She walked out the front door of the inn, noting the sign read “Empty Keg” before strolling towards the market place. Even this early the sounds of hawkers crying their wares filled the air as many folk looking similar to her were making their way in the same direction. Callindra realized that she was likely the youngest looking person here, although she was willing to bet some of the boys were younger in spite of being nearly twice her size.
“Watch it you!” A man yelled, bumping into her, “Show some respect for your elders!”
“Please accept my apologies grandfather.” Callindra replied with a sardonic grin, “I was careless.” He was hardly old enough to be her father, and his face reddened with anger at her slight.
In a twinkling, he had a dagger drawn. “I should teach a little chit like you some respect perhaps?” Two more men emerged from an alley, leading Callindra to suspect this wasn’t the first time they’d run this little game.
“Yeh gotta pay fer disrespec lil un. Fee’s six gold.” Said the first.
“Ifn yeh aint got it then we’ll just take tha sword.” The second said.
Callindra swept Brightfang from his sheath in a blur of shining steel, knocking the dagger aside with ease. Compared to sparring with Glarian this was going to be nothing.
“Three on one does not seem like fair odds!” A voice with rich timbre sounded behind her. Callindra half turned and saw a wall of polished steel chainmaile that reflected the morning sunlight and a shield that seemed unnaturally bright. The man’s face was almost beautiful, his rich blue surcoat had no sigil but she was pretty sure he was in a knightly order.
“I don’t need your help Sir Knight; this scum will likely run before their blood fills the gutter.” The men looked slightly nervous.
“Alas I am not a knight; however there is perhaps some assistance I can render if necessary.” He drew a huge hammer from where it rested in a reinforced loop on his belt, then dropped it to the ground with a thud that she swore she could feel reverberate through her feet. “I must warn you that I will not allow anyone to be killed. From the look of things I may be forced to restrain you young lady.”
“Alas I am no lady, and if you attempt to restrain me I am not responsible for the injuries you will sustain.” Callindra said.
“Your voice could raise frost on this shield I believe.” The man said, “Our conversation seems to have deprived you of entertainment however.”
Callindra saw that her would-be assailants had melted back into the crowd, some of whom were still watching in hopes that there would be a fight. She sheathed her sword and extended her hand.
“I’m Callindra Sol’Estin.” It was customary for an apprentice to assume the surname of her Master once out in the world and she had decided that she was taking it even if Glarian wasn’t here to give his approval.
“Tryst Te’Chern.” He grasped her hand firmly, “You really should watch yourself in this city Callindra. There are many who would try to take advantage of you.”
“Yes, they may try, and if they have the brains of a dung beetle they may live to run away. I won’t be here for long and by the time I’m leaving I’m sure my company will take care of me. Thanks for your concern though Tryst.” Callindra turned to go.
“Wait, if you are looking for employment in a mercenary company perhaps I can be of assistance. I have been asked by the leader of my Temple to find worthy associates for an important task. Mayhap the Gods have had a hand in our meeting?” He said, carefully restoring his hammer to the loop on his belt.
“I don’t think so Tryst. I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe in Gods. I live by the edge of my sword, the worth of my training and the strength of my body.”
“Is that so? How then did you come to this place? Your garb suggests a slightly more… wild upbringing.” He quirked an eyebrow, an expression that would have made most men look silly but simply made his face seem even more innocent and attractive. “Of course I mean no offence.”
“I’m not sure, but I expect my Master had a hand in it and if that old man is a God then I’m afraid you’d be disappointed in your faith.” Callindra replied, “If I can’t find a company here that fits my needs where can I find you?”
“Leave me a message at the Temple to Harn and I will get it.” Tryst said, “There is something about you that leads me to believe you will join me Callindra. I sense in you the strength and daring needed for a task this dangerous.”
She watched him stride purposefully down the street, wondering what the task he had mentioned entailed in spite of herself. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have that mountain of metal on her side.
It was late afternoon and Callindra was tired, thirsty and frustrated. The only companies that had even allowed her to try out insisted that she was too young to campaign and would have to spend at least an additional year or two training before she was permitted to fight. She’d had enough training, she needed to be in combat if she was going to progress fast enough to catch Glarian.
She leaned against the side of a building with a sigh, enjoying the shade for a moment. A door opened and she started to move away before the shop keep could rebuke her for loitering.
“Callindra? Is that you?” She recognized the voice of the priest who had attempted to rescue her earlier in the day. “I didn’t expect you to come so quickly. Come inside and take some refreshment.”
Tryst wasn’t wearing his armor, now he was clad in a simple but well-fitting linen tunic and trousers with the sigil of a shining shield on the breast.
“Sorry Tryst, I didn’t mean to come here. I was merely seeking a moment’s shade before pressing on.” She said, fearing that if she entered it would give the man the wrong idea. She still intended to find her own way in the world.
“Oh.” His face fell, “I was hoping… well, no matter. Come inside anyway, I can offer you shade and cool wine before you continue your search. Our door is open to all without obligation.”
With a cautious glance, Callindra could indeed see that the doors seemed to be rusted open. These hinges had not been moved for a long time. “Thank you Tryst, I’ll take you up on that.”
Once inside the temple Tryst moved in an unhurried stride, even so Callindra found herself having to trot to keep up as she took two steps for each one of his. The furnishings were austere; the only decorations were hammers and shields, each one with a plaque detailing the accomplishments and eventual demise of the wielder.
He led her to a simple room, apparently a common eating area of some sort. There were a few similarly attired men and women sitting in quiet conversation. Callindra was painfully aware that she was the only outsider present, even though nobody made an issue of it. Tryst sat at a table and poured two cups of wine, taking a sip and gesturing to the seat across from him.
“Thanks, I was getting parched out there.” She said, accepting the cup and sitting gratefully, “So tell me about this mission of yours.”
Tryst gave her a quizzical look, “I thought you weren’t interested?”
“Well I figure if I’m enjoying your shade and drinking your wine I should at least listen to what you have to say. Besides if we don’t have some kind of conversation it’s going to be a touch awkward don’t you think?” She sipped the wine and found it to be a simple, yet refreshing white.
“I’m sure you have heard tales of destruction in the North, but even more troubling is what’s not being said. My order has seen and fought demons there with terrible causalities. Creatures that burned from within, infecting others with the bright green flames of abyssal fire even as they died.”
“I was always taught that Gode and Onde, the elder gods kept the world in balance and would not allow devils or angels to touch it.”
“Here I thought you didn’t believe in Gods?” Tryst gave her that quizzical look again and she blushed in spite of herself, “Regardless of that, with so many of us busy fighting there are few left to undertake tasks for the Biscop and so I am forced to recruit from outside our walls.”
“I’ve never met a God, therefore I don’t have any reason to believe in them.” She said.
“How sad to believe in so little.” Tryst said, “If I only acknowledged that which I could see I would limit myself to almost nothing.”
“As for your Biscop, what is the task he asks of you? Or can’t you tell me unless I agree?” Callindra asked, leaning back against the cool stones of the wall.
“I don’t know the details, only that they wish me to gather capable companions and venture west. I have heard rumors though that they are trying to make contact with some older powers.” He lowered his voice, “I think they want me to contact the forest folk, the Old Ones.”
Callindra laughed, “The Fey haven’t existed for an age, if they even existed at all! Your superiors can’t expect us to find something that isn’t there.”
“Demons walk among us, I have heard it from the mouths of men whose word is above reproach.” Tryst said gravely, “Something is changing Callindra, and I fear things will get worse before they get better.”
“So who else have you found to assist you on this errand? When do you leave?” She asked, not entirely certain why she was entertaining the idea of joining him.
“I have a pair of warriors. You can meet them if you choose to join us; I will allow them to introduce themselves.” Said Tryst, “We leave first light day after tomorrow. I must be in the main cathedral in a fortnight’s time.”
Callindra finished her wine and stood with a smile, “I don’t know why, but I’m thinking about joining you Tryst.”
“I do hope you will come with us Callindra, I believe we would benefit from your impulsive spirit.” He said with a wry grin.
“You sound like an old man Tryst, if your companions are anything like you I think I’d go insane after a couple of days.”
“Or perhaps we would be a calming influence upon you. There must be balance in all things Callindra.”
“If I calm down I’m likely to be destroyed. I’ve only survived this long by being unpredictable.” With that she turned and walked quickly out the door without waiting for his response.
On her way back to the Empty Keg, Callindra walked through a different part of the city. She partially wanted to scout for some other mercenary companies but had also just wanted to explore a little. By some random chance she happened down a row of shops carrying arms and armor. When she paused to look at a set of leather armor, the proprietor all but chased her off.
“I don’t do custom work here, only basic fittings and I don’t carry anything for females!” He said, scowling at her ragtag appearance.
“I wouldn’t want to buy something with that kind of sloppy stitching.” She retorted, “This looks like it would fall apart just from being worn, I’d hate to see what would happen if someone struck it with a blade.”
The man appeared to be choking on his own tongue but the man standing in the door of the shop next door laughed. “Looks like she’s got your number Kerrik! Come here girl, I’ve got the quality you’re looking for.”
Callindra sauntered across to him, adjusting her baldric with a smirk. When she stepped into the room, she could immediately see this man was selling very good work. She could also see there was no way she would ever be able to afford anything he would be selling.
“Amazing. I’ve never seen craftsmanship like this before.” She said, “I wish I could buy some.”
“I think I might have something that would suit you.” He replied, “I can’t sell it because it’s not complete and the Lord who ordered it has decided to purchase merchandise of lesser quality.”
“I really can’t afford to buy…” Her voice trailed off as he opened a cabinet and withdrew a full upper body set of leather armor. Beautifully tooled with a delicate pattern along every edge, it was dark brown and had royal blue highlights.
“It was made for the Lord’s daughter. For when she went hawking I gather, but when he realized the price wouldn’t be negotiable simply because he had a title and he could find others to do decorative work for less he refused to pay. I haven’t been able to find anyone slight enough of form that it would fit but I think this might just work for you.” He unlaced the pauldrons from the breastplate and held it out to her.
Knowing she couldn’t afford it didn’t stop Callindra from unbuckling Brightfang and carefully setting him within easy reach. With the shop keep’s help, she put the breastplate on and adjusted the buckles so that it would fit her properly. It hugged her body as though it had been designed specifically for her. There was even a set of straps to affix her baldric in place over the right shoulder.
“It’s beautiful. I can’t believe how well it fits.” She said, bending and feeling the armor flex with her. “How do you get it to be this strong and yet so supple at the same time?”
“That’s the secret of good leather armor, or any armor really. It has to be sturdy enough to turn a blow but still leave the wearer sufficiently mobile to fight to her full potential.” He was studying her closely and reached out to tighten one of the buckles before settling the pauldrons over her shoulders and fitting them in place.
With the armor completely strapped down, Callindra felt invincible. The thick boiled and waxed leather would turn most blows she was unwary or unlucky enough to allow to land but it seemed to barely impede her movement at all.
“I knew I’d saved this for a reason, he is going to die of apoplexy when he sees you wearing this.” He chuckled, “What’s your name girl?”
“I – uh Callindra.” She responded, a bit taken aback by the look on his face.
“No, your full name. I know you’ve been formally trained just by the way you walk, but the way your sword moves with you is a dead giveaway. Your trainer did tell you about Naming right?”
“I took my Master’s name. I am Callindra Sol’Estin, and you are?”
“Gerard Markson.” His eyebrows rose slightly and he extended his hand. She shook it firmly, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Callindra. OK, I’ll make you a deal. You attend the Trials this afternoon and wear this armor. If anyone asks you where you got it from you tell them from Markson. If you win, I’ll give it to you for free.”
“What? Why would you do that?” She touched the armor almost reverently, “This is … I’ve seen what your work is worth. I don’t think I can accept it.” The regret she felt was palpable.
“You’ll get my name out there a little more, especially when you win. You can win can’t you?”
“I don’t know what these Trials are, but if it’s a fight then I will win.” She smiled dangerously, “If I have this kind of incentive then I’m guaranteed to win.”
“Good, it’s settled then. Make sure you get someone to help you adjust it before you get in there, otherwise it’ll throw you off.” She could hear him mutter under his breath, “He’ll never live this down, the bastard.”
“What was that?” She asked, wondering what other strings might be attached.
“Lord Graylocke will be completely humiliated when you are seen wearing this armor. After all, it has his House colors and similar patterns to his Crest but you are certainly not his daughter. Of course I waited to make the final additions that would complete it as a registered piece of Graylocke regalia, so you are technically allowed to wear it.” Gerard said.
“I’d wear it even if I wasn’t allowed! Armor like this is wasted simply sitting in a cupboard.” Callindra smiled, “I’ll put it to good use.”