“Father Holy he is,” the junior soldier spluttered as Landis, the RSM, stood stiffly at attention before the troops on parade. He’d need to wait until the young man finished before he could admonish, or punish, the presentation of the words.
After a few more splutters, Landis sucked in a breath and lifted his left hand.
“Soldier,” he began. “Do you have a message for me?”
“Yes, Sergeant Master.”
“Well?” Landis rolled his eyes. It was getting harder to get them to this stage with the bare skills required, let alone the skills to be able to communicate well. He’d need to abduct more teachers.
“Father Holy, it is,” the junior began again. “He requested you to visit. Out there.”
Landis’s stomach lurched as he watched the young man’s face go white.
“In the garden.” The last word was so quiet, Landis almost didn’t hear it. The young man shrank in on himself, hunched his shoulders and lowered his chin.
“In the Garden of Joy?” Landis asked in a voice loud enough to carry to the two thousand other attentive ears of the young solders.
“Yes, Sergeant Master. The Garden of Joy. Out there.” The clatter of teeth made each word starkly separate.
“Did he happen to mention the purpose of the meeting?” Landis knew the answer, but he had to make sure all the soldiers understood what was required of them. This junior would be a lesson for all the ranks here today, as they waited for Landis to dismiss them to their tasks and training. Until they joined the ranks of regular soldiers of the Ranios. A lesson that had not been necessary for decades, maybe longer.
“No, Sir, Sergeant Master, Sir. He didn’t.”
“Do you think I might have needed that information, soldier?” Landis turned on his heel, snapped a salute to his NIC and dismissed himself from the rank and file without waiting for an answer.
He marched to the main building that housed his office – with the only windows that looked out over the main quadrangle – and strode up the steps.
Behind him, the sounds of double-time march-out indicated the normal routine for his soldiers.
That message, though, meant it would not be, could not be, a normal routine for him. It was the code-key to read the words within the only locked cabinet in his office. He yelled for Divia, his aide, and sent him to fetch the key from the Commandant.
The scroll shook as he dug it out from behind the manuals and maps. The book of Martial Lores. He had to lean on each corner to hold it down – carefully, so fragile – so he could read the list of requirements necessary to undertake before entering the holy place.
Reasoner of Soul Magic, he read. This scroll outlined the purpose of his position. The real purpose. The continuation of the role of RSM.
When he finished reading, Landis signed his name and year in the column marked for the purpose. When was the last entry? The ink was faded on the year, but he recognised the name. Iridis, a courageous RSM, a man who’d undertaken many land and sea battles without loss. His deeds were well recorded in the study hall library.
Landis counted back to the year of Iridis; seventy generations, one hundred and forty years since a person signed his name in this book, since the Soldiers of the Faith had been called upon for this duty.
It took a few minutes to robe himself appropriately. Landis removed all colours, then donned the raw ecru wrap-around cloth, removed his boots, gloves, and all forms of protection and weapons.
It would take two hours of his already busy day, and those two hours would be spent trekking over loose and dangerous salt-encrusted dried-up lake surfaces that made noises like the devil wanted to get out from underneath. He put on knitted leggings and sandals. No duty was worth damage to his feet. A soldier lived or died by his feet.
Landis took off his robe and re-tied it in the loosest possible fashion, and left the belt and buckle over the back of his chair.
The Garden of Joy did not allow any visitor to pass beyond the stone arch with metal items or weapons of any nature.
Not alive, anyway.
Copyright Cisi De & Cage Dunn 2017