Coming of Age Drama Fantasy

The friendship was exceedingly rare, one in a billion. The two least likely people, set to be sworn enemies had allied with each other: Griffin the Straightforward and Lucas the Mighty. They were raised in different townships. Though he was known by the epithet "Straightforward," Griffin's hometown of Magnus was unremarkable.

It was already a well-known breeding ground for the highly educated. Polymaths, alchemists, inventors, philosophers; great minds congregate in the township for its namesake Magnus the Brilliant was alleged to have had the township built nestled strategically betwixt a mountain range, owing to a dual purpose of protection and research. Only a fool would tire his army out by marching through a deadly and unpredictable mountain range.

By contrast, Lucas's hometown, while also unremarkable, was planned with only a fraction of the foresight of Magnus. The town of Ultima was situated near a river, but had no other natural barriers. Instead, Ultima provided its own barriers, raised its own conscript army, crafted its own weaponry, and dealt very intimately with nearby trade towns for the purpose of advertising their utilities as a mercenary town. Its culture took pride in the battlefield, they'd use their victories to cement their glory and the accompanying riches could fund their military capabilities.

The two township's relationship with each other was complicated. The two were never at war, but the respective cultures painted the denizens' images of each other. Magnus thought Ultima was bloodthirsty and barbaric; there was shame in prioritizing warfare over knowledge. Ultima, on the other hand, thought Magnus was too overprotected, naïve and ignorant of the world around them; the environment could also be weaponized, and since Magnus was sans any military to field, mindless marauders could subjugate the people and lay waste to all they hold dear.

Ultima's Council of Seven generals urged and insisted extra protection to the leaders of Magnus, but were refused each time. Likewise, while not interested in warfare themselves, Magnus had scientists and researchers to spare. There were strategists who could better collaborate and improve the Ultima Army's organization, deployment and planning. They could upgrade their armor, build them better encampments, breed stronger horses and improve the city's walls. The Council of Seven was more receptive and jumped straight to the offer. Some of the upper echelons of Magnus society expected this -- they were expecting the move to be a great boast to their neighbors, but as long as Magnus maintained military neutrality, there'd be no issues.

One of the best of the architects send to Ultima to supervise the project was Griffin the Straightforward. Magnus was sans a standing army, but was home to numerous schools: carpentry, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, architecture, alchemy, and others. Some libraries and auditoriums focused on one subject, others combined them and became the city's university.

Griffin was personally handpicked by one of the Council generals: General Haytham. He was in charge of finding stronger materials by which to build tougher walls. For all of Ultima's existence, whether they wouldn't or couldn't, the city never improved beyond mixed clay walls, which while sturdy, were not durable against the passage of time. If Ultima was meant to be the example of all military city-states, the paragon of the ultimate defense, then its infrastructure needed a gargantuan overhaul beyond those of a cosmetic reconstruction project.

General Haytham's chief military engineer, Colonel Lucas, would be commanding the battalion of engineers who would build the walls as Griffin would identify what makes a sturdy wall. Griffin had preconceived images of the Ultima natives. Brutish, short-sighted, unkempt, ill-mannered; he kept his nose in his notes and stuck to what he knew best. He wasn't in Ultima merely to mingle and befriend any locals. He had a job to do and no one would hinder or halt his task.

Colonel Lucas had known and understood many of the rumors and misconceptions about the people of Magnus. Some of his junior officers called them childish and pampered. His lower enlisted soldiers derisively regarded them as infantile and stuck-up, as victims of their own isolationist policies, but the colonel never thought so. Rumors were only useful in warfare where unrest and confusion can work best to cripple an enemy, in some cases better than any invading military. He left the negativity to someone who could use it, such as the intelligence officers in the army.

Instead, there was something to learn from this restructuring. The engineers can learn from this "straightforward" fellow, reverse engineer and build from his design, and if there was ever a need for it in the future, expand on existing techniques and ideas. Lucas committed fully to the project and threw his entire battalion into the effort. Griffin was surprised to see the cohesion between the engineers and the camaraderie amongst the men, working in unison like the wheel on a watermill. He may have initially written off the Ultima soldiers as barbaric and uncouth, but their unity in problem-solving wasn't very different from the academic world. Polymaths behave in a similar fashion, though for different purposes.

Lucas welcomed Griffin as one of his own men. He called his soldiers to attention and introduced them all to him

"Gentlemen, attention!" he called, projecting his voice, "this is Griffin the Straightforward. He'll be working with this battalion. Listen and understand his instructions well."

"Yes, sir!" they all cried in unison.

Griffin talked with Lucas and the rest of the military engineers on the architecture and structure of the walls proposed. He had a schematic on hand for all to see. As with all structures, the first step was the foundation. The builders needed to put up a sturdy and stable foundation, so it can handle the growing weight of the brickwork as they build up the walls. Since these were the outer walls of the city of Ultima, it would mean the soldiers posted on the wall as a sort of border patrol would need to see an incoming invasion from as many sides as possible. The schematic included several battlements for crossbowmen and musketeers to stand guard.

Griffin had a partner who could identify which minerals would make for a tougher wall. Once Griffin was finished speaking, his partner took his place and explained which stones would work best, how to mine them and the like. Griffin was starting to rethink what he thought about Ultima. For a backward, barbaric people, there was a lot of strategy in domestic defense.

Colonel Lucas patted him on the shoulder in a comforting manner. He and the rest of the brass in the Ultima military had absolute faith in the geniuses at Magnus. Breaking the rumors that Magnus was overprotected and overconfident in their environment, Lucas was one of the few to recognize the genius in the location of Magnus. Geography matters in warfare; marching an army in brutal weather or tricky geography will do wonders to exhaust the army before an actual engagement takes place.

Magnus's location deep in a mountain range would work to tire out any advancing army, if they even realized there was a city of scientists there in the first place. But even if there was advanced notice of an invading army, the strategists of Magnus have multiple contingencies that are said to stop an invader in their tracks, long before they see the walls. The Council of Seven knew this, hence their selection of many scientists from there.

But there was also a desire to grow closer. Lucas was impressed with Griffin's rationale and forward thinking. The colonel was a very well-spoken man; his soldiers held him in high regard, he could do them no wrong. His name carried a lot of weight in Ultima; the people respected him as any elected official or even the generals who ordered him around. He was a pillar of the larger military community, and his soldiers loved him for that.

By contrast, Griffin tinkered in solitude. There was no problem in making allies in his world -- he had loads of friends in university and around Magnus -- but he never engaged in very large groups. Speaking to the battalion of engineers under the colonel's command was one of a few times where he addressed a very large crowd and the first time this crowd was part of an organized military. The experience was an eye-opener for Griffin. They weren't a roving tribe of hungry, uncivilized warriors; it was far more complicated than he realized. The politics and culture of the Ultima township have done their part to shape the mindset of the average denizen. They do get involved more militarily, but the relationships with some of their neighbors as well as gangs of bandits have necessitated the military to protect incoming immigrants, to protect trade, to protect government officials meeting with the leaders of these city-states, even princes and kings from larger countries. Ultima has much more to lose than Magnus.

Lucas invited Griffin to his inner sanctum and shared some tea with the young man. He congratulated Griffin again on his achievement, and made a personal request to talk to the Council of Seven to design a college for military officers. The current system is largely nepotistic and Lucas and other field and flag officers have been looking into changing the system to a meritocracy. They talked further on a wide range of subjects; personal achievements and struggles, education, wages, the outside world, trade -- Griffin couldn't believe how intelligently this man spoke. Lucas was impressed with how mature Griffin was in his own thoughts. It was enough for the two to become great friends.

They returned to the engineers in the field to track their progress. One of Griffin's assistants, Jubal, a practicing mortar mixer, was helping to supervise the miners with aid from one of Lucas's subordinates: Lieutenant Colonel Matthieu. The goal for the day was to collect at least 10 tons of stone and cobblestone and start mixing the cement. The construction project was expected to last several months to a minimum of two years with optimal geopolitical and weather conditions. For 30 days, 10 tons of rock and mineral was mined from nearby mountains, amounting to 300 tons of rock to be mixed into cement. The foundation was completed after two months.

After four months, the first stone bricks were laid and layered up with several columns and pillars in select areas along the walls. After six months, the wall was standing at 20 stories tall. It stood at nearly 90 by the end of the year due to mining a cavity into the nearest mountains. The leftover stonework was used to make the battlements into the walls. The project lasted a total of 15 months, earlier than what was proposed as the total construction time, but one of the outcomes of the project was the critical rethinking of both townships' mutual relationship. Before the request came to Magnus, neither township thought much of each other or even had a high opinion of either. Thanks to the project, however, much of the negative stigmata generated from decades of untrue or exaggerated rumors had died down. Both residents were now indebted to each other for each other's input, and between Griffin the Straightforward and Lucas the Mighty, an unlikely friendship had been formed.

July 25, 2021 16:14

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