Fokby Hill, the army base, was named after the hill upon which it stood, Fokby Hill. To Claude, however, it didn't look that large from the base of the hill.
After he disembarked the coach and waved Oask off, he walked to the base entrance, which rather resembled a toll gate from his previous life. It was a run-down, wooden building with a pole blocking the road.
Three soldiers stood guard. They stared at the coach as it approached, as an occupant disembarked, and it left again. People did not come there casually, so this was a rare occurrence. Those that did come, usually did so for business with the camp's commander, which meant they weren't dropped off by a coach that then left, making this an even rarer sight.
Claude walked up to the closest guard, his badge was different from the others' as well, so Claude assumed he must be the senior officer. Claude took out his orders during his last couple of steps.
"Good day. I'm reporting for duty."
The guard, his insignia two red lines, ignored the document Claude offered, turning instead to the small building and shouting.
"Shalinor! Come check this one's documents! If it checks out, take him to see First Lieutenant Hockham!"
"I can't read," the soldier said simply, a moment later, turning back to Claude.
"Ahh... I apologise for being so rude. I am Claude Ferd. I'm from Whitestag."
"It's fine. It's my fault I can't read. I didn't pay attention in class. I'm Horelick Amsran. You can call me Hok."
"A pleasure to meet you. I look forward to working with you."
A man came trotting over as the two finished their pleasantries and checked Claude's orders.
"His order checks out. He's one of the new recruits set for officer training."
"Alright, wait here a moment," Horelick said, "One of the logistics carriages should be along in a minute or two. You can hitch a ride. Wait in the building over there for now."
While Horelick's sentences were short and straight to the point, they were warm and amicable, he may be a man of fewer words than most, but Claude could tell he had a good personality on him. No doubt Claude's destiny as an officer helped things along, but that was to be expected.
Claude smiled and followed him inside, taking a seat near the entrance. A quick chat with the two inside revealed that Sergeant Horelick would also be joining the officer's course. Having served in Bluefeather for three and a half years, he was selected for the course because of his stellar performance.
"It seems I'll be in your care, Senior Hok. I'm a greenhorn, so I hope you will teach me well as my senior."
Horelick shook his head.
"Can't help," he said with a solemn look, "Greenhorns and vets like myself are trained separately."
Horelick explained that Bluefeather's officer training course was supposed to select their candidates from veterans to promote them in preparation for the military expansion next year. They didn't expect that when news of the course broke, many of the top brass and their close associates wrote to the base to request a few spaces for the people they recommended to be able to skip a few ranks to become lowest-ranked officers in the army.
Under normal circumstances, a new recruit would first have to go through three months of training before they could officially join the ranks. Only after a year of good performance would they be promoted to corporal. Average recruits would only gain that rank after two years of service. Should one perform well after that, they would be promoted to sergeant in a year, twice as quick as average performers to attain that rank. The same applied for the promotion to staff-sergeant.
In other words, it would take a high-performing peasant at least three years and a half to become a staff-sergeant. Sergeants and corporals on the other hand were considered normal soldiers, not officers.
Should one gain recognition of a superior after being promoted to staff-sergeant, one could stand to be made into a master-sergeant, which was among the lowest class of officers. Only from that moment onwards did a soldier truly leave mediocrity behind and become a warrant officer. But above that level was the rank of sergeant-major, basically, reserves for the second lieutenant rank. As for second lieutenant and above, they were proper commissioned officers who could assume their title even after being discharged from the military.
In peacetime, the various corps of the army and other defense forces only retained a small number of fully-staffed units to cut military expenditure. But in times of war, the kingdom would go on a recruitment drive to fill up the corps' ranks. In that sense, the kingdom didn't lack senior officers. Instead, they needed more warrant officers and low-ranking ones as they were the ones who would train and march into the battlefield with the new recruits.
Bluefeather's officer training course caught the eye of many in a flash. Putting aside becoming a sergeant-major, being able to make it to staff-sergeant rank was akin to completely skipping the whole process of serving as a pawn for five years to become a warrant officer. Even though staff-sergeants and sergeant-majors had to lead troops to the battlefield as well and had high casualty rates, their ranks still ensured that they would stand a higher chance to survive than their lower-ranked peers. Other things aside, injured officers were prioritized over injured soldiers.
As there were too many people who got in to the course due to special relationships, Bluefeather had to split the course into two sections: one for high-performing soldiers who climbed through the ranks and would be directly promoted to sergeant-major after finishing the course, and another for those who entered the army based on connections. Their course would be far harsher and longer than the former's. In consideration of their complete lack of military experience, they would have to first join a three-month recruit training course before they started their officer training course.
Claude finally understood the extent of his treatment. According to Horelick, he would have to spend three grueling months as a new recruit before joining another three-month officer course. The following half year would be a tough one indeed.
After sitting around for a little longer, a long line of carriages arrived. They were there to send food to the base. Claude and Shalinor climbed onto one and rode up the hill after bidding goodbye to Horelick and the other two soldiers.
Fokby Hill wasn't conventionally tall. It was estimated to only be around sixty metres in height. But the roads uphill were long and curvy. Shalinor said that the base on the hill was actually only a logistics base. The main army camp wasn't there, but located at the west of Gourneygada instead. There were 30 thousand people there and around four thousand tents. It looked like a majestic, endless sea.
The carriages continued along the path for about half an hour and finally reached the base. It was quite slow to go uphill, but Claude believed it wouldn't take more than ten minutes to go back down. The carriage did have to haul all those sacks of flour after all, and the horses pulling it were getting rather old. While their steps were still firm, they were rather slow. The carriages also had to maintain proper distance and not cross over the path of another in front.
Fokby Hill Base was indeed a logistics base like Shalinor had described. There were warehouses all over the place. Claude thought that the reason was possibly because of the large training field they had there, which was easily five times the size of that of Whitestag Middle School. A row of grey-white tents had been erected there, likely to be used for the officer training course.
Shalinor took Claude to a log building. Claude saw the sign that read 'Training Department' painted in white on the outside. Shalinor stopped at the second shut door and knocked. Soon, a voice calling them to enter could be heard.
Shalinor pushed the door open and stood ramrod straight. "Sir, I, Private Shalinor, was ordered by Sergeant Horelick to bring a new recruit here to report for duty."
The building wasn't large, being at around 14 square metres. Within it were three office desks and behind one of them was a bearded second lieutenant who seemed to be writing something. He looked up at Shalinor. "Be at rest, soldier. First Lieutenant Hockham isn't in, but you may pass the conscription order to me and go on your way."
"Yes, Sir." Shalinor saluted, turned and winked at Claude before leaving without a word.
Claude stepped forward and greeted, "Good day, Second Lieutenant. I'm here to report for duty after receiving a conscription order."
The bearded man gave Claude a look down and scratched his forehead. "Hand me your conscription order, passport, and identification documents. I'll run a check."
"Yes, Mister." Claude complied obediently.
The man gave the conscription order a cursory look and no longer paid it much heed. What he wanted to check properly was the passport and identification documents.
"Why did you stay at Whitewood for one day?" The second lieutenant carefully screened the details on Claude's passport.
"I had no choice. There was an escaped fugitive in Whitewood and the city was on lockdown for a day. I could do nothing but sleep in my lodging for the whole day," Claude replied.
"Ah, I see..." The second lieutenant didn't make any other comment. After ensuring that the stamps on the passport were in order, he put it aside and checked the other documents.
"Not bad, you graduated first in the physical course and got Viscount Felidos' recommendation. It's no wonder you were allowed to join the officer training course. Finally, a candidate worth his salt. You're far better than the others who try to use favors to weasel their way in. You're called Claude Ferd?"
The bearded second lieutenant seemed to be quite the candid fellow. His disdain for the people who gained entry through connections was plain for all to see. "Yes, Mister. That is my name."
"Make sure to address me as sir or my title in the future, not mister," the man said, before he pulled on the rope bell on the back wall. He then opened a drawer to get a form out for Claude. "Fill this up."
It was a form of consent for applying to be enlisted. It required details such as the name, sex, age, family address and other details about family members.
Soon, a knocking could be heard on the door. A corporal entered.
"Corporal Kro, take this... what are you called again?" The second lieutenant looked a the identification and continued, "Claude Ferd. Go through the new-recruit procedure with him and take these identification documents with you. They have to be archived. Also, arrange for his accommodation. You can take him away after I stamp his form when he's done."
"Understood, Second Lieutenant Chirp," said Kro.
When Claude finished, Chirp gave the form a look and stamped it down before handing it to Kro along with the identification documents.
"Follow Kro. Remember, Claude. From today onwards, you're a member of Bluefeather," Chirp said.