Royal Military Seminary
15 Arcan 1687
As he walked through the library, hugging a bound volume of maps to his chest, Robert Drury found the stares of the other students unsettling. He'd been much older than most when he entered Sandwyckemuch bigger as welland had even been a veteran of the Lescari War; so being stared at wasn't something he found uncommon. Those sorts of stares had died away over his four years at the seminary, so their renewal, especially in the library and at that moment, meant only one thing.
Robin sighed. You must have really gone and done it this time, Uriah. He frowned and that broke off a number of stares, save the positively icy glare from Brother Lucas. Robin offered him a weak smile, which prompted the old priest to shake his head and turn away.
Without knocking, Robin opened the door to the small study chamber he'd reserved. A long, lanky, loose-limbed youth with a shock of red hair sat sprawled between two chairs. He'd slumped down in one enough that his shoulder blades were pressed against the seat; the second chair served as a platform for his thighs. Uriah held two little painted blocks of wood, one in each hand, and rammed them together, vocalizing a sound that approximated the roar of a steam cannon firing a volley.
Robin's eyes narrowed. "Interesting exercise in tactical abstraction, Cadet Smith."
The wooden blocks flew as Uriah started, then grabbed for some portion of either chair to keep him from falling. He failed, tipping over the chair beneath his thighs and letting the other one skid noisily to the wall. The little blocks, painted to represent military units, danced around him as he crashed to the floor, then he looked up at Robin, anger gathering on his face.
"You scared me!"
"Uriah, you've been scaring me every single day we've been working on this project together." Robin set his book of maps down on the corner of the sand table in the center of the room. A boxy affair, it was open at the top and filled with sand that could be shaped into the terrain of any battlefield in the world. "I expected you to have our terrain ready."
Uriah climbed to his feet, then picked up the two wooden blocks. He set them with others on the edge of the sand table. "I couldn't do the terrain without those maps, could I?"
"You could have gotten started." Robin pointed to the troop designator blocks. "After all, you weren't busy painting up the troops the way I asked you to."
Uriah shrugged. "Why should I? Brother Lucas had them in his stores. He looked at me funny when he handed them over, but he always looks at me funny."
Robin shook his head. "You realize, of course, that Brother Lucas will give Captain Irons a list of the troops we requested, and that means he'll know we're doing a hypothetical for our Tactics seminar project."
"Does it matter? We're not doing a battle using his Cathedral Lancers, so he's bound to grade us down anyway."
Robin held up his hands. "Why don't you think about what you just said while you get the terrain ready?" He opened the book of maps and held it up for Uriah to study. "I want it exact."
"Okay." Uriah nodded, then waved the book away.
Robin raised an eyebrow. "Study it, Uriah. Apply yourself a bit. 'Exact' doesn't mean 'kind of close.'"
Uriah's green eyes narrowed. "I said, Cadet Drury, I have it. I have a facility for memorizing images, remember? That's one of the reasons I'm in your Advanced Tactics seminar even though this is only my third year here."
"Okay, do it." Robin closed the book. "Sooner rather than later."
Uriah pretended he'd not heard that last remark. Using a yard-long board, he smoothed the sand table's surface and leveled the sand over the table's six-foot length. Yawning, he swept a hank of red hair back from his eyes, then dug the board in at the far end of the table. Working the board forward and up, he heaped sand at the nearer end. Finally, with his hands, he built up a little mound to dominate the near end.
Brushing his hands one against the other to rid them of sand, he shrugged. "That's as close as I need for Jebel Quirana and its environs."
"I'm still waiting for exact, Uriah."
"And exact you'll get." The younger man then closed his eyes and placed his hands on two well-worn spots on the side of the table. He whispered a prayer to Saint Jerome, the patron saint of libraries and librarians, then gave one short, crisp nod.
The spell he invoked, though common and not very powerful, still caused a bluish incandescence to pour like mist from the nimbus surrounding his hands. It bled out to ring the table, then flowed foglike over the beige sand. As it sank in, the light shifted the sand, pulling some parts down and pushing others up. Where Uriah had left a rounded mound, Jebel Quirana appeared as a flat-topped mesa with its cliff sides etched in sharp relief. The fog even formed sand into the image of the city of Helor, though the mountain dwarfed it and the scale did not allow for much complexity aside from the shape of the walls.
Robin reopened the book and stared at the map he'd shown Uriah. Everything matched, from the broad valley that rose at the southeast end on up to where the cylindrical mountain stood with a city built at its base on the north side. The cartography was not particularly spectacular, but the contour lines gave a good idea of the slope of the land, and Uriah had matched things perfectly.
Robin closed the book and sighed. He knew the same spell Uriah had used, and was capable of wielding it with similar skill, but he would have had to section the table off and work on parts of it individually were he to get that sort of detail, studying the map all the while. What he does without even breaking a sweat would take me nigh unto forever.
"Great job, Uriah." Robin shook his head. "Given the nature of the battle we're simulating, the scale is too big to encompass the final stages of the battlethe siege of the city of Helor itselfbut this will work perfectly for the preliminary stages."
"It's exact enough for you, then?"
"I hope your city of Helor is up to your standards."
"My city of Helor? You're doing that map, too."
Uriah frowned. "Why am I doing all the work?"
"Ha!" Robin blinked his eyes and stared incredulously at Uriah. "This is the first work you've done on this project. If you actually worked hard on it we'd have been done a month ago."
"You're forgetting who translated all those Stranan unit histories for you."
"Uriah, your mother was Stranan; you learned the language while she dandled you on her knee. You translated those histories, but I was the guy who dug around and determined which histories you'd be working on, remember?"
The younger man nodded. "I remember."
"Good." Robin set the map book down again. "At least Irons won't be able to mark us off for the terrain in our presentation. I wish, though, you'd done as I asked and not let it slip that we were doing a hypothetical."
"I stand by my previous remark. We're not doing one of the Cathedral Lancer battles from the Lescari War, so Irons will hate what we're doing anyway. Why worry about it being a hypothetical?"
"Irons has a particular hatred of hypothetical battles, Uriah."
"You, doing something to provoke an instructor?" Uriah's green eyes filled with mischief. "I guess your working with me on this project has warped you."
"For someone who is so damned smart, you see a lot less than even Colonel Kidd." Robin rubbed his scarred hands over his face. "I'm not trying to provoke Irons, but I don't see any value in doing a project that hundreds of other cadets have done." And if I had chosen such a project and picked you as my partner, you would have had absolutely zero work to do, which you would have gladly accepted.
The younger man sighed heavily and began to pace the width of the small lantern-lit room. "Rob, you're a Firstie and you're a cadet company commander. You've got everything going for you. You'll be getting out of here come graduation a month hence. Now I've got one more year here"
"If they don't bounce you out of here after this term."
Uriah's nose wrinkled with disgust as a hint of fear trickled into his voice. "And doing a hypothetical isn't going to improve my chances of staying, is it?"
Robin smiled, his dark eyes flashing. "Can't hurt them. At least with a hypothetical, Irons and the others will know we were using our brains."
Uriah sighed. "True. But I don't think it will make that much difference to him."
"I'm counting on the fact that you've actually applied yourself to stun him with surprise."
"I see you're working hard in your Witticism seminar, as well."
Uriah pointed toward the door and the library beyond. "There are plenty of battles we could have used for our project and shown Irons we were capable of thinkingand the chance for you to be graded down would have been much less. Many of the battles have been done before so we know where the holes in tactics and strategy are and we can plug them easily. All we have to do is pick one of these and you'll get the grade you need to get you on the Saint Michael."
"And you'll somehow convince yourself that warfare can be just as easy, just as simple, when you're commanding the Saint Michael."
"I don't think that's your problem, Robin."
"You're going into the same service I am, so it is my problem. And here, you're my partner, so it's even more of my problem." The older man folded his arms across his chest. "Sandwycke isn't going to send you away if I have anything to do with it. Your father wanted you here. You're in the accelerated group because your ability to wield magic is strong and because you're so smart. To lose you would be a blow to the service."
"Not as big a one as you might think. Besides, my father is dead and my brother has other uses for me."
"It doesn't matter that your brother is now the Duke of Carvenshire. The Church knows your value here. Your brother may want to marry you off to someone to seal an alliance, but his wishes amount to little when opposed by the Church."
"That's Tybalt, but you forget that my brother Graham is a priest and he has Cardinal Garrow's ear. If they start working together and if Tybalt stops the grant my father gave me to pay for my training . . ."
"If, ifyou're worrying about hypotheticals." Robin shook his head. "Only a fool worries himself about hypotheticals."
Uriah exaggerated a laugh and pointed at the sand table. "Which brings us back to the wisdom of this one."
"This isn't a hypothetical, it's a reality that hasn't happened yet." Robin flipped his big book open and shifted through the yellowed pages.
"You really think this will happen, that Strana will attack Helor and try to dominate Helansajar?"
"Do you expect the sun to come up tomorrow?"
Uriah nodded. "Yes, and much too early for my tastes, too."
"I saw that coming. You'll need to apply yourself in your Witticism seminar next year, too." Robin leaned on the edges of the sand table. "Let's get the troops deployed. We've got to get this right, or Irons will have a field day with us."