Call Out My Name
I didn't know before then that you could snap a stylus in half.
It took not a small amount of effort and made a noise that echoed through the chamber. Not that the sound of a small object snapping was a particularly loud noise, even an object that wasn't supposed to be snappable (the old man must have a grip like iron) but there was no other noise in the room.
All attention was focussed on the grizzled old Guildmaster, whose face was solemn with a hint of irritation under his thick eyebrows and bushy beard.
"You are hereby permanently expelled from the Tactician's Guild." he pronounced.
"Permanently?" I replied, "I don't get even one more chance?"
"One more chance? You already had your last chance when you caused the deaths of three hundred troops, cost the Guild thousands in reparation fees and seriously damaged our reputation with our El Salian clients. You've had plenty of chances, boy, and you've failed every single one of them. You don't deserve the title of Tactician, boy, so you've lost it. That's the end of it."
"But I've nowhere to go!" I protested.
"Be grateful nobody's murdered you in your sleep, boy. Your name is associated with defeat and ruin among all our clients. Powerful clients. The only way we can repair our reputation is to erase your name from existence." replied the Guildmaster, thumping his fist on the arm of his official chair for emphasis, "You should probably leave the town. Go and start a new life somewhere, find something you can actually do. Don't try and go freelance, you'll die horribly without anyone to drag you out of the next mess you get yourself into. When everyone falls, when the shield wall is gone and the General is dead, they'll come for the Tactician. Remember that, boy. You're not the hand of God. You only live once."
"Can I at least go and pick up my belongings?"
"Take them, boy, I've no use for a few second-hand textbooks and a moth-eaten green robe." he waved his hand dismissively, "Just get out of here and don't come back."
My eyes snapped open. I was good at waking up immediately if my sleep was interrupted. People only bothered waking me up for battles.
"Tactician, seriously, please stop trying to poke that stylus up my nose!"
"What? Oh, sorry." I muttered, secretly impressed that I'd found the one unarmoured spot on Oswin that was vulnerable to stylus-poking in my sleep. I had been meaning to get my own back on Oswin somehow for sitting on my chair while still in his armour and breaking it. Chivalrous to a fault, the General had immediately given me his own chair and sat on the floor. However, a reinforced chair isn't very comfortable if you don't need your chair reinforcing. One of the nails holding the iron framework in place was slightly loose.
"You were waving it around in your sleep again. You always do that when you're having a bad dream." reported the General, "I thought maybe you would want waking up anyway. You were asleep face down on your textbooks. You would be comfortable in your bed."
I would have disagreed that the bedroll and blankets on the floor could be called a 'bed' but it wasn't that bad for a military encampment. I had been wandering for a long time now. I had slept in worse conditions. I had slept in the open, in ditches, I had spent nights not sleeping at all, lying in wait for wolves and bandits and worrying that the temperature would plummet and I would never wake up. If it wasn't for Lyn that night, I never would have. Note to self: trying to cross the Sacae Plains when you don't understand wilderness survival at all is a bad idea. I don't even remember why I wandered into Sacae. It was just a bad decision in the long string of bad decisions that had been my life.
"I was working." I said, "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Its not necessary to apologise all the time. You're supposed to be in command." said Oswin, "However, I suggest sleeping at night. Battles mostly happen in the day."
"Battle? There's a battle?" I gripped my stylus and tried to smooth out the map of Elibe on the desk. It was more tea stains than actual existing geographical locations by now, "Go and guard the command tent and keep an eye on Merlinus!"
"Not now. Although Fiorina says she saw a group of people milling around that looked a lot like a hostile army. One of them shot at her."
"Do we have time to circumvent them or should we prepare to intercept them?"
"We could take a detour but they are directly between us and our goal. We don't want to lose too much time in our overall journey." said Oswin, picking up a counter that had rolled onto the floor – it was supposed to be Kent but it had originally been a salt shaker from the kitchens, "By the way, may I have a token for some supplies from Merlinus? I need a new lance and some Vulneraries."
"Lance. Vulneries." I said out loud, squinting at the piece of paper I was trying to write on. It seemed remarkably early. Was Oswin sure it was early morning and not still late night?
"Vulneraries." corrected Oswin.
"Vulnerararies." I swore, "Damn it. V-U-L-N-E-R-I-E-S... oh well, as its a Friday, you can have some Elixirs."
Oswin wasn't only the man who broke chairs and woke me up too early. He was also the man who spelled the word 'vulnerary' for me, the man who referred to himself as the 'Assistant Tactician' even though it was he who knew how to actually plan a battle strategy and I who could just about be trusted to do the filing without getting anyone killed. Oswin was the man who had made me a new stylus without me even asking for one. He had whittled it himself out of wood, even though his hands didn't look like they were meant for such fine, delicate work. He couldn't possibly have known what that meant to me, to have my Pointing Stylus of Office back. His excuse had been 'It would work better if you could point accurately to the map so we don't accidentally invade the wrong country'. It was Oswin who guarded the Command Tent, even though he also had to keep an eye on Hector and make sure nobody kills Merlinus and generally be everywhere at once. He was also the man who had carried me off the battlefield and back into the Command Tent that night after I had hung around for a few seconds too long and almost got myself in the middle of the fighting, although it might have been Hector, his visor was down and I was half asleep at the time.
He had also explained what the name meant that Lyn had given me that day.
My birth name was Max. When I passed my apprenticeship, the Guild gave me a Tactician-name. Maximilian Lyle. It sounded impressive and imperious. I lost that name and I couldn't go back to my old name. That was a child's name, not the name of a grown man, a man who had earned a name.
At the time, a foreigner to Elibe, I had no idea that 'Jeigan' was an insult, the name of some kind of fool or idiot, a liability on a battlefield. I was angry with Lyn for breaking my trust in her to give me a new name. She shrugged and said I shouldn't have pretended to forget my old name if I didn't want her to give me a silly name.
Later, I started using it again. It was a boon in a way to have such a name because to have any kind of face at all with a name like 'Jeigan', you had to prove yourself. I couldn't just sleep all day. And I was improving - I was learning, at last, from my mistakes. They weren't exactly a large or experienced army either so I could learn at the pace they did. They weren't going to leave me behind. Oswin couldn't move fast enough and I would notice from all the noise.
Eventually I think they mostly just called me 'Tactician', which is a good sign, I suppose. At least I have the ability to maintain the appearance of being a tactician.
You only live once. That was what I was repeating to myself over and over again as I tried to will myself to stay alive. I don't think I've really had a life before now, only, as I said, a series of mistakes. All of us have a life to reclaim and the life of another to claim in the attempt. That's why we go into battle. Maybe this time I'll have a chance to live my life.