A/N: Thank you everyone for the reviews showing your support. Here's another chapter.
713 BC, The Agoge, Dorne, Ser Aron Santagar
"Get up that hill! Move!" One of the sergeants-at-arms shouted. Five hundred boys of aged 11 to 13, groaned almost in unison but obeyed. Boys being boys, it soon turned into competition to get to the top. Once there, the winners turned around with whoops of joy and hollered at the laggards.
Ser Aron frowned but allowed them their small celebration as he passed them on the way to the Agoge. It had been more than four years since his cousin, Lady Sandra Martell, had called him up to the lord's solar to discuss a proposal made by his nephew, Mors.
He had been cautious. Though he had realized his nephew's brilliance in matters of warfare, the creation of this "war camp" for youths had never been done before. Nobles trained their sons at their keeps or sent them to foster at under other lords. From the age of eight, they would be trained in the art of warfare. As the lords of the land warred with each other constantly, those of noble blood were always going to be called by their liege to fight.
For smallfolk, training consisted of a few weeks of training before a campaign. Those more fortunate were related to a man-at-arms or lived in lands of Houses like House Cafferen of Fawnton and House Fell of Felwood in the Stormlands who were well known for training their smallfolk in archery. Even those had been more of a one day end-of-the week affair. After all, smallfolk had to tend to the fields and animals.
The first part was to approach smallfolk families that had more than two sons. They would be offered a small amount of money to allow their son to go the Agoge, as Mors called it, for six days a week. As Mors' plan had them eventually serving in his army, the opportunity for advancement was very tempting for most families. Mors' had also proposed to gather all orphaned boys within Martell lands to the camp. The recent warring had produced a new crop and many of them didn't have families to take them in.
The boys were all fed equally with enough portions to satisfy their needs as they grew, which was more than they could have gotten if they had been wandering the land as vagabonds. A sad truth.
Ser Aron rode closer to a rocky outcropping that overlooked the Greenblood. On top of it were a collection of wooden buildings arranged in a square with a large space in the center. He dismounted and tied his horse to a post near the kitchens. Another group of boys, this one a bit smaller than the first, made up of about three hundred boys aged 14 to 16.
"Good." The sergeant-at-arms barked at the tired boys. "It's time for tree fucking!" The entire crowd of boys groaned.
"Enough!" The sergeant yelled. "Line up!"
The boys obeyed instantly, forming lines of eight boys to each line, on the hilltop. Another sergeant brought up a standard. It was a golden spearheads forming the rays of a sun on a purple field. Mors had come up with the design and his mother had indulged him in allowing it to be made.
"Salute!" The sergeant ordered.
Thuds were heared as fists hit chests in salute. The boys wore plain tunics but no boots. This was a bit cruel but the daily marches had the effect of toughening the boys' feet with callouses. Part of the training Mors had ordered in addition to the marches was the lifting of logs and dragging heavy weights across the field. This built up strength and endurance in the boys as they did this everyday before they were allowed to eat. There was also a training exercise where two boys would be put in a raised earthen dias and would grapple or punch each other into submission. It seemed un-knightly but Mors had insisted and so it was done. You would imagine that this would make the boys resent the camp but it was actually the opposite. The exercises were taken as challenges and the boys competed to be the best grappler, the toughest fighter and the strongest who could drag the most weight.
"Get your armor and shields from the armory and get your arses back here on the double!"
The boys turned around smartly and jogged to one of the buildings where several men waited to hand out the aforementioned items. The armor they were given consisted of four pieces. The first was a cuirass that covered the chest but left the shoulders and arms free. Two bracers covered their wrist up to the forearm. The last part was a shinguard but only for the right leg. All of these were made of boiled leather. While this would have been good enough for any other smallfolk, who would have been lucky to have anything more than their tunic for protection, all of the boys knew that this was training armor. It was completely unadorned and except for individual scratches would have been quite identical, in addition to being as heavy as possible without limiting mobility.
The last item issued the boys was a heavy wooden shield Mors had called a hoplon. It was a different shield from what Ser Aron was used to seeing. Most shields were simply planks of wood cut in either rectangular or circular shaped and reinforced with iron around the rim. This hoplon was concave with thick cedar wood forming the outer layer facing the enemy and leather covering the inside. This was, of course, merely a training version made to be heavier than the actual one that would be used in battle. Ser Aron had seen a sample of the real one when an order for several wagonloads had been ordered from the artisans that lived in the shadow town. It had a thin steel layer hammared over the outer layer to add another level of protection but added to its weight.
Aron walked back to his horse as the boys reformed their lines and marched out of the square. He remounted and followed them to a group of pine trees. One particularly tough looking, gnarled up pine stood challengingly, its base deeply rooted by decades of stubborn growth in a hostile land. The orderly lines of boys halted several feet before the tree. The boys seemed to take a collective breath and waited.
"Phalanx!" The sergeant yelled. "Lokhagos! Take command!"
"Aye!" A young voice replied from the front. "Phalanx!"
"HooWAH!" The entire group of boys answered.
"The tree is the enemy!"
"FUCK THE ENEMY!" The entire group cried in unison, and rushed forward.
Each boy was in step with those beside him, shields held in front of himself. The coordination was impressive but the distance wasn't enough to gain a lot of momentum. The entire formation hit the tree with a crash that made Aron wince. The tree swayed a bit but didn't budge. The front ranks were pushed up into the trunk while the shields of those behind were pressed into the backs of those in front of them.
"The tree is the enemy!" The young lokhagos cried.
"FUCK THE ENEMY!" The rest of the formation cried and pushed.
"What in the Seven hells is the matter?" The sergeant yelled. "The enemy isn't dead yet! Your not leaving until the enemy is dead!"
"The tree is the enemy!"
"FUCK THE ENEMY!"
Three Hours Later
"I do not understand why you insist on joining them." Aron's idle comment elicited a grunt from a gangly form lying flat on his stomach in the healing ward. Aron, not liking the answer, slapped the youth's back. This drew out a strangled groan from the boy.
"We have had this discussion before, uncle." Mors turned his head sideways as Aron put more dittany on Mors' bruised back. "I need more training. Training with men who will eventually fight by my side is only good sense."
"Perhaps." Aron paused but continued. "But you do enough training as things stand. Besides, you'll be on horseback the majority of the time. With your knights and men-at-arms." He pressed on a bruise a bit too hard to emphasis his point.
Mors grit his teeth but remained silent.
"Maester Galen has been complaining again."
"He says its just not done. Teaching smallfolk to read and to write. Only the Citadel does this and only for its initiates."
Mors sighed. "As I've told you before. It is necessary."
Aron scoffed. "Necessary. Like it is necessary to retrain half of the men-at-arms to use pikes. Like it is necessary for you to work the horses half to death every end-of-week training the knights and mounted men-at-arms in cavalry formations. Like it is necessary for you to work yourself to the bone and worry your mother half to death-"
"What would you have of me, uncle?" Mors interrupted Aron's tirade, sitting up. "War is on the horizon. Dorne will not see an end to its blood being shed, not by a long mile. I am merely getting ready."
Aron put aside the dittany and turned a stern eye at his nephew. "If you continue this, you will not be alive when war does break out." His gaze softened. Mors had gotten quite tall, he realised. Mors was now more than five feet and was only a few inches shorter than his six foot and two inches. Well formed muscles rippled as Mors got to his feet.
"Perhaps.." Mors conceded. "You have a point." Aron did not like the gleam in his eye.
"What are you thinking, nephew? And why do I feel like I won't like it?"
Mors laughed as he walked to the door. "Don't worry yourself, old man."
"Old man!" Aron's voice filled with mock outrage. "I don't want to hear anything from the fourteen name day boy whose making my hair white."
"I will have you know, that I am a delight to be around."
"Even if your blessed by the Warrior, you're not too old for me to bend you over my knee."
"Just try it, old man." Came the glib reply.
"Why you little-" Aron gave chase as Mors sped away of fleet feet.
Three Months Later
"This was not what I meant." Aron grumbled.
Mors snickered. "Dearest uncle, I have no idea what you mean."
"When I said you needed a rest from training, I didn't mean for it to be replaced by a foray into lands held by Houses hostile to ours!" Aron hissed.
Mors merely grinned boyishly.
"What? You haven't had enough of getting beaten in the Agoge?"
The Martell heir shrugged. "Isn't it tradition for House heirs to take a trip to see their lands?"
Aron glared. "Yes but only within his lands. These aren't yours."
"The word missing there, dear uncle, is yet. These aren't my lands yet." Aron's jaw dropped in shock. Mors said those words as a matter of fact, not as an idle boast. House Martell was perhaps one of the smallest of the Houses of Dorne. It had been the smallest but the last decade had changed that for them. This was still not enough for them to embark on a campaign of conquest against the entirety of Dorne, since that was what it would take. The ambition burning within his nephew was awe inspiring.
"Now uncle, shall we?"
Aron shook his head, clearing it of stray thought. "Yes." He motioned to the group of men who accompanied them. They rode through a pass to look down at the banks of the mighty Torrentine. A town lay on the bank, pennants and banners fluttering from the different buildings. Out towards the middle of the river, a castle of pale stone stood on an island. Starfall, seat of House Dayne, the Kings of the Torrentine.
A/N: A bit short but I'm ending it here. Did anyone get the reference I put in there? Hint – It's a book.
The next chapter will be Mors at Starfall. Wondering what is happening? Well stay tuned.
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