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.