Sweat streamed from every pore, stinging a myriad of tiny cuts on Callindra’s arms and torso. She had stripped down to small clothes and her chest wrap for complete freedom of movement and that was the only thing that had kept her from getting worse injuries. Her opponent stood calmly without a drop of sweat or one single cut on her body. Despite the ferocity of the fight she felt invigorated, perhaps it was the Goddess’s gift that was helping her.
“Blademaster eh? Well you’re a lot better than I am but I’ve fought tougher.” She decided it was time to play her trump card, despite feeling good, she knew from experience that her stamina would only go so far and she should be near her limit. She settled back into one of her forms; Falcon Soars Above the Mountain; and waited for what she hoped was coming, her right hand pointed at the ground and her left holding Brightfang toward the sky.
“This will be our last exchange. That ridiculous stance is making it clear to me that you’re desperate. Prepare yourself girl.” The Blademaster swept in, sword held low aiming for Callindra’s midsection.
Instead of blocking, Callindra moved in, taking two complete strides aided by a harsh gust of wind from behind her; an unexpected bonus. The speed of her motion meant instead of contacting the edge of the Blademaster’s sword she was struck by her arm. Callindra swung her blade up towards her opponents’ neck, stopping inches from her skin as the other woman’s sword skittered across the ground.
A sharp pain and the feel of something warm running down her side made Callindra’s breath catch in her throat. She looked down and saw the Master’s secondary blade drawing blood from her ribs. She had forgotten about the second sword. The Blademaster hesitated for a moment and then broke out laughing and withdrew her blade,
“That was the stupidest move I’ve ever seen. If I’d been quicker or you’d been slower you would be dead. There’s no way I would have been able to halt my strike, but you knew that didn’t you? You’ve got guts girl, but you’re altogether too reckless and impulsive. Typically human. Let that be a lesson to all of you.”
She turned to look at the assembled fighters, “Never underestimate your opponent, especially when your opponent is a human. They are unpredictable and that makes them even more dangerous, never count on them to run when you think they should. Regardless of my opinion of this one personally, she at least has my respect as a swordswoman.”
Callindra gave her a flashy salute followed by a short bow from the waist while she sheathed Brightfang. “I am in your debt Blademaster. I have learned valuable lessons today, the most important being ask who an elf’s parents are before leaping several hundred feet off a tree limb just to help them make a grand entrance.”
A chuckle rippled through the elves and Callindra continued. “Give your son a chance, he’s got guts too. Don’t underestimate someone just because they’re weaker than you think they should be.”
She turned to Edelweiss and gave him a grin. “Maybe once you earn your blades you and I can spar. I’m already a couple years ahead of you so you’ll have to work hard if you don’t want me to kick your butt. Can you show me how to get back to my room? I’ve gotta admit this tree has me a little turned around.”
“I’ll walk her out mother.” He said, “It’s no trouble.”
Yeah, Callindra decided. Way too pretty to be a boy.
As she followed Edelweiss back to her rooms, Callindra realized his mother, the Blademaster, had taught her another valuable lesson. She was not ready to pursue Glarian. If she couldn’t even stand against a sword wielding Elf, how would she possibly fare against someone as powerful as Dergeras?
“Here are your rooms Lady Callindra.” Edelweiss said, bowing slightly and looking at her with no attempt to disguise his admiration for her.
Callindra shifted uncomfortably, she didn’t feel like a Lady, hells she wasn’t a Lady. Standing there wearing nothing but her sweaty smallclothes with a multitude of itchy cuts all over her arms she didn’t feel like anything but a chastised apprentice. She idly scratched at one of the cuts and started at what she felt. There were leaves growing from it!
Looking down in mild shock, she saw that tiny vines had begun to stitch the wounds shut, their roots acting as sutures that forced the skin together and bound it tight. Her shock gave way to amazement and she laughed out loud.
“This is the gift Jorda gave to me?” She asked, delighted. “I thought she was just trying to lecture me on being pretty…”
The Elf boy was staring at her now that he’d also seen what was happening. “A real Godsblessing.” He breathed, “Not just the adornment but a true Brightstar Crown. I’ve never seen a real one before.”
When he seemed almost on the verge of reaching out to touch one of the slashes his mother had cut into her arm, Callindra shook free of her astonished reverie. “Well, I will have to think of a way to properly express my gratitude.” She said, “Thanks for showing me back here, I’d never have made it on my own.”
Edelweiss jerked his hand back, a pale pink blush spreading over his alabaster cheeks. “Of course Lady Callindra.” He said, all formality again.
She laughed softly and tousled his hair, “I’m no Lady.” She said, opening the door and striding into the room. Her brothers were sitting at the table in the main room, breaking their fast with a light meal of porridge and fruit.
“Been out causing trouble already?” Cronos asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course!” She said with an impish smile, “Edelweiss would you care to join…” She trailed off, the Elf boy had already gone.
“Who are you speaking to?” Vilhylm asked, looking curiously past her into the empty hallway.
“Oh just the young Elf who led me back to our rooms after I caused all the trouble.” She replied, sitting down heavily on a chair and pouring herself a mug of water.
“I was only joking about the trouble.” Cronos said. She raised an eyebrow at him and he had the grace to give her a lopsided grin, “OK, only partially joking. What happened?”
Between bites of porridge and fruit, she relayed her tale to them, leaving out the bit where she had thought Edelweiss a girl. There was no need for them to think her a fool.
“That was reckless and foolish!” Tryst exclaimed with much more edge in his voice than he usually displayed, “We are honored guests here, but that’s no reason to go about insulting people. Really Callindra, I would have thought that even you would show more wisdom than that.”
His words stung more than she wanted to admit. “I didn’t mean to.” She said, her good mood evaporating, “It just sort of happened.”
Tryst took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming himself. “Well what’s done is done. From what you say it sounds like you at least managed to gain a bit of their respect. Now let’s see those wounds.”
“There’s no need.” She said, for some reason not wanting to disclose the Goddess’s gift to him, “I’m fine.”
“Nonsense, I can see the holes in your clothes Callindra. I’ll get my kit.” He was standing when she sighed and pulled up her sleeve.
“Son of a pox ridden sailor.” Cronos said, staring at the greenery that was sprouting from the cuts. Vilhylm and Tryst just looked at her wide-eyed.
“It’s somehow connected to this.” She tugged at the tiara of flowers in her hair, “Edelweiss called it a Brightstar Crown or something.”
“Take it off, I want to see it.” Cronos said, leaning forward eagerly.
“Ummm… as far as I can tell it doesn’t really come off?” Callindra said, “I tried to take it off before but it’s like it has grown into my hair.”
“Your hair.” Vilhylm said, and when she looked at him with a confused expression on her face he pointed. “It’s at least six inches longer than it was last night.”
Callindra turned her head quickly and felt her hair brush her shoulders. Her hair hadn’t been this long since she was a child. Of course when she was a child there hadn’t been tiny tendrils of Brightstar vine growing in her hair.
“How did it grow so quickly?” She marveled aloud and then shook her head at her own foolishness, of course Jorda’s magic was involved. “But why make it long? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well she did lecture you on being more girly right?” Cronos said with a grin, “Maybe she’s just trying to force you to be more like a girl.”
“That’s just silly Cronos, most of the Elf boys wear their hair as long as the girls.” Callindra said, “Maybe that’s it. Maybe it is just making me more like the Elves or something.”
They ate in silence for a few more moments, her friends refraining from any more teasing and she lost in silent thought. Finally, Callindra sat back with a wooden cup of water with freshly crushed mint leaves in it and thumbed her pipe full of tac. She looked at her brothers and blew twin streams of smoke from her nostrils.
“Tryst, I want to come with you to find these… artifacts that Jorda told us about.” His eyebrows raised and he opened his mouth to speak, but she continued before he could interrupt. “I know I don’t have what it takes to stand against Dergeras yet. I also am not foolish enough to think that I could take him on without your help. All of your help.”
Her friends were silent for a long moment and she began to fear they were going to refuse. When she looked into their faces she didn’t see what she had feared. Tryst looked determined. Cronos eager. Vilhylm afraid, but pleased.
“Of course.” Tryst said, “Of course we will help you.”
“I have a bit of payback to give that bastard.” Cronos said with a gleam in his eye.
“He is dangerous, you are right to ask for our help.” Said Vilhylm, “It may be my death, however some things must be opposed and I believe Dergeras is one of those things.”
“First we help Tryst with his mission.” Callindra said firmly, trying to hold back the tears of gratitude that stung her eyes as she looked at her friends. “If we’re to have a chance at victory something tells me we’ll need Gode on our side.”
“It’s settled then.” Said Tryst with a relieved smile, “I will be happy to have you by my side my friends.”