Callindra woke with sore muscles but not as bad as she had feared. The herbs Glarian had put in the bath must have helped, although her healed leg was shaky and sent a thrill of pain up her spine when she put weight on it. She stretched and felt a strange wind blow against her skin. It was almost as though air was moving from all sides of her room towards her at the same time. She shivered, and not because she had slept naked. The dust whirled around her in the predawn glow. Something was changing, and it did not feel like a natural or welcome change.
Her hair was tangled and she remembered how it had gotten in her way the day before. On a whim she drew the sword Glarian had given her and gathered her hair in a bundle at the nape of her neck. The edge was good enough that she was easily able to hack the majority of it off in a ragged line. She didn’t really care if it was straight or not as long as it didn’t interfere with her baldric. How was Glarian able to properly wield his sword with that huge braid?
She wrapped her chest, tying it off just behind her left arm, and then donned the rest of her clothes. Wide, loose breeches, a shirt with short sleeves and a wide neck for ease of movement, light wool socks that would pad her feet properly inside her thin leather shoes but still allow her to feel the ground.
Glarian was already out in the main room drinking tea and stirring porridge. “You’re up on time. Good, I have a busy day planned for you. How are your muscles feeling this morning?”
“Not as bad as I feared, but not perfect. That bath certainly helped.” She said, helping herself to some tea. Feeling his eyes on her, she flushed slightly. “My leg hurts but I can handle it.”
“This morning we will start with something slightly different. We must meditate and stretch before training each day from now on.” He served some porridge for them, adding a generous spoon of honey.
“I understand the stretching, but why meditation? Isn’t that for priests and the like?” She asked, confused.
“Do not question the methods of your Master. It will benefit us both I think.” He said.
After breakfast, Glarian instructed her to follow him outside and sit in the center of the small courtyard she had practiced in yesterday, sword across her knees, hands touching hilt and flat of the blade.
“The first Korumn is breath. You must learn to control your breathing as this is the source of your power. For others breath gives life, but for us it also takes life away. Be aware of your breath flowing into your body through your nose. Be aware of it leaving your mouth. Feel its power and pull that power to the center of your abdomen.”
She closed her eyes and tried to do as he instructed. As she relaxed something began building inside, almost as though when she breathed out the air was staying inside.
“Do not hold the power; let it flow through you like the wind through the trees. Although it surrounds and fills you, allow it to calm and focus you instead of being a distraction.” His voice droned on, and Callindra lost herself in the ebb and flow of her breathing. When he touched her shoulder to let her know it was time to begin the day’s training she was startled to see the sun well above the horizon.
“Now we will begin with the strikes I taught you yesterday.” Glarian said, “Then I will show you something new.”
“Something new already? But I haven’t mastered the first two strikes you taught me yet!”
“Mastered?” Glarian laughed heartily, “Girl I have been a disciple of the Sword for longer than you’ve been alive and I don’t consider myself to have mastered any of it. There is always room for improvement. Remember, no matter how often you practice or how experienced you are, there is always more to learn. To cease learning is to die.”
Where had she heard that before? She was sure she had heard someone say something like that before. Or maybe she had read it. Before she had the chance to ponder it further, Glarian started the day of training. The thought was soon lost in physical exertion.
It had been a month now and Glarian was pushing much harder than he would have with any other student. Callindra was developing far faster than he had been afraid she would but not as fast as he needed her to. He didn’t like being a harsh task master, and forcing her to the very edge of her limits had put a strain on their relationship. More often than not he had to rely on her anger to get her through and he knew he had to change tactics before she built up bad habits.
He had to make sure she was strong enough though. She was on the verge of collapse, nearly at her limit but there was something there still. One problem was that leg; he wasn’t sure it would withstand what it needed to. She had to be tested.
“Only the strong survive girl. You’re useless to me if you can’t even stand on your own two feet. Didn’t you say you wanted to be stronger? If this is all the resolve you have you wouldn’t last one day under a true Master.” She looked up at him through tear stained eyes. “I said get up.”
Staggering to her feet, she barely managed to rise completely before the leg that had been shattered buckled and she had to catch herself by grounding the tip of her practice sword. Glarian shook his head seemingly in disgust. “Go back to bed. You aren’t fit to walk on that leg, much less learn even the most rudimentary stances. Females have no tolerance for pain and limited ability to learn.”
“NO!” Callindra assumed the first Stance, her left leg shaking from the effort, her face white from agony as sweat began to drip down her forehead. “I told you I’d do your damn training in two seasons and if you can’t stand to see a girl in pain maybe you should get a nursemaid to help you through your dotage.” Glarian’s eyes narrowed slightly, smoothing out wrinkles on his weathered cheeks.
“Fine, I don’t want to hear you blubbering all night long again though. I’m a light sleeper. After you run the first six Stances ten more times there’s wood to be split and water to be hauled. You’d better haul double if you want a warm bath.” He turned and walked back to his small stone house without looking back, his long steel-gray braid swinging like an agitated cat’s tail.
Wiping the sweat and tears from her face Callindra ground her teeth against the pain and began moving slowly through the Stances. “I’ll show him, if I don’t have talent I’ll just have to practice harder. Just because I’m weak doesn’t mean I have to stay that way. I will prove to him I’m worthy of being his disciple. I have to.” Unaware of the eyes watching her intently from the darkened window of the house, she moved through all ten of the Stances Glarian had taught her instead of just the first six.
“Damn. If I push her hard enough she just might survive the testing. If she manages to survive, perhaps she can carry my fighting style on. Maybe it won’t have to die with me. She’ll need something unique though; she’s just not strong enough to use the sword it calls for. In order to unlock her true potential and to protect the blade itself from her wielding it I’m going to have to bend the rules a little.”
Sitting on the hearth he drew his blade, after meditating for a few minutes with the bared blade across his knees he passed his hand over the mirror polished surface; calling arcane letters to the surface with a whisper of wind. “Belach. I’m calling in that favor. I need a Blade.”
Forming an image of Callindra in his mind and her potential, he raised the blade he blew the spell off the end, completing the Sending. With a sigh, he sat back next to the fire and packed his pipe with tac, waiting for a response from the smith.
The reply to his Sending came after a shorter period of time than he’d anticipated.
“Glarian, you cocky fuck. Do you really think you’ll get away with it? Whatever, I’ll make her a sword; after all it’s a challenge and I owe you regardless. I’m warning you though, it won’t last. That girl… she’ll destroy it. She’s got too much power for that frame and she’ll take it out on whatever sword you give her. Either that or it’ll kill her and you along with her. If she was here for me to measure her potential myself I might be able to pull it off, but that little whelp is fucking dangerous, you’re nuts if you try to train her.
“In other words, I know you’re training her you stupid bastard. Watch your ass and I’ll get the sword to you in a year. Stay alive until then, and keep her alive. I don’t want all this fucking work to go to waste.”
So it was bad then, worse than he had feared. Glarian took a deep breath and blew it out, nearly extinguishing the fire in the process. It was years since he had exhibited lack of self-control like this. He was committed now though; there was no turning back.
He walked outside, unsheathing Sakar as he went. This was going to be a difficult journey. He had better be in condition to handle whatever came; it was beginning to worry him that no one had come to challenge him in spite of the talismans being active for a month. It was only a matter of time; they were probably watching him already.
Callindra was too angry to feel the pain and exhaustion as she went to the wood shed and began splitting kindling for the evening fire. Thankfully the axe handle touched different places on her palms than the sword hilt and she made quick work of it. She was too weak and she knew it.
Next she grabbed the yoke and buckets for water. She hated the yoke because it was hard to fit over her shoulders when she had the baldric on and because she had difficulty taking it off without getting help or spilling all the water. Her arms weren’t up to the task of carrying the buckets on their own though. Not yet.
The path down to the stream was well-worn. She and Glarian weren’t the only animals who walked it, they shared it mainly with deer but she had seen signs of bears and even wolves as well so she always made her way carefully. After all, Glarian had killed that puma not far from here.
A flock of birds took to wing on her left, she tried to turn quickly to track where they had come from but the yoke and buckets hampered her. With a growl of frustration she hurried to the stream, filled the buckets and walked back to the house as fast as she could, trying to look in every direction at once.
She entered the clearing and saw Glarian. He was practicing the Seventh Korumn, she had seen it before although she was in no way ready to try it. With every swing he jumped in the air, each time getting higher and higher until he hardly seemed to touch the ground at all. When the Korumn was finished, he balanced lightly on the balls of his feet, a blast of air from the impact of his landing seeming to move Callindra’s hair, even at this distance.
Seeing his skill and the beauty of the Korumn wiped the thoughts of anger from her mind. “Master, you are amazing!”
She knelt next to the cistern, ducking out from underneath the yoke. Her leg screamed at her, but she ignored it. Pain was fleeting; unless she managed to push past it there was no way she could ever get stronger.
“It has been too long since I have completed all seven Korumn in a row. I’m actually quite rusty.” He was stripped to the waist, sweat beading on his forehead. The muscles on his shoulders rippled as he sheathed his sword. Callindra was reminded of how far she had to go, even just in basic strength. She marveled at his perfectly muscled frame, wondering if she would ever be able to measure up to his expectations.
“That should be enough water for you Master; I’ll go get water for my bath now.” She said, shouldering the buckets again in spite of the sharp protest her muscles made. She would become stronger. She would rise to the challenge he had presented. She didn’t have a choice. When she turned to go, she missed the approving look on his face.
His apprentice was finally showing some grit, Glarian smiled as she left to get more water. That limp had him worried though, he had to make sure she didn’t push herself too hard.
“I think she shows promise, although it won’t matter in a few minutes.” A voice seemed to come out of nowhere.
Glarian turned calmly, hands at his sides. “It was clever of you to wait until after I’d practiced. A good strategy, but I have plenty of stamina. I’m not your typical old man.” A man slipped from the shadows, drawing a wicked looking scimitar from his belt.
“You’re right. You are a dead man.” The attack was so fast Glarian barely had the chance to draw his sword.
He rapidly retreated, whirling Sakar in a defensive arc and deflecting multiple blows that would have sliced him in half. In spite of the frantic appearance of his blocks, he made sure to bring the thicker back edge of his blade in contact with the exact same part of his opponent’s scimitar. When the onslaught was over, he took two more steps back and shook his head.
“It is customary to issue a challenge before attacking. I like to know who I am fighting and why.”
“I am Sain and you are The Master of the North Wind.” He spun his scimitar in an ornate pattern, the tassel that hung from the pommel whirling in counterpart to the blade. “This is Kha’darn and today we shall take that title from you.”
“The challenge is accepted, until one of us is dead, whether it be man or weapon. Sakar severs the life of man or blade with equal contempt.”
Sain hesitated for a moment as if the idea of risking his sword had not occurred to him. In that moment, Glarian lashed out with all the force he could muster, striking his opponent’s sword at the precise spot he had already weakened. The scimitar Kha’darn exploded into fragments of steel.
Without so much as admitting defeat, Sain fled into the trees. Glarian picked up the discarded sword hilt and brought it inside the house with him. Entering through the lean-to he hung it next to the first clay token of challenge. The first trophy of many.
He opened the spigot over the bath, gravity filling the large copper tub that sat next to the fire. The fire was low, but Callindra had split enough wood to get it going again. In a few minutes the water was hot and he was soaking comfortably in it when he heard Callindra return. It looked as though she had bathed in the cold water of the stream instead of waiting for a hot bath.
She paused in the doorway to her bedroom, “Master, I’m sorry. I know I’m weak but I will get stronger. I will become worthy of your training.”
“I know you will Disciple. I won’t allow you to fail.” He said, unable to keep the approval from his voice. He saw the smile on her face as she turned and knew she understood. He would not allow her to fail.