Neither said another word. Dekra left the room first, leaving the king a few precious moments to himself. He took the helmet from the armour stand in the corner of the room. Placing it on his head, he snatched up his axe, taking a moment to study the crest just below the head. It bore the symbol of the snarling dog’s head, representing the royal household.
His father proudly presented him with the weapon the day he completed his Blue River Guardsman training.
He walked from the room. Two maids just outside, bowed and entered the room to clean. Devra Kija snapped to attention, drawing his axe across his chest. The king ignored the salute, walking on, knowing that the NCO followed closely behind him. They walked out of the palace and trod the white pebbled path between the animal hedges of the front court.
A large contingent of 50 Blue River Guardsmen stood in ranks at the start of the market place. He and Kija fell into place on the end.
The officer in the lead turned around.
Every man slid the hafts through a loop in between their shoulder blades, underneath their surcoats. Axe heads looked like angel wings behind their heads.
“By the right, triple time!” bellowed the officer.
They broke into a fast jog; three quarter pace by the average man’s standard, heading for the western gate. Without a break, they reached the army already encamped at the edge of dense bushland beyond a short plain.
The king spent his day acting as enemy for his common soldiery to hone their abilities. He enjoyed creeping amongst the vegetation, relaying silent signals among his unit to evade the infantry.
Later in the day, he sneaked up behind a man acting as look out and drew his scabbarded dagger across his throat. With a grin, a second soldier broke from the undergrowth. The king swatted the axe from the soldier’s hand as more men appeared pointing weapons at him.
“You are slain, my king,” said one of the NCOs.
The king grinned. “Good.”
He handed over his guardsman’s axe to a soldier and allowed himself to be led away. They took him to the army’s camp where he sat out the rest of the exercise in jovial spirits eating the best the soldiers had to offer. For hours, he sat in his captors’ presence, listening and laughing as some of the men shared their lives. Sadly, he was the first Blue River Guardsman killed.
It is a good thing, he told himself.
His early death in the maneuvers meant his army had greatly improved. On a one to one basis, a soldier would fall to any Guardsman and they had foreseen this, having men waiting in reserve.
He smiled to himself, prepared not fall into such a trap again.
Singally, more Guardsmen drifted into the camp over the course of the day. Orders were, that the exercise ended when all the Guardsmen were killed or captured. To his astonishment 48 Blue River Guardsmen joined him at dusk. They had planned to be here for days. Less than an hour later, the final man, Kija, marched into the camp, ringed by an escort of soldiers.