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Immersed in the duel, Stark knew every eye was on him.
Lord Luna had approved the request. Cadence spread the word. Twenty hopeful men and women showed up. He had to whittle them away to nine. That was the budget he was approved for. In two days Stark could finally be the captain his title implied, and West Luna would truly have a Guard.
They exchanged blows in the clearing in front of Lord Luna's manor, while the potential guards whisper to each other as they watched on. They watched the big man to size up their competition. They knew places were limited and so compared the big man's skills against their own.
Stark's opponent was strong, but not very fast. His swings were slow enough that Stark could parry them with little effort, or dodge them altogether. But he wasn't being reckless, and was waiting for the right moment against the more skilled paladin.
He was the big guy to Stark, because the guard captain didn't know his name. He didn't know any of their names. They didn't need names until they were hired.
The others watched the big guy, but they watched him more.
They were confident. There were sixteen left. The others had been whittled away from the interviews. Cadence had spread the word that he was looking for men and women with relevant skill and experience, yet people still came who were hoping that skill at arms would be enough. A guard’s weapon was just a tool, the guard was the weapon. A guard needed patience, endurance, and vigilance. They needed to keep the peace, yet strike when needed.
They watched him to evaluate their future captain. To discover if he was worthy of them.
The big man used a war axe. They were allowed to fight him with their weapon of choice. They would learn the standard weapons eventually, but he needed to see them as they were. The big man feined a swing, then crashed into Stark with his shield instead. Stark managed to dodge the follow up swing and regain his footing.
He was ready to end it. This was the last duel, but there more to be done. He waited for one last attack, parried, pivoted, and counter attacked. The man was disarmed and the battle was over.
"Good. Line up."
The man picked up his axe, and went back to his place in line.
"I like what I've seen. But I can't use you and you at the moment," Stark said pointing to two people in the middle. "Maybe during another round of hiring when we expand the guard. You have a lunch packed to take with you. Thank you for coming."
The skinny blond took the news with grace, picked up his stuff, wished the others good luck. The stockier applicant with the poorly healed broken nose said, "Who'd want to work under a kid like you anyway."
He was older than Stark. A lot of them were. Being a paladin gave him some respect, but he was still young. He knew plenty of them felt more experienced and more knowledgeable than him just out of habit. But at least now they all know he can beat each of them, one on one.
"I like what I've seen, but you aren't guards yet. Contracts will be signed tomorrow, and oaths will be sworn. You will be armed and armored. Your equipment will be yours to keep and maintain so long as you remain under Lord Luna's employ for the first year. Should you remain under his employ beyond that, they will be yours to own as a thank you for continual good service."
"And good service you shall give. This isn't Luna. There are no walls of stone telling you where the boundaries are. You will be West Luna's walls. You will become it's boundary that defends against whatever threats may come. The primary goal is to deter, and not engage. Combat is a last resort."
"There are no teleport spells for deployment should someone cry out for guards. You will run. With or without armor. From sleep to full speed if needed."
"You will be assigned shifts, but you will always be on guard. Luna's guard is legendary. They are the best. We will be better."
Stark looked them in the eyes as he spoke, and they seemed to stand straighter with each word. Absorbing the responsibility of their task.
After a pause, he nodded and said, "All follow me. I'll show your quarters, where lunch has been prepared."
The guard captain leads them to small house just beyond Draven's museum. It had been Lord Luna's property for a while, but used only for storage. It would comfortably fit more than the nine recruits he was allowed to hire.
There were only two rooms. The doorway opened up into an L-shaped corridor, with the short end containing racks of swords, halberds, and crossbows. Next to the equipment was the entrance to the second room which contained their beds, with a personal chest for each. The longer end of the L-shaped room contained a long dining table with benches and a stove at the far end.
The table was covered with food. Fresh meat, rolls of bread, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and wine and ale, all catered to make their mouths water.
The cloud of competition dissipated, and they all gladly served themselves and talked. Not with Stark, they were all still wary of the power he held over them, but they didn't hold back from each other.
The big man was Stone, the short one was Edwin. There was an ex-bodyguard who's previous employer recently died of old age named Loren, and a tracker named Warren.
Bear was the oldest, and the only one who had been an actual city guard. He was away from Trinsic when the plague hit. It was under quarantine but he was able to learn that his wife and child had died, and he had nothing to go back to. He couldn't seek revenge against a disease, so he needed work to fill his mind. Stark understood.
Stark didn't catch the names of the others, but they all seemed to get along well. They would need to.
After satisfied sighs filled the air, Stark took them outside.
"Pair up. I've pointed out West Luna to you. Take a closer look and become familiar with the area. Walk beyond as well so you know what's out there. The neighbors have been informed about this new hiring, so will not be alarmed. Stay in pairs, and only in pairs. This isn't time to cluster together and make small talk. This is time to learn. Some talk is ok, but pay attention and keep alert."
There were a few awkward moments as they paired up. Some of the men seemed to go out of their way to try to pair up with some of the women. Some of the women did the same. Stark took note.
Stark went back inside and waited until Lord Luna walked through the doorway. Stark stood and bowed.
"They're a good group. None are up to my standards yet, but everyone one of them has a lot of potential. If a guard was already established, I'd take every one of them if we needed the numbers. But to create a new guard, it needs to start with only the best."
Lord Luna nodded, and Stark knew he, himself, was being evaluated.
Stark picked up a basket of eggs and allows a smile to touch his lips.
"I test their vigilance, and discover who is keeping watch."
* * *
Things are going well. The limitations of West Luna force me to adapt the techniques used in my own training, and come up with something new. I can do this.
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