“I’ll be back!” Yue muttered as she returned the tight squeeze from Wei. “And don’t stop experimenting!”
“Please please please, be careful. Don’t start fights, walk the other way if one does start and come back quickly.”
“Hehe, don’t worry Wei, I can kick butts really swell.”
“Even after so long, I am still not used to the accent you use.”
Wei gave Yue another hug before pressing another kiss on the top of her head. The sun had yet to rise, and all the little critters were still asleep. The moon was three quarters across the sky but the sky was still dark as shadow. Both Yue and Wei were setting off at the same time; one towards the army barracks, the other to three towns over the other way – this way, by the time the parents realised anything, they would have to search both places, and by the time they find Wei, it would be too late to reveal Yue’s true identity.
“Take care now.”
With that final greeting, the siblings reared their respective horses and galloped away in opposite directions – their hearts both longing the best for the other, regret and doubt, slipping silently into the crevices of their consciousness.
Cringing outwardly, Yue groaned out loud as her stallion cantered into the military base. Riding a five day journey with little rest was evidently too much for her, even with all her training. She climbed off her saddle and crash-landed onto her butt, invoking rumbustious laughter from the men who had witnessed her fall. Glaring about her, Yue pulled herself up with the help of the reins from her horse and surveyed her surroundings.
She had rewatched Mulan one too many times, it was exactly how the disney movie had depicted it would be. Bulky muscular men were smithing their weapons in clay furnaces. Others were comparing their tattoos and talismans. The only difference was the lack of men picking between their toes with chopsticks – something Yue was thankful for.
She spun round on her heels twice before she spotted the signing up table – or what she took for the signing up table. There should be a table for the soldiers to sign in their names and report to, right?
“Erm, hi? Is this where I sign up?”
“Where do you think this is? The fucking circus?”
Well, at least some things just do not change even after a few hundred years. Yue thought as she resisted with all her might to snap back.
“Sorry, my bad.” Spitting out her apology was hard, but Yue knew – with experience drawn from the movie Mulan – that making enemies on the first day was definitely a bad start. “Is this where the new troops report in?”
The muscle-head – as Yue decided to call him that – gave a gruff smirk, showing off his bad set of teeth as he pushed a scroll towards Yue’s side of the table.
“I’ll need your conscription notice and your signature. After which, proceed over to Zhao and he’ll assign you your sleeping area and equipment.”
Yue did as he instructed and handed over her conscription notice. She looked down at the scroll and realised, in all the months she had been in this period, she had never found out how to write her entire name here. Looking up at muscle-head, Yue gave a nervous laugh and proceeded to scribble multiple lines over one another hoping it looked like some complex artistic form of a name. She watched with her heart in her throat as muscle-head inspected her name and conscription notice before giving her the head-jerk signal towards the Zhao person. Yue gave a nervous thank you before pulling the reins from her horse towards the same direction.
Zhao was a younger man in his mid-twenties. He was muscular, in a proportionate sort of way; his body appeared well-maintained even under the cover of rough cotton top and pants. He had a more approachable sort of demeanour, relaying the new troops with well-informed instructions. He looks friendly, at least. Yue waited until Zhao was done with his current soldier before approaching him.
“Hi, are you Zhao?”
Zhao looked up from the parchment in his hands, glancing at Yue’s face once over before his eyes went back to the paper. His mouth opened slightly as though he was about to answered when his neck snapped back up, his eyes running all over Yue’s features once again. A stunned look gave way to confusion and to doubt and back to a mixture of disbelief and confusion. His mouth opened and closed several times before he seemed to have slapped himself mentally to bring him back to the present.
“Ye-yes. I am Zhao. And you are?”
“I am a new troop, Yue,” as if he couldn’t get any more surprised, the scroll in Zhao’s hand fell from his hands as he gulped down a huge breath of air. “I know it sounds like a girl’s name, but rest assured, I am fully and totally, one hundred percent, a man!”
Yue couldn’t stop the nervous giggle from erupting from her lips nor could she stop her palms from sweating the river Nile. She wanted to hit herself for being so obvious and prayed with all her might to whatever gods were present in this era that she wouldn’t be ousted as being female. Zhao looked at Yue once again with that same confused look before he reached down to retrieve his scroll. A hard look appeared on his face when he straightened back up as he glanced at the list in his hands.
“The thirteenth tent in the red sector. Your training clothes and equipment should be in the tent, if they are unsuitable, bring it back to the red tent there in the center. Your weapons are yours to maintain; they should be cleaned and polished at the end of every day. If it should be deemed unsuitable, punishments will be in order.”
Yue nodded her thanks and pulled her horse along. She could still feel Zhao’s stare on her back until he disappeared behind the first few rows of tents. As she made her way to her designated tent, she passed by three different colour-coded sectors – each sector was like a company; each company housing approximately thirty troops. Four different coloured sectors made up one platoon and four platoons together made up one division. All four sectors within the platoon will be trained in basic muscle training and military basics, which included basic hand-to-hand combat and sword combat styles. After which, each of the different sectors will be further specialized in one of the four components: sword/spear fighting, horseback fighting, long-ranged fighting and scouting.
Although all the new troops were already assigned to a colour right from the start, after the first twelve weeks of basic military training, they would be reassigned to the appropriate sectors where they would receive the specialized trainings.
Yue peered into the open tents as she walked past them; each man had a tent to himself. They could fill the tent with whatever they wanted or needed as long as it doesn’t affect any of the other troops or act as a fire hazard. Upon reaching the thirteenth tent, Yue secured her horse to the wooden pole situated outside the tent for those who had brought their own horses but was surprised to find that her tent was already occupied.
“Excuse me; I think you’ve got the wrong tent.”
The man currently lying down on her bedspread opened one of his eyes to survey the newcomer. His clothes were mud-stricken and his hair a mess of leaves and sticks. Groggily, he sat up, rubbing his eyes as he released a loud yawn. He glanced over at Yue once again, taking his time as he inspected her from head to toe – a smirk growing on his lips.
“Well, I say, you’ve thought wrong.” He said as he laid himself back down and closed his eyes.
Yue stood at the mouth of the tent, dumbstruck and speechless – she was still formulating a comeback when a single eyelid slid open followed by a hand motioning away from his body.
“Now shoo, I’m trying to sleep here.”