Callindra was hauling water. She had gotten into the habit of filling the cistern early in the morning, that way it was full and she wouldn’t have to do it after a hard day of training. She paused, looking at her reflection. A much different person than she remembered stared back at her. Face with hard lines and more than a few scars. Hair that had been cut for function, short and uneven, causing it to stick out at strange angles. She smiled, wondering if any at the Keep would even recognize her.
Something wasn’t quite right, she could sense it as she was coming close to the edge of the forest. Setting the yoke down as quietly as she could, Callindra drew her sword and slunk towards the house on the balls of her feet. Peering through the leaves. She could see a tall, broad man leaving the house. He looked familiar. She had seen him in a vision, but he had been holding a hammer and standing in front of a forge.
As the man left Glarian bowed low from the waist, saying something unintelligible from this distance. The man laughed loud enough for her to hear, then seemed to fold in half, sliding sideways into nothing. When he vanished, a cloud of fireflies seemed to erupt from the spot where he disappeared from.
Forgetting about the water, she ran towards the house with her sword still in hand. Glarian looked her direction long before she was visible at the edge of the tree line and patiently waited for her to arrive.
“Who was that Master?” She asked, out of breath.
“I have told you that rash action will lead to your undoing Callindra. If you ran thus to a swordfight you would find your opponent’s blade sheathed in your guts! I will thank you however, for pointing out that I must add some additional endurance training to your daily regimen.”
Callindra calmed her breathing and waited for him to answer her question; barely refraining from grinding her teeth. She swore the old bastard winked at her.
“Good. So you can be patient when it is required. That was an old friend of mine who owed me a favor.”
“Why would a smith owe you favors?” She smiled, he hadn’t been expecting that.
Glarian raised an eyebrow, “Very perceptive apprentice, his name is Belach. He is the finest smith in the known realms.”
“He was making something for you, what was it?” Both his eyes widened sharply and a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“Do you know what day it is today?” She shook her head, “Today is the anniversary of you becoming my disciple. I thought I’d get you a little present to celebrate.”
Callindra followed him inside the house, what could he mean? On the table there was a bundle wrapped in soft suede. She looked up at him and he nodded. The leather revealed the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The blade was a full pace long, gently curved with a single edge that looked sharp enough to slice the wind.
Her hands trembled as she picked it up. The hilt was long enough for both her hands although the blade felt balanced for one handed use. The guard swept back over half the hilt on the edge side and swept up over the back of the blade on the other, making a neat mirror image. Although it looked like it might get in the way, Callindra found it was perfect.
“You’re serious? This is for me?” For once she didn’t care about the tremor in her voice or the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes, “He’s so beautiful.”
Glarian nodded, “Just make sure you take care of him. From this day forward he is the last blade you will wield. As I said, Belach is the finest smith I have ever met and I had him forge this blade specifically for you. He claims the metal came from a fallen star and I see no reason to question him. It’s flexible enough to withstand your power while still being light enough for you to wield.”
Reaching over his shoulder he drew his long straight blade and cradled it tenderly in his weathered hands, “This is Sakar. She is my bonded blade and has carried my honor in more battles than I care to recall. The thing that sets us apart from mere swordfighters is this bond; we choose to limit our study of swordplay only to one unique weapon and that gives us power that they shall never experience. Instead of begging a God for favors like members of Holy Orders or simply relying on our minds to manage the Weave like Mages do we are able to truly harness the power that changes the world.
“For you and I, the element of air is strongest, although I have found other para-elements that respond favorably also. Take care though, if you lose or break this sword, you will lose your power and likely break your spirit.”
“All those weapons…” Callindra’s voice trailed off. There must be two score broken swords, whips, axes and daggers hanging on the wall in the other room. “You took that from all those challengers?”
“Yes.” He watched her intently over the bowl of his pipe, “But I spared their lives. They may fight on and find another way to channel their power or they may give up and live mundane lives. You are the first person I have encountered who has such an affinity with the weave that it forces itself upon you.” His voice fell almost below her hearing, “None as misfortunate as you.”
“I swear this to you now Master Sol’Estin. I shall master both swordplay and blademagic!” Her eyes glowed with imagination, “With you as my instructor and this sword in my hands there is absolutely no way I can fail.”
She felt the winds swirl around her, catching the ragged ends of her hair and making the edge of her shirt ruffle. With a flourish she kissed the flat of the blade as she had read of in a book titled The Swordsman’s Creed and after a sudden gust that blew dust into a swirling cone in the corner the breezes that had teased her for days dissipated. Once they quieted, she realized just how continuous their presence had been and their absence was most disconcerting.
“Now that you have accepted your abilities and chosen your sword, you have the ability to actually accomplish that goal.” He smiled, “I will hold you to that promise Callindra.”
She had the distinct feeling that he had training in mind that would make the training she thought of as intense and rigorous seem as a stroll through the meadow on a summer afternoon.
As Glarian deftly parried a clever strike incorporated into a tight series of feints Callindra called “Oak Leaf Falls” he had to admit she was getting good. He disapproved of her habit of adding unnecessary actions to attacks, but it did add a personal touch to her style and she was now finally able to do it smoothly without causing her to fumble her weapon like it had in the past. “Well done, that’s enough shoulder strikes, let’s do some work on your parry/riposte patterns.” He was taken aback at the sudden wolfish grin on her face.
“I have been working on something; let’s see if I can pull it off.” He moved in swiftly to attack using the first Stance which instead of parrying she smoothly sidestepped, sword moving in a shining arc that would have disemboweled him had the edge and tip not been covered with blunting. At the last second she missed her footing and nearly fell when her left leg buckled under the unforeseen pressure. In spite of the mistake she still looked at him proudly and he realized that this was the first time she had ever scored a hit on him… even when they were practicing the basic Stances.
“Very good Callindra, how did you think of using that type of strike?”
“I’ve been reading The Dance of Blades by Klaret Teria. He wrote of a legendary skill he called Atonement that he described as ‘Showing the opponent the price of Failure.’ The idea being to wait until your foe makes a mistake and take advantage of it. I’m not sure if I could do it against an opponent whose moves I didn’t have memorized or not though. It would be much more difficult but I want to keep practicing it!”
“I can help you but you must be careful. The skill is also called a counter-strike and although it is not well known these days I had nearly mastered it before I left The Order. Keep in mind it was a counter-strike that ended the life of Klaret; never underestimate your opponent’s abilities.”
Glarian’s belief that training this girl was his destiny was only strengthened. She had managed to figure out the rudiments of how to counter without any formal instruction… a skill that he himself was one of the few custodians of. It had to be the Fates taking a hand; things were in motion in the world that could not be stopped.
He was having to push Callindra harder than he would like but without finishing her training she would be unable to defend herself. To his surprise and relief she seemed to be rising to the challenge, even going as far as to assign herself extra training when she thought he wasn’t looking.
Glarian knew The Order wasn’t going to keep taking the information Thaeran was feeding them forever. Even if they knew him to be a bit on the slow side there was no way that he’d bought more than a few months’ time.
The Inquisitors who would be sent next would be much less tolerant, much better trained and far more difficult to deceive. He would likely be reduced to killing them and with the storm he felt was brewing far on the horizon not one single life could be needlessly expended. Misguided and arrogant though The Order might be they could not help but oppose the chaos and destruction he knew was coming.
“Excellent work Callindra. One more set and we shall have our afternoon run.” Glarian had taken to running with her; he needed to increase his endurance as well. After all, the coming storm cared not if those it raged over
were young or old. All would be consumed in its path if all did not stand in its way.
“This time show me what you know of this counter-strike. I want to study and master it as well.” She smiled, an expression that lit her face like a sunrise. “Every time I think I’ve learned something you show me how to take it one step further.”
Glarian wasn’t sure how to respond, so he took refuge in what he knew. “Get a drink of water apprentice. We leave as soon as you’re ready.”
As they ran Glarian began drilling her on the finer points of swordplay, “What is the optimal striking edge?”
“The last three inches towards the tip, moving to the last half inch as the strike completes.”
“Why do you make the cut more shallow the further you slice.”
“To prevent the blade from getting stuck. So you can follow up with another if needed or guard against a counter.” She replied without even having to think.
“What is the proper counter for the Sixth Strike?”
“The Tenth Strike, or step in far enough that the swing is ruined.” She said.
They had reached the stream and she leaped from rock to rock, crossing ahead of him. If he hadn’t known better he would swear she was keeping her footing by magic. Well at least he didn’t have to worry about that leg anymore; although the bone wasn’t exactly straight it didn’t look like it was giving her any trouble.
He considered her answer to his last question as he crossed behind her, imagining what would occur if one stepped inside the wide, gut-level slash of the Sixth. If you were quick enough it just might work, but if you weren’t it would be a death sentence.
“I wouldn’t try gliding in on most opponents. A larger blade is going to give you more ground to cover and a smaller one will be moving swiftly. If you weren’t fast enough you’d likely be sheared in half.” He said.
Callindra glanced over her shoulder and gave him an impish grin, “That’s why I would wait until the attack had begun and then leap over the blade, coming down in the wake of the strike and bringing my sword down on my opponent’s outstretched arms!” She jumped over a low-hanging branch that blocked the trail, drawing her sword and spinning to neatly slice it off less than an inch from the trunk.
“Impressive, I will admit that much. Those kinds of antics will get you killed on a battlefield though. Save the flashy tripe for exhibitions or for when you need to scare off a crowd of untrained ruffians in a town square. Although I wouldn’t recommend killing in a town; constables tend to frown on unexplained bodies.” Glarian tried to frown sternly but luckily she was already turning to continue running down the trail, smoothly sheathing the sword over her shoulder and missed his failed attempt at strictness.
“Everyone will know who I am one day Master. They will have heard of Callindra, the greatest swordswoman who ever put hand to hilt!” Her voice rang with excitement and she gave him a beaming smile over her shoulder.
“I hope that is not the case apprentice, for if you have notoriety then you always have to face down idiots who think they know how to swing a sword. If you want my advice, simply be content with knowing your own skill, use it when you must and maintain a modest demeanor whenever possible.”
“Easy for you to say Old Man!” Her temper flared and he could see the Weave pulling breezes about her body in response. She really was quite odd. “You carry two paces of steel and swing it around like it’s a twig! I’m just a slip of a girl who could be mistaken for a slightly feminine boy, for me a modest demeanor means letting others walk all over me. Or worse.”
“Nay, most who see a man with a sword this size believe he has something to prove. Many of them decide they want to find out what. Being a man makes it difficult to be unobtrusive and carrying a blade this large makes it impossible. Often, a polite and civil bearing is your greatest weapon when upholding the First Oath.”
“Battle shall always be my last resort.” She dutifully repeated.
“My honor belongs to those weaker than myself.” He stated the Second Oath.
“The edge of my sword stands against the Unlawful.” She continued.
“Always seek peace, equilibrium in the world mirroring the balance of my blade.” Glarian said.
“The wind blows impartially on sea and wildfire, on forest and mountain, bringing the seasons to pass. I am as the wind.” They said together, then Glarian continued alone, “And The North Wind names me Master.”
They ran for a time in silence, Glarian pleased to see that she was not fighting for breath even after speaking the Four Oaths and Benediction of the Wind. She was beginning to increase the capacity of her lungs, something she would rely on heavily in a fight.
When she ran into a small clearing ahead of him, he shouted, “Defend yourself!” and drew Sakar, launching a vicious attack.
Callindra spun, drawing her sword, barely able to parry in time. With a smile of pure enjoyment, she threw everything she had into the fight. As they sparred, Glarian began to notice small bursts of Weave being channeled through her body to erupt from her sword. With a series of tightly controlled swings he managed, with difficulty, to
ground her blade and knock her off balance by slamming his shoulder into hers.
“Well fought Callindra, now back to the house double time.” He said, sweeping Sakar back into her sheath and running at a much faster pace back the way they had come.
Soon she would need to leave, to make herself anew, to forge a union with her sword and give him a name. Her power grew every day and unless she managed to Bond her blade it would consume her. He had seen a Blademage who had been unable to bond a weapon once before. The unfortunate man was forced to performing the Second Korumn more and more often in order to relieve the pressure of building power inside. Eventually, it was nearly continuous for him; the weave barely allowing him time to eat.
The end was abrupt and brutal, exhaustion causing him to make a fatal misstep. One mistake followed another and the Power that ran through him first claimed the blade he was wielding and then his own body. His power was a candle beside the raging bonfire that Callindra commanded, but even so it had torn him into bits too small to be recognizable.
Glarian decided he would instruct her in the first of the true spells she would be able to use. It was dangerous to do so without the Sigil that would one day be integrated into the pommel of her sword, but it would give her a head start once she and her sword established their final rapport.