Claude stepped onto the podium and gave a salute.
General Miselk reciprocated and took two steps forward, removed Claude's three-black-star shoulder mark, and switched with one with a silver moon. As of that moment, Claude was a major.
It usually took between five and seven years to be promoted from captain to major in peacetime, and only with three good-performance awards. Claude was just 25 and hadn't served for even seven years nor did he have the training for his new rank. He had shot up in the ranks by achieving one miraculous feat after another on the battlefield. He was a legend.
The year-end promotion ceremony saw only 7 of the 26 students in the advanced strategy course promoted, and all by just one rank. One was promoted from lieutenant-colonel to colonel, the other five were promoted from majors to lieutenant-colonels. Claude had just stepped into the upper ranks.
The ten officers already above major were not present for Ranger folk's promotion. Major Skri was among them, and now he was lieutenant-colonel. It was more like compensation for the accusation against his honour following the end of the war.
Despite Claude's efforts to have him acquitted, which were successful, his unit's achievements were still stricken from the record because of their loss of the territory won by their achievements. The only accommodation was that their dead's families were not denied their pensions.
Now, the officers, both commissioned and not, of the old ranger were finally fully repaid for the injustice with their promotion. Myjack, a master-sergeant at the war's end, was now a sergeant-major. Gum, a staff-sergeant at the same time, was now a master-sergeant. Moriad and Dyavid were both now first lieutenant. Berklin was less fortunate. He had been part of 2nd Ranger, which was the principle guilty party in the retreat, and was resultingly not promoted.
It was now the 30th of the 11th month, Year 582, Sacred Light Era. The day of Claude's promotion.
It was one of the most significant years of his life; it was the year of his entry into the upper ranks, as well as the year his first son was born to his wife -- a healthy boy, brought into the world on the 25th of the 8th month. For the first time in his life, in both lives, he had offspring. He, of course, was, as of yet, not aware of it.
He had only just returned from his latest trip to Great Plains to receive the third batch of war horses. He'd not had time to read his letters yet. He did so soon after his promotion, which happened the same day of his return. He hopped around his room like a child when he read the letter from his wife. He booked the sole tavern in the village, and held a celebration. He desperately wanted to ask for leave to go see his newborn son, but restrained himself. He could ask for a month's leave at most, and the trip would consume most of it. The logical choice was to hold off for another year and take a longer leave of absence.
He read another letter from home written by his sister, about a month after the one from his wife informing him of the birth. She informed him that his wife and child were doing well. Kefnie had named the boy Tesoray Ferd, as they had agreed before his departure. In Ancient Hez, it meant ray of hope. She also sent news of his mother's recovery, helped along substantially by the new life in the house, on which she doted even more than she did his younger brother when he was of a similar age.
Speaking of his younger brother, when he checked the letter for any secret, magical, writing, as had become habit, he found another message from his sister, regarding the little twerp -- though now not so little anymore. He was fifteen, and had been tested for aptitude in magic, which he had passed, though just barely.
According to Landes, a score of 8 was excellent, indicative of substantial talent. While Bloweyk had scored 7, that was after his fifteenth birthday, the score of 8 was excellent only in individuals tested at the age of 12. By the age of fifteen, it should have been a considerable amount more by now. It was enough to learn magic, but the chances of him amounting to much was, put politely, insignificant -- and that was by the standards of Landes' time, when resources with which to train people were far more significant than they were now.
The best choice would have been to simply not teach the boy magic at all, to not even reveal its existence to him. Unfortunately he'd learnt of it already, and he had shown significant interest in it, which made not teaching him more dangerous than teaching him. Were they to not sate his curiosity, with his rebellious age in full swing, and his unfamiliarity with not getting his way, he would no doubt seek out other ways to learn what he desired, and given the current state of the world where magic and magi were concerned, that would be most dangerous. Teaching him, was not much better an option, however. The boy had a rash and arrogant nature, and he lacked both his siblings' sense of propriety and thoughtfulness. He was a bragster, and there was a serious danger that be would impulsively reveal his knowledge of magic to his friends, which would bring ruin down on the family. Angelina knew not what to do with the boy and hoped her brother might have advice.
Claude put down the letter. His thoughts turned to his parents. Magical talent was genetic, so for all three of the children to have an aptitude for it, and two to be substantially capable, they must both carry impressive genes, if not have a great aptitude for it themselves. If only they could have been aware of it in their youth, if only they had had time to develop it. His father was dead already, however, and his mother too old to start now.
He remembered something he'd read in a book in the cave library of Sheila's mother. The firstborn to two magi almost invariably had enough aptitude to learn magic, though the calibre of their talent varied significantly. Any subsequent heirs might or might not have talent, but there was little pattern to it. Whilst the child did not always have as much talent as their parents, the child almost never had significantly more talent than their parents, and rarely any more at all.
Was the book to be believed, and Claude had no reason not to, then his parents had to have considerable aptitudes, given him and his younger sister, even Bloweyk, the fourth child, though having nothing much, still had something. Did that mean his brother could have been even greater than him and Angelina? He thanked the heavens that his brother, with his personality, never came upon his talent. The damage he could have done to the family... it made Claude shudder. Luckily his years had passed, even if he trained every waking hour of every day for the rest of his life he would never be able to be Claude's equal as the latter was now, despite the latter's lack of training of the five years he'd been at war.
Aptitude and talent were only worth something if cultivated. If left untended, they were worth as much as a fallow field. Less, even; for a fallow field still had the potential to be cultivated, but talent had a shelf life, and if left untended, it would expire. Geniuses were rare not because the world lacked talented people, but because it lacked people that cultivated their talent.
People had one crucial ability that could up-end such things, however: the ability to push themselves beyond their limits, to change their fate. So Claude decided to give his little brother the chance to do just that. It would all depend on him, however. No one could change another's fate, only their own. He wrote a reply to his sister about mundane matters, and a second letter over the first in invisible ink telling her to give not-so-little Bloweyk the cookbook and let him learn Ancient Hez.
What he lacked in talent he would have to mend with hard work and perseverance. It might take him his entire life, and he would have to sacrifice any hopes at a normal life, even more so than either of his elder siblings had to, but if he stayed true, he might just make it to five rings. If he got any further... well, if any of them got any further, was as yet an unknown. All the perseverance and talent in the world could not take them one step beyond five rings without the right materials, and volumes of them.
Sheila's mother had written that nobody had advanced to six rings since the fall of the magi, even on Siklos.
It was in the pursuit of finding a way to do just that that Sheila's mother had departed for Nubissia, that a mother had left behind her young daughter.
A single letter had thus decided Bloweyk's fate, or at least what fates were possible for him. Claude decided to test his little brother's progress when he eventually returned for another visit, and decide then whether he would give him any guidance.
Claude watched as the words slowly faded, leaving behind only the mundane letter. He waited for them to vanish entirely before folding the paper, placing it in an envelope, and sealing it.
The mundane letter informed his family of what had happened since last he had written to them. He expressed his absolute giddy excitement at becoming a father and his wishes to be with them. He wrote a paragraph on his promotion, and about how it meant his three family members were thus dignitarians once again, for a few years until his little brother took over the household, at least. They could not enjoy the benefits of the status of someone not the head of the household, and Claude was only the household custodian whilst his brother was still underaged. Once his brother became an adult, he would take over the household -- as was his right -- and as a peasant, his family would lose their benefits. His wife would maintain hers, as she would be part of his household, of course, but not his family, who belonged to Bloweyk's. For his sister's part, until she married, at least.
Amongst the benefits were a partial exemption from certain taxes, such as those related to business. They would thus pay less taxes on the rent they earned from the apartments and shop lots they leased.
The females in the household would also retain the privilege of invitation to balls and banquets. They could be invited to such by other dignitarians in the city. It did not guarantee they would be, of course, but it did make it so they could. Claude had little doubt they would be invited to all such occasions, however; they were his family, after all. He was about as much of a celebrity in the city as one could be without being a royal.
His mother and sister would certainly attend such events. His mother prized her reputation too much not to, and his sister would go to look after her mother. His wife was never fond of such occasions, but she went out of a sense of duty to his sister and mother. Now, with her child, however, she would not hesitate -- and she would be right to do so -- to decline to stay home and look after the infant.
He hoped his sister would do more than just look after their mother during those events, however. She was already twenty, quickly becoming old for a woman yet unmarried. A couple more years and men would abandon her in favour of younger prospects.
He explained why he could not return immediately to come see his son, but promised he would do his best to come see them in a year. He could not promise he could come -- everyone knew the future was never certain in the military -- but he promised he would try. His time would be very constrained, however, which made his visit much less likely. The folk would be just finished with its formation and he would still have much to do in his new post to get everything in order and running smoothly.
Of all the perks of his new rank, Claude was most grateful for his: any letter written to him, or by him, would be hand delivered by a dedicated courier. None would get lost in the mail, or sent to the wrong place ever again. The only way they would not reach their destination, was if they were stolen off the courier's corpse. A courier could only improve the certainty of the delivery, however, not the time it took to deliver. A reply thus didn't arrive until just before new-years.
It was penned by his sister, but came from the entire family. They were very worried because they hadn't heard from him for two months. They were very happy to finally hear back from him, and both surprised and elated by what he'd written.
Angelina had once again written a secret letter. She promised to do as he said regarding their brother. She wouldn't teach him magic just yet, instead she'd have him focus on learning Ancient Hez until Claude could return and test him himself. If he couldn't learn the language by the time Claude returned, they could tell him to forget about magic together.
She said her mother and brother were most happy to be able to attend high society's social events again, but she was most dissatisfied with Claude's suggestion that she start hunting for a suitor. She said she had no interest in such carnal things, Her only focus was magic. A suitor, much less a husband, would only distract her.
Claude smiled helplessly as he put the letter down. He almost wished she'd written her little tirade in the normal letter so her mother could read it and give her a good lecture. Then again, the old woman would no doubt take it upon herself to find a husband for her daughter, and Claude didn't want someone else to choose his sister's other half, not even their mother. He would never go against his mother if she did, of course, but if he could avoid it, he would.
Despite his desire to just abscond from the town and not go to the event at all, Claude fulfilled his duty and attended the college's new-year's celebration. Skri met up with him during the evening and shared an interesting bit of news. Once their training was complete, General Miselk would resign from the college and take up his post as the new folk's folksman.