I parked my cart in front of the Countyman’s home and gave the four sows hauling the cart another treat after I hopped to the ground. Every time I got off the cart, I had to give them treats or they would be upset. I could tell that they were a bit tired too, they’d hauled me and the cart quite a ways. Giving them each a scratch behind the ears after dropping treats for them, I examined them all briefly for injury, blisters, sores, or badly fitting harness. Everyone seemed fine.
Making plans in my head, I decided to take the team by the river landing before heading back to the farm, to let them drink their fill and maybe eat some acorns if the oaks near the river had started dropping acorns yet. They would be extremely hungry otherwise, by the time we got back to the farm. Before tying the reins to the hitching post, I made sure that I parked the cart well inside the gravel area of the Countyman’s driveway. I didn’t dare let the team of sows onto his lawn or they’d start rooting. After making sure that I wasn’t setting myself up for some sort of problem, I walked up to the Countyman’s door and knocked.
A few moments after I knocked, the Countyman answered the door. He stared at me briefly, and his nose flared slightly. I chuckled to myself and grinned a little as he shook his head a bit.
“The lieutenant is in Cambel’s Inn, in front of the town bath house, Allen.” He lifted a glossy waxed wood paperwork box from his side, opened it, and pulled out a sheet of paper. “You’ll need this.”
I looked down and read the paper. ‘Militia Recruit. One free hot bath.’ In small print, there was a note below the Countyman’s signature. ‘Recruit must pay for soap, if desired.’
The Countyman laughed at me as I blinked at the paper. “Go on, Allen. You don’t have much time even though it’s almost next door. Tell the lieutenant you’re reporting for duty before you go do the bath and wash, so he’ll know you’re reporting.”
I looked over at the Inn. The front of it was crowded with horses and a couple carts. “Can I leave my team parked here, Countyman?”
The Countyman poked me in the gut with a finger. “Back up.”
After I took a step back, he took a step forward out the door and looked towards the front of the Inn. After a glance, he said “Yes.” He looked at my team. “Leaving them there is fine. Check the reins though; if they get into the bushes, my wife will be very unhappy with both of us.”
As I turned, I said “Yes, sir.” before talking across the porch and down the steps. The Countyman had asked me to check the reins, so I did, even though I was certain they were tied well. They were, indeed, secure.
The Countyman was marking a paper on top of his paperwork box as I turned back towards him. “Reins are secure, sir. I’ll be back in a little while.”
He waved at me and nodded. “Thank you, Allen.” He then tucked his paperwork box under his arm, took a step back, and closed the door.
After a glance back at the Countyman’s house, I decided not to hop the fence. It was only a few seconds more to walk out to the road, and then along the road to Cambel’s Inn.
Cambel’s was the larger of the two inns in town, with rooms to rent on a second story rather than simply being a place for people to eat and drink. They never bought swine directly, because they had rooms to rent, and most people with money to stay in rented rooms weren’t used to the noises pigs made. That’s how it was explained to me, anyway. It made some sense – I’d probably not be able to sleep well if I were travelling and stayed in a room near a glassworks.
As I walked up the stairs to the entrance to the inn, three older men who I barely knew walked out. They were talking amongst themselves quietly, and I carefully didn’t listen in or give the impression of trying. I did nod to them politely. They, in turn, nodded to me as we walked past each other. I did overhear a couple words about getting ready and warm clothing, so I assumed they were probably recruits like me.
I entered the inn as the scent of chicken and potatoes drifted past me, and looked to the right where the eating tables and the little musician’s stage were. As I expected, the recruiter was seated there, easily identifiable because he had several piles of paper in front of him, each with a small rock on top. No merchant with any sense would have that much paper scattered around them in a common room where they might be ruined by spilled food or drink, and he was wearing odd, new-looking clothes. Grey pants and a grey shirt, with black boots. There were a couple men near him filling in paperwork.
I walked over to the man that had to be the lieutenant, and he looked up at me and frowned as he watched me approach. I watched his eyes move up and down, clearly assessing me, and his expression relaxed into a neutral expression before he asked, “You are here as a draftee?”
“I am, sir.” I replied, stopping in front of him.
“North Road Rickson Farmstead, at marker twenty-one, sir.”
He picked up a sheet of paper and put his finger on a spot on the page, and made a mark with a pencil.
His eyes narrowed as he looked at me closer. “You can carry half your weight, or thirty kilos?”
I bristled a bit at his disbelieving tone, but forced myself to relax. It wasn’t like he was the first person to think I was weak because I was thin. “Yes, sir. I can carry half my weight, sir, which would be more than thirty kilos.”
He looked me up and down again. “All day? Can you run?”
That was like a slap in the face to me, and I struggled to keep from mouthing off to him.
There wasn’t any fear on his face as he pushed himself a little back from the table with a brief squeak of his chair on the floor. He locked eyes with me, and I knew for certain that I wasn’t looking very happy. I relaxed my hands and shoulders, closed my eyes, and counted back from five to one, saying nothing. I opened my eyes looked over his shoulder.
There was some subdued chuckling from the men filling out paperwork around the lieutenant.
The lieutenant’s eyes darted from me to the men who were now all watching me and the lieutenant. “OK, local humor.” He pointed at Ed Glot, one of the fishermen we sold corn to fairly regularly. “Talk to me, what’s funny?”
Ed looked back at the lieutenant with a grin, nodded to me, and said “That Rickson boy can run a bit, sir. Just a bit.” He leaned back in his chair a little as the other men around us chuckled.
I didn’t need anyone to talk for me, but getting the lieutenant’s eyes off me was something to be thankful for. I carefully spoke. “Like Mr. Glot says, I can run, sir. Better than anyone else near here I know of, including the local messenger guild runners.” I then realized how prideful I had sounded. Pa would be upset, so I added something depreciating about myself. “There are a lot of people faster in a sprint than me though, sir.”
The lieutenant watched me, but he was also obviously watching the others around us react to my statement. The muttering of agreement and a couple chuckles seemed to satisfy him.
I had relaxed a bit, and the lieutenant nodded. “OK, go get washed up. The Countyman gave you a bath coupon?”
On my agreement, he started shuffling his paperwork again while replying. “Another lieutenant in the bath house will inspect and test you after you bathe to make sure you don’t have any obvious problems that will keep you from keeping up. Do what she says.”
He shook a handful of red and green glass pieces out of a bag into his hand, and picked one red and one green piece out, handing them both to me. “Give her these tokens. After you get inspected, put your clothes back on, return here, and give me the token she gives back to you.”
He smiled. “Go. Don’t dawdle. The captain needs to speak to everyone today. He’s going to do that in a little more than an hour, and you still need to do paperwork.” Tell the lieutenant in the bath house that you are the last one before we get ready for the captain’s talk.
I nodded my head, turned and went, walking quickly but not running inside. When I left the building, I ran across the street towards the bath house.
I’d never been inside the bath house before. Like any other farm family, my family usually bathed at the end of every day on the farm so we wouldn’t soil the bedclothes. Instead of immersing ourselves in water, we heated water on the stove. That heated water was poured into the bathroom washbasin, and we would then wash with sponges. You could completely immerse yourself in water in the bath house, like a hot water pond. It wasn’t free though, and it was twenty-one kilometers from the farm. A town luxury. I’d asked the butcher how much it cost once when I saw him come out, and he’d told me. Paying a whole fisc for seven bath coupons was just crazy. I’d take one for free though, and looked forward to the new experience.
As I crossed the street, I looked over at the hothouse next to the bath house. We had taken a class trip to see how the system worked when we were studying basic solar energy in third year. I looked at the glass half-cylinder on top of straight glass walls, remembering how it worked. The building was raised on a heavy stone block base two meters tall, five meters wide, and ten meters long, with the long axis running east to west. The cistern stones were covered with black mortar inside and out, a type of mortar that had a layer of powdered charcoal pressed into the surface before it dried. Black mortar was cheap and easy to make, and it absorbed solar energy quite nicely, though it was only good for surfacing, and had to be replaced every few years.
My eyes raised a little, and I looked at the large grid of clear glass plates in heavy wooden frames rising straight up from the cistern wall. The wooden frame and plates of glass curved across the top of the hothouse where the tile roof of a normal house would be. I remembered from class that every individual glass plate had a series of divots along the thickest edge, indicating the angle of the prism. At different times of year, the glass plates would be carefully removed from their mountings and moved to different mountings, so that the prism effect of the glass would concentrate more light into the black cistern. It was, essentially, a large, simple Fresnel lens, but much, much smaller than the ones used to smelt glass. It heated the bath house’s water without need for fuel. Water was added manually, as required, from a cistern, to replace spillage and evaporation.
I’d love to have a hothouse like that for bathwater at the farm, I thought to myself. By the time all the dreams and memories had wandered through my head, I had finished crossing the yard and was standing in front of Kirk, the bath house attendant, handing him the coupon from the Countyman. I knew Kirk, but didn’t know him well; he was a year behind me in school, and lived in town. His parents owned the bath house, and sold candles, fragrances, specialty oils, and dyes out of their home. We got our neatsfoot oil from them for leather maintenance.
“Hello, Allen.” He said as he took the coupon. “Want some soap?”
Soap would be expensive, and I knew it. I didn’t even bother asking for a price. “No thanks, Kirk.”
My family made our own soap, typically from beef tallow and castor oil that we traded for, with a little bit of olive oil if we could get it cheap. Soap was annoying and time consuming to make because making the lye required care. Lye was unforgiving, causing severe burns quickly on the skin and would do horrible things to the lungs if you breathed too much of it. We only made lye and soap in the smokehouse with its walls opened up, and Molly and Abe were kept away when it was being made. Granpa usually carried leather tack out to repair when he made soap, and watched Abe and Molly weed and pick the garden beside the house as well.
Kirk shook the bucket he was holding out in front of me. “Allen. Here. You’ll need this.”
I shook my head. I needed to hurry, not daydream. “Sorry, Kirk, lost in thought.”
Kirk handed me a bucket and pointed to the blue token in it that I should keep with me at all times in the bath house. Then he walked me into the back, pointing to the right into one of several identical-looking alcoves. “Wash there with a brush to clean off most of the dirt, please.”
The floor was angled slightly towards the exterior wall of the building, to a channel cut in the stone. Kirk showed me how the hand-pump worked, which was a bit silly, because hand pumps were hand pumps and everyone knew how to work them. At the same time, that wasn’t all he explained. I’d never been in the bath house before, so I was grateful for the step-by-step instruction. The clarity and precision of his description of the bath house rules and how to use the equipment made it obvious that it was something he had memorized for new customers.
He gave a little grin. “No problem.” If he wasn’t genuinely happy, he was hiding it well. The bank could do worse than sending their employees to the bath house to learn manners. I kept my mouth shut after thanking him though, saying something like that might get around. Two other people had shown blue tokens to Kirk as they walked in, and nodded politely as they walked out.
I transferred the blue token into my swine treat bag, pumped some hot water into the bucket, stripped off my clothes into a pile, carefully set my swine treat bag to the side, and then double-checked to make sure the oiled leather bag was cinched tight. There was nearly fifty fisc, the bath token, and the recruiter’s two glass pieces in it.
After cinching the bag, I used the horsehair brush to give myself a quick scrub with the hot water in the bucket. After I was done scrubbing myself, I put the brush back on the shelf, tossed my clothes in the bucket and topped it off with a little more hot water. I wrapped the towel I’d been given around my waist before taking the bucket in one hand, my bag in the other, and walking out into the main bath area.
The main bath was a rounded rectangular steaming cistern of water countersunk into the floor in front of me, steps leading down into the water from all four sides, seats around the sides. A few people lounged, and I saw a man and a woman who seemed to be hurrying like I needed to. I stirred my clothes in the bucket vigorously, pulled them out, and ran them through a clothes wringer. They weren’t going to be clean that way, but they would certainly be a lot less dirty. I set the clothes on a drying rack next to an oven that had a pot of something that smelled really good on top of it. Cinnamon was definitely part of it, but there were other scents I didn’t know.
I dumped the bucket into the wall-drain, stacked it upside-down next to the oven with the other buckets, and walked over to the side of the bath and racked my towel and bag there, directly behind where I would be sitting, within easy arm’s length.
I walked carefully on the warm, moist stone, and carefully walked down the stairs into the very hot water. If there weren’t fourteen people in the water already, I wouldn’t have gone in at all. Their example proved that other people obviously could and did deal with the temperature, I forced myself to slowly enter the water. A couple people looked at me appraisingly, and I ignored them. I frequently got odd looks when I took off my shirt in hot weather around people who weren’t my family. Some of my classmates had teased me once and said I looked like someone forgot the muscles when they put me together, and decided to just use tendons instead.
I sighed to myself as I finally made it all the way to the bottom of the steps. A bit over belly-button deep, and it was starting to feel very good. I waded over to the spot in front of where I’d put my towel and bag, and took a deep breath before dropping to my knees and ducked my head forward into the water, completely immersing myself, like as if I were swimming in the pond. The heat was thrilling. I’d never felt anything like it, and came up with a big grin on my face.
As I started to rub my skin all over my body to help stretch and open the pores like Kirk had mentioned, I thought to myself. If I lived close enough to town to do this regularly, I’d do it as often as I could afford to. Marza would certainly appreciate it too, I’d bet.
Looking around, I could see that there were several couples chatting with each other. No heavy petting or anything though, which I was glad for. I’d been half afraid there might be some really embarrassing activities happening, but I didn’t see any sign of it. I didn’t look for it too closely either.
As I scrubbed myself, I considered different ways I might be able to make a tiny bathhouse like this out of materials that wouldn’t require so much maintenance. I didn’t want to try to make something wood-burning, because a simple house oven used a lot of wood already. Putting the house stove outdoors wouldn’t work because the waste heat from the oven helped take the edge off the cold in the house during the winter. After a little thought, I decided it would be inefficient, but I could probably do it with regular stone – double-walled but with standard glass, like an herb garden greenhouse. It wouldn’t be this hot, but I was fairly sure it would be pretty warm.
I snorted to myself. Stop dreaming, Allen. For at least the first five years, when you aren’t farming, you’ll be building barns, locust-proof storage, and improving the house. If there’s wooded land, you’ll be ringing trees, lumbering, and burning stumps for years to make more fields. Especially if you get a large tract of unimproved land.
Even though I knew the sheer amount of labor required to build even a small bath house and hothouse would be simply impossible for years at least, I resolved to do the design one day. Design could be done by lamp light, and planning something like that would be something fun that Marza and I could do when it was the wrong time to do other things before bed.
Those sorts of thoughts were not what I needed to be thinking about in a public bath, so I dragged my thoughts out of the ditch and dipped my head under water one more time, scrubbing my scalp and face again.
Regretfully, I made my way out of the heated water, and shivered. Violently. I’d never bathed in water that hot, and coming out of the bath into the air was far colder than I imagined it could be. I barely kept my knees from knocking together as I walked to the rack behind where I had been in the water, and snagged the towel off of it, rapidly rubbing it over my body to dry off. Then I collected my bag and walked over to the little clothes-drying oven and discovered my clothes were still wet. I turned the clothes around so the wetter side would be facing the oven, and looked around for the lieutenant I was supposed to meet.
I didn’t have to look long; there were two other people in towels standing in front of a woman sitting on a bench against the wall. She was watching me, and when I looked her way, she beckoned to me. She didn’t have any papers with her, but she was wearing the same style clothing as the other lieutenant. Grey shirt and grey pants, with black boots. There was a wide-brim leather hat on the bench next to her.
The woman and man standing in front of her were also only wearing towels around their waists. I checked that my towel was secure, and walked over to her, carrying my pouch in my left hand and securing the towel with my right.
“You’re a recruit?” She asked, politely, her eyes looking me up and down as I approached.
“I am, ma’am.” I answered, nodding. “The lieutenant in the inn said to tell you I was the last before the captain’s talk.”
She nodded politely to me. “Thank you for letting me know.” Then she centered her gaze on the three of us. “I’m going to ask you to do some basic stretches and movements while carrying some weights. Sorry to have to ask you to parade in front of me like cattle at an auction, but if you’ve got health problems that I can spot here, we won’t have to worry about you slowing us down when we deploy.” She paused. “Do you understand?”
It made sense to me. “Yes, ma’am.” I replied as the man and woman beside me did the same.
I recognized the features of the faces of the man and woman beside me, they were clearly from larger south side families. He looked like he was from the Nogon family and she looked to be part of the Moncrefs, but I didn’t know their names. They were both young, but obviously older than me by several years.
While the lieutenant talked to us, explaining the exercises we’d do, I started wondering why I hadn’t seen any of my classmates. Not that I wanted to see more of my classmates, considering what I was here for, but it sounded like the Countyman was trying to gather people who were fifteen because we could fight without having to worry about being sent off to prison. My graduating class had been only twenty people, and as I went through the list of them in my head, I realized they almost all came from large families.
Well, that explains it then. Good for them, if they can get out of this.
An annoyed voice snapped me out of my thoughts. “I said, fold your towel and put it and your bag on the bench, young man.” The lieutenant was standing in front of me, looking at me.
“Oh, sorry, ma’am.” I removed the towel, folded it, and set it on top of my pouch, hiding it from casual view.
For the next few minutes, we paraded back and forth without a stitch on, and then did stretching exercises while carrying five-kilo weights in each hand. Five kilos isn’t much, but carrying two five-kilo weights while doing stretching exercises was a lot harder than I expected it to be. The others didn’t seem to be have nearly as much trouble with it as I did. That wasn’t unexpected, really; I’d never been that strong, and I had arms quite a bit longer than the man’s and much longer than the woman’s.
The lieutenant seemed happy with us when she we finished the stretches, but only said “Looks like you’ve got all the parts we need you to have, and in good working order. Each of you, give me your red token, get dressed, and go give your green tokens to the lieutenant in the inn.”
She then took back the weights from us, placed them in a heavy-duty leather backpack with a few more like it, and heaved the pack over her left shoulder with a slight grunt of exertion. All three of us did as we were told and gave her the red tokens before walking back to our clothes at the drying oven.
The other two apparently knew each other and chatted a little as we all quickly got dressed. I didn’t try to involve myself in their conversation, since I didn’t know them. That let me get ready a bit faster than them.
Since the other two had been talking to one another, I finished dressing first. I walked out of the bath house, gave Kirk the blue token back, and headed back across to the inn. My clothes were still a little wet, but dry enough that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I walked into the inn, found the male lieutenant, and gave him the green glass token.
He looked up at me. “Anyone else still over there?”
“Two others were tested with me, sir. They should be here soon.”
As I finished that, almost like they were waiting for me to say it, the other two walked in.
After a short explanation of what we needed to fill out and how, all three of us started filling out paperwork. While we were filling out our paperwork, the lieutenant sorted through his own paperwork, occasionally marking here and there.
When we completed our paperwork, the lieutenant collected it and all the rest, stacking it all in a document box. His box was waxed wood like the Countyman’s, but much bigger, probably three inches thick, and it was full enough that a thin rope had to be used to bind it closed. He then put the box in a waxed leather bag, and the bag went into a backpack, which he slung over his shoulder as he told us to follow him.
“OK, the captain tells the lieutenants what to do, and we tell you what to do. That’s called chain of command. We’ll go over it a lot more as we travel to the border, but what I want you to understand is this. Captain Marko will speak. You will not. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” We all replied as we trailed behind him, walking towards the town square.
“What if we have questions?” I asked.
The lieutenant nodded. “You will have questions. The captain will not answer them, we will. ‘We’ being defined as myself, Lieutenant Davis, and the other lieutenant who tested you in the bath house. Her name is Lieutenant Baker. We will give you an opportunity to ask questions of us when he is done speaking. If you ask questions we don’t have answers for, and they are relevant, we’ll get answers from him. The stack of paperwork you just saw me dealing with is nothing compared to what the captain has to process. Still, the talk he’s about to give is critical to our success.”
It sounded like the military worked a lot like a big farm, like Marza’s family farm. One person gave the orders to a couple others, who made sure that whatever needed to happen got done. I had a lot of questions about what we were going to do, and hoped that what the captain had to say would provide at least some answers.