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.