Stuck in Magic 15

7 Apr

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Chapter Fifteen

Two days later, we left the city and rode out to the garrison.

It was larger than I’d expected, after reading my way through countless military and procurement reports that had the stench of wishful thinking, if not corruption and outright lying.  The city’s defenders seemed determined to lie to themselves, let alone everyone else, even as the warlords tightened the screws.  They could have put up a much better fight, I thought, if they’d made use of the resources at their command.  Instead, they’d fired a handful of arrows for the honour of the flag – metaphorically speaking – and then surrendered and bent the knee to the warlords.  I couldn’t understand it.  Their history of appeasement made Chamberlain look like Winston Churchill. 

The air tasted faintly of sand, hopelessness and despair.  I’d had my struggles during basic – we all had – but at least I’d volunteered.  The men I had to train – the men I had to train Rupert to lead into battle – had been offered a flat choice between slavery or the army.  I had the feeling, reading between the lines, that the soldiers wouldn’t see much of a difference.  They were held in poor regard, banned from the city until they served their term … unless their commander chose to employ them as cheap labour.  And yet … I told myself, firmly, that I could do it.  I could turn them into soldiers.

General Harris – the old commander – greeted us at the gates.  Rupert spoke calmly to him, showing no trace of the fear and despair he’d shown me.  I used the time to study General Harris and the honour guard thoughtfully.  They were decked out in fancy uniforms that would have shamed a dictator, uniforms that would have made them easy targets in a real war.  I could have wiped them out – and most of the garrison for good measure – if I’d had a sniper rifle and bad intentions.  General Harris reminded me of General Winfield Scott – I’d seen photographs when I’d studied the War between the States – although it was hard to be sure.  He looked good-natured, but indolent.  His uniform was expertly tailored, but even his tailors couldn’t disguise his paunch.  I hoped he’d have the sense to stay well out of the way.

I said nothing as we were shown into the garrison itself – the interior looked like a weird cross between a barracks and a prison – and directed into the training ground.  The prospective soldiers were waiting for us.  I hoped to God they hadn’t been ordered to stand in lines, because their lines were so ragged it was impossible to tell who was meant to be standing where.  My eyes ranged up and down the rows.  There were men who looked sullen, ready to cause trouble; there were men who looked hungover, as if they’d been drunk out of their minds when they signed the papers and became soldiers … they wore so many mismatched clothes that I was silently glad I’d had the foresight to order better uniforms.  They might not be BDUs, but they’d be better than nothing. 

My eyes narrowed, suddenly, as I spotted Horst and Fallows in the front row.  The two guardsmen – former guardsmen, I guessed – gave me hostile looks.  I cursed under my breath as I realised Captain Alder, deprived of the chance to sell me into slavery, had punished Horst and Fallows instead.  That was an unexpected complication.  The two guards probably felt personally betrayed.  They hadn’t been ordered to keep an eye on me, but …

I met their eyes and sent a hand-signal, one they’d taught me.  Wait.

Rupert shot me a pleading look.  I sighed and stepped forward, raising my voice. 

“I am Sergeant Elliot,” I said, in my best parade ground manner.  I’d already given up trying to explain Richardson.  Local naming conventions were just too different.  “Some of you are here because you volunteered.  Some of you are here because you weren’t given a choice.  I don’t care why you joined, nor do I care who or what you were before.  All that matters, to me, is that it is my job to prepare you for military service.  You have my word, which you will come to trust, that I will treat you all the same.”

I was dimly aware of Rupert backing off as I leaned forward.  “Are there any of you, right here, right now, who thinks he can take me in a fight?  Now is your chance.  Who’s first?”

My eyes swept the row of men.  I didn’t have any real support structure, not here.  I didn’t have senior officers who’d back me or MPs who’d enforce my orders … I wanted, I needed to establish dominance as quickly as possible.  They had to understand that I knew what I was talking about, that trying to fight or resist would just make matters worse.  Some of them, I was grimly sure, would be irredeemable.  And yet, I wasn’t allowed to kick them out.

A overbuilt man lumbered out of the crowd and came at me.  His muscles were impressive, but he telegraphed his punch.  I stepped to one side, then stuck out a foot.  He tripped and hit the ground.  The crowd snickered as he pushed himself to his feet, his face darkening with anger, and came at me again.  I avoided his next three punches, then twisted, threw him to the ground and pressed my fingers into his throat.  He struggled for a moment, then lay still.

“Good,” I said.  I helped him to his feet, patted him on the back and sent him back to the crowd.  “Anyone else?”

Two more men came at me.  I handled them both, with slightly more trouble in the case of one who looked like a cutpurse.  He’d clearly seen some action on the streets.  I knocked him down, helped him up and sent him back to the line, then waited to see if anyone else would try.  I wanted them to know they’d had their chance to take me in a straight fight.  It was the only way to be sure they would listen to me.

“Good,” I said, when no one moved.  “If you follow orders, I’ll make men out of you.  If not …”

I let the words hang in the air for a long moment, then led them on a run around the compound.  It was curiously hard.  I’d kept myself fit, over the last few weeks, but there was something about the garrison that trapped the heat.  I made a mental note to ensure better facilities as we ran through the gates, around the walls and back inside again.  The older soldiers stared at us in disbelief.  None of them had gone through anything similar.  I guessed the warlords trained their soldiers better.  It was the only reason they could dominate the much larger city.

And weapons training can make the difference between freedom and slavery, I thought.  They wouldn’t want just anyone to have military training.

I led them into the barracks and looked around.  They were in better condition than I’d expected.  Rupert had promised he’d have them cleaned and readied for the recruits and he’d kept his word.  The showers looked rough and ready, but they’d do.  I’d been posted to worse places in Iraq.  A large pile of clothing – I’d had makeshift uniforms prepared by local seamstresses – waited for us.  I  motioned for the men to choose their uniforms, then get changed.  It was astonishing no one had thought of tailoring uniforms to match the local environment.  Their muskets and flintlocks might not be able to hit the broad side of a barn – they relied on massed fire, not accuracy – but their archers were pretty damn good.  I’d cautioned Rupert to make sure he wore something that didn’t stand out on the battlefield.

“Choose a bunk, one each,” I ordered.  “This will be your home for the next few weeks.”

I watched them change and inspect the facilities, all the while issuing orders and brief explanations.  Hygiene came first.  Each barrack would have a rota for cleaning the showers, washing out the makeshift toilets and sweeping the floors.  The men themselves would be expected to shower at least once a day, keeping themselves as clean as possible.  It wouldn’t be that clean – water was in short supply – but it would be a great deal better than anything they’d had before.  I wasn’t an expert in so many things – I wished I’d spent time as a Drill Instructor, instead of just being a raw recruit – but I knew the basics.  The remainder I’d rediscover along the way.

“Don’t dawdle,” I said, as we marched back onto the training ground.  “Everything has to be done at a run.”

I felt sweat prickling my back as I put them through their paces.  The whole concept of basic training was to make sure everyone picked up the basics and learned to speak a common language.  It was both easier and harder here, easier because there was no universal training system and yet harder because I was making it up from my own experience.  I’d never realised just how hard the instructors had worked, when I was in basic.  They’d probably have called it karma.  I didn’t have anyone ready or able to back me up either.  Rupert had long since vanished.

Which isn’t a bad thing, I told myself.  I’ll just have to build him up later.

The lunch bell rang.  I marched the recruits across the field and into the makeshift chow hall.  Rupert hadn’t let me down.  The food was very basic – rice, meat, stringy vegetables – but there was a lot of it.  The recruits had never eaten so well in their lives.  I kept up the discipline, preventing a mad rush to the tables and instead making sure everyone had something to eat before allowing them to start.  It was something I knew would breed resentment – it certainly had, back home – but it was also something they needed.  I ate myself, silently drawing out more training programs.  They were going to have to learn to work together – and to trust me – before I put muskets in their hands.

And we’re going to have to get them lined up first, I reminded myself.  Rupert was purchasing a small arsenal, but it wasn’t going to be easy to streamline the design.  We might have to pick one design and hire a bunch of craftsmen to churn out hundreds of duplicates.  If we all use different weapons and ammunition, it will lead to one hell of a mess.

I whistled, twenty minutes later.  “Back on the field,” I ordered, quietly ignoring the grumbling.  “Give me another run around the walls.”

The day wore on.  I showed them how to do press-ups, sit-ups and a dozen other simple exercises I’d been taught in basic.  They seemed astonished I handed out press-ups and suchlike as punishments, rather than using my fists, but went with the flow.  I smiled behind my hand.  Hitting recruits was a serious offence back home … and besides, making them do extra exercises instead helped prepare for war.  We marched up and down, drilled with broom handles in place of pikes and muskets, then moved into the chow hall for dinner.  They looked tired.  I’d kept them very busy.  They would go into the barracks, lie down and go straight to sleep.

And tomorrow we’ll do it all again, I thought.

“Back to the barracks,” I ordered, once they’d chewed their way through dinner.  “Get a shower, get undressed, get into bed.”

I watched them run back into the barracks – they were too tired for anything more than bed – and then waved to Horst and Fallows.  The two guardsmen scowled at me as I led them away from the barracks, into the room I’d designated my office.  It wasn’t much – I’d have to bed down in the barracks myself, at least until I had a handful of trainees I could trust to stand night watch – but it would do.

Horst glared.  “What were you thinking?”

“That isn’t your concern right now,” I snapped.  I had no intention of getting into an argument.  It would just waste time.  “What happened to you two?”

“The captain told us we were being exiled to the garrison,” Fallows said, curtly.  “For failing to train you, apparently.”

I felt a flicker of sympathy.  Captain Alder had clearly taken his anger out on the two poor guardsmen.  He might not have been able to sell them into slavery, but he’d certainly done the next best thing.  Or so he thought.  I knew them both.  They had experience that could be helpful, if they were prepared to work with me.  For me.  They wouldn’t like it – they’d been my superiors, only a few short days ago – but it was the best offer they were going to get.

“You have two choices,” I said.  “I’m starting something great here.  You can join me, and work with me openly, or you can serve out your enlistment in the ranks and go back to the city when you’re done.”

The bitterness in Horst’s voice was almost palatable.  “Go back to what?”

“Good question,” I agreed.  Horst couldn’t go back to the City Guard.  There wouldn’t be many other options either.  His best bet might be joining a mercenary band, which would require him to do more than the bare minimum.  “Like I said, I’m starting something great here.  Do you want to get in on the ground floor?  Or do you want to just stay in the ranks until your enlistment expires?”

“And do you think these … these people can actually fight?”  Horst snorted.  “You knocked them down pretty easily.”

I swallowed the sharp retort that came to mind – I could knock him down pretty easily too – and leaned forward.  “There are no bad men, merely bad leaders,” I said.  I’d never been sure it was entirely true – I’d met a few enlisted men who really should have been discharged for cause – but it was close enough.  “The raw material is there.  I can train them to proper standards before we actually have to go to war.”

“You hope,” Fallows corrected.

“I hope,” I agreed.  I shrugged.  “Look, I owe you two.  Here is your chance to be something better, to be something great.  Do as I tell you – help me – and you’ll go far.  Or, like I said, serve out your enlistment and vanish back into the city.”

“Fine.”  Horst conceded with ill grace.  “What do you want us to do?”

“Learn your lessons,” I said.  “You taught me.  Let me teach you.  I’ll be watching for signs of leadership potential.  If you do well, if you learn your lessons, I’ll let you teach the next set of recruits.  And if you do well at that, you might even go further.”

Fallows frowned.  “Do you think you’ll be allowed to promote us to officer rank?”

It was a good question, I conceded.  I – or, more accurately, Rupert – had a great deal of authority, but there were limits.  Officers were selected by the city, which meant they were either aristocrats like Rupert or merchant sons who bought commissions.  I doubted either of us would be allowed to select our own officers, but it didn’t matter.  The company – the army – was going to be run by its NCOs.

“No aristo is going to let us become officers,” Horst agreed.  “They’ll look down at us and laugh.”

“You might be surprised,” I said, vaguely.  I didn’t really had time to explain non-commissioned officers to them.  It was going to be hard enough hammering proper skills into their heads without provoking resentment – or worse.  They’d picked up too many bad habits in the City Guard.  “Give me time.”

I led them back to the barracks and pointed them to their bunks, then headed for mine.  It had been a tiring day, all the more so because I hadn’t realised how hard it was going to be until I’d started.  There were just too many things that had to be done, all by me.  I would have killed for a couple of friends with actual experience.  I’d disliked my first set of instructors and yet … I would have been glad to see them now.  They would have been very helpful.

And while you’re wishing, I thought, why don’t you wish for the Lost Regiment?

The thought made me smile, even though I knew the Lost Regiment would have looked suspiciously at me.  They’d certainly have no idea what to make of Damansara.  And yet, they’d probably do a far better job.  A thousand men, with a far better understanding of how to produce their tech … of course they could do better.  The gap they had to close wasn’t so wide.  They could have taken the city, hammered out a 1860s tech base and set off to conquer the world.  And they could have done it too.

I smiled, then started to compose a list of things I needed to do tomorrow.  More drills, more exercises, more practice … I was going to need to train Horst and Fallows as quickly as possible, just to give me time to work with Rupert.  He needed to learn how to handle his men before he tried to lead them into battle and got them all killed.  It would take time, time I wasn’t sure I had, to prepare him for the role.  Really, I’d be happy to let him take the credit as long as he stayed out of the way.

And as long as no one outside the army realises what he’s done, he’ll probably be quite happy too, I thought.  That really won’t be a bad thing.

On that note, I fell asleep.

5 Responses to “Stuck in Magic 15”

  1. Stephen Wiley April 8, 2021 at 1:41 am #

    Elliot is a idiot. He has seen no sign of electricity, no sign of chemistry, no sign of mass production processes, etc yet he thinks all Earth knowledge is already known.

    • chrishanger April 8, 2021 at 12:49 pm #

      He knows better than that , but ..

      a) Emily has already taken the low-hanging fruit.

      b) Unlike Emily, he has no power base, no resouces, no way to convince people he knows what he’s talking about … he would have starved pretty quickly if he hadn’t found a job.

      Bottom line, he needs to establish himself before he can start investing in advanced tech.


  2. Kristophr April 8, 2021 at 10:26 pm #

    Add pikemen.

    A pike and shot army can seriously screw up anything it faces except artillery.

    Form a square vs cavalry.

    Against arty and mages, line formation.

  3. Kristophr April 9, 2021 at 12:24 am #

    His other skill is all the close order drill beaten and not him as a boot.

    This drill is intensely important when moving units of men. The men need to be drilled until they can obey without thinking, and his new sergeants need to know the commands needed to get the unit where it needs to be, and how to change the formation to receive and deliver attacks without becoming disordered.

  4. Matthew W Quinn April 9, 2021 at 7:11 pm #

    Did Elliott eat *by* himself? In the current form, he’s eating himself.

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