Ok, so this late-medieval fantasy setting in question has magic that isn't available to everyone.
A small percentage of the population is magically gifted, and only they can cast spells without the use of expensive magical items.
I've been coming up with some good ways to incorporate magic users naturally into societal niches that already exist, and came up with 4 basic ideas:
- Formari Guildsmen - Essentially magical tradesmen, these are your typical peasants with magical potential and no formal schooling. They follow the classic apprenticeship structure and as a result their magic is highly specialized to the region their from and the difficulties in that region.
- Alumni Practitioners - Learned scholars of magic who attend university. The old saying "knowledge is power" is incredibly relevant in the case of mages, and these mages are going to be the most versatile and well-rounded of practitioners. Obviously, this path is only available to the extremely wealthy, gifted, or lucky.
- Warlocks - Essentially a magical Man-at-Arms. These practitioners focus their attention on learning combat techniques both physical and magical.
- Witches - Women can learn magic too, but a patriarchal society can't have women doing men's work, so they get a class all to themselves. Witches function in much the same way as Formari Guildsmen with a societal push towards focusing on healing magic and midwifery.
In the primary kingdom that I plan on looking at, a handful of Alumni Practitioners travel around and test children when they reach the age of 13 for magical talent. Less than 1 in 200 pass the test. A child with magical talent is then usually inducted into whatever organization is appropriate according to their station and their parents' wishes.
As far as military applications of magic
There are essentially 3 types of magic that are relevant in the general melee:
- Physical enhancement - A skilled mage can enhance their own physical prowess in short bursts at the cost of feeling proportionally more tired later. This has obvious combat applications, and the average Warlock using nothing but this passive buff is considered a match for a dozen equally trained and equipped combatants.
- Magic Death Rays - Fireballs, Lightning, Sudden Poison Gas Clouds, a creative Warlock can kill swaths of unprepared soldiers in a variety of sudden and violent ways
- Magic Shields - A variety of magical countermeasures to Magic Death Rays have been created that are equally flashy, and reduce the effects of Magic Death Rays from army shattering to little more annoyance than a few dozen flaming arrows.
While I've been working on this, however, I started to think that I may have cranked up the value of mages in the military too much, and I'm having trouble thinking of a reason why any kingdom would NOT simply conscript all mages into military service.
Forced conscription is common throughout history, and considering that there's no additional financial cost to training a mage as opposed to training a generic soldier, why wouldn't every magically gifted individual be forcibly conscripted?