BK II, Chapter Eight: Strapping’s

Valerian stared at the laughing Vorm, unsure what the merriment was about. Was it because of the name of the school or did it have a certain ‘reputation’? he considered it carefully. ‘Strapping’s’. He’d never heard of it. However, Richard had said it was a school under the Royal Military Colleges and he trusted the man’s knowledge of the military. His curiosity peaking, he asked.

“Why the laughter?”

Vorm raised his hand, index finger raised, to request a minute. Composing himself, he began, “I’m sorry boy. It’s just that Richard seems to have conceded that you and I have more in common than any of us thought. You see…” he explained. “Strapping’s could be considered my old stomping grounds.”

“You went to Strapping’s?” Valerian asked eagerly. “What’s it like?”

“Hold on for a minute Valerian, are you sure you want to go to Strapping’s?” his grandfather butted in.

He turned to look at the man only to be stunned by the worried look on the man’s face. Looking around, he noticed that Jonas shared the same look. “It can’t be that bad, can it?” he inquired.

Vorm laughed again. “I think this is where I come in”, he announced.

Shifting to make himself more comfortable in his seat, he opened his mouth to begin, “Richard appears to be of a mind that Strapping’s can put you in sight of those objectives of yours and looking at it now, I am beginning to see it too. That aside, there are some things you should consider first. You see Valerian, the Royal Military Colleges cater to a wide variety of people.

“Obviously, they train people for military service but they also offer many courses of study to military personnel looking to improve themselves by learning new skills or by taking up officers’ classes to qualify for promotions. Additionally, they train up cultivators to serve in support roles for the army as well as conduct lots of research and weapons development to do same. The Royal Bathan Army is one of the most formidable forces on the continent and the primary reason that remains so is these colleges. We’ve got a school or college for everything, from training field medics to archers all the way to construct artificers.

“Nevertheless, they do not only train up soldiers and officers. They also cater to nobles. Now, there are many nobles in the army, myself included. We serve valiantly in the defence of our kingdom but that’s not what I am talking about. You see, the RMCs are elite schools, some more elite than others. Additionally, possessing peerage in Bathar is equivalent to holding a military position. By this, I do not refer to army ranks but rather to the fact that each peer of the kingdom is granted warrant to maintain a fighting force for the purpose of protecting and keeping peace within their territories.

“For example, as ruling house of Cragsveil, our clan maintains a private army of close to 5, 000 men and women”, he illustrated. “Bear in mind that whilst this is our private force, they are registered under the kingdom and technically, are part of the Royal army. This means they get involved in military affairs and rotations and we are required to contribute a number of them to any ongoing conflict or engagement. However, most of the time, they are simply recognised as reserve troops and left in the hands of their respective lords.

“What this means is that it is expected of any heir, lord or lady to be able to command troops or be recognised as a person of military prowess. More than that, military ability is so stressed that any lord or lady who has no military experience or leanings is somewhat disrespected or not respected as highly by the masses. As such, in order to help with their public image as well as train their heirs for the roles, they will play in future, many noble houses and clans enrol a few of their youth in the RMCs. It is these nobles I am speaking of.

“Your cousin Ethan is one of these. Like it or not, our clan has built up a reputation for military service and ability. He could have gained admission to any number of schools but as heir to the house of Cragsveil, he went to one of the RMCs. Granted, he went to one of the most elite ones but the point still stands. It is a choice that both reinforces the public image of our clan and allows him to network with and build connections with the heirs of other like-minded clans and houses”, Vorm calmly pointed out.

“However, there is a third kind of RMC student”, he added. “One that earns the scorn of every soldier or person dedicated to the military. You must understand, Valerian, that our kingdom has been at war for more close to six hundred years. In that time, our military has come attain a certain position and level of privilege. Soldiers and military officers are respected, valued and trusted. As a clan that gained its peerage due to this factor and one that continues to coast on our military and battle achievements, we have never forgotten this or tried to misuse it.

“Sadly, not everyone thinks same. There is a certain class of people who enter the RMCs for no other reason than to gain some renown for themselves. These are mostly nobles and the children of wealthy families as only people with a certain background can pull it off. What they do is enrol in a military college, meander through somehow and then pull strings so they serve in cushy offices or postings somewhere until their mandatory service is done. Some do not even go that far. When they are done, they claim soldiers’ benefits and use the standing of the Royal army and the concessions that provides to gain employment in the Royal Court or some other administrative office”, Vorm said.

“I will tell you this now Valerian, there is no one in the army, not the lowliest corpsman to the highest career officer that does not view such actions with contempt!” he emphasised.

Valerian took in all his uncle had said slowly. “You warning me off against using the army as a stepping stone”, he said in realisation.

“Partly”, Vorm admitted. “I know you are not the kind to do that. You not wanting to pursue array craft for similar reasons tells me so and Richard was the person to bring the matter up and not you. The main point I was trying to make is that there are three reasons to go into one of the Royal Military Colleges. You must either want to join the army, need the training or platform to fulfil some other responsibility, or be one of the scum who nearly crippled Richard!”

Valerian’s neck twisted sharply to bring him face to face with his quietest uncle. Was that what happened? Had the noble who had gotten the man injured been one of the ones who only enrolled so that the glory if the military would rub off on them? Valerian did not have to ask anyone to know to answer. He could tell from looking at their expressions.

“You’re asking me to choose one”, he stated, turning back to fix Vorm with a hard stare.

The magistrate let out a sigh before explaining. “On the contrary, Valerian, your uncle is trying to warn you that, while Strapping’s can bring you towards your objectives in a sense, choosing it would mean giving up your choice in the matter.”

“Uncle Valan is right!” The man affirmed.

“You see Valerian…” he began. “Strapping’s may be under the supervision of the RMCs but it is not a military college. Not in the slightest. Strapping’s is an elite training centre. You wouldn’t even find the name in any school listings. The only people who bother even searching for and applying to such centres are the scions of career military families and veterans who wish to sharpen their skills. Among all such centres though, Strapping’s has a certain reputation.

“It is a proving ground that takes in young ‘talents’, I suppose you could call them, and then moulds them into the elite of the elite, even if it has to break them to do so. It is not the only centre of its kind mind you, just the best and its graduates enjoy that renown. There isn’t an army, militia or mercenary band in the continent that will not snatch up a Strapping’s youth if given the chance. Point is, they are not a school and hence the warning.

“Strapping’s trains weapons. That is not an exaggeration but a fact. Those weapons belong to the Kingdom of Bathar and it only. The resources, materials, training and the like that goes into the Strapping’s tuition costs more than a pretty penny and when all is said and done they expect to get as much if not more from you. Choosing to go to Strapping’s is a choice to serve Bathar. There is no other choice from then forward. You don’t get to become a reservist, you don’t get to sit in an office somewhere, you don’t get a few years of mandatory service before quitting and you don’t even get to join the regular army. What you get is active service in some of the dangerous posts in the military. Choosing Strapping’s is not a choice to make lightly Valerian.

“You went to it!” Valerian pointed out.

“Yes”, Vorm confirmed. “I did and I have never regretted it. I enrolled in Strapping’s in my twenties and was conducted through some of the most brutal training I have ever endured. I had batch mates who died in the course of it as well others who suffered accidents so horrendous their careers ended then and there. Following that, I served in postings along the battle lines against Wherry troops and on the Grand Boundary itself, fighting off daemon hordes that sought to enter our kingdom. I can tell you now, it wasn’t fun and games. In fact, it was the opposite.

“Those are just a few of the cons. But the pros, the pros Valerian, might just be worth it. Strapping’s won’t just train you, they’ll make you good, scary good and what’s more they’ll put you on a fast track that will leave you great” he exposed.

“I’ll use myself as an example. It’s been twenty-one years since I enrolled in Marshal Strapping’s Elite Training Centre and here I stand. I am in my mid-forties, an Arcane King and above all, an army Commander looking at a promotion to the rank of general before he turns fifty. I am the fourth highest ranked serviceman in the county even with those stationed in the Fangs of Garhul factored in and when I retire it will be with the titles of Guardian and Baronet at the very least with an estate that will leave most Baronies gasping for air”, he bragged.

Valerian nodded in recognition. Some of this, he knew and others he was hearing for the first time. He wasn’t very surprised at the revelations though. Vorm had always been the most accomplished of his uncles. He simply watched as the man’s voice grew tense and demanding.

“You said you wanted power, Valerian?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve got that. I am the single most powerful Arcane King in the region. Authority? One call from me will have a regiment of 7, 500 soldiers knocking on the walls and doors of this manor. Legitimacy? I have the backing of Royal Bathan Army. Wealth? I am the fourth salaried officer in the viscounty. Influence? I sit on councils and committees that handle the defence of Bathar’s entire eastern sector. I doubt you need more proof in addition to what I have revealed.

“You too can have all these if you choose to go to strapping’s and you make it this far. You would not need to abandon your tellurian cultivation nor will you be forced into some production profession. You will be honed, turned into a force that will have your enemies and the enemies of this kingdom screaming and running for the hills. You can gain the power you seek, achieve all your objectives as well as whatever else you have in mind but like you said, you need to make a choice.

“Are you okay with going into the military with all that entails? Are you prepared to push yourself to the point of breaking in your pursuit? Are you willing to brave the dangers and trails? Would you be willing to sell three decades of your life to the Royal Bathan Army? Tell me Valerian, how far are you willing to go to achieve these objectives of yours? After listening to all I have said so far, are you truly willing and prepared to go to Strapping’s?”

Valerian looked at his uncle steadily. From the corners of his vision, he could make out his family staring at him, waiting to hear his choice. Keeping his voice cool, he answered.

Author’s Note

At some point, I began using the acronym RMCs in place of the phrase Royal Military Colleges. To me, it is a no-brainer. I honestly doubt that people go round saying three to five-word names for things and places a la HJC (the people I know sure don’t). Maybe, in some situations or contexts but every single instance it crops up and even with people who know what it is you’re talking about? Nope! I don’t think so.

However, that’s a personal choice and I’ll understand if some of you do not agree. I’m willing to change it if enough of you complain. It’s nothing too important and even increases the word count so… ah! I see why they do it now.

As always, I’ll be on the Slack channel if you want a word.