The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 4

Glarian sat next to the fireplace across from Callindra, a chess board sat on the table between them.  These evening games were a good distraction for her and gave him a chance to enjoy some silence.  The girl had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, honed to a razor’s edge by the discomfort of her healing leg.  When she was concentrating on the board, she used the former and silenced the latter.

Since it was easier to only heat the main room during the day, Glarian would carry her out to a comfortable chair next to the fire in the morning and she usually spent the day reading next to the fire.  In the evenings, after dinner was finished they would sit together.  He would smoke and they would play chess.

She moved a knight into position after some consideration.  It was a good move, but one he had anticipated.  Nodding in satisfaction he countered with a pawn; smiling at her look of confusion.

“Why do you use pawns so often?  They’re the weakest piece on the board.”  Callindra said, surprising him by taking the pawn with a bishop, threatening his king.

“Because they are expendable and because sacrificing them allows me to see possible strategies you might use.”  Glarian said, taking her bishop with a rook.

Callindra smiled, countering his move by taking the rook with her knight, threatening his king again.  He paused, looking at the board and realized she had set a clever trap.  There was only one move he could make to keep his king safe and it was only a temporary reprieve.

“You’ve been reading haven’t you?”  He asked, “This is a well-planned coup.”

She smiled wider, “I’ve finally outwitted you old man.  That is the Shin strategy.  According to General Delanous she designed it to defeat an opponent who was willing to throw away troops to win battles.  I guess he was right.”

“Nicely done.”  Glarian sat back from the table, packing his pipe with tac and reaching for a taper to light it with.  Once it was burning to his satisfaction, he looked across the table at her.  “Your reading has improved substantially; you’ve read every book in the house at least twice.”

“Four times; you need to expand your library.”  She said, eyes twinkling with mischief.  Until she met him, she hadn’t known books other than holy texts existed.

“Once this storm lets up and I can dig myself out of the house I’ll see what I can do.”  He replied, they were running low on a few essentials and it was about time for him to go replenish their supplies.

Glarian was getting ready to go hunting; the deer should have been back in their spring territory for weeks now but he hadn’t been able to kill one yet this spring.  Gods send it so; he didn’t know if he could withstand another tirade of ridicule.

His young charge was getting restless.  She was finally able to get around on her own using a rude pair of crutches he had managed to cobble together but this tiny bit of freedom only showed her just how far she still needed to go before she was able to strike out on her own again.

He shouldered his bow and he heard Callindra calling from her bed room.  “I fixed your leathers, make sure to wear them.  You might be just an old man but you’re still my meal ticket!”

With a sigh, he removed his bow and quiver, took the leather jerkin from the hook and put it on.  The repairs were actually very well done; tight lines of stitching that were well waxed, a replacement strap that was perfectly sized and properly oiled, she had even polished the buckle.  Her actions spoke differently than her words; the girl obviously cared about his well-being even if she was taking her anger at the imprisonment imposed on her by her injury out on him.

“Thank you Callindra.  I’ll be back early afternoon.”  On his way past the lean-to he hesitated.  The forest seemed strange today.  He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something seemed off.  It had been a long time since he had dared wear his sword openly but the stillness of the air and the feeling of waiting that the forest seemed to have convinced him to strap on the baldric before beginning his hunt.

Glarian took a familiar trail into the woods.  It had been a game trail until he started using it regularly to go fetch water from the stream.  Now only the occasional deer used it and never this close to the house.  He was not really paying attention and it was only by sheer luck that he happened to look up right as the puma was leaping from the tree above.

He dove to one side, the cat’s claws scoring his newly repaired leather jerkin and tearing the bow from his back, the string snapping with a loud report.  The cat gathered itself for another leap but Glarian was ready now.  He rolled to his feet, Sakar in his hands.  Power rolled into his body through the blade without his bidding and a blast of wind shook the new leaves on the trees.

The Weave seemed to be fractious and unstable, Glarian brought it to heel but lost any advantage the six foot sword blade would have given him as the cat closed the space between them in a stalking pose.  The puma sprang again, Glarian side stepped its charge and swung Sakar to neatly intercept the neck as it passed.  The shock of his blade passing through flesh and bone was one he had all but forgotten.  It brought back memories he had hidden from himself, thoughts of friends, foes and adversaries of his former life.

Glarian sat by the trail and tried to slow his hammering heart.  What the hell had happened to the Weave back there?  He had never felt it surge like that before; it was as though it wanted to be harnessed.  At least he knew it wasn’t his skill as a hunter that had been causing him to miss the deer; the presence of a large cat would keep them far away.

The animal had stopped twitching; Glarian had respect for those razor sharp claws.  He poked it with his unstrung bow to make sure it didn’t have any nerve reflex left and then lifted it to his shoulders.  At least he could bring the girl a project.  If she was anywhere near as good skinning and tanning a hide as she was working with leather that had been cured she might be able to make something amazing with this skin.  If not at least she would be occupied for a few days.

When he emerged into the clearing around the house, Glarian could feel the presence of another magic user.  Cursing his luck, he backed carefully into the shelter of the trees and considered.  This was likely a spring visit from The Order; however the Inquisitors weren’t often this careless with broadcasting their abilities.  There hadn’t been a challenger for three or four years now, most people had forgotten he existed after he had taken down his Tokens of Challenge.  Glarian was betting on an Inquisitor.

He stowed his sword behind a tree, set the headless cat down and crawled up to the open window on his belly.  Voices from within were easy to hear from his vantage point beneath the window.

“I’ve been here for almost five months now.”  Callindra was saying, her voice the peculiar monotone of one who had been charmed.

During these five months tell me anything you have seen that seems strange.”  Glarian knew that voice; he was Shojin, one of the most tenacious and ill-tempered Inquisitors the Order had ever produced.  He was using some sort of compulsion spell to wring information from her brain.

“Glarian is a mystery.  How he has managed to survive this long on his own baffles me.  He can’t hunt, he can’t sew he is worthless in the kitchen and I even beat him at chess on occasion.”

Shojin laughed, “At least we can agree on that.”

“There is a hidden side of him.  I cannot see what it is, but he has something inside himself.  It gleams like the sun behind the leaf of a tree.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “It fascinates me.”

“Is that why has the Weave been misbehaving around here lately?  Even as we speak it spikes and flares.  What in the world is he doing?”

“I do not know.  He does not seem to do anything.”

Shojin snorted, “I think I’ve learned all I can.  As always Callindra, forget I was ever here.”

There was a brief rumble of thunder and Glarian let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.  He quickly walked back to where his blade and the dead puma were.  He risked Callindra seeing him carrying the sword, something that could be dangerous if Shojin was poking around, but it was necessary unless he wanted to leave Sakar out in the damp until after she went to bed.

He stowed the sword and poked his head through the doorway between the lean-to and the kitchen.  “Callindra, I’m back.  No venison but I have something you might be interested in.”  The thump and scrape of her crutches reached his ears and she rounded the corner from her bedroom.

“Still no fresh meat?  How in the six hells have you survived all this time old man, on twigs and grass?”  Her tone was as harsh as ever he noted with a sigh, although the edge seemed to be dulled a touch.

“I thought you might be able to make some more durable clothes for yourself out of this.”  Glarian said, lifting the puma onto his makeshift skinning hooks.  “You’ll need them once you heal up.”

“How did you cut off the head?”  She was looking at the perfectly clean slice.  “You even cut through a vertebra, what kind of knife could possibly do such a thing?”  Her eyes traveled to the long knife at his belt and then up to his eyes, a cautious look of respect on her face.

“The best news is this fellow here explains why the deer have been hard to come by.” Glarian said, avoiding her question, “Thanks for fixing my jerkin; he might have had me if I hadn’t been wearing it.”  He set his unstrung bow on the rack and took off the freshly ruined leather vest.

Callindra wasn’t paying attention to him; her eyes were on the puma.  She took his skinning knife from its place on the wall and thumbed the edge.  Nodding idly in satisfaction, she began making small, precise cuts around the legs of the animal, leaning with on one crutch while balancing on her unbroken leg.

“Pull here, I can’t use both hands.”  She said and with his muscle and her expertise the skin was quickly separated from the body.  With her instruction, he was able to stretch the skin out so she could properly scrape it.

“While I’m scraping this hide, you need to go back and get the head.”  She said, “Since I’m sure you don’t have a supply of tanning chemicals I’ll need the brain to properly cure it.”

“The brain?  That’s how it’s done then?”  Glarian was surprised, he usually just sold pelts to a furrier on the outskirts of the Lord’s holding.

“Well only if you don’t have another choice.  Brain tanning is pretty disgusting.”

He left her tending to the hide while he ventured back down the trail to retrieve the cat’s head.  What, he wondered should he do about Shojin, what should he do about the Weave, and what in the name of the Gods was he going to about Callindra?

There was a change about her; the more she began to recover the stronger her affinity with the Weave was.  He was certain this fact had not eluded Shojin, or if it had the man was losing his edge; not a likely scenario.  Still Callindra had not given him information which would indicate that he, Glarian had broken his oath to The Order.

Shojin would not act without a broken oath.  While he might be a spiteful whoreson, he followed the laws of the Inquisitors laid down without fail.  At least Glarian had some amount of leeway as long as he did not break his oath.  Now all he had to do was figure out a way of keeping Callindra from killing them both without teaching her anything.

Callindra awoke, her leg throbbing with yet another muscle spasm.  There was something else too; a whistling sound that she could only just hear but that played at the edge of her hearing like a mosquito at night.

“Glarian, what the hell are you doing out there?”  When he didn’t answer, she levered herself awkwardly out of bed, her splinted leg making every movement difficult.  The sun had not quite risen, but the pre-dawn glow illuminated the room enough for her to be able to see.  Grabbing her crutches she hobbled out into the main room of the house, but Glarian was nowhere to be seen.

She made her way to the window, where the whistling sound seemed to be coming from.  What she saw upon looking out was the man she thought of as a wizened old fossil reborn.  Glarian was stripped to the waist, every muscle in his torso clearly defined as though carved from stone.  He had six feet of polished steel in his hands; it moved as though it weighed less than a feather.

He slid through the motions of a battle with many enemies; his movements exaggerated and slow but precise.  Callindra could almost hear the screams of the wounded and the harsh clang of metal on metal.  An undercurrent, almost like a drumbeat thudded through her body and she could hear the whistle of his sword tip cutting the air, cleaving it in twain, almost as though sundering the air itself in passage.  It was beautiful.  He was less practicing with the sword than dancing with it.

“I don’t believe it, he’s a sword master.  He has to be, nobody else could move like that.”  She tore her eyes from Glarian’s sword dancing and looked around the room. There had to be something she could do to ingratiate herself to him.  It wasn’t precisely her fault but she knew she hadn’t been very respectful.

She shuffled to the fire and inexpertly poked it into life, then laid a couple more pieces of wood on it.  Dipping water from the barrel by the stove, she put the tea kettle on and dipped more into a pot to heat water for porridge.  Awkwardly using one crutch she managed to make it from the cupboard to the table with a pair of bowls and spoons.  There was a loaf of hard black bread on the counter that made delicious toast.

By the time Glarian came back in the house, his hair wet from a dip in the stream the house smelled like breakfast.  Callindra didn’t say anything; she just poured the tea and served the food.  If Glarian was surprised or pleased he showed no sign of it.  When he had finished eating he rose and left by the side door, collecting his bow and quiver on the way out.

“I’ll be back this afternoon.  I’m hoping the deer are back in the area now that I killed the puma.”  With that he left, not looking back.

Letting out a breath she’d been holding, Callindra attended to cleaning the house as best she could.  This was the kind of ‘woman’s work’ that she hated, but she would do whatever might win her some favor.  This had to be divine providence, but she was leaving nothing to chance, fate or the whim of the Gods if she could help it.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 3

Glarian had found the Healer, purchased some boneknit root and enough basic supplies to hopefully last the winter.  He could feel something looming large on the horizon as he approached the inn and it was making him nervous.

“Strange weather eh?”  The man at the door said, looking at a cloudbank that was towering over the forest.  “Is a bit early for a storm but I ken we’re gettin un.  Yeh need a room fer th night?”

Glarian looked back at the hand cart he was pulling; he knew that he wouldn’t be able to drag it through any amount of snow.  He shook his head, “I’d best be heading back.  If I get caught out in the snow I’ll never make it home.  I do need a cask of wine and a jug though, something to keep me warm during those cold winter nights.”

“Wha yeh need’s a woman ter warm yer bed.”  The doorman said with a grin, “I’ll get yer whiskey ‘ol man.”  He raised his voice and shouted into the common room behind him, “Lex!  Get yer arse t’ th’ cellar fer a cask!”

Glarian waited outside, keeping a watchful eye on the clouds.  A group of Huntsmen and were approaching the Inn, chatting with several serving maids.

“Yer still worryin’ ‘bout tha chit of a girl eh?  Dunno why yer wastin yer time.  I’m sure tha ‘ol tanner man’s got her in his shack or summat.”  The speaker was one of the three who had been chasing Callindra and he saw the other two were with him.  The fourth Glarian knew from a previous dispute over a stag; he couldn’t quite recall the man’s name.

“Ah, Huntsmen!  How went the bear hunt?”  He hailed them cheerfully noting their glares.  “I hear missing a beast is a sign of a terrible winter, hopefully it was a success?”

“Tha fuck’r you?”  The one who had been speaking asked, “Anyone’s been in town knows th’ Lord bagged a huge black monster.  Should be a mild ‘un this winter.”

“Ferin, tha’s th’ geezer wha lives inna Lord’s forest.”  The fourth man said nervously.  He hadn’t fared well in the disagreement.

“Issat so?  Heard tell yer a force t’ be reckoned wi ‘ol man.”  He put his hand on the longsword at his belt.  “Yeh got some nerve freeloadin’ out there.”

“Ferin, watch yehsel-“

“Oh shut it Wess yeh weasel!  I’ll deal wi th’ ol’ ass.”  Ferin looked back at Glarian, “Yeh wan ter test me ol’ man?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it Ferin, testing would imply I had something to teach you.”  Glarian casually leaned back in his cart’s harness, putting his hand on the hilt of the hidden Sakar.  “We both know the Lord’s Huntsmen are the best in the realm, what in the God’s name could I teach you?”

The doorman had returned, carrying a clay jug and behind him a hulking figure was carrying a wooden cask.  “Ah, Glarian, here yeh be, jug ‘o whiskey an cask a red wine.”  He noticed the Huntsmen, “Gents, comin fer a pint are yeh?  Good ter see yeh, hunt wen well, tha’s a good sign, good indeed.”

“I got some business wi’ th’ ‘ol man Shep, yeh and Lex jus’ stay there.  Won’ take but a moment.”  Ferin said, his eyes shining.  “Yeh owes me an apology ‘ol man.  Give it now an we won’ have issue.”

“If I knew exactly what I was apologizing for it would help Ferin.  Haven’t I been completely courteous to you?”  If it had been any other person besides the scum who had driven Callindra into the path of that angry bear Glarian might have let it go, but this time he couldn’t bring himself to kowtow.

“Yeh got a mouth on yeh ‘ol man.”  He drew his longsword and rested it on Glarian’s shoulder with the blade touching his neck.  Without thinking, Glarian reached back and grabbed Sakar’s hilt, feeling arcane energies course into his body.  With his other hand, he brushed at Ferin’s blade as though it were a gnat.

“This is a fine blade, too bad it has a flaw that will make it shatter.”  At the last word his fingertips came in contact with the sword and it exploded into splinters.  Glarian turned his attention to Shep, “How much do I owe you friend?”

“Nnno charge.”  The man stammered, staring in shock.

The Huntsmen were slowly moving apart, Ferin was holding his hand which was seeping blood from a deep cut.  One of them had strung a bow, two others drew daggers.

“I think it was fifteen silver last spring.”  Said Glarian, counting the silver and holding it out.

“You go now.”  Lex was standing behind Glarian and pointing at the other men.  He carefully set the cask of wine down on the hand cart with one hand and fixed the Huntsmen with a baleful look.  “No good, four with weapons and one old man.”  He carefully took Glarian’s coins and tucked them into a belt pouch.

“Yeh halfwit, orderin’ us around aint a good idea.”  One of the Huntsmen drawled and loosed an arrow at Lex.  Glarian was too fast for him; he drew Weave through Sakar again and a blast of air rushed from the fingers of his right hand knocking the arrow off course.

“Gentlemen, I believe my friend Lex is correct.”  Glarian focused arcane energies once more, amplifying his voice and causing shadows to move and shift in unsettling patterns.  “It is time for you to go.”

Whatever the other men saw or thought they saw was enough to send them running down the street.  It didn’t seem to have any effect on Lex though, he was still glaring at their retreating forms.  “They bad men.  Never pay, have big tab, start fights.”

“Thank you for your help Lex, I’d better get moving before that storm hits.” Said Glarian, eyeing the sky.

A terrible gust of wind shook the house and rattled a shutter, waking Callindra from fitful sleep.  She leaned over and opened the stove, setting a chunk of firewood on top of the glowing bed of coals.  Even that small bit of effort left her white faced and panting in pain, but she also took a taper from the table and lit a candle stub.

The candle flame flickered in the wind, throwing shadows high on the walls and ceiling of her room.  She sent a silent prayer to whatever Gods were listening that the shutters would stay closed; there was no way she would be able to close them if one were to blow open.  Judging by the amount of snow that was filtering through the crack, she had been right about the storm.  Strange, she didn’t remember having any kind of weather sense before.

A bright flash shortly followed by a loud crackle of thunder made her start and she cried out in pain from jostling her leg.  Even through the pain, she had the presence of mind to remember that lightning did not usually occur in snow storms.  The door to the house opened and she heard footsteps.

“Glarian?  Is that you?”  Gods above she wished her voice hadn’t quavered like a little girl’s.

The footsteps came into the room and she saw a tall figure, swathed from head to toe in black.  Above his right shoulder rose the haft of an axe and only the slightest dusting of snow was on his head or the black leather armor he wore.

“Glarian?  No, I am not he.  I’m an acquaintance of his.  Who might you be little one?”  He moved further into the room, Callindra could hardly breathe in his presence.  His hand touched the haft of his axe, “I said Who are you?

“I am Callindra.”  She responded, before she could stop herself.

“Very good, much better.  So Callindra, why are you here?”

“A bear attacked me and Glarian rescued me.”  She said, the words tumbling out of her mouth.  This man was so wonderful, she wanted to tell him everything, “He’s an old man, but I am forced to rely on him.  You see the bear shattered my leg and it will be months before I can walk again.”

“Ah, and the Power I’ve recently been feeling here?  Has he been training you?

“Training?  No, he’s not much of a nursemaid and his idea of teaching me how to read was to give me books and let me figure it out for myself.  What do you mean by power?”  Her brow furrowed in confusion, “What could he possibly teach me?”

“Never mind about that, where is he now?”

“He went into town to buy supplies but he’s probably going to get caught in this storm and I’m afraid I’ll freeze to death before he can get back, if he gets back at all.”  Callindra’s teeth chattered as her secret fear of being abandoned and helpless bubbled to the surface.  “He insisted on going even though I told him –“

“Ah.  Well now, I suppose I should go question a few of the townsfolk then.  Thank you for your cooperation Callindra, forget you ever saw me.”  He turned and stalked from the room while she stared blankly at the candle for a few moments then shook herself out of her reverie.

“I hope that foolish old man gets back here soon.”  She shivered, wincing in pain, knowing that she was taking her anger out on him like a child but too tired and sick to care.  “I don’t think I can bear to stoke the fire again.”  Feeling too awful to sleep, she picked up her book and read by the flickering candle light.

‘In our action last night I was forced to resort to using magic.  I cannot abide by them usually; I see magery as a refuge for those too weak in body or tactics to get the job done themselves.  In this case, however, I was made aware that the enemy was deploying mages of their own and had no recourse.

‘I consulted with my Lieutenants and we came to the conclusion that if we were going to employ a magic user, we should use the most powerful and capable person available to us.  As a result, we contacted a group known as The Order.  Their style of magic is more comfortable to us, they channel the Weave through their weapon which is a unique piece only they can wield.

‘The mage they sent told me in no uncertain terms that he would strictly adhere to the laws of combat, that he would take no part in underhanded tactics and would end the conflict with as few casualties as possible.  If I had a problem with that, he said he would leave and if I tried to stop him, he claimed he would best me in single combat without the use of magic.

‘He gave no name but “Master of The North Wind” and his weapon of choice is a massive broadsword, fully eight feet from pommel to point.  Unlike many high ranking individuals I have seen he brought no retinue and traveled alone.  Granted he arrived floating on the wind, not deigning to use a horse when traveling to a battlefield.  He uses that massive blade for everything.  I do not jest when I say he cut and pounded his tent stakes with it.  Perhaps I have more to learn of magic users than I had first thought.’

Callindra paused; the candle stub she had lit was burning low.  The story was compelling; she wanted to know what this so-called Master of The North Wind had employed to solve the General’s problem.  She dug through a drawer and found another candle, lighting it from the first.  Pinching out what was left of the stub; she fixed the new candle in the holder on the bedside table and picked up the book once more.

‘The battle is over.  We have no need even to take the field; the Master of The North Wind will dine in a place of honor at my right hand tonight.  I have never seen anything like it; the man walked alone into the center of the would-be battlefield, the enemy forces arrayed before him and ours behind and spoke.  He did not raise his voice, yet every man, could clearly hear his words.’

“Hear me now.  I am The Master of The North Wind and I command you to quit this field of slaughter.  Failure to comply with my demand shall result in your life ending in a swift and yet quite painful manner.”

‘He swung that massive weapon around his head as though it weighed nothing and slammed it into the ground.  The sky darkened, and thunder could be heard rumbling above.  To a man the enemy took an involuntary step backward.  All but one figure draped in black robes.

“I am Dergeras puny swordsman.  Neither your threats, your steel or your mediocre magery shall be sufficient to remove me from this place.”

‘A deadly calm fell over the field but a zephyr of wind tickled my ear and I could hear the Master’s voice as though he stood next to me, “Sound an orderly retreat.  I would not have collateral damage.”

‘What happened next I cannot describe.  The air around the two men came alive with Power.  The forces of the blasts leveled trees and laid waste the meadow where our armies would have fought.  Dergeras faced the Master, hammering him with bolt after bolt of Power and the Master stood behind the crosstrees of his sword still driven into the earth and stood his ground.  A whirlwind of dust and dirt obscured our sight of the two men and the clouds above darkened.

‘While our army had largely retreated to a ridge our enemy had stayed closer, likely wishing to have the tactical advantage once the mages had concluded their combat.  I know not which of them unleashed the storm, but it swept the field.  Coruscating bolts of lightning fell instead of rain, the cacophony was literally deafening.

‘Abruptly, it all ended.  The storm did not abate, it simply ceased to be.  Before us we could see the two mages.  The Master had impaled Dergeras through the heart with his greatsword, the blunted tip opening a terrible wound in his chest and yet the man still lived.’

“So you have taken unnatural steps to preserve your miserable existence.  Know that these things will only serve to make you weak.  Fear is a weakness; death comes to us all and looking upon it with fear is foolish.  I leave you with these words to think on.  Begone!

‘With that last word, the form of Dergeras vanished from the blade of the sword, his face still snarling in defiance.  The meadow was littered with charred corpses of the enemy force.  The Master saw the destruction that had been wrought and dropped to his knees, sword over his shoulder and cried like a child.’

“I tried to warn them.  Why didn’t they leave?”

“Blademaster” I said, “You are not to blame for the actions of others.”

“Nay General, this has been a test of my skills and I have come up short.  There is always a way to improve one’s self.  To cease learning is to die.”

‘At this point, I knew he was an honorable soldier.  An honorable comrade.  A man I could respect.’

Callindra’s eyes were getting heavy; she was exhausted from being in constant pain.  She set the book on the bedside table and blew out the candle.  Lying in the dark waiting for sleep to come, she imagined she could hear the door open and close.

“Glarian?  Is that you?”  Gods and demons she wished her voice hadn’t quavered like a little girl’s, but she had been truly worried he wouldn’t return.  Callindra felt a strange sense of doing this before, but couldn’t imagine why.

“Yes child.”  Glarian said, “I just need to stow the hand cart in the lean-to before it gets buried in snow.”  He was standing in the doorway to her room holding a lantern.  Snow covered his brown cloak and heavy boots.

After some shuffling and some loud thumps he returned, holding a small vial filled with white powder.  “Here lass, this will help the break heal.”  He mixed a pinch of the powder into a glass of water and held it out.

She drank it quickly, relieved it had no flavor.  Callindra was embarrassed by how comforting she found his presence.  “Thank you.”  She said before sleep quickly claimed her.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 2

Callindra woke, her head throbbing with pain like she had never experienced before.  Her leg felt as though it was on fire but there was a cool cloth on her forehead and the room had a pleasant scent.  A chipped porcelain vase had a bouquet of tiny white flowers that almost seemed to be shining against the dark green of the leaves.

She had a vague memory of a kind face after that bear horribly slain her pursuer and attacked her.  The bear!  Her leg!  Callindra struggled to sit up.

“Whoa there youngling, you aren’t ready for that yet.  Let’s not do any further damage to that leg of yours; I’m no healer and the set isn’t the best in the world.”  She hadn’t heard the man enter the room although he was at her bedside.  His steel-gray hair was bound in a wrist-thick braid down his back and his face was care-worn with age but still showed the vigor of a much younger man.

“Where am I?” Her voice was thick with pain and came out with a croak.

“The guest room of my house, do you remember what happened?  I’m sorry, there’s no need to answer or think about that now.  Just know that you’re safe.”  He set a bowl of broth on the bedside table.

“The bear?” She managed to say.

“If you can drink some of this broth you’ll see it’s from a bear stew.”  He said with a chuckle, “Maybe eating some of your attacker will give you more strength to recover.”

Callindra let him help her to sit up; his strangely callused hands were surprisingly strong.  She was only able to drink half of the broth in the roughly carved wooden bowl before her head was spinning too much.  He offered some more doctored wine and she took a couple swallows.

She seemed to be having trouble focusing her eyes but still locked her gaze with his, “Who are you?”

“My apologies, my name is Glarian.”  He said, sketching a bow, “What is yours?”

“Callindra.”  Her eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep with a mild frown on her face.

The first snow of the season would be coming in the next day or two; Glarian could smell it on the North Wind and feel the weather change.  His joints and an old scar or two ached more than usual this morning.  In spite of the extra soreness he always practiced the Korumn each morning just before the sun rose, the ancient sword forms helped to keep him flexible and ready for whatever the world decided to throw in his path.

After his morning routine, Glarian made the short walk to the river and dipped enough water for two days.  His young charge was becoming increasingly irritable and he was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be able to take the Belladonna tincture anymore.  The traveling Healer hadn’t been by lately and he guessed the old woman was finished traveling for the winter and was back at her winter home in the Lord’s compound.

He went back into the house and unbuckled Sakar, his Greatsword, and hung her back on the wall.  It wouldn’t do to show up in town with that massive blade, he didn’t want rumors that he was breaking his oath to get back to the Inquisitors of The Order.

Glarian stoked the fire, adding some additional wood to ward off the chill breeze that was forcing its way through the shutters.  He put some water on for tea and porridge, and then began laying out dishes for breakfast.

Sounds of stirring came from the next room, shortly followed by an outburst from Callindra, “Gods and Demons do you have to make so much noise?”

He was whistling a merry tune when he brought in her breakfast.  In addition to her porridge, he also brought a small basket of apples, a loaf of bread, a large pitcher of water and a wedge of cheese.  Her eyes widened slightly at the extra food.  The tiny potbelly stove in her room was cold, but he brought the makings of a fire as well.

“What’s this?”  She was sitting up, the stubborn thing.

“I need to go to town, we need supplies for winter.  I will be gone for a couple days so this extra is to tide you over until I get back.”  He said, starting a tiny fire in her stove with a coal he had brought from the main room.  “Can you read?”

She blinked at the sudden change of subject, “Uh, a little bit.  The Holy Texts never really appealed to me.”

“I think these will pique your interest a little more.  I never really cared for those stuffy old tomes either.”  He set a small stack of books on the table next to the food.  “I’ll see you in a couple days Callindra.”

“Glarian!”  Her voice stopped him in the doorway.  She was looking at him, eyes wide with fear.  “Hurry back, there is bad weather coming.  It’s coming tonight or tomorrow, and it will be one great grandmother of a storm.”

He nodded and stopped on his way through the main room, first banking the fire and then deciding to bring Sakar after all.  The storm coming worried him, it almost seemed as though the North Wind was unnaturally fierce.  Something had changed the balance and he couldn’t afford to take the chance.  How had that little girl felt the storm so clearly?

With a heavy sigh, Glarian slid the heavy sword into the slot he had built underneath the floor of his hand cart.  He hated being forced into decisions; especially ones that he was sure were going to cost him in the end.  Glancing back at the house, he shook his head.  “Girl, I know you’re at the center of whatever this disturbance is.  You’d better be worth the trouble.”

Callindra watched the old man walk away and wondered if she would ever see him again, if she would be able to survive if he didn’t make it back.  She didn’t know how but she knew absolutely that a storm of earth-shaking proportions was on the horizon and that foolish old man was going to walk into the teeth of it.

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, she was as dependent on him as a newborn babe was on her mother.  Callindra hated depending on him, and knew she had been a fairly uncharitable guest as a result of the pain that wracked her body and her feeling of helplessness.  It wasn’t his fault, but she didn’t have anyone else to take it out on.

She tried to get more comfortable but only managed to move the lumps in the mattress around.  With a sigh, she picked up one of the books he had left.  It took her a few moments to figure out the title, ‘The War Journal of General Delanous’ but once she opened it the story seemed to leap off the page and into her imagination.  She stumbled over many of the words but was eventually able to puzzle out most of their meanings in context.  Callindra spent the rest of the day reading and in spite of her lack of aptitude managed to get several chapters into the book.

It was fascinating; this man knew about all sorts of combat and this journal was a compilation of his notes.  He wrote about everything, from his victories on the battlefield that thrilled her blood to his conquest in the bedchamber that heated her face.  His failures were documented along with his successes in graphic gory detail.  As the light of the day faded, Callindra read something that shocked and astounded her.

‘The fate of the war rested squarely on the result of the next battle.  Success would tip the scales in our favor and according to our intelligence would demoralize the armies that King Correanth had arrayed against us, causing many of them to desert.

‘Shin is my most trusted lieutenant and although it went against my assessment of the situation I decided to follow her recommendation and withheld half of my cavalry until after Correanth had committed all of his horse to the field.’

The passage went on to explain about what tactics had been used and the successful result of the fight but what stunned Callindra was that his closest lieutenant and best tactician was a woman.  She skimmed the book and found that not only were many of his soldiers women, several of his officers were.  Of all his conquests, General Delanous never took any of those under his command to his bed.  They were respected comrades who earned their positions with their combat abilities and nothing else.

“I could be a warrior, equal to men instead of having to bow and scrape to them.”  Then her hopes were dashed, “But who would teach me?  A weakling like me would never be able to get a Master.”  Her thoughts turned to Jed; he had believed in her enough to show her what he knew of leatherworking, perhaps she would find a Swordmaster who would see in her what he had.  She had to believe she would.  Callindra blew out the candle carefully and drifted to sleep, hope blossoming in her breast for the first time in days.

Post Mortem, Prologue

This wasn’t what Emilio had envisioned when he joined the Mexican military. He was crammed in the back of the truck with twenty other soldiers bumping over uneven road in a remote mountain region near Heroica Guymas.

“What the fuck are we doing out here again?” He asked, reaching into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes.

“Supposed to be some kind of gang violence they say. Probably some fucking drug cartel or another would be my guess.” Said John, he insisted on being called ‘John’ instead of ‘Juan’ as though having worked for a few years in the United States somehow qualified him for an American pronunciation.

“How long does this trip take? It’s almost sundown and we’ve been sitting in this damn truck all day.” As Emilio spoke, the truck lurched to a halt, horn sounding repeatedly. He could hear the driver yelling something. Out of boredom, he stood up and shouldered his rifle. “I’ll go check it out.”

He hopped out of the truck, grabbing the canvas that covered the back of the duce and a half vehicle he had been riding in to steady himself. Walking up to the front, he could clearly hear the stream of profanity coming from the driver’s window.

“Get the fuck out of the goddamn road you stupid piece of dog shit! What the hell is wrong with you stupid bitch?” The horn blared again.

Emilio looked in front of the truck and saw a woman in ragged clothes sitting with her back to the vehicle, rocking slowly back and forth. Her hair hung in a matted mess halfway down her back, she appeared to be wearing a night dress.

“Hey there, are you OK?” He asked, starting to walk towards her. Once he got closer, he could smell her. She was rank; like she had rolled in rotting chicken fat.

“Lady, you need to get out of the road.” He said, circling around to get in front of her. Emilio stopped in shock, the look on his face must have reflected his disgust because the abuse spouting from the truck ceased. The woman’s eyes were sunk into her head and a sickly milky white color. Her mouth was open and her teeth were broken at harsh angles. In her hands she held the bottom half of what used to be a human leg, the shoe and sock still on the foot. The rest was mostly clear of flesh except for a couple of lumps.

“What the FUCK is going on?” He brought his rifle up to his shoulder, watching in disbelieving horror as she tore one of those bloody chunks of human flesh from the bone with her teeth, chewing in silent pleasure. A gunshot from the truck snapped him out of his shocked state.

“Emilio get your fucking ASS back here!” John yelled, he and several other soldiers were standing next to the truck, firing shot after shot at something over Emilio’s shoulder. He glanced behind himself, there were perhaps twenty or thirty shuffling forms coming down the road. Some were walking on legs that ended just above the ankle. Some had missing arms. All had the same sunken eyes that the woman in front of him had.

The woman in front of him. Where the hell did she go? The leg was laying on the ground, completely stripped of meat. Emilio could faintly hear the screams of fear and anger from his comrades. He could smell the thing’s carrion breath and feel it on the back of his neck. There was no way anything could move that fast. No way. He trembled, unable to move his body unable to take his eyes from the beauty of the sunset, refusing to acknowledge what was happening to him.

A whistling sound followed by a wet thunk made him glance left by reflex. There was a bright silver knife with a handle wrapped in para-cord seeming to hover over his shoulder. Thunk thunk thunk, it was joined by three exactly like it. The creature behind him slowly fell over, four knives making a neat diamond shape, forehead, each eye and right in the mouth.

“You’re lucky. This one was blind and cigarette smoke confuses their sense of smell.” A stunning woman with white blonde hair stepped out of the jungle, one of those silver knives in either hand and a bandolier with dozens more falling across her chest. She looked back the way she had come and yelled in English, “Ren! Let’s go before those goddamn cowards come back!”

Emilio realized every one of the soldiers in his company had abandoned him. There was a flicker of motion and another woman emerged from the trees, her camouflage clad body and long dark hair blending with the shadows. “The sun’s almost down Svenka. Give me a few minutes.” Her voice sounded tired.

“Have you looked down the trail? We don’t have a few fucking minutes.”

“There aren’t any who can manage Power are there?”

“No but they can RUN! Jesus Fuck, can you hurry? I don’t fancy becoming dinner.”

The creatures down the trail as one turned to look at them. The ones that could began running; not like humans at all but a gracelessly hurling themselves forward with massive leaps. Emilio remembered his rifle and started firing but it didn’t seem to do anything but put holes in them.

“Fine fine.” There was a sigh, “It’s harder when the sun is out.” Emilio watched the woman in the shadows stood straight and spread her arms wide as though she was imitating the crucifixion. He blinked in confusion, she had wings. Wings of fire and light.

“You’ll want to close your eyes.” The white haired woman had her back to the dark haired one, looking down the road at the approaching creatures with her arms folded. He noted idly that she was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses.

For an instant, the entire world seemed to hold its breath. Then there was a flash of light that made the sun seem dim. A section of the jungle in a perfect circle pattern no longer existed. The figures on the road were simply not there anymore, trees alongside the trail ended a few feet from the ground as though sliced with some impossibly large razor blade.

“Are you OK?” Emilio realized the white haired woman was talking to him. “Did any of them touch you?”

“What is happening? Who are you?” He asked, too bewildered to answer her question.

“The men you were called in to support are all dead. The people they were called in to assist are all dead. It’s the apocalypse Emilio and we are a pair of Horsemen gone rogue.” Her nose wrinkled like a hound scenting, “I can tell they didn’t touch you, the smell of carrion isn’t coming from you at all.”

“I need a favor from you Emilio.” The sun had dropped behind the horizon, its rays barely shining enough light to see by and the woman in black had silently moved to stand next to him. “I’m tired and I can’t afford to be exhausted here. You might be the last human I see for quite some time.”

“What do you mean?” He asked, remembering the wings, the light, the destruction. His rifle hung limply in his hands, forgotten again. She looked into his eyes and he stared back into hers, unable to look away. Those dark orbs of hers seemed to expand to fill his vision. “How do you know my name?” He whispered.

She put her arms around him, “Shhhhh, it’s going to be OK Emilio.” He never felt her teeth pierce his neck.


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The Callindra Chronicles. Chapter 1

“Pox take you Callindra, what’s the holdup?”  Cook yelled out the door, “You said you had a fresh brace of Coney’s for his Grace’s dinner, get em to me now or you’ll get a serious beating girl!”

Callindra sighed, wiping the sweat from her brow and tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her right ear.  “Coming, I just need to skin them.”  Her mouth watered looking at the fat rabbits, but she knew the Lord was expecting guests.  It only took moments to hook the still warm animals on a skinning post and deftly shuck their skins off.  Carefully wrapping the hides into a tidy bundle she set them in the shade so they wouldn’t dry out before she had the chance to clean and stretch them.

She walked through the back door with six naked rabbits, three in each hand.  “Here you go Cook, fresh off the lines this morning.”

“About rotting time.”  The large man snatched her morning’s catch from her hands, “Now get over there and wash those dishes.”

She complied, swallowing her anger for what seemed like the hundredth time today.  “Yes Cook.”  This was not what she had in mind when she made her decision to come to the Keep instead of going to work in the fields.  She’d had high hopes of learning a trade or convincing someone she had the wits to attend the learning institute the Lord had created just outside the walls of his holding.  She hadn’t even considered going to a nunnery, the Gods were a myth as far as she could see.

Instead of any of these she had been sent to work in the kitchens in the mornings and evenings and as a chambermaid for most of the day.  The only breaks she got were the rare moments when she got to tend to the snares she had wheedled and begged the Lord’s hunters to teach her.  Callindra knew the only reason they had shown her was they believed snares and traps were a lower form of hunting.  When she had tried to convince Langmar to teach her more he had responded contemptuously.

“It takes skill to take down a running stag with one single arrow and I don’t want to waste the years it would take to train a girl how to shoot a bow when there are plenty of boys who I know will be up for the task.  Women just aren’t suited for archery, especially not one as skinny and weak as you.  I taught you how to set snares, be grateful I did that much.”

So for now she had to be content with what she was given and dream of greater things.  Not always easy to do when you were up to your elbows in dirty dishwater.

“Hey there country girl.  Yeh need someone ter help yeh cure them hides?  I’m happy ter help yeh ou’ if yeh needs it.”  Jed was likable enough despite his lack of teeth.  The Lord’s Master Tanner had always been decent to her.  She hated the smell of tanning hides but she loved working with leather.  Besides, this was one of the only jobs they allowed her to wear breeches instead of skirts.

“Thank you sir, but I think I’ve got the hang of it, at least with these little things.”  Callindra was scraping the bits of sinew and membrane from the rabbit skins with a sharp piece of flint.  “If I ever catch something bigger I’ll be sure to enlist your help.”

“As to tha, I hear they’re lookin fer another set a hands nex offday fer tha bear hunt.  I ken pu in a good word fer yeh if yeh like.”

She could hardly believe her ears, “Would you?  Wow, thank you!  I don’t know how to shoot a bow but I’d love the chance to skin a larger animal, or at least see it done.”

“Yeh got a bit a skill wi’ leather, not enough ter be trusted wi’ a bear yet tho.  Could be I migh be lookin fer a prentice come fall if yeh wan’.”

Callindra was floored; it was almost too good to be true.  “I’m flattered sir, but I can’t help but ask why?  Aren’t there plenty of others who would be better suited?”

The balding man fixed her with a critical eye.  “I got th eye fer knife skill girl.  Yeh got a way wi’ blades, yer doin better wi’ tha’ bit a rock then mos’ does wi’ a real scrapin’ knife.  Yeh wan’ ter learn from me or no?”

“Yes sir, I do!”  Callindra grinned from ear to ear, “When can we start?”

“Now’s good a time’s any.”  Jed took a worn but very well made hide scraping blade from his belt.  “Here  I got this ‘un from th one what showed me th trade.  I allus thought it was better ‘n any other I used since.”

She took the knife from him and pulled it from the sheath.  The blade was honed to a perfect service edge and the hilt was made of walnut worn smooth by years of use.

“I don’t know what to say sir.”  Callindra swallowed a lump in her throat.

“Say thanks an’ show me what yeh can do wi’ one a them deer hides.”  He gestured towards a small pile of skins, “An call me Jed I ain’t no sir.”

“Yes si- I mean yes Jed.” She grinned against the tears that threatened, “Thank you.”

The days passed quickly, and Callindra absorbed herself in the work, learning everything she could.  Gradually she became accustomed to the unsavory smells of the tanning yard and the strange speech patterns of her teacher.

One thing she could not get used to was how she was treated as the tanner’s apprentice.  The women ignored her, something she was already used to.  The girls treated her with scorn, which wasn’t all that much different than it had been before, however the fact that she was doing what they considered ‘man’s work’ added acid to their attitudes. All the men assumed she had used her body to get the position, why did men always seem to think with their loins?

Callindra was stopping off at the kitchen to get some supper for her Trademaster.  His lack of teeth required soft food, and she always managed to wheedle some tenderloin or chicken breast out of Cook.  From just outside the busy kitchen she could hear some of the serving maids gossiping.

“She’s like an animal!  Honestly her hair’s always tangled and she smells like she never bathes.”  She overheard one of the village girls say.  “I swear she gets more like that horrible old man every day.”

“I’d say it’s probably from bedding him.”  Said a man’s voice, the girls erupted into titters and giggles of laughter.  “You know how lovers tend to influence each other.”

“Don’t let them bother you too much.”  Cook rumbled, surprising Callindra with a moment of kindness, “I’m glad Jed has someone to care for him, who you take to is your business.”

“I – we aren’t.”  She paused under Cook’s scrutiny.  What was the use?  She gave up, “Thank you Cook.  I’ll see he gets this.”  Bobbing an inexpert curtsy she took the still-warm package of food and hurried out the door before more crude talk could reach her ears.

“Watch where yer runnin there runt!”  Two of the Lord’s Huntsmen were carrying a wild boar towards the kitchen and intentionally swung the carcass to block her way.  “In a hurry t’ get back t’ that old man eh?  If you ever want a real man t’ warm yer bed lemme know, I’d tame th’ wild otta yeh.”

Without responding, she ducked under the boar and ran for the small shack she shared with Jed.  Outside, she found him carefully scraping the boar’s hide.

“Here, I can do that, you have some supper.  I brought a jug of cider too.”  She set her package down and drew the scraping knife he had given her.  Jed grunted his thanks and opened the cloth, inhaling the steam from the tender meat and fresh bread.  Under his watchful eye, Callindra began carefully scraping the flesh and veins from the inside of the hide.

“If yeh wan’ th’ Lord says yer can go wi’ on th’ bear hunt.”  Jed paused to take a drink of cider and smacked his lips in satisfaction.  “Leavin firs’ light.”

“Really?  Oh, thank you Jed thank you!”  She gave the old man a fierce hug, “I just know I can do something to get the Lord’s notice.  If I could just prove my usefulness maybe I could be allowed to learn more things.”

“Good luck.”  He patted her shoulder awkwardly and then scrutinized the work she’d done.  “Don’ dig so hard on a pigskin, th’ leather’s finer ‘n a deer.  Needs a lighter touch.”

Callindra joined a line of boys, their job to walk through the woods making as much noise as possible to drive animals towards where the Lord was waiting on a hilltop with his longbow.  The scope of his retinue astounded her; he had a pavilion set up with a kitchen to serve delicacies while he waited, a bower for his Lady and their children to observe his hunting prowess from the comfort of silk cushions, a shaded area for the other ranking men to sit, smoke and drink.

She could feel the boys watching her as they fanned out.  Some smirked, others gawked; she was the only girl who wasn’t serving or lounging in the pavilion.  They made their way through the forest and Callindra lost sight of the other drivers, although she could hear them crashing through the brush.

She stifled a squawk of surprise as a great stag jumped seemingly out of nowhere, setting her heart pounding.  A short while later, she entered a small clearing and saw three of the Lords Huntsmen taking their leisure.

“About time yeh managed ter get here.  We been gettin bored waitin fer yeh.”  She recognized two of them; they had blocked her way with the boar the day before.

“I told yeh I was gonna tame th’ wild otta yeh girl.”  He stood, and she could see a licentious grin split his bearded face.

“You’ll have to catch me first you sick bastards!”  She turned and sprinted into the woods, listening to the laughter of the men as they followed, easily able to track her progress.  The branches seemed to bend to lash her across the face and brush tangled her feet.  Finally she emerged from the thick wood into an open meadow.  She ran across, finally putting some distance between her and her pursuers, but fell to the ground with a sharp pain blossoming in her shoulder.

Callindra heard the laughter behind her change to shouts of alarm.  Looking up, she gaped as a massive bear reared up on its hind legs seemingly from nowhere, roaring in anger at being disturbed.  She stumbled to her feet, fumbling for her knife.  The bear’s claws flashed and gore splattered into her face.  Backing away, she flailed wildly, shouting her defiance and fear.  The wind roared in her ears and consciousness faded.

“Here now, drink this youngling.”  Glarian looked down at the slim girl laying in the guest room of his small stone house, “It will be bitter but setting bones was never my strong suit and it is going to hurt a lot less if you can manage to swallow a bit of this.”

She looked up into a face framed by graying tresses with an immaculately groomed moustache drooping on either side of a mouth set with worry.  “Where?”

“Safe, I’m a friend.  The Lord holds no sway here; whatever those men had against you means nothing to me.”

She relaxed and allowed him to help her sit so she could take a few swallows of the harsh brew.  Once she had lapsed into a deeper, narcotic sleep, the man carefully sliced the leg of her breeches with a small knife.  His brow knitted sharply; it was a bad break and beyond his real ability to set but he couldn’t afford to wait until the traveling Healer came, nor could he bring this slip of a girl anywhere the Lord’s men would frequent.

He sighed and with an inexpert hand jerked her leg back to as close to straight as he could; wincing as she cried out in spite of the drug-induced nature of her sleep.  Before the bones could slide apart again, he splinted and bound the leg as tightly as he could.  He leaned back and took out the wash leather pouch that held his pipe.  Packing the bowl with tac he concentrated for a moment, conjuring a flame until it was lit to his satisfaction.  What was he going to do with this girl?

Just a few hours before he had been stalking a large bear; bear meat was sustaining and the animals were at their fattest in the fall even if that was also when they were the most irritable.  Also, there was the superstition that shooting a fat bear would mean a mild winter, but Glarian knew better.  He had followed it to a clearing and was readying the bow he had forced himself to learn to use since leaving the Order when the lithe figure of a girl had sprinted into view.

The three grown men who followed laughing and cursing had intentions that were all too clear.  One of the men hurled a stone from a sling and it struck her shoulder, knocking her to the ground.  He ran forward but just before Glarian could have loosed an arrow at him the massive bear had appeared as though summoned from the underbrush.

The animal raked claws across the man standing over her with hideous force, hurling him to one side and splattering her with blood and worse.  She backed away, rising to one knee and the bear turned its attention to her; the two other men having run back into the woods.

To his surprise instead of running away or being shredded by the beast’s claws she pulled a dagger from her belt and swung it screaming in fear and anger.  Something within her resonated with him and instead of just being a scream he felt Power pulse through her body.  Threads of Weave exploded out of the dagger’s blade in a wild uncontrolled arc.  The dagger disintegrated; its mild steel and poor construction unable to handle the forces it was subjected to.

The majority of the blast blew the bear across the clearing, but the rest recoiled on the girl herself, breaking her leg in several places and hurling her unconscious form to the ground.

“What were you thinking you little fool?  Why did you have to come here?”  He sat and smoked, watching the girl whimpering in her sleep.  “Hush now, you’re safe.”  Glarian touched her tangled mass of hair, smoothing it out of her face.  She murmured something and released a deep sigh.

He jerked his hand back in surprise.  Motes of Weave leaped from her nose and mouth when she exhaled, fluttering around her like lightning bugs, playing with strands of her hair and ruffling the coverlet.  No student, no Master, no Adept he had ever seen had ever shown this kind of aptitude for channeling Power.

“Gods preserve us, if she doesn’t learn to contain these forces she’s eventually going to destroy herself.”  Glarian watched as the capricious little whispers of Power swirled his pipe smoke into fantastical shapes.  “Well it’s not my problem.  I’ve saved her once, that’s good enough.”