The next morning, Callindra awoke later than she had intended. She shuffled out of her room into the common room between her and the boys room in her underthings, feeling a little disoriented. Looking out the window, she saw that the courtyard below was empty of the practicing figures she had seen the day before.
Pulling on rumpled breeches and wrapping her chest tightly, she looked blearily around the room. She found a plate of fruit and ate an apple, core and all while staring down at the practice yard.
“Damn, I didn’t ask how to get there last night.” She muttered, helping herself to a glass of water from the pitcher on the table. “Well nothing for it but to jump.” She grinned, slung her sword belt over her back and leaped out of the window, the winds whipping around her body as she fell.
She landed in the courtyard lightly, whipping Brightfang from his sheath with a flourish. “Awesome, there are even practice dummies!”
“Indeed. What is your name girl?” A low voice sounded behind her.
She spun to face the man, moving her sword into a guard Stance.
“Easy, you are the one intruding upon my practice grounds.” She had seen this man the day before, striding through the drilling acolytes with a severe look on his face. He was the only one who hadn’t been wearing armor, his only protection was a massive shield strapped to his back. The top was almost a foot above his head and the bottom nearly dragged on the ground.
“My apologies sir.” She sheathed her sword with practiced ease. “I meant no offense, I was merely looking for a place to work my morning Korumn.”
His eyebrows rose briefly, then his eyes narrowed slightly. “Show me then.”
Unsure what to make of his scrutiny, she walked to the middle of the courtyard and sat with Brightfang across her knees. Her morning meditation came easily here in spite of the breezes that tickled her neck and played with the ragged ends of her hair.
When the First Korumn was finished, she rose and began moving through the Stances, eyes almost closed, feeling the passage of the air over her body. Brightfang’s tip whistled through the air, as she moved, and she almost missed the slight sound to her right. She jerked him to a stop just before his razor sharp edge cut into her observer’s scalp.
“What are you doing, moving into the line of a practicing sword fighter? Are you mad?” She could feel the energy that she had built in the first half of her practice quivering within her sword.
“Just testing to see if you had any control.” He snorted, “You wouldn’t have had the chance to cut me.” She looked above him to see the bulk of his shield.
“There’s no way you could move that monster fast enough to stop me. It’s on your back!” She said, “You took a serious risk you know, I’m still just an apprentice.”
“Just because it’s on my back doesn’t mean it’s not still protecting me.” He shifted his weight forward and the shield slipped slightly to cover most of his head. With a practiced motion he swung it off his back to land between them with a resounding thud.
“Those moves look pretty polished, but I know from experience that polish isn’t always a good thing. Makes you predictable, which is something you can’t afford to be in a real battle.”
“Look, if you want to spout some lecture save it for your initiates or whatever you call them.” Callindra said, tossing her head irritably, “I just came here to practice. Without practice I get a little too unpredictable.”
A stray wind whipped across the practice grounds, strong enough to set the dummies dancing on their ropes. “I’d rather not waste the morning away with idle chatter.” She said.
He moved to a nearby bench, carrying his shield as though it wasn’t a six foot wall of steel. Instead of sitting, he set the shield down and leaned on it. Callindra gave him a level look, then rolled her eyes and resumed her Stances. The Korumn flowed easily and at the end she felt refreshed, ready for the day and more importantly as though she had managed to put somewhat of a leash on her fractious connection to the Weave.
“Now that dance class is over, let’s spar.” She had forgotten the shield-toting instructor was there, he hadn’t even moved while she was practicing. He had a heavy wooden mallet in one hand and was lifting that monstrous shield with the other.
“Dance class? Big talk for a man hiding behind a castle portcullis!” She stood lightly on the balls of her feet, Brightfang’s edge glittering like a gemstone. “I am Callindra Sol’Estin of Glarian Sol’Estin. I am two years old. The wind hones my edge and guides my steps. My enemies bend before me like reeds before a gale.”
Now she was certain she saw his eyebrows raise, but she was too busy launching an all-out attack to give it any thought. Just as she had predicted, the sheer mass of his tower shield made it nearly impossible for her to reach him. She did manage to put a few notches around the edges and make it ring like a bell though.
The blur of the mallet’s motion was too fast for her to even think about dodging. Her opponent used the bulk of his shield to mask his attack until the last second, the steel bound end of the mallet hit her shoulder like a charging bull, sending her sprawling on the ground. She rolled and came up smoothly to her feet, only to find she had to leap backward to avoid another blow.
How had he closed on her so fast? That shield must weigh as much as a horse but it had been foolish of her to believe carrying it would make him slow. Just as her feet touched the ground, he seemed to appear before her, still running full tilt.
His shield connected with a solid head to toe blow, knocking her flat on her back with the wind rushing from her lungs.
Callindra tried to shake off the shock and pain that dazed her, it was all she could do to roll to one side as she felt more than heard the mallet slam into the turf where her head had just been. Was he truly trying to kill her? The thought made her break out into a cold sweat.
She had to be faster. Rolling to her feet, she was grimly satisfied that all her training had paid off; she still held fast to Brightfang’s hilt. Her opponent was a few feet away, giving her just enough time to act. She ran to her right, circling him as fast as she could, but moving ever closer. Instead of trying to attack, she was waiting for him to make a move.
The instant his right arm was visible, she jumped to the left, completely changing her direction, leaping over his attack and slashing Brightfang in a flashing arc. The head of the mallet was neatly separated from the shaft, Callindra grimaced, she had been aiming for his wrist. She landed lightly and immediately sprinted in the other direction again, dodging the edge of the shield as it slammed into the ground.
She had removed one weapon, but he treated that shield like a much more deadly one. She needed to be more unpredictable. With a madcap grin, she ran toward him, calling up arcane energies from the flat of her blade. Just before she was within range of a shield bash she released a blast of wind that should have knocked him over. Dust exploded in a cloud in the courtyard, making it difficult to see.
Callindra attempted to jump over her opponent, but ended up coming up short and landing on the top edge of his shield. Trying to take advantage of her mistake she brought her sword down, attempting to force him to surrender. To her surprise, a burly hand grabbed her forearm and flung her flat on her back, twisting her wrist as it did so and sending Brightfang tumbling from her grip.
When she had recovered from the brutal full body impact with the ground, she could see the cloud of dust had settled and the man who had so completely defeated her was nowhere to be seen. A group of novices had arrived and were righting racks of weapons and shields, sweeping dirt and dust from a cobbled square and raking the earthen practice grounds smooth.
“What’s your name?” A burly youth in a simple grey smock asked, offering her a hand up.
She back flipped to her feet, landing next to her sword, “Where I come from, it is customary to introduce yourself before asking another’s name.” Picking up Brightfang, she carefully inspected him. The wrapping on his hilt appeared to be a little loose.
“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I’m Tam.” He said, “That was quite the show you put on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone disarm the Sargent before.”
“You all use blunt weapons, it would be difficult for you. Besides, I missed. I was aiming for his arm.” She saw the shock register on his face, “I’m Callindra.”
“Ca lin drah?” He seemed to be rolling her name around in his mouth, “Callindra, why were you trying to cut the Sargent’s arm off?”
“He was trying to kill me Tam. If I hadn’t rolled away… I swear, that mallet came within inches of my head.”
Tam chuckled, “You aren’t the first to mistake his actions for killing intent. He just wanted you to stop holding back. How did you do that anyway?”
He gestured to the general disarray of the courtyard, overturned benches, spilled weapon racks and now she saw trenches on either side of a section of untouched ground. Her blast of wind hadn’t managed to dislodge her opponent and instead had been deflected around his shield, carving twin trenches in the packed earth of the practice ground and destroying the neat order of the equipment along the walls.
“Northwind style.” She said shortly, it had been reckless for her to use magic in a city as large as this one. Tam looked at her a little askance, but before he could comment further she asked, “Is there a bath somewhere around here? I need to clean up, we’re leaving today and Gods know when I’ll be able to bathe again.”
“Yeah, if you help me rake I’ll show you where it is.” He said with a grin.
“Fine. I guess it’s my mess anyway.” She sheathed Brightfang stiffly, her left shoulder was going to be one big bruise from that mallet strike. At least the bone hadn’t broken, though from the way it felt it had been a near miss.
Taking a loose toothed rake from the wall, she helped Tam level the grounds. In about a half hour they had smoothed out the worst of it and left two other apprentices to sprinkle water and pack it with large stone rollers.
“Bath is through here.” Tam said, walking in to a large changing area. There was no door on the entrance and Callindra could see a few men and women with damp hair getting dressed. Huh, a mixed bath.
She wasn’t wearing much, just her chest wrap, over shirt and under breeches and it only took her a few moments to disrobe. There were cubbies for personal effects, and she folded her clothes and laid her sheathed sword on top, wrapped in his baldric.
“I wish I had brought a change of clothes.” She muttered, then turned toward the bath. Tam was staring at her wide eyed.
“What?” She asked, looking at the mixed company in the changing room. “Never seen a naked girl before?”
“I – uh” he blushed, “I thought you were a boy. Sorry.”
Callindra shrugged, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
She sat on a wooden stool and scrubbed the dirt and sweat away, trying to ignore Tam’s scrutiny, before rinsing and padding to the wide pool of steaming water for a good hot soak. Now that she was covered in water up to her neck Tam seemed a little less awkward.
“So you’re a sword fighter eh? That’s pretty cool.”
“Mmm.” The water must have soothing herbs or minerals or something in it, Callindra could feel the pain of her shoulder and her other scrapes and bruises easing.
“You must have seen quite a bit of action. Because of all your scars I mean.”
“Most of those are from training, the ones that aren’t from whippings when I was a kid anyway. But the biggest ones are from the road. Kobolds.” She raised her leg out of the water to point to the newly healed shallow cut that ran across her thigh.
“Whoa, that looks nasty.” He said, then his brow furrowed, “Your master gave you scars? What the hell kind of training is that?”
Callindra smirked and sunk back into the water. “My training wounds were all self-inflicted. Learning to wield a sword is a lot different that learning to use a hammer, and learning this fighting style is even more dangerous than normal swordplay. It suits my reckless nature, or at least that’s what I’ve always thought.” Well that’s what Glarian had always jokingly said. Thinking of him gave her a pang of loneliness.
She sat and soaked, mumbling answers to Tam’s curious questions and breathing in the thick steam that rose from the water. At the edge of hearing she could discern a voice, layered with disdain.
“-believe he is sending these children on a mission of this import!” This voice was high to the point of being shrill.
“Who else is there? We need the experienced hands we have here to train the initiates and the rest of our able bodied fighters who could be trusted with this task are currently committed to the field.” This voice was low, almost too quiet for her to hear.
“It’s better not to send anyone than to send these untried kids. The risk that they will ruin any further communication with the ancients is more than we can afford.”
“I disagree. They have definite potential. I tested one of them today as a matter of fact; she’s reckless, disrespectful and dangerous.” The voice paused, “But she has more strength in her than she knows.”
“Master Sergeant, I cannot condone-“
“Nobody is asking for your permission Deacon. It has been decided. The Biscop has spoken.”
The voices drifted off and Callindra felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the water. He thought she had potential did he? She grinned, “Well I had better get back to my companions. I’m sure if I don’t return soon they won’t let me eat before we leave for the ruins of Lin Lamorak.”
“Lin Lamorak?” Tam goggled at her, “Wait, you’re with … you are traveling with The Te’Chern?”
“Yeah, Tryst recruited us in Thornehold. I gather we just had to come here to get the instructions from the biscuit or whatever himself.” She stretched languidly. “Damn they put something in this water don’t they? It’s so relaxing.”
“You’re traveling with The Te’Chern?” His voice rose an octave, “I don’t believe it! I – uh no disrespect for making you help out there. I didn’t know who you were and…”
“What? That? It was nothing, this bath was totally worth the effort.”
“Do you have spare clothing? I will get your spare clothing, and make sure your soiled clothes are washed before you leave.” He scrambled out of the bath, “Just stay here and I’ll be right back. I’ll be right back.”
Callindra watched him rush out of the room, barely stopping to grab a towel on the way. Priests were weird she decided, even warrior priests. She soaked for a while, letting the water work its magic on her sore muscles and then reluctantly exited the pool, drying herself with a rough towel and padding back to the locker area.
Tam had taken her clothes but left a clean robe underneath Brightfang. She shrugged into it with an indifferent sigh and wondered how the hells she was going to get back to her room. She sighed again, deciding there was nothing to do but wait for Tam to return.
In a few minutes he came back into the room at a run, carrying a bundle of things in his hands. “Sorry it took so long, when I went to your room your … brother? gave me the supplies you asked for and your armor too.”
He set down a tall pair of boots, a set of thick leather greaves for her thighs along with her breastplate and a pile of clothes.
“Thanks Tam. He’s not my brother, unless brother in arms counts though.” She took off the robe and began dressing. The boots were a surprisingly good fit, they had a half dozen buckles that kept them tight to her calves all the way up to the knee the greaves felt strange on her thighs but didn’t seem to impede her movement as she had feared they might.
“Can you get this buckle?” Callindra asked, motioning to one of the sides of her breastplate, “It’s a pain in the ass to get completely tight.”
Tam hesitated but cinched her armor tight, his eyes going slightly wide. “Do you need anything else?”
“Just directions to my room. I sorta jumped out the window instead of using the stairs this morning.” She said, fastening her baldric over her shoulder and smiling at the shocked look on his face.
“But. Your room is on the third floor.”
“Really? It didn’t seem that high up to me.” She said with a grin, “Can you show me the way?”
“Uh yeah.” He turned and hurried into the building with her following close behind.