Story for the day: The Soldier's Mess

Needed a break from edits for Khantara. Here is a small teaser from Book 6 of the Haanta series. 

The Soldier’s Mess

    There was a place of some distinction within the keep where the many young men of the Frewyn armed forces collected each day. The large hall situated between the vast kitchen of the keep and the garrison was reserved for the meals and merriment of the keep’s regiments. The whole of the armed forces stations in Diras, including the royal guard, would attend the hall twice in a day, once in the morning to carouse in the morning meal supplied and once in the early afternoon to take rest from their training, improve their understanding by reading the herald’s report, or forming alliances for games of cards. This was a haven for the many men come from the far reaches of Frewyn and though the men had thought their alcove to be impenetrable to disruption, they were mistaken.

    The commander and Den Asaan took their meals at the small table provided for them in the kitchen. After the men had sat in terror under the giant’s careful watch while they ate the first morning of his arrival to the keep, the commander thought it advisable to make a separate space for her mate where he could eat in comfortable silence while allowing the regiments to carry on with their strident meals and rousing games during their time away from the field. The Den Asaan would frequent the solder’s mess hall only when there was discussion of a brawl broken out over a matter of cheating and such fights were quickly silenced by the giant’s tense fist and indomitable scowl.

    Only once did the revelry of the soldier’s mess descend to a low hum. The morning had been awkward, as the men were forced to avert their eyes while Nerri, the first female recruit, invaded the barrack and sought to change in front of them. They were gentlemanly enough in their conduct toward her and turned away when their sensibilities told them to do otherwise, but her appearance at the entranceway of the solder’s mess was even more concerning. To have their precious masculine manners of speaking with all possible stridency and acting brazen was ruined by the Nnodainya woman. The men were unnaturally quiet and they kept their eyes low on their plates while passing fleeting and wary looks at one another.

    Though she had been informed that the solder’s mess was to be her dining hall, Nerri gained an unwelcoming feeling from the men. They were not discourteous and their over-gallantry had been unsettling to her. She had been used to believe that men were mean to be more brutish, but as never having spoken to any, she could not but be mistaken in her assumptions of their behaviour. She felt estranged and out of place. She turned to leave the hall and perhaps seek her sister’s company in the infirmary, but she was hindered in that regard by the commander’s sudden appearance behind her.

    “Commander,” Nerri said with a nervous salute.         

    “You only need to show that kind of unbidden respect to the Den Asaan. He is your lord and master,” the commander said, snickering to think of her mate as a cruel authority when she knew him to be so easily thwarted by something so simple. “Are you not enamored with the food? If you find something disagreeable, I’ll ask Martje to make something for familiar for you.”

    “No, no. Everything is so much better than I hoped it would be.”

    “If your aspirations are naturally low, I am certain your expectations were exceeded.”

    Nerri coloured a little and smiled. “I was just looking for the women’s place tae sit.”

    “You may sit wherever you like.” The commander looked about the room and motioned toward a few empty places along the numerous benches.

    Nerri was hesitant to take any of the unoccupied seats. They were all situated beside men of decent character but the soldiers seemed employed with their time and she wished them to be left undisturbed. “I have never sat next tae a man before,” she quietly admitted to the commander.

    “No? Then it shall be quite the experience for you,” she replied with a wink.

    “It’s not that I wouldn’t like tae. Unmarried women in my clan aren’t allowed tae be close with men.”

    “There’s nothing about these soft gentlemen to vex you. Sitting beside one of them is just like sitting beside a loud and hairy woman,” the commander smirked. “I promise they won’t bite you, at least not immediately.”

    Nerri took a step forward and the men were quieted. She was stared at for some time, making her choice for a seat impossible. She stepped back and sighed, acknowledging her painful introversion. “Maybe I should eat with Merra Lingha,” she said quietly to the commander.

    “You could, but I would advise familiarizing yourself with these fine gentlemen. There is much to be said for camaraderie in battle and you’ll never gain their companionship if you isolate yourself.”

    “Are many of them like the Den Asaan?” 

    “No, but they should be. It would make them ever so much more exciting.” The commander raised her brows and gave Nerri a sly look. “Look how kind they are in offering you the empty seats beside them,” she said in a loud voice.

    The men instantly made the unoccupied places beside them seem more welcoming. They shifted as close together as was possible and dusted off the empty spaces.

    “Which man dae I choose to sit next to?” Nerri smilingly asked.

    “Whichever one looks the meanest,” the commander whispered. “It is my understanding that the cruelty of the exterior is equally proportionate to the size of the heart. The more ferocious-looking the man, the softer he is on the inside.”

    Nerri simpered at the commander’s suggestion but found it useful in choosing a table at which to eat. The hall was full of silent men with beseeching looks but there was one in particular who had gained her interest. A broad-shouldered man of large build and sweet countenance seemed to be sitting alone at a table in the far corner. He did not seem as quick in understanding or as striking as the other young men, but his air was gentle and his smile silly and forthcoming. Nerri felt the tension in her shoulders recede when she regarded him. He sat in simple woodsman’s clothes, his hair was mid-length and unkempt, and Nerri had resolved to be his partner for their meal. She passed the several table lining the hall and sat beside him on the same portion of the bench. She smiled as an introduction. The notion of sitting at a man’s side when she was unmarried was odd enough but speaking to a man when her clan had deemed such an act unseemly was another barrier she had yet to overcome. She ate in silence and periodically looked up at the large man to find him smiling at her.

    “Hello,” he said in a deep and kindly voice.

    Nerri made a few breathless remarks.

    “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” said the woodsman.

    Nerri smiled and endeavored to keep her gaze upon the man’s elongated features and deep-set eyes.

    “I have thirteen sisters,” the man proudly declared. “Some of them are shy, like you. I know you will tell me your name when you’re ready.”     

    The man’s slow speech and baritone voice recommended to Nerri that though he was not the brightest of creatures, he could possibly have been the sweetest. “Nerrieghdan Hoda,” she said in introduction.

    “You’re a Nnodainya girl?” he asked, eyeing her cropped hair and makeshift armour.

    Nerri looked to the side. “Well, I was,” she murmured. Her hand was suddenly gripped and shaken by the woodsman at her side.

    “Mureadh,” he said with a big grin.

    Nerri freed her hand from Mureadh’s unassailable grasp and marveled at the strength he exuded in a mere handshake.    



  1. AAAAAAAAAAAA I so totally love stories about Nerri somehow :D I like her very much and I love the fact that she(and her sister) got out of that stupid Nnodainya clan and she joined the army chasing her drems to became a warrior *LOVE*
    I don't blame her that she wanted to turn around and go away at first, with all those "manly men" sitting there and pretending that they don't see her or staring at her or thinking "a woma? HERE???" LOL Good that Commander was there for her :D
    And Mureadth is adorable ^^ They are gonna be great freinds, I know :D 'cause that;s how you meet your best friends so often, in such an awkward situations :D :D


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