“Let me ride with the scouts. I’m not one for standing around all day, I’m afraid.”
“Do you even know how to ride a horse?” the man scoffs.
“I must admit, it’s been a while since I’ve ridden, but I did compete in a few horse races as a youth.”
“Eh, that’ll suffice for now. Report to the stablemaster for your training. Dismissed!”
With the dismissal, you depart the captain’s chamber and head for the stable. Once inside, you spot a man brushing down one of the horses, and you approach him.
“Are you the stablemaster?” you ask.
“I am. Who’s asking?”
“The captain sent me here. He said I should report to you for training.”
“Ahh, so you’re the rookie. The captain told me all about you.”
“Did he now?”
“He did. He told me you have a knack for disobeying orders.”
“Did he…” you say slowly.
“Well, that won’t fly in these stables. Go to that rack and grab a shovel. You’re on manure duty until I say so!”
“But it wasn’t my fault that I was–”
“I don’t care. Shovel. Now!”
An order is an order; refusing it would be as futile as trying to mop up the sea. So, you go and grab a shovel off the rack.
“I want this stable to be in pristine condition,” the stablemaster continues barking as he watches you. “There is a wheelbarrow around back I want it heaping full of manure by high noon, so you better start shoveling soon!”
“Yessir!” you say, at the same time thinking to yourself, Manure duty! How gracious! So this is what has come out of your adventures: stuck shoveling manure in a place that you’d hoped would only serve as a temporary resting place. It’s meaningless tasks like these that can make you question if all the adventure stories you heard as a child were really true to life, or if were they just sugar-coated. The world seems like such a wonderful place to explore, filled with wonders the mind cannot even begin to conceive and can only experience instead. Yet, amongst all those wonders must be the heaps of dull and monotonous experiences like this one.
Thankfully, one forgets these as soon as they are over, you continue pondering as you enter the first stall and start your task. It doesn’t take much to torture a human, you think: just have them fondly remember each meaningless task they partake in, and time will feel like an eternity. A meaningless eternity is a worse fate than death, and yet we partake in meaningless acts every day. Ironic.
The time passes quickly as you lose yourself in your thoughts and the pile in the wheelbarrow gets higher and higher. Eventually, you are left scraping the dirt floor of the stables. The evidence of your hard work makes itself known as you struggle to push the wheelbarrow back outside.
The stablemaster confronts you then. “That’s good enough. Clean yourself up in that bucket over there; I have another assignment for you after.”
The work was unpleasant, but it’s finally over now. You take the opportunity to clean yourself up, but it’s damn near impossible to get the smell of manure out of you without a deep scrub. After a while, you give it up as a bad job and return to the stablemaster. “I’m ready again, sir.”
“Ah, there you are. Mount up that gelding over there; I want to test your riding skills.”
Finally, something exciting! With great elation, you walk up to the gelding and mount it. It sidesteps nervously as it doesn’t recognize you, but you manage to calm it down after a moment.
“Follow me,” says the stablemaster in grim approval, bringing out his own horse and mounting up on it.
The two of you make your way through the town at a slow trot. After a few minutes, as you get used to the rhythm of the horse’s movements again, the stablemaster turns to you, asking, “How are you liking Mach’Cathair?”
“I haven’t had much time to experience it,” you say honestly. “I had hoped that it would only serve as a temporary rest on my journey. Had I known that I would be press-ganged into service, I would have taken another route.”
“It’s unfortunate what happened to you, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The farmers are rebelling over an aimless cause. Yes, it’s true, the baron might have been a bit more ‘demanding’ than usual, but it doesn’t mean he’s being unreasonable. We townsfolk have always been paying the same tax for generations. These rebels are newcomers to this land; they immigrated two generations ago from Tarith. When that happened, all the natives had to become craftsmen and move into the city. So, our relations have never really been amicable.”
“All that time and you haven’t been able to come to some sort of resolution?”
After you pose that question, the stablemaster’s eyes suddenly lose focus, and his voice deepens. “No. Those scum deserve no mercy!”
His shift in demeanor is unusual, almost as if he’s possessed by something. You know little about such things though, so you decide not to press it. “I understand, sir.”
The stablemaster abruptly snaps out of it, seemingly with no memory of what he’s said, just as you are approaching the gate of the town. “Open the gate!” he calls. After a few moments, the gates grind open, and the stablemaster is taking you along a course just on the outskirts of the city.
“We’re here,” he says. “Now we’ll see if you’re made to be a scout or not. Try to keep up!” He kicks his horse into a rear and begins a blistering gallop along the path. You follow after him as best as you can. The course is made in such a way that it challenges your reaction times and all your half-remembered skills as a rider.
You notice that the first part is an endurance course, made to strengthen the bond between rider and steed. After a straightaway gallop for half a mile across the plains, you are allowed to slow, but the test is not over yet. Along the path are scattered random bits of debris that you have to jump over as well as the occasional post that you have to duck under.
After you successfully make your way through this, a final obstacle stands before you. Targets are placed along the trail that you must strike with your weapons on the way past. You get in several solid thwacks with your sword, though you almost lose your grip on it as you pass the last target and your horse swerves out to the side. You manage to stay on, coming to a stop before the stablemaster. You and your horse is exhausted, but he nods as if this is normal. “Not bad, but there’s one more challenge.”
“What is it?”
“Try and catch me!” And with that, he sets off again!
You tap your horse with your heels and set off after him once more. His horse slows as the land slopes up and onto the forested mountain, but you are still a bit daunted by the task. You’ve only ridden on a well-maintained road so far; rough terrain is a different challenge altogether, one that will require you to push yourself to the limit.
As you follow after your target into the outskirts of the jungle, the stablemaster makes an unexpected turn into the undergrowth and you lose sight of him. Try as you may to regain your track, even doubling back and trying to find evidence of hoof-marks in the leaf litter, you can’t find him again. He’s gone!