Malis met Mcgrath at his quarters dressed in a scarlet shirt and black pants like General Hyssop had been wearing. Mcgrath had found a new set of clothes waiting for him when he got back to his quarters which he changed into after bathing but instead of wearing the scarlet shirt he pulled on a black one he found along with some other clothes stowed in the trunk that stood in the corner of his room. If it bothered Malis that Mcgrath wasn’t wearing scarlet like everyone else, he didn’t show it as they began to walk down the halls to the dining room.
“So do all the Generals live here?” Mcgrath said, recognizing that the names on the doors they passed belonged to the Generals.
“Not all the time,” Malis responded. “Like myself, most of the Generals have families who live elsewhere. My wife and kids live in Hamock but I come and go between here and there when I’m not needed. Every General gets a week off every month to see family or attend business unless of course there is a war or pressing business to attend to.”
“Unless of course you want to get away from your wife,” grumbled a voice behind them.
Mcgrath looked back at the tall, rake thin General. He stood much taller than both Malis and Mcgrath with thinning black hair, a sharp nose but warm brown eyes. A thick matting of dark hair covered his arms that hung out of his short sleeves and long fingers grasped Mcgrath’s hand as he shook it lazily.
“This is General Ma’k’a, commander of the Elite Cavalry and Elite infantry corps,” Malis introduced him. “And recent comer to the unhappily married brigade.”
Ma’k’a looked momentarily sheepish. “Its not that bad.”
“Or so he tells us,” Malis grinned.
“Look what Ska’fer left on my bed,” Ma’k’a said holding up a pouch that Mcgrath heard coins jingle inside.
Malis groaned. “You two are not still at that caper.” Malis then explained to Mcgrath about the time Ma’k’a loaned General Ska’fer his horse and as a thank you, Ska’fer left six gold coins in the saddlebag. Ma’k’a wouldn’t have it so snuck into Ska’fer’s quarters and hid them in his boot. Next thing Ma’k’a knew they had turned up in the pockets of one of his pants. And it had carried on ever since, either one finding more and more creative places to hide the six gold coins.
“You watch, he will never see where I’m going to hide them this time,” Ma’k’a grinned.
“Do I even want to know?” Malis asked as they entered the dining room.
A few other Generals were gathered as Mcgrath met the rest of them. General Justin, stood at about the same height as Mcgrath with dark brown hair that was dead straight and lazy looking green/brown eyes. His cousin General Noah on the other hand stood easily six foot with jet black curls and intense, dark green/gold eyes. Where Justin seemed to be casually listening to what Malis said, Noah appeared to be listening to every word he said but at the same time grinned broadly when Malis told them how Mcgrath knocked the sword from his hands.
Mcgrath also met General Asher, the baby faced General in charge of two Armies under his command comprised entirely of Infantry. He looked very different to the other Generals who one could tell had seen war and were defiantly battle scarred, whereas Asher had white blonde hair, a broad smile full of twinkling teeth and bright, sparkly blue eyes. He laughed constantly and seemed like a very happy person, so unlike what Mcgrath expected for a General. And yet as Malis told him, Asher had seen many battles and was a very skilled warrior.
“And whose this?” sneered a voice nearby.
Mcgrath turned and looked at the General Malis had pointed out earlier, Falmer. Something about his darting eyes and gingery moustache grated against Mcgrath and he could sense Malis felt the same.
“This is Mcgrath, the young protégé Malval-,” Malis said coldly.
Falmer snorted cutting off Malis‘s sentence. “He looks pretty weedy to me.”
“He killed nine of Queen Alice’s men in one hit,” Malis pointed out.
“Yes but he still let one get away which is pretty careless,” Falmer sneered before wandering off.
Mcgrath was too stunned to reply, up until now everyone had been friendly and accepting of Mcgrath’s presence but Falmer made it apparent that he didn’t share that view. Malis muttered darkly before leading Mcgrath over to be seated. Malis introduced Mcgrath to General Ska’fer, who Ma’k’a‘s closest friend on the table. Ska’fer stood at the same height as Ma’k’a but with a relaxed almost sleepy look about him. Ska’fer was still a new comer of sorts and only led one army of red guard infantry soldiers. Ska’fer and Ma’k’a both were comparing notes and sniggering about their wives but looked sheepish when Malis asked them what they were laughing about. Malis later explained the he didn’t like people sniggering about their wives to their friends, that same disloyal attitude could slip into their work.
Next to Ska’fer sat General Martin, the only dark skinned General on the table with deep brown eyes, rippling muscles and black wavy hair. He hailed from a distant land and had been kidnapped to these parts as a child. Malis warned Mcgrath not to get in between Martin and his battle axe, he was lethal on the battlefield. He led one army of infantry soldiers but also dabbled in the artillery sector.
The last General to arrive was Jacob, tall, broad shouldered with dark hair that was greying around his temples. He looked serious, and apparently was when it came to leading the elite Red Guard Infantry under his command. But as Mcgrath discovered as he sat next to him and stole the carving knife off Malis that he had a quick sense of humour. Jacob constantly butted into everyone’s conversations with something humorous before flitting off into someone else’s conversation.
Mcgrath sat back and let the conversations ebb and flow around him. All except Falmer cheered when Malval introduced Mcgrath to them. Fester leapt up with his mug cheering as everyone groaned and his brother muttered for him to sit down and shut up. Mcgrath decided very quickly that he didn’t like Falmer, there was something shifty about him. But this thought was quickly lost as the men laughed, traded dirty jokes and tales as the roasted meat steadily vanished.
Mcgrath pondered on this many months later as he knelt before Malval in the grand dining room as Malval knighted him into the Red Guards. Mcgrath’s heart hammered in his chest as Malval touched either shoulder with the blade of the ceremonial Red Guard sword, Malval beaming proudly. Mcgrath was dressed in his brand new armour, coal black breastplate, vambraces, leg guards and a sweeping black cloak that matched his dark sword. Scarlet red, everyone agreed wasn’t really Mcgrath’s colour and unlike everyone else he never wore it. When he finished the Generals leapt up cheering thunderously as Malval embraced Mcgrath, except Falmer who clapped slowly, the sneer never leaving his face.
After celebratory drinks Malval led Mcgrath away, wanting a private word with him in the Library. The Emperor bubbled excitedly when Mcgrath suddenly stopped, leaning against the wall for support. Gripping the door frame, Mcgrath tried to blink away the foggy sensation that had descended on his brain as Malval hurried back to him sensing that something was wrong. The room spun in a haze of black and white as Mcgrath broke into a cold sweat.
“What’s wrong lad?” Malval asked, the concern written all over his face.
“I….I…don’t know,” he said looking up.
Malval stared into his eyes with sudden understanding. “Your eyes have begun to glow red. it’s the orbs taking effect on you.”
Mcgrath gasped as he foggy sensation was replaced by a sharp stab of pain like a blinding migraine. “What do I do?”
“There’s nothing you can do. Just accept it,” Malval said. “Let me help you to your quarters.”
Malval helped Mcgrath through the corridors before letting him sit down on the edge of his bed. Malval pulled his boots off before looking at the young man. Mcgrath’s skin looked pale and clammy, like he was about to be violently ill.
“Is there anything I can get you?” Malval asked.
“Just go away,” a voice suddenly rumbled that didn’t seem to belong to Mcgrath. It was deeper, sinister even.
“Mcgrath?” Malval said wide eyed, he had never heard of the orbs taking this kind of effect before.
“I said go away and leave me alone,” Mcgrath snarled sitting up slightly, his eyes glowing like wildfire.
“Ok,” Malval said meekly backing out of the room.
The door clicked as Mcgrath collapsed back onto the bed blacking out, sinking into a haze of black light.