Glarian wasn’t sure what had brought about the sudden change in attitude, but it was definitely a pleasant variation. It had been nearly five days since the first time he had come into the house from his morning routine and found her setting out breakfast. The deer were once again plentiful, coming back to their favored watering hole as though nothing had happened and he’d finally been able to shoot one today.
As if she’d sensed when he would be back, Callindra was waiting in the lean-to with his skinning knife, carefully honing the edge. “I see you had luck today. Hang him up here and I’ll take care of the rest.”
When Glarian nodded his thanks and went into the house, he saw she had a fresh pot of tea brewed and had also set out his tobacco, pipe and even a taper. He was smoking contentedly when she joined him.
“I skinned the deer and re-wrapped the hide around the carcass. Letting it hang for a couple days will improve the flavor of the meat and make it tenderer. We should eat the tenderloins though, they dry out quickly.” She set the two strips of meat on a plate and covered them with a bit of cloth.
“Good work.” He said in approval, but before he could continue she interrupted in a rush.
“Please teach me the Sword.”
When he didn’t respond she went on “Please, I saw you in the courtyard. It was like a dance. You moved so beautifully and yet at the same time I could feel… those motions imitated combat. With many people; at least 6 I know it. I could almost hear their screams as you first stabbed the heart, severed the jugular, disemboweled, spun to slice from breast to navel, rebounded to hamstring and finally disarmed the last opponent, holding your blade at his throat.”
Her eyes shone with admiration and he was too stunned to say anything at first; she had named each of the first 6 Stances of the beginning form he had been practicing exactly. She took his silence for refusal because she declared in ringing tones “I will be your disciple. Six months from today I swear to be ready.” Her words sang in the air and he could feel the resonance with his Power that he had felt in that clearing months before. He found himself agreeing.
Callindra heard soft footfalls entering her room and was instantly awake. Glarian stood by her bed holding a candle, his face as serious as she ever remembered seeing it. He set a small clay jug and an ancient bowl made of some metal she didn’t recognize on the bedside table.
“Today is the day. Today it begins. Today I shall forswear the Oath I exchanged for my life. Today I shall once again take a student.” He was wearing the massive blade on his back. She watched in fascinated horror as he drew the sword easily in spite of its length and the size of her room and cut himself across the palm.
“I swear to teach you swordplay. I swear to ask of you only that which will be required for you to learn to reach your full potential.” His blood dripped into the bowl, seeming to swirl around in the bottom. He took a scabbarded blade from behind his belt and tossed it on the bed next to her. “Do you swear to obey your Master as is required to learn?”
She picked up the sword he had given her and drew it from the sheath. The edge looked wickedly sharp. Callindra took a deep breath and cut her own palm, “I swear to obey Glarian Sol’Estin, my Swordmaster as he requires in order to learn the way of the Sword. My body will be iron for him to temper into steel.” As her blood joined his in the bowl she would swear hers spun in the opposite direction that his was.
He chuckled, “You’ve been reading again. Well said disciple.” He poured liquid from the jug into their mingled blood, she was certain she could see motes of light flickering in the depths of the bowl. “Now drink and your fate is sealed.”
He handed her the bowl and she took a deep swallow. It was bitter, then sickeningly sweet, then salty with a tang of iron. She handed it back and he drank the rest, “Thus the pact is made. It shall be followed in letter and spirit. By blood, steel, tree and honor I am bound.” As he finished this last proclamation he was momentarily surrounded by a thousand fireflies that seemed to race into his body.
“Get up, we’re starting early from here on.” He left the room, sheathing his sword like an afterthought, as though he was shrugging his shoulders or scratching an itch.
She scrambled out of bed, gingerly allowing weight to fall on her left leg. It was more or less recovered but so much weaker than her right that it made walking difficult and more often than not it would tense in a muscle spasm and crumple under her if she wasn’t careful. After wrapping her chest with a long band of cloth for support she pulled on her breeches and shirt. Callindra buckled the baldric on and felt the weight of a sword over her shoulder for the first time. It felt good.
It had been six months to the day since she made that stupid oath to be ready to train with him, two seasons of painful rehabilitation. She had pushed herself as hard as possible, past the point of exhaustion on many days. As a result, her leg was strong enough to hold her up, but only just.
The main room of the house was empty so she walked outside. Glarian was waiting for her, “You’re too weak right now. We will start with some conditioning and continue building on the strength of your leg. You’ve done well there, but your upper body needs a lot of work before you’ll be able to hold your own with a blade.
Callindra was disappointed, she wanted to learn swordplay. “Strength training? But I thought-“
“You thought I would start teaching you strikes right away?” He smiled, “Oh believe me you will be learning strikes. There is no better way to strengthen the muscles you will be using to wield a sword than by wielding a sword. You will not use that one though, you will use this.”
Glarian handed her a bar of steel with a leather wrapped sword grip on the end. “First I will test you to see what style fits you best. I believe you may be able to use the style I do, although you will always need to use both hands and it may not be as effective as it could be if you were more muscular.”
Callindra hefted the steel bar, it didn’t feel that heavy. “I can do it. Please, show me the strikes.”
Glarian gave her a feral smile, “I knew you’d be up for it. Let’s see if you can maintain that attitude.”
“Bring it on!” She said, how hard could it be?
He drew his sword, holding it close to his body and then made a lightning fast slashing motion that would have slit an opponent from shoulder to pelvis. The cut started and stopped precisely with no wasted motion.
“Remember this is not a stick, nor is it a club or an axe. This is a sword and it does not use brute force to inflict damage on its enemies. A sword is a cutting weapon; to use it to its full advantage you must draw that cutting edge along your opponent’s flesh as you strike.” He showed her the motion again, slower this time. She could see his arms extend and draw closer to his body as he struck.
Callindra mimicked his motion as best she could although the motion was awkward. The weight of the ‘sword’ she was holding threw her off and was much more difficult than she had anticipated to swing.
“You must not use exaggerated motions. The slightest overstep in a strike will leave you open to attack yourself. Your sword is not just for attacking, it is also your defense. The sword must start here.” He took her hands and positioned them at a particular angle, “Move thus.” He pulled her hands and arms out, then down and back, “And end here.”
She tried to visualize what the strike was for and swallowed hard, thinking of the damage it could inflict. She wanted to learn, there were others who would gladly do worse with less thought. If she could learn to defend herself against them she could rise above the fear and carve out a place for herself in the world.
Stepping slightly back to put less weight on her weak leg, she tried again, this time imagining one of the Lord’s Huntsmen who had attempted to assault her. The end of the steel bar whistled through the air, making a perfect arc that traced the strike exactly as he demonstrated it. Muscles in her shoulders twinged as she stopped the blade; this was going to be far harder than she thought.
“Well done, do it again.” She stepped slightly back and repeated the swing, “Excellent. A score more and then we’ll switch to the second strike. After that, I will show you how to chain them together.”
She was barely able to drag herself back to the house. Callindra’s arms burned, her leg throbbed and muscles she never knew existed complained. Muscles in her back, muscles that crossed her chest, it hurt to hold her head up. Glarian stood in the yard next to the house with his arms folded.
“I drew a bath for you today since this is the first day of your training. Don’t count on it happening again.”
Callindra wanted to protest, to tell him she wasn’t tired, that she could haul her own water, but she was defeated by the scent of cooking venison and the thought of hot water on her aching muscles.
“Thank you Master.” She couldn’t believe it, even as tired as she was, Callindra was elated. She had met a Swordmaster, a TRUE master of his steel. And he was going to teach her. She would never have to run from anyone again.
Glarian watched his disciple carefully, making sure she didn’t exhibit the signs of a strained muscle or injured tendon. To his relief her tiredness seemed to simply be genuine exhaustion. He had pushed her hard, but this was only the beginning.
He shook his head; her physical capabilities were the absolute least of his worries. He had started her with a weighted bar instead of an edged weapon, most Blademages could not manifest power without an edged weapon in their hand. There were a few exceptions, he knew of a man who used a hammer, but he was certain that Callindra was a Swordmage. She used his style, she had his spirit and the winds seemed to frolic at her feet, begging for attention.
The bar he had given her to use only to practice the most basic of strikes, just strengthening exercises, had sparked and arced with weave. It was trying to force her to acknowledge its existence, eventually it would break free. He shuddered to think about the damage it could cause. There was no other way; he would have to seal it.
Callindra was bathing, the exhaustion, hot water and relaxing herbs he had put in it should have put her to sleep by now. He slipped into the room, she was drowsing, one arm hanging out of the tub. She had satisfied smile curling up the corners of her mouth.
The Oath of the Master gave him pause. Was this truly necessary for her to learn? Although she might be a danger to him or to herself, life in general was dangerous as he knew from his recent encounter with a hungry puma. Swordplay was dangerous also and learning, even from a master, was not without its perils. Then there was the amount of mystic energy he would have to expend in order to perform the seal; it was sure to attract the attention of Shojin even if it wasn’t enough to get the notice of rest of The Order.
Glarian sighed and quietly left her where she lay. He sat on the stoop, smoking his pipe and trying to make sense of the things in his head. Every time he tried to balance the risks of the possible courses of action, his thoughts scattered like dandelion fluff on a blustery day when he thought of Callindra. She had some kind of hold over him that he couldn’t explain. He stood and made his way back to where the bath was set up in front of the fire.
“You need to go to bed Callindra, tomorrow the real training is going to commence.” He tossed a towel over her face as she began to shake off sleep.
She murmured something he couldn’t quite make out and emerged from the bath, barely bothering to towel herself off before stumbling into her room to collapse on the bed. Glarian pulled a blanket over her and blew out the candle before he left her to rest. Moving to the center of the main room, he stood on a chair and reached into the darkness above the rafters.
With a grunt of effort, Glarian pulled a large case down with a thud. Noting with satisfaction that the hinges and clasp were still well oiled, he opened the lid, revealing a dozen or more swords of different shapes and sizes. He carefully removed them, and reached back inside to take a long leather-wrapped bundle from the bottom of the case.
“I can’t seal Callindra’s power, it would be too risky.” He muttered to himself, “Maybe I can mask her activity and temper the Weave’s enthusiasm a little.” Inside the bundle were a multitude of pouches, wooden boxes and one long roll of leather. He took out a medium sized box filled with small clay tablets and selected four with the same set of runes carved on them.
“This should buy us a little time. Maybe enough time for me to help her tame that wild side, or at least how to ride it without a saddle or bridle.” He shook his head, glancing toward the room where Callindra slept.
“You have dragged me reluctantly back onto the precipice where the North Wind rages. I swore never to teach swordplay, and never to instruct another to command the Weave on pain of death. Now that I have forsaken those oaths, The Order will most certainly come for me. Not only them, but once I deploy these talismans once again challengers will begin to appear. I’m betting the hope that one of them will kill me and take my Title will keep Shojin and the other Inquisitors off my back until I can properly prepare for their arrival.”