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The days that followed were full. Clifton and Sam spent their mornings training stinging Fliers, and their afternoons being trained by Bog’s Knights and Fen’s Aero Squadrons in other forms of combat, weaponry, and tactics. After dinner, they met with other recruits who had created new moves, and worked into the night perfecting those skills so they could teach them the next morning.
The Sergeant joined them for breakfast each day.
“You’ve done good work,” he said between bites at the end of the week. “These green volunteers have become a real army. I’ll be proud to serve with all of you when the call comes, but for now, the trainers from Bog and Fen are going home. You’ll be working with the Freelands Forces, keeping them sharp, ready for what’s ahead.”
“Thanks, Sarge. We couldn’t have done it without you,” Clifton said. “It was genius to tap Sam’s gifts.”
“A sign of leadership is recognizing leadership in others. I suspect Killer’s even better at that than I am,” the Sergeant allowed.
“What makes you think so, Sarge?” Sam asked.
“You saw it in Clif, didn’t you?” he laughed.
Clifton felt the compliment and took the ribbing with a grin.
Kýrios the Most Revered, Queen Madalena’s eldest councillor, landed on the grass beside them.
Still smiling, Sam greeted him. “Kýrios! What brings you to the Meadow?”
Glaring at the three of them in turn to stop on Sam’s face, he said, “The Queen is gone.”
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“I’m pleased you’ll stay with us, Recruit,” the Ambassador said when Sam and Clifton reported back at dusk. Smiling, he added, “Be sure to let Sergeant Stubbs know before you retire or he won’t be able to sleep.”
The sergeant rousted them out of bed long before dawn, shouting, “Eyes open! Up and out! Survivors get breakfast at sunrise.”
“But how are we supposed to fight if we haven’t eaten first?” asked a cottontail named Jared, one of the plumper trainees.
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Sunrise had arrived before night was done sleeping, and, although they were excited now, most of the recruits had shown up for roll call bleary-eyed and yawning. Not Sam. She’d been awake and ready before the last star faded.
Happy to be assigned to the same Stinging Fliers group as Queen Madalena’s daughter, Clifton thought he’d been eager to start training; Sam was rabid to begin. Clifton was pleased to be the victor in nine out of twelve partner exercises with twelve different partners; Sam never lost.
By mid-morning, their training officer, Sergeant Stubbs from Fen’s Hive Elite, asked her to help him demonstrate each new maneuver; by noon she was creating her own techniques.
Taking their lunch break together, Clifton and Sam fell into a discussion about the Ultimate Sacrifice. The Alliance army’s official policy discouraged suicide attacks unless absolutely necessary. Clifton thought this was eminently reasonable.
“But what’s the point of having a stinger if you aren’t going to use it?” Sam’s frustration mounted with each word.