Small John stood straight. He was proud that he had been chosen to join the battalion, but he wanted more. He would have to prove himself against the rest of the men. Most of them were older and they looked stronger. Tough, but inexperienced like himself. Others looked just as martial as the commander. It was unusual for Small John to be surrounded by so many men that were as tall and as strong as he was, although he still had a few inches on most of them.
"The goal of this battalion is to defeat the Orcs. To become the strongest, fastest and all in all best battalion we have to offer."
Some of the men shouted their approval. The commander gave them a stern look and they quieted immediately.
"It won't be easy. The training will be harsh and not all of you will make it through. Only the best can be of worth to the King. Together, when we are ready, we will march on the Orcs and will show them what we are made of. In the meantime other battalions are marching to our borders to protect your families and all of Thecia. And when the time comes we will come to their aid and will show them what the best warriors of the kingdom can do."
Small John's heart beat faster. He wanted to be one of those warriors. He wanted to do his best and to show the commander how good he was. He wanted to kill Orcs and avenge his mother, his father and all of Duranham.
"I'm telling you that others will sacrifice their lives on the borders so that you can train. So that you can become the best. Know this and give me all you have to offer. Make their lives worth something. So that one day we can protect this kingdom with the strongest force the Orcs have ever seen."
Commander Arensen stopped walking back and forth and remained at the front of the ranks. A silence spread over the courtyard. Some of the men looked around unsure if maybe now was the time to shout with enthusiasm. Small John waited patiently.
The commander cleared his throat and continued. "You will be separated into five groups of twenty men each. The groups will be filled with untrained and trained alike. Five of my most experienced men will be the leaders of each squad. Captain Jason will be in command of the first. The other four will be led by Guardians. They will be your mentors, your trainers and your only hope if you want to fulfill my expectations."
Commander Arensen turned and left them standing at attention. A scribe took his place in front of the ranks and unfurled a piece of parchment. He held his chin up high and started reading from the list.
"Captain Jason March. Leader of the first squad."
A tall man stepped up to the front. He was shorter than Small John, but not by much. His shoulders weren't as wide and strong as those of many others, but he looked like he could handle a sword. What really struck Small John was that he had been called with a last name. His, must be a prominent family.
Captain Jason turned to face the soldiers. His nose was held up high and his gaze seemed to look right through those in front of him. They weren't worthy of his attention. Small John hoped he wouldn't be in his squad.
"Guardian Holden. Leader of the second squad."
A squat man stepped through the ranks. He was shorter than almost everyone, but his arms were twice as thick as anyone's. He smiled broadly and took his place next to Captain Jason.
"Guardian Morrison. Leader of the third squad."
Tall and strong, the portrayal of what a warrior should look like. A thick scar ran over his cheek and more could be seen on his arms and hands. His jaw was hard set and not even the slightest hint of a smile crept to his lips when he took his place.
"Guardian Robert Furrow. Leader of the fourth squad."
Not as tall and not as strong looking as Morrison, Small John could still tell that Robert was more than a capable swordsman. The way he stood and moved with a certain ease declared his skill in Small John's eyes. He stepped up next to Morrison and smirked, a twinkle in his eye.
"Guardian Yuseph. Leader of the fifth squad."
His height and the width of his arms were similar to those of Morrison, but they were the least impressive of his attributes. His skin was the color of an oak tree. Darker than any tan. A scar, as white as cloth, went across half of his shaved head down over his eye. And the sword at his hip was a thick curved blade with only the front edge sharpened. Small John wasn't looking forward to being in his squad either.
As soon as Yuseph was in position the scribe continued. "Adam of Gradford. First squad. Alon of Finnburrow. Fourth squad."
The names went on and on. As soon as men heard their name they quickly strode forward and the scribe called the next. With the help of his lessons Small John quickly realized that he was calling out the names alphabetically. It would take a while until the scribe got to S. He continued watching as all the called upon men took their places behind the leaders of each squad.
"Jim of Freshire. Second squad. John of Duranham. Third squad." Nobody moved. "John of Duranham?"
With a jolt Small John realized that he was being called. Even after Serah insisted on just calling him John, he still hadn't gotten used to it. He stepped forward and looked from one squad to the other. Which squad had he been assigned to?
The scribe looked at him and sighed. "Third squad." Then he returned his gaze to his list and went on with his work. "John of Mirthwater. Squad five."
Small John walked past Morrison, his guardian, and took his place in line. He couldn't help but notice the scowl on Morrison's face. So much for making a good first impression.