Finding Peace - Cover

Finding Peace

Copyright© 2015 by Allan Kindred

Chapter 8

Tracer and Ram reach the grasslands well before dawn. With two hours before daybreak they still have plenty of time to make it deep inside the grasslands, and hopefully find a secure place to hole up.

From there he can decide if it is time to start traveling by day. The most important part is to get as far away from the desert as possible. When he finally gets spotted, he will have to be able to make it look like he came from a different direction. From what Kerzon told him, the entire desert is off limits and considered enemy territory. Once, the people of the grasslands used to trade with the nomads, but that has since been outlawed by the Black Army and their leaders.

Throughout Tracer's life he has always felt more at ease in the wild when alone and exploring. All the elements the world has to offer are like gifts to him from the gods. That is all except one. The rain washes away his inner turmoil and brings with it the smell of new life. The sun, though not an element of the world, warms the dark recesses of his mind. Fire brightens his world and frightens the menacing shadows away. Earth cradles and sustains all other life. But it is the wind that he can't stand. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing sweeter than a gentle breeze on a warm summer day, but when it reaches gusts so strong it can impede your way, that's when Tracer hates it. Especially when he used to have long hair.

As soon as the sun starts to rise over the prairie grasslands the wind starts blowing at gusts of up to thirty knots per hour. Tracer finds himself wishing that he hadn't thrown his makeshift hat away that he used in the desert. He could have cut it up and made a scarf from it to block out the dirt and pollen blowing through the air, but Tracer didn't want to get caught with anything that looks like it belongs in the desert.

Tracer shook the sand out of his stuff and wiped Ram down as well as possible, but it will be better if he can find a stream just to make sure all the evidence of the desert is gone.

Tracer sees a group of six or seven trees off in the distance. He figures, or at least he hopes, that the water supply that sustains life to them is above ground. It isn't. It is next to a well-traveled road, and at least it blocks some of the wind and sun. Tracer unpacks Ram and lets him wander free. He leans his back against one of the trees and goes to sleep.

Tracer can hear them coming. At first it is a soft whinny from Ram that alerts him that something is amiss. There are a dozen riders at least, maybe many more. Tracer continues to act as if he is still asleep.

"Hey! You there." Tracer hears a surly voice say. It is naturally spoken common, but it has a slightly different accent drawl to it. Just how many different nations are involved in this chaos?

Tracer acts like he startles him awake. "What?" He opens his eyes and flashes them his most charming smile. They are Black Army Regulars.

"What are you doing out here and where are you from?"

"I am Tracer and I am from the open land village of Reserte," it's a village Kerzon told him about that is on the far western side of the prairie. He hopes it is far enough away that none of these guys will be from there. "And I am traveling to Revarde to join the army, Sir!"

As Tracer listens to the army officer talk, he begins to realize that it is only the mercenaries who speak with the thick accent. So the mercenaries are from a different country still.

"You do not need to go to Revarde to join. You can ride with us to Tolnadra and join there. But you will only be an enlisted man, and one of that rank does not deserve such a magnificent beast. I will take your horse for my own."

"Take care, sir, for it is a dangerous undertaking you are about to embark on."

Apparently he thinks Tracer is threatening him, because he draws his sword on him. "Is that right, boy? What are you going to do about it?"

"I only meant, sir, that he will not let you near him."

"Please, I can break any animal."

The black-haired clean-shaven soldier walks up to Ram and goes to grab his mane. Ram rears up on his hind legs and starts kicking out with his front legs. The soldier dives to the ground. Ram follows him down and is trying to stomp him. The soldier rolls over and gets to his feet and runs away. The other soldiers start laughing. The commander limps back to his horse with a sour look at his troops and Tracer. Apparently Ram hit him a glancing blow.

He gives Ram a wistful glance and tells Tracer, "Just get on your horse."

Tracer saddles him quickly and packs up their supplies. Tracer had thought that it would be easy to join one of the enemy forces, for who would believe a spy would be so far behind enemy lines, but this is almost too easy.

They travel for some six hours before they reach the military training town of Tolnadra. Tracer tries to ask several questions about their destination, but he is told, "Recruits do not speak unless spoken to."

On their way to Tolnadra they pass through several small villages. From the way the citizens do their best to avoid being near and making eye contact with the soldiers, Tracer can tell this is definitely a beleaguered and conquered nation.

As they are riding through the second village, a little girl runs out into the street chasing her puppy. The commander of the patrol doesn't even slow down. If it weren't for the girl's mother running into the street and grabbing her child she would have been ridden down. As it is the puppy is killed.

For the next week all Tracer can hear is that little girl crying her little broken heart out. It is the saddest sound he has ever heard, and the memory of it almost drives him insane. Tracer has to harden his resolve, and in doing so his spirit dies a little more every day.

They are now entering Tolnadra, and Tracer silently promises himself that he will covertly release his rage upon these bastards. Tolnadra is a military town. There aren't houses and stores; there are barracks and commissaries. There has to be nearly four hundred people in the town. As Tracer is to soon learn there are thirty other recruits. There are civilians also, but most of them seem more like slaves and servants than patriots.

They ride up to a barrack that stands off away from the rest and has a large open field next to it. There a soldier is yelling at a group of men and boys trying to get them to line up.

"Sergeant Bertro!"

"Yes, sir!" the sergeant says, running up to the commander.

"I have another recruit for you." says the commander gesturing back towards Tracer.

The sergeant runs up to him and yells, "Get down off that horse, recruit, and fall in line." From the sergeant's accent Tracer knows him to be from Escrotry.

"Yes, sir!" Tracer yells back at him, and gets down off Ram and starts running to get in line.

As Tracer is running by him the sergeant stops him and says, "Do I look like a sir to you, recruit? I am a sergeant, I work for a living, and that is how you will address me. Got it."

"Yes, Sergeant."

The first day they do calisthenics. The second and third days they do calisthenics and running. The next three days they do calisthenics, running and schooling. They are teaching the recruits military tactics and the responsibilities of the different ranks of the Imperial Army. So, that is what they call themselves. Figures it would be something deluded like that.

Due to Ram's foul temper, they allow Tracer to take care of him when he isn't in training. Ram isn't happy about being locked up in a stable most of the time with three dozen other horses, but he seems to understand that there is something bigger going on here, so he quits trying to kill everything that comes within reach.

On the seventh day, and for the next week after that, the recruits begin hand to hand and weapons training. In those eight days they train with wooden daggers and swords. The sergeant can tell that Tracer is already highly skilled, and he begins to keep a close eye on him.

As for the other recruits, Tracer makes no effort to befriend any of them. For the most part they seem to Tracer like people that have been picked on all their lives and only want a chance for revenge.

At the beginning of the third week they are allowed to use their real swords and daggers. The recruits line up on the training field, waiting for the command to begin.

Sergeant Bertro brings with him another Imperial Army soldier and says, "This is Corporal Trake, and he is going to assist us today. I need a corporal for this group, and whoever can best him will be promoted. Any volunteers?"

A big man comes forward and volunteers, and you can see in his eyes that he thinks this tiny corporal is going to be an easy take.

"Begin," they start circling each other.

The big recruit makes a couple of clumsy sword thrusts at the corporal, but the big man isn't fast enough. The big recruit charges the corporal hoping to intimidate him, I guess. The corporal easily moves out of the way and brings his sword around hard and nearly severs the sword arm from the big recruit, who is now on the ground crying like a baby.

"Any other volunteers? Recruit Tracer, you just volunteered."

"Yes, Sergeant." Tracer says, stepping forward.

Tracer just stands there not moving.

The corporal tells him, "Arm yourself and be ready."

Tracer replies, "I am."

The corporal scoffs at him and makes a quick thrust at him. Tracer parries it easily and swings around so hard that when his sword hits his neck it takes his head off without any resistance.

"Recruit Tracer, why did you kill this man?"

"No mercy for the weak, sergeant." Tracer says, with no emotion at all.

Sergeant Bertro steps over the body of the dead corporal and looks Tracer in the eye, and then says, "You're the corporal now, Tracer."

"Yes, Sergeant Bertro."

The Sergeant motions to the other recruits to take the body away. The ones that aren't losing their breakfast all over the training field jump at his command.

"Corporal Tracer, continue the training."

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