talk to between themselves Vrallos could almost lose himself in his surroundings. These hills had been his home all is life and now he was leaving them behind to fight in a war he knew nothing about for an emperor he knew even less about. He wondered if he would see them again.
All to quickly his reverie was broken as that arrived at a small cam where more soldiers were waiting along with another nine warriors from other villages that his tribe lived in. Most he did not know, but two of them
Before… Yes, another life now.
This group equal in numbers of soldiers and tribesmen spent the next two days marching down out of the hills heading for the army they were being forced to join. It gave Vrallos time to watch and study more of these soldiers and whilst some of the other tribesmen were nervously trying to make friends out of these strangers he kept to himself as an observer.
Most of the soldiers were relaxed and casually talked between themselves as you would expect a unit of men that have fought together, but it was equally obvious from the variety of armour and clothes they wore and mixture weapons each bore that they had come from many different places into this army. Just like us they had started life in the army as a stranger, but here they had found a place to belong.
Not that they welcomed the tribesmen into the fold. Far from it, the attempts to make friends were rebuffed quickly. It made sense to Vrallos , but not to those rejected.
“We are nothing to them” said Vrallos to who continued to be ignored by the soldiers. “Until we prove ourselves worthy of knowing in battle we will be treated less than hounds.”
protested briefly “…But we are strong warriors”
_“This is an army formed from strangers and it is an army that fights wars where many die. They will not make friends with those that are new as they will be the ones most likely to die. It will only be after you prove yourself worth knowing that they will take interest in you.”
Did he want to become friends with them? No, this was not important to Vrallos. He had lost those he had chosen to be close to. It would not happen again. He was happy with them staying as strangers, but he would not be treated as a stray hound.
It was early afternoon when they entered the town the army had made from their tents. News quickly spread amongst the tents that fresh meat had arrived and it wasn’t long before heads popped out of tent openings and other soldiers that had been gathered around fires moved towards the road between tents the recruits were walking down.
The tribesmen were welcomed by jeering and cat calling from the troops. Most of it was too quick for Vrallos to catch, but the meaning was clear.
‘They think we are weak’ thought Vrallos . For some reason the kilt he wore and the long dreadlocks he had also meant he was a woman. This was strange and unexpected for his size and stature was anything but feminine. He thought about this briefly whilst they arrived at an opening in the tents.
Soldiers were gathered around the square even before two soldiers walked out of the large tent that bordered one side of the square formed between the tents.
These two were obviously different from the other soldiers, with much finer armour and emblems denoting they belonged to this army. They were in charge.
The shorter of the two began shouting at the tribesmen telling them to line up in two rows of five facing each other Vrallos taking up a position in the middle of the lines. It was another surprise to Vrallos to hear so much noise coming out of such a small man and an even greater surprise that men much larger than him followed his orders when he shouted for wooden weapons to be brought.
When each of the tribesmen was brought a wooden equivalent of the weapons they were already carrying, it became obvious to Vrallos what was about to happen. It had taken the soldiers a few moments to find a wooden equivalent to the large two handed sword slung across his back, but when they had it was well made and balanced nicely.
Other tribesmen had not caught on so quickly and so it was a shock when to the first men on each line had been told to step forward and fight each other. More shouting came from the little soldier giving all the orders when they stood there nervously facing off against each other. After a few ineffectual swings from each of them, clattering weakly off the other’s shield they were spared further jeering from the crowd and ordered back into line.
‘They think we are weak, we are weak’ thought Vrallos.
The taller of the two soldiers in charge, leaned over to the short one and whispered something in his ear.
“You…” shouted the smaller man, pointing at the second man in one of the lines. “…and you” pointing at Vrallos “Step forward”
His opponent was visibly shaken at the sight of Vrallos taking a pace forward.
“Fight!” came the order.
Vrallos would not accept the shame brought on by the weakness shown by his tribe for even though they were from different villages to him he would be marked by their failure to fight.
With a couple of swift strides forward Vrallos brought his sword up above his head and swung down. His opponent managed to lift his sword to block the blow, but the strength of Vrallos’ swing was too much knocking the sword from his hand before large wooden blade connected with his head, knocking him senseless before he’d even hit the ground.
The jeering from the crowd stopped as Vrallos took a pace back and looked at the tall man in charge, casually resting his sword over his shoulder.
A quick shout from the one making all the noise brought out two soldiers that picked up the unconscious form of the fallen tribesmen and took him away for treatment.
“You and you” shouted that short man pointing at the next two in the line the fallen tribesman had come from. “Both of you fight him now”.
Vrallos took another pace back to give the new opponents space in the square to fight as the shouts from the watching soldiers began again. He gave them a nod to check that they were ready. Nervously they nodded back. Again Vrallos quickly stepped forward, the wooden blade whistling through the air before an ugly cracking sound and grunt came from the first of the tribesmen as he was hit in the ribs under his sword arm. The second stepped forward, stabbing at Vrallos with his spear, but the smallest of sidesteps caused the blow to be wide. And so as the first tribesman fell to his knees from the blow he had been dealt, Vrallos swung again bringing the blade up into the gut of the second tribesman.
It had taken but seconds for the two opponents to be reduced to gasping messes on the floor.
‘This fight is nothing’ thought Vrallos ‘I am only as strong as my opponents and it is clear for all to see that my tribe is weak’
Almost as if in answer to his thoughts, following a quick whisper from the tall man to the short orders were barked for two soldiers to come forward. Each was given wooden swords and shields and as they entered into the square cheering from the audience became louder.
These soldiers were unknown quantities to Vrallos , but again a quick assessment let him confidently believe that he would have no issues winning this fight too.
As the command to fight was given however Vrallos was quick to ensure that he gained the positional by placing one soldier behind the other. He did this with a rapid few steps towards the soldier to his right that quickly turned into a slide and he ducked under the opportune blow from his target as positioned himself behind him. Now stood right between the soldier and those ringing the square to watch, he hit with his sword coming up under the soldier’s shield arm lifting him up off his feet. Despite the pain the soldier turned and swung at wildly at Vrallos missing by quite a distance. A second strike at the soldier across his back hits hard, but these soldiers are tougher than the tribesmen he’s just fought and he manages to stay standing.
The second opponent had by now moved round his companion but fails in his attempt to hit Vrallos as he takes a pace to keep the first soldier between them. A foot stuck out by one of the watching soldiers however causes Vrallos to stumble to his knees.
Vrallos’ focuses switches from his original two opponents to his new attacker. A sneering grin meets his glare. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees step forward out of the line and strike at the second soldier distracting them from Vrallos . In that moment Vrallos steps forward and punches the man who tripped him in the chest with both his hands still wrapped around the hilt of his sword.
The sneer disappears as Vrallos continues to glare at him, challenging him to join the fight. The soldiers hand moves to his side, gripping the hilt of his sword. This sword is real.
Before he can draw it however, friends behind him hold his arms against his sides and pull him back through the lines away from Vrallos .
Turning back Vrallos is happy to see is still standing. Unfortunately so are both of the soldiers. Bringing the pommel of his sword down onto the head of the first soldier quickly deals with him.
He nods toto give him the chance to take down the second soldier, but a wild miss causes him to turn that nod in to a shake of his head. With a spin he swings the large blade around, the blow knocking the soldier from his feet and onto the floor into a crumpled heap of groaning.
In less than a minute the fight has finished. The crowd murmuring amongst themselves at the sight they have just witnessed.
Vrallos simply turns to face the tall man in charge and rests his sword in his shoulder again.
“Enough” says the tall man. It is the first time Vrallos has heard his voice, and although it is not as loud as the small man’s it is commanding. Again he leans over to the small man and whispers in his ear.
Orders a quickly barked, wooden weapons taken from the tribesmen and the fallen soldiers picked up to be taken for treatment.
The others still standing will be taken into the main army. Vrallos and are to follow the small man to their posting.