By the time Geoffrey found and returned with four raw eggs, word of the competition had spread. Several villagers were camped out on the edges of the training ground, placing bets.
The soldiers were no longer competing just for the gold stars. They were now competing for an audience, which meant that Ohoudulus might well survive the day.
The egg competition was a relay race in which soldiers had to use a spoon to carry the egg back and forth across a field without dropping and breaking it. One of the other teams won this one. This was followed by a wheelbarrow race where one soldier held another’s ankles while they walked on their hands across the field.
“Though it’s hardly the same with clothes on,” Ohoudulus complained.
Then Ohoudulus produced four large sacks — each big enough to hold six people — and had the troops compete in a sack race to the great amusement of what was now half the population of Heartburgh.
The innkeeper showed up with his staff and brought beer and sandwiches just in time for a tug of war that ended with half the troops covered in mud.
By the time of the archery contest, each of the teams had a name and their own fan club as well as an entire team of volunteer who helped set up the equipment.
For the sword fighting competition, Ohoudulus and Geoffrey joined the Duke up on the balcony.
“This is turning out much better than I hoped for,” the Duke told them.
“And I’ve learned a lot,” said Geoffrey. “I practically feel like a whole new man. Like a fellow human.”
“Is that right?” The Duke turned to Ohoudulus. “Does Geoffrey here seem like he’s now a team player?”
Ohoudulus looked Geoffrey up and down. “He’s been a barely adequate assistant,” the team trainer finally said. “He hasn’t been showing much enthusiasm. And I haven’t seen him exhibit any love for his fellow man. If your worry is that he’ll be a disruptive influence, well, I haven’t seen anything yet to prove you wrong.”
“You think I’m a disruptive influence?” Geoffrey said. “I’m not the disruptive influence. You’re the disruptive influence. The only thing our troops are united in is their hatred of you.”
“Well, who’s to say I didn’t plan it that way?” Ohoudulus asked.
“Maybe, Geoffrey, you could try a little harder,” said the Duke.
Geoffrey jumped down to the training ground and walked around to the opposite side, staying on the edge, well away from the combatants and joined the first group of fans.
Lotte’s team, the ones who had won the seven-leg race, were up against the winners of the egg race. The soldiers were using wooden practice swords and wearing padding but it looked like the hits still hurt.
While Geoffrey watched, one of the soldiers fell and Tiny pretended to decapitate him.
The fans around Geoffrey cheered. “Kill him, kill him!” Geoffrey jumped up and down with them. “Kill him dead!” he joined in.
The next group down was yelling at the fallen soldier to get up, and Geoffrey shouted with them until his throat was sore.
When the bout ended, he returned to the Duke’s balcony.
“You’re trying too hard,” the Duke told him.
“You can’t just go through the motions,” said Ohoudulus. “You have to feel the passion. Now come help me hand out the gold stars.”
The games ended just before sunset and the team building consultant led the troops back to the barracks for one last exercise.
The barracks were a building behind the main castle with several dozen wooden bunks, most unoccupied. There was a fire pit outside that Ohoudulus gathered the fighters around.
“Our last activity,” he said, “Is all about sharing and openness. We’re going to open up to each other, emotionally, in order to create deep, meaningful, emotional connections.”
The soldiers grimaced and Geoffrey felt their pain. Was Ohoudulus going to make them share their darkest secrets? Tell each other how much they cared about each other? These kinds of exercises could easily become maudlin and painful to watch. But at least they wouldn’t harm morale. Maybe Ohoudulus wasn’t as incompetent as Geoffrey thought he was. Other than the bad start with the naked Greek wrestling, the day hadn’t gone too badly.
“Geoffrey, you go first,” said Ohoudulus. “Pick someone and tell us what makes you most upset about them. Like, say, her.” He pointed at Lotte.
“You want me to say why I hate Lotte?”
“Yes, get it all out in the open. It will be cathartic. Watch and learn.”
No, it wouldn’t be cathartic. It would be deadly. Getting people to air grievances was often one of the first steps to breaking down alliances.
Geoffrey glanced over at Lotte. She was small, but tough and wiry. She could probably take anything he threw at her. But, just in case…
“Ever since I got here a week ago, I’ve hated the way you boss people around and act like you’re superior to everyone,” he said. She stared at him, confused. He’d only arrived two days prior. He winked at her. “I also hate the way you tell us to watch and learn from you, and stand around with your hands on your hips like a school teacher.” He pointed at Tiny. “Look at that poor guy,” he said. “You just met him, and you’re bossing him around like he’s some kind of dinosaur.”
Ohoudulus rubbed his hands together. “Exactly! That’s the kind of emotional honesty I’m looking for! Tell her how you really feel!”
“Fine.” Geoffrey tried to think of something else that the other soldiers would immediately know was untrue. “Okay. Yesterday. You know the Duke sent you and me to the temple of Qualdir? I got attacked because of you and got this cut from the bandits.” He pulled down the collar of his shirt to show the bandage on his shoulder.
Lotte hadn’t been anywhere near the temple. He hoped that the other soldiers knew that.
Ohoudulus clapped his hands. “Marvelous!” he said. “Your turn.” He pointed at Lotte.
“I’m sick of the way you’ve been hanging around the barracks every day this past week,” Lotte told Geoffrey. “You’re not even a real soldier. I’ve never seen you hold a sword. All you do is steal our food. I’m glad the bandits got you.”
The other soldiers laughed, and Geoffrey pretended to be offended. “I can’t believe you guys are laughing at me. I needed those sausages!” He bit his lip to keep from smiling.
Ohoudulus showed no sign of stepping in and fixing the hurt feelings. They were pretend hurt feelings, but still.
“Your dog is never going to come back to you, no matter how many sausages you try to lure it with,” Lotte said.
“My dog?” Geoffrey gasped. “Did you — did you do something to my dog?”
“Excellent!” said Ohoudulus. “Now you!” He pointed at Tiny.
Tiny took a deep breath. Was he going to spoil it and say something honest? Or did he get what he was trying to do?
“I hate your dog, too,” he said, leaned back, and crossed his arms.