The Heretic – Snippet 11

“Don’t you ever, ever do anything like that again!  Do you hear?”

“Yes. . .yes sir.”

Another vicious kick.  His father’s sandal strap broke with the effort, and cursing, he kicked the boy with bare foot — but this time in the face, for good measure.

“I was right about you,” the boy’s father said.  “You’ll never make a priest.  I have my doubts if you’ll even make a soldier.”

He turned away, leaving his son gasping and bleeding on the dirt floor.

“Stupid little shit.”

* * *

Abel shook his head.  He should’ve known the glider was against the Law.  He could’ve made it and hid it somewhere.

In this instance, making a glider was only a means to an end for Milovich.  I believe you understand that, Abel.

Would your own father have reacted in the same way, lad?

Maybe.  Abel considered.  Okay no.  But he would’ve been mad all right if I’d left something like that out on the porch.  And how’s this supposed to help me figure out the area of some pointy piece of farmland without walking it, anyway?

Maybe you could show a little respect for the young lieutenant and ask him to explain it to you again. That would be one way, don’t you think, boy?

Yeah.  Okay.  You two know how to take the fun out of hating a guy’s guts.

Raj laughed his not-so-pleasant laugh.  There’ll be plenty of time for that, lad.  And plenty who deserve it more than Milovich.

Abel completed the assigned work as well as he could, but he could not shake off the feeling that Center was assessing his mathematical abilities the entire time and finding them severely lacking.

As class recessed he forced himself to get over his irritation and approach Milovich to ask for extra help.  The young lieutenant seemed shocked at first, and then pleased.  They arranged for a review session before the next class, and Abel was finally set free from the stinking classroom.

He rushed out into the garrison exercise yard to see if the Scouts had returned.  They hadn’t.  A few of his classmates lingered about, two of them — Xander and Klaus — sparring with musket rifles from the broken weapons bin.

Musket rifles were a special exception to nishterlaub edicts.  They contained metal, and lots of it, including bayonets, and shot lead minié balls. They could not be manufactured, but they could be repaired, and this only by the priest-smiths at special facilities within the temple compound in each district.  Zentrum allowed the production of a new batch of rifles once per decade, as well, but only in the Tabernacle of Lindron.

Gunpowder was a different matter altogether.  Its manufacture was a fiat granted to only a very few places:  Orash in Progar.  Bruneberg in Cascade, Mims in the Delta, and near the Tabernacle at Lindron.  Those who oversaw the magic creation of powder were called the Silent Brothers.  They were selected from a young age and had their tongues removed at age eight as part of their induction ceremony. They were also castrated at that time.

I’d like to know how gunpowder is made, but not that badly, Abel thought.

The broken rifles that Xander and Klaus were using were fixed with blunted wooden bayonets for practice.  Grunts of exertion and the clack of the practice weapons filled the courtyard.  Klaus, who was a stickler for military detail, was wearing his full cadet’s uniform even while sparring.  His brown knickers and black tunic marked him as one of the Black and Tans, the army Regulars.  His lower legs were wrapped in leather strips for protection.

Xander was shirtless.  He was Black and Tan, too, but his cadet’s tunic was thrown over a nearby dont hitching post, and his leg wraps were coming undone and trailing after him as he moved around the courtyard practice area.

Despite appearances, Xander was a military brat.  His father was stationed several miles to the east at the outlying settlement of Lilleheim.  Xander’s father was part of the teaching subscription, and he, his mother, and his sister, had remained in Hestinga for school. Klaus, on the other hand, was the son of a priest in the local administration.  Yet Abel knew, because he’d heard him say it enough times, that Klaus hated the priesthood and longed for a life in the regiments almost as much as Abel longed to become a Scout.

Abel’s own formality of dressing fell somewhere between the two cadets.  He didn’t bother to wrap his lower legs every day unless he knew duty called for him to be out of the military compound, but he never forgot his cap, which most cadets kept stowed under an epaulet and didn’t wear in the compound.

Most telling of all, Abel kept his tunic on even when days were as hot and humid as this one.  His father viewed the Scouts as an indulgence and expected Abel to go into black when the time came for a real commission.  But Abel knew what he wanted, and it was the Scout service. His tunic was russet, a color that matched the iron-tinted rock of the Redlands perfectly, and he wore it proudly.

Abel ducked around the cadets’ melee and made his way across the hard-packed exercise yard.  On his left were the dont corrals where the cavalry, Scouts and signal corps mounts were pooled when not in use.  The larger of the donts had quickly established dominance and took up half the space, while the rest of the herd had carefully packed themselves against one railing leaving plenty of space for the stags to saunter about at their ease. The stags held the entire line of their spinal plumage erect at all times, which Abel thought had to get tiring after a while.  The beta donts only bothered flicking up their large neck feathers from time to time when they because agitated or aroused and the few does there were studiously ignored the males.  Rutting season was many months away.