Chapter 11 (Kayden)

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When Kayden returned to the barracks, she couldn't sleep, her mind racing. Where was Alena? How much time did her sister have left? Tomorrow, she planned to continue her search, and she'd do so every day after until she found her.

Zara Tait crept into her thoughts too, with her easy smile and bold confidence. Every so often, Kayden glanced toward Zara's neatly made bunk, expecting the girl to return, but she hadn't. Given the crowd she'd seen Zara hanging around, maybe she knew something about Alena, but Kayden doubted she could just go up to Zara and ask if she'd seen her supposedly dead sister wandering about.

To make matters worse, the Leodian heat was a pain. She tossed and turned throughout the night, kicking her thin blanket to the foot of the bed. It was almost a relief when the moons began to set and the sun peeked above the horizon. Light streamed through the narrow windows, and she blinked against it, rising from her bunk. Queen Chhaya had gifted the new recruits with fresh clothes and a small pouch of coins, which Kayden had tucked beneath her bed. There was also a rag and a jar of bubble grass oil to use for cleansing the sweat and grime away.

She changed quietly while most of the others still snored. The fabric of her new tunic was softer than anything she'd owned in Freca, with the exception of her fur cloak. She ran her fingers over the material and smiled.

There were only a few Leodian soldiers up, rubbing sleep from their eyes. The faint whiff of cinnamon caught her attention, and after slipping on her boots and securing her weapons, she headed outside to investigate.

A small crowd of fyras sat together in a circle outside the barracks, directing their blue flames at a large metal pot in the middle. They took turns heating the pot every few seconds, careful to not melt it. Others sprinkled cinnamon and poured pecans and sliced, green apples into the pot while another stirred the porridge.

Having lived off of dried meat and frozen fruits for the most part due to Freca's food shortage, the porridge seemed nothing short of a blessing. More warriors began to wake, stumbling out of the barracks. The fyras in charge of breakfast began distributing bowls of porridge. Kayden took her bowl and sat against the wooden exterior of the barracks, watching the sun climb higher. Deep purples and blues painted the skies while the last red moon disappeared completely behind the horizon. She almost felt at peace.

That was, until General Iris approached on her horse, cold gaze glaring at everyone.

"Leodia doesn't pay you to mill around doing nothing!" she shouted in their direction.

Kayden refrained from rolling her eyes at the general's unnecessary aggression and stood, brushing dirt off her pants. General Iris steered her horse toward the center of the training grounds, and Zara followed right behind the general, also on a horse.

The girl wore a cropped, sleeveless tunic that showed off her gold tattoo. The fabric was a washed out brown like the horse she rode, and her curly hair was braided down her back. As Zara scanned the crowd, many soldiers looked away, then the girl found her. Zara's hands tightened ever so slightly on the reins. Kayden offered a small smile, but Zara turned away.

Well, that could've gone better.

After breakfast, General Iris had everyone train in pairs. The new Frecans were partnered together while the Leodians stuck with their own. The general stalked around, noting each of their fighting styles. Kayden's axe was strapped to her back, sword in hand and daggers in her boots. For the first time in her life, she felt ridiculous bearing so many weapons, especially in this heat.

The Leodians only had swords or crossbows. Today, they wore sleeveless tunics instead of fancy armor, but they did have shields, which Frecans never used. Leodian soldiers also trained on horseback, charging at each other and ducking their opponent's sword, occasionally knocking another off. Others used their shields to deflect the bolts fired by those with crossbows. The other arbalesters stayed on the outskirts, shooting bolts at the training targets.

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