Glarian led the way downstream to a grove of oak trees that stood evenly spaced about a meadow. The trees were huge, their limbs spreading to cover several spans. Callindra could hear the stream still, but knew it was a little way off. She set the cloth wrapped bundle that contained her lunch and water skin in the shade next to one of the trees.
“So what is the training today?” She asked, hoping for more sparring. Glarian had been testing her skills lately with what he called the direct method. Even though she had bruises and cuts covering her arms and legs from the last couple of days, it was exhilarating.
“I have completed my assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and have designed this training course for you. It will strengthen your arms and shoulders while at the same time improving your blade control.” He gestured to logs lashed to the tree trunks, many with wedges of wood behind them, holding them at odd angles.
“You must cut through these logs using this axe.” He handed her an axe with a strangely shaped handle, “Your methods are your own but with one stipulation. The bark of the tree underneath must be untouched. Come find me when you have finished.”
He walked back upstream, leaving Callindra to survey the work ahead of her. The sun was barely above the horizon but it was already hot. She stripped to her chest wrap and attacked the first log with vigor.
Cutting through the first part of the log was no problem, despite the shock of the axe impacting the solidness of the wood. She ran into trouble when the log was nearly cut through. It was so difficult to ensure the last cut did not carry through into the trunk of the tree that it took more time to sever the last inch than it had the first ten.
The sun was high in the sky by the time she had finished just the first two of the eight logs she was assigned to cut. Callindra took her lunch and headed for the welcoming chatter of the stream. Her body was soaked with sweat; it would feel wonderful to cool off in the water before eating.
She was in luck; there was a large pool of water with a wide flat rock stretching out into it. After carefully sinking the axe into a large log of driftwood and hanging her sword high and dry from it she shed the remains of her clothes and leaped into the water with a gleeful yell.
The water was cold, but it felt wonderful after sweating under the sun all morning. She dove under and held onto a large rock; looking back up towards the sky through the clear water. A strange flash and swirl of light caused her to quickly surface and when she did she saw a young man standing at the edge of the stream.
“Good morrow lass, I apologize for interrupting your swim.” He was a good enough looking man, dressed all in rather garish red leather armor with a pair of steel tipped whips at his belt.
“Not at all.” Callindra replied, doing her best to walk unabashedly from the water. In books she’d read, men and women often bathed together when they were soldiers, she didn’t want to appear prudish.
“Perhaps you could help me out. I’m looking for a powerful mage who lives in the area.” He said, not seeming at all interested in her nudity.
Callindra walked to where her clothes were sitting and tugged on her underbreeches, trying not to look hurried. While she wrapped her chest, she answered him. “I’m Callindra. I don’t know of any mages around here at all, let alone powerful ones. I’ve only been in the area for a year and a half though. Why don’t you join me for a midday meal and tell me about yourself and what brings you here.”
“Gladly, I have been walking for six hours now.” He sat on the rock and watched Callindra set out bread, apples, cheese and cuts of cold venison. “My name is Daleus, and I have been teaching myself to use a blend of weapons and magic now for five years.”
Callindra glanced involuntarily toward the place she had stashed her sword. “Magic? Why would you try to learn to use magic?”
“Magic is power and I need to become stronger in order to accomplish my goals.” He said, not noticing the fear and mistrust in her voice, “Now that I have mastered the whip I seek to challenge a Titled mage. If I can just find him I know I can take that Title from him but instead of claiming it as my own I will turn it in to The Order in exchange for admittance to their school. Then there will be nothing that can stop me.”
She forced herself to be calm and cut a slice of cheese with her belt knife. “Why would you need to go to a school if you have mastered your weapon of choice? If you have the skill to defeat a mage with a Title what more do you have to learn?”
Daleus laughed, “This Titled mage is old, it won’t be a completely fair fight but the fool has recently put up his Challenge talismans. What I might lack in skill I can make up for with youth and endurance.” He jumped up, forgetting the food set out before him.
“I’ll show you how much I have learned on my own, imagine what I could do if I had Masters to learn from!” He unlimbered his whips and began moving through the steps of what she realized was a Korumn. Halfway through, she could see something happen to his weapons. She looked closer, there were tiny glowing threads wrapping around the braided leather, all the way down to the steel tips. When the threads reached the ends, bursts of flame exploded from them every time they cracked. By the end of the Korumn Daleus was surrounded by a roaring wall of fire.
Callindra was terrified, but fascinated at the same time. To calm herself, she used the breathing exercises Glarian had taught her. Something about him seemed so familiar, but she was positive they had never met before. Her back bumped up against the driftwood that her sword rested behind, she realized she had retreated to the protection of her weapon by instinct.
Daleus turned towards her, stepping over the guttering flames with a smile on his face. “Little rabbit, I apologize. It was not my intention to frighten you. To be honest I am a bit nervous about facing a Master and I wanted to at least show someone what I was capable of before the moment of truth. I mean no harm to a young girl who has offered me a meal, what threat could a woodcutter’s daughter be?”
In spite of her fear, his dismissiveness tweaked Callindra’s pride. “I may not be a threat but that is only because I choose not to be.” She reached behind the tree trunk and retrieved her baldric, “But I am also no woodcutter’s daughter.”
He gave her an appraising look, and his eyes widened slightly. “No wonder I walked straight to this place. I can tell you don’t know it yet but you have an affinity with the Weave Callindra.” Daleus said, coiling his whips and sitting next to the meal she had laid out.
She approached cautiously, “Me? You must be joking, I’m a sword fighter, not a magician.”
“You may be both. After all, I can only command the power through my whips. Without them I’m as mundane as anyone, but I can still feel it. I can still see it.” He helped himself to bread, cheese and venison, “It sparks all around you Callindra. You positively glow with it.”
“I’ll take your word for it Daleus.” She edged up to the rock and sat across from him, setting her scabbarded sword next to her. If he had wanted to harm her he would probably have done it but magic was dangerous and unpredictable, he might kill her by accident.
“You’ve got grit Callindra, I’ll give you that.” He said with a grin, “Most girls would have run at the sight of a strange man, never mind my little flame show.”
She grunted around a mouthful of food and swallowed before answering, “I’m obviously not like most girls.”
While they ate, she asked him about the rest of the world. He spoke of a king she had only read about, lords who she did not know and his travels across the realm. Although he seemed young it was clear he had seen many strange and fantastic things in his travels. Callindra nibbled on an apple core, not wanting him to stop talking but she knew there were many more logs to cut before the day was out.
Daleus seemed to have a similar realization, because he stood and brushed the crumbs off his armor. “I had best be on my way Callindra. I thank you for the meal and the conversation. Perhaps we will meet again someday. Train hard.”
“Good luck finding your mage Daleus. Thanks for talking with me; I’ve spent over a year with only that damn old man for company.” She said and grasped his forearm in a swordsman’s handshake. He returned her clasp and left without a backward glance.