Green and tan, it turned out, meant servants of Sir Glen Irby, Lord Carson’s quartermaster. We were directed to a larger tent surrounded by wagons; there, we traded off our cart full of spear points for three carts loaded with poles, cloth, and ropes, and with buckets of pitch, spades for digging, and mallets for hammering stakes. When we finally got the carts back to the empty stretch of clearing near Sir Hagan’s tent, it was a little after midday.
It took us more than two hours to set our camp up for the first time. It would have been longer than that, but Drewis Woodard, the forester’s boy from just outside Cantlay Town, had learned to set up tents like these from his master, and he showed us how the frame went up, the top rail dropping onto the upright posts, and how to stake down the cloth cover so that it held the frame upright.
I’m not sure exactly Sir Hagan knew, but it seemed like he emerged from his tent to examine our work the moment we’d finished. He stood just outside the flap of his tent, turning his head to survey our camp. “No good,” he said, “pack it all back on the carts, and then come here.”
There were groans from a few of the boys, but Sir Hagan shot a glare at the offenders that shut them up pretty much immediately. While we re-packed the tents away, Sir Hagan picked up a stick and started scratching out something in the dirt. When I got closer, after we’d finished forcing the tents back into roughly their original shapes and piled them back on the carts, I realized he was drawing a map, or a plan, like Master Vardon did before we started any larger project.
When we’d all gathered around, Sir Hagan frowned at us. “You know about maps? Some of you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, as did about half of the assembled boys.
“More than I expected. You’ll explain it to the others when I’m done.” He pointed his stick down at the drawing. “This is the path we’re standing on, yes?” He moved the stick to a round shape next to the road, with a smaller circle drawn next to it. “My tent.” He pointed at the smaller circle. “My fire.”
The tip of the stick moved down the line that represented the path. Along it, Sir Hagan had drawn a series of oval shapes, with a square on one side of each of the ovals. “Your tents. All in line, doors all facing one way. Torches planted here, next to the road by each tent.” He dropped the stick. “Do it again, properly this time.” He turned and walked away. This time, we all waited until he was back inside his tent to groan.
Getting the tents all set up in straight lines was harder than setting them up wherever they fit, but all working together we managed to get it done in about the same amount of time as we did the first time. Sir Hagan’s response was to make us tear them down again, and then he split us into groups of four; I ended up with Kellan, but also with Oskar and with Ran ev Stony, the short skinny kid from Stony Hill with the terrible boots. “One group sets up each tent, each group sleeps in the tent they set up. In line, like last time. And quickly, you’re running out of daylight.”
By the time we’d set up our camp for the third time, the sun was just beginning to dip below the trees at the western edge of the clearing. Sir Hagan’s inspection consisted solely of glancing down the line, saying the word “adequate”, and then returning to his tent.
My first night in the encampment was a fitful one. I still had no bedroll, and our entire afternoon spent tramping across this stretch of ground had flattened all but the most aggressive tufts of grass down into the muddy soil. I had only my half-cloak and my hood for a blanket and pillow. My armored coat would have covered more, perhaps, but I doubted the hard iron plates would do anything but leech the cold deeper into my bones. All in all, it was an uncomfortable night’s sleep. It was also a short one.
Well before sunrise, before the sky had even begun to lighten, I heard someone shouting. I had little time to think, no idea what was being said, and before I could even find my bearings Sir Hagan was throwing up the flap of our tent, his face lit from the side by flickering firelight. “Up! Pack up!” He dropped a lit torch in the middle of the tent, right between Kellan and Oskar, and then rushed on down the line. In a panic, we all jumped up, hurrying to pull down the tent, but when everyone had finished and stood waiting for orders, Sir Hagan just strolled up in front of us and frowned. “Slow. And sloppy. Each group, send one of you to find an axe. They’re going to cut and sharpen a new stake for each one that didn’t make it on to the carts. The rest of you, set it up again.”
The next three days would be filled entirely with this. We’d get everything set up, only to have Sir Hagan tell us how we’d done it wrong this time, and then it would be time to tear everything down again. Oskar and I developed something resembling a system of communication, though it largely consisted of grunts, curt nods, and statements starting with “Could someone…”. Ran ev Stony ended up being unexpectedly helpful, small as he was, running to fetch things from the quartermaster or to get food for the rest of us while we lifted the heavy poles up into place. Again. He also managed to find us all proper bedrolls at some point, which was a blessing greater than I could have asked of any of the spirits.
At least, I’m fairly certain he was the one who got them for us. That whole first week in camp is something of a blur, a haze of repetition. We tore down camp, we set up camp. “This time, dig a trench behind the tents as well.” We tore down camp, we set up camp. “No, the trench must be at least one forearm deep and just as wide.” We tore down camp, we set up camp. “No, those knots are no good. Do it like this.” We tore down, we set up. “Faster this time.” We tore down, we set up. “Faster still, but less sloppy.” We tore down, we set up. “Now do it without talking.” We did it again. “Now do it by the main road.” We did it again. “Now back by my tent again.” We did it again. “Good. Do it again.” We did it again. “Good. Do it again.” We did it again. “Good. Do it again.” We did it again.
The shout surprised me. I was sitting in a crouch, starting to pull up the stakes of our tent again, when I heard it. I looked up.
The oldest of the boys from Wollen, a twenty-year-old named Barder am Stomund, was standing a few steps past the edge of the line of tents, facing Sir Hagan’s back. Sir Hagan had been walking away from us, back toward the main camp from our latest site at the clearing’s northern edge.
Sir Hagan cocked his head. “Did I hear something?”
Barder took a step toward Sir Hagan, stepping wide over the newly-dug latrine trench. “Yeah! I asked you ‘why’, sir.” Barder said the last word with a sneer.
“Why?” The knight turned back to face Barder, his voice flat.
Barder threw his mallet at the ground. “Yes, why!? I want to know what could possibly be wrong with it! I want to know why, when I’m fairly sure we all signed up to be soldiers, all we’ve been doing is putting up tents and putting them down again for a bloody week! I want to know why we apparently have to have rows straighter than anyone else on the bloody camp, straighter than the Lord’s own personal guard, and why all you seem to be able to say is ‘do it again’! Why?”
I stood up slowly. Beside me, Kellan and Oskar both stood staring at the scene, Kellan with his bedroll half-rolled in his hands and his mouth hanging just a little bit open. Ran was a little more circumspect in his gawking, but I could just see him peeking out the door of our tent, craning his neck to see over the corner of the next tent in line.
Slowly, Sir Hagan walked forward, toward Barder. “Do you recall what I said when I introduced myself to you boys?”
“You said we should obey you.” Again, the sneer. “And?”
“What I said,” Sir Hagan said, still walking forward, “was that you would obey me, without hesitation, and without question.” He stopped, now within arms reach of Barder. “Exactly what part of that were you not able to comprehend?”
Barder looked down at the knight. He wasn’t quite as tall as either Oskar or I, but he still stood taller than Sir Hagan, and while he wasn’t particularly intimidating in any other respect he had the chest and shoulder muscles that came from long days pushing a plow. “The part where I’ve gotta respect anything I hear from a little man like you.”
Sir Hagan raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “I should have thought that, at least, would be obvious. Did your parents not teach you that respect is owed to adults by a child like you?”
Barder’s eyes widened. “Child?”
He hauled back a fist and swung it out in a wide arc, aimed at the older man’s face. For a moment I thought that Sir Hagan might be in trouble, but the knight somehow avoided the blow, gripped the boy’s arm, and pulled Carder in a circle around himself, pushing him forward so that he fell face first into the narrow trench.
Sir Hagan had somehow managed to keep hold of Barder’s arm, and as he stepped past the trench toward the rest of us he pulled the arm with him, bending Barder’s shoulder back and up and causing the boy to cry out.
“A brief note, in case you were somehow unaware,” he said, addressing the small crowd of boys that had gathered around the scene. “The penalty for striking or attempting to strike a peer of the realm is death.” He levered the boy’s arm further forward over his shoulder, and the yelping increased in pitch. “And while the office of knighthood does not necessarily confer peerage and I am without land or title, I am also the second son of the Duke of Whiteport and a former ward of the previous Lord Carson, both of which make me a peer in the eyes of the law.”
He pulled the arm forward again, and twisted. There was a popping noise, and the boy screamed, then fell quiet. The knight leaned down gently toward Barder. “It is, therefore, astonishingly lucky for you that you did not strike me.” Sir Hagan let go of Barder’s wrist, and the arm flopped to the ground, the hand dropping like a stone. He dusted off his hands against each other. “You,” he said to one of the other boys from Wollen, one of the ones who was sharing a tent with Barder, “find the camp surgeon and tell him we’ve got an arm that needs righting. And fetch him something from Sir Irby’s distiller for the pain.” He turned to walk away again. “Or from that alchemist who’s wandering around, if you’re feeling unkind.”
The boy ducked sheepishly around Sir Hagan and Barder, and then ran off toward the camp. Sir Hagan followed, and the rest of us just stood there for a moment, all of us stunned into silence.