Interlude 2: A New Trick
“There are people coming,” I said coming to a standing position. It was early morning. I’d been talking all night.
Gem stood up and went to check the windows. I was faster. The glren and speakers had appeared on the road – upon seeing the bodies of the other glren, their pace had quickened.
“It’s Speaker Atalla. He’s here to take you out of my custody into his.”
I spotted the Speaker of the High Chair clearly among his men. His Speaker robes were trimmed gold. They showed brightly in the morning sunlight.
“I think we should greet him,” I said. My check wound had ceased bleeding hours ago. I had found a knife on the mantle of the fire place and nicked my right forearm with it. I still tasted the blood from that wound.
“Are you sure you want to do this? We could just run?”
He’s scared, Marcela said, talking about Speaker Attalla. He was now standing just behind the front ranks of his men who had formed up in front of the white house.
“Where would we run to?” I asked Gem.
“Stormbreaker Hold would give us shelter.”
“That is a journey we are not prepared for.”
You could always just scare them off if your blood isn’t thick enough to kill them. Marcela taunted me.
“I think I’ll say hello,” I said moving to the door. At some point during the night I had traded my church cloak for a dark tunic and black coat that fit me a little long.
Holding onto all my Hemomancies I stepped from the house. Before they could respond I buffeted them with a hard wind. It threw many off their feet – shook up others – but mainly it asserted that I was dangerous. I wanted this to go peacefully.
“Speaker of the High Chair Essen Attalla, it’s been what, a few days since we last saw each other?” I said as Speaker Attalla returned to a standing position and straightened out his robes.
“More recently for me than you.” Speaker Attalla said. “You were in a much preffered state of being then, I can assure you. Is the Princess dead?”
“I’m fine,” Gem said coming to stand at the foot of the steps between me and Speaker Attalla’s men. I recognized one of the glren. His name was Jamison, he had been a friend at the Church.
Is your old friend why you won’t simply drive them off, I could show you a way of doing just that. Memories flashed through my consciousness that weren’t mine, as Marcela shared her secrets with me.
It was a rather nice autumn morning. The manor had an orchard out back, I could smell it. I spied it the night before but I smelt the ripe apples now. My mind didn’t appear to want to deal with the matter at hand either.
“What’s Speaker Skagora… trying to do?” Speaker Attalla asked Gem more than me.
Gem looked at me.
Do something! Marcela complained.
I sat down on the deck and took hold of Fire and of Mind. Soon Attalla’s men, as well as Attalla, were scrambling for safety. Hallucinations of great fire conjured beasts filled their eyes. The heat they felt was a real as any they had felt in life.
One Glren remained.
“If you want to join us Jay you’re welcome, I’m just telling the story of how all this happened.”
“I’d like to hear that,” Jamison answered me.
I nodded and entered the white house once again. Gem followed and soon after Jamison was sitting with us around the fire.
Chapter 13: To the High Church
We set off several days before the Ball with a month left in the year. It was a six day trip up river to Dock Town, then a two week ride north to the High Church. The Church’s boats which sailed the Eliar River were large and quick, manned by many rowers. I passed the river ride almost entirely upon the deck of the large boat. The stench of both man and animal made below almost unbearable. Above deck, I got to witness Ruaheon as I never had before sailing up the river for the first time. We passed small towns and farms, and all the other life that clung close to the river. It was wide and heavily trafficked with those going from Ruahden north towards Eliar Lake, or those heading south towards the capital. Our destination was Dock Town, an Attalla holding. It was a bastion of trade and entertainment.
Anyone going anywhere in Ruaheon was likely to pass through Dock Town at some point. Not only was it about midway along the Eliar River, but the Boreas Road and East West road passed through the city. I’d been picturing a city like Ruahden when we approached around midday, but Dock Town was not Ruahden. The city had almost no walls, only the Keep on the Northern end of the city boasted any fortification.
The city began first as small structures, homes, shops, erected close to the river and along the East West road, which ran north of the river close to Dock Town. The buildings slowly grew denser till a mix of large wooden and stone structures rose up around us. The city seemed to be growing into the river along both sides. I saw many small boats actually rowing into the city.
We reached our dock and began unloading onto the northern part of the city. I found Hari on the docks. He was already saddling Ashok. Aditi was next to them waiting for me. Hari had made a gift of him to me after my graduation. I went to pet his dark mane.
“Saddle him quickly.” Hari commanded. “We’re separating into two parties. Speaker of the chair Attalla is in the city and has requested young Speakers to enter his services, several of your classmates will be staying here.” I was not the only one to graduate this year on this trip. Though I wasn’t as familiar with them as I was with those I’d entered the church with.
“Then we’re heading north with the other Party?” I asked.
“Yes,” Hari explained. He finished up with his saddle and began securing his packs. I began to prepare Aditi. “The High Speaker is sending out a new Blood Hunt once every month it seems. He even left orders for all free glren to make haste to the High Church. Our glren are anxious and want to get some miles under us before night fall.”
Anxious was an understatement. Our eight glren, with their four squires, were nearly bouncing out of their saddles by the time Hari and I reached them. I would have liked to of explored Dock Town but the glren didn’t give us any chance to be tourists. We were out of the bustling city by midday. We gave our horses time to loosen up and then, when the road opened, we let them have their heads. They consumed leagues heading north.
That night we’d pulled off to the side of the road into a clearing. We had a fire going and were finishing up a light meal. The clang of metal caught my attention and I saw that several of the glren had donned padded armor and were sparring with dull swords. I stood up and walked over to watch. Hari was already seated near them watching.
“You’re getting old, Yates.” Hari commented with a smile. Yates Tenun, was late into his middle years tan with salt and pepper hair. He was sparring with a younger middle aged glren, Robin Coal.
Yates struggled to hold off the younger man and eventually failed to avoid a thrust at his gut. He coughed a bit, but then laughed. “Damn it. Finally figured out all the secretes to the sword, and now I’m too old to use any of it. You’re getting up there to Hari. I’d like to see you keep up with him!”
Hari laughed. “I’m fine with watching.”
“Come on.” Robin taunted. “I’ve heard you were one of the best.”
“Was.” Hari said with a smile. “I’m old remember, why don’t you give Dmitry a try. He’s young and fit, he swings the blade well for his age.”
“That one,” Robin said gesturing to me, “How old are you?”
“You want to spar?” Robin asked.
I smiled. “Yes.”
“Here put this on you’ll need it.” Yates said, passing me his padded armor. It fit a little odd but I got it on fine. Yates then passed me his blunt sword.
“Hari says you’re good.” Robin said circling me.
I just smirked. He came at me. Slow at first, careful, like he was feeling me out. He then came fast, mixing up slashes with thrusts. He was fast but I was faster and my parries were never late. I had an opening after a strike had left him slightly exposed. I slashed at his chest. He made the initial parry, but then I came hard and I came fast. I stood over six feet now, and though I wasn’t filled out, my athleticism and long limbs could be used to generate devastatingly strong and fast strikes.
However, I didn’t get through. though he did appear surprised, he gently turned one of my strikes causing its momentum to pull me off balance. He counter attacked with a thrust at my mid-section. I planted a foot and spun off it bringing my sword around in miraculous parry. I carried it around into a strike, but Robin was there to parry it. I came at him again. In my sparring bouts with Hari and others at the church, I’d learned that most tired before I did. If I could keep up a high pace, even some experienced fighters would make mistakes. However, Robin didn’t appear to be making any mistakes. I parried a blow meant for my neck, then a thrust for my gut. I struck at his neck trying to catch him with his weapon low. He parried but barely. I went on the offensive for a moment, only to be force to nearly avoid a slash at my neck. Our fight was lasting a long time, and I was beginning to feel myself tire.
Robin laughed. “By Ruah, Hari, where did you find this kid?”
Hari laughed. “Not bad, is he?”
“He won’t be, once he figures out that it’s a sword he’s caring, not a club with an edge.” Yates commented with an old man’s sneer.
Robin laughed. “You swing that sword well enough, but that’s about all you do. I can see Hari taught you some basic sword but the only reason I haven’t beaten you yet is that you’re too damn fast, and not weak. I’ve needed to feel you out.”
“Prove it.” I said taunting him.
He smiled. “Gladly.” He attacked first and I fell into parrying. “You parry too hard, you allow me to move into my next attack.”
I scowled but then Robin gave me a gap and I attacked.
“You explode into my mistakes.” Robin said. His parry was light, but his kick to my legs was not. I fell off balance and felt his sword touch gently onto my neck. “Stand.”
Yates spoke. “He gave you that opening and you jumped into It.” he was smiling wryly. I stood up frowning. “Attack him, force him to make mistakes. Don’t wait for him to make one for you. You’ll only make it easier for him to trick you.”
I listened and attacked, Robin. His smug expression irritated me. I recognized now that his parries were soft effortless movements, just enough to deflect my strikes. It was infuriating me that he could look so effortless parrying an attack I’d put so much behind.
“Your strikes are all the same, slashes as hard as you can swing.” Yates commented. “Make Robin work, mix it up.”
I tried. I alternated between my usual hard strikes, to softer attacks. I found I could still deliver the attacks with speed, and I could recover from them easier. Then I could use them to set up my other attacks.
Robin smacked one of my softer strikes wide and slammed the blunt blade into my gut. “Learns fast too.” I stumbled to my feet and he addressed me. “Don’t just slash, the long sword is meant to penetrate as well.
We kept this up late that first night, till I fell asleep exhausted, my arms numb. The next day I donned my Blood Hunter robes, I even had one of the squires help me with the mail underneath. I’d been instructed to wear my Blood Hunter robes during travel to show what I was. I had multiple sets and they were all nice, however I wasn’t used to them or the attention they drew. Every traveler we passed on the way north knew exactly what we all were.
Every night I drilled with the Glren and their squires. The Squires, who were younger than I was, didn’t spare with us so that made me the youngest in our bouts. Hari even pleasured us with a display of skill in a match against the agile twenty something Glren, Daniel. That was on the fourth night. On the seventh night, Hari and Yates, pared off in a battle of the old men as they put it laughingly. Hari may have been in his early fifties, but he moved like most of the Glren in their thirties. Yates called him unnatural at the end of their bout.
We stopped early at the town of Harfeild, a half days ride south of the High church. We bought out most of the Fello’s Tavern, much to the owner, Mr. Fello’s, delight. The fourteen of us, and three local folk made up the crowd in the tavern.
Yates, in a surprising act of generosity, bought us all rounds in congratulations. “Boy what is that, your second beer?” Robin taunted one of the younger squires. “You’re red, as Blood Hunter’s sleeves!” I found myself lifting my robe to compare its trim to the Squires face. Robin wasn’t far off. The squire only managed a half smile, he was only twelve.
“You’re doing pretty good yourself, Robin!” Said the slender faced and bodied Glren, Hara. She’d been milking her beer.
“Aye, but I’ve out drunk him six times by now!” Robin rebutted. He then slapped me on the back. “Think you could take me drunk boy? Ruah knows you have no chance of it while I’m sober.”
“I could take you,” I said seriously. “Thing is, I’m drunk too,” I said swirling my beer around with a smile.
“Give the boy a couple years Robin, and he’ll be running your poor ass in circles drunk or sober!” Yates taunted.
“Bah, I’m in my prime, in two years I’ll still be in my prime!” Robin jeered.
Hari very coolly swirled his beer around. I’d seen him drinking but he didn’t appear all to effect. “Prime?” Hari smiled. “Is that what you’re in, and you struggled to beat Yates here? Prime…” Hari laughed slightly. “You’ve never been in a real fight, how would you know if you were in your prime? Your technique is good I’ll give you that, but I’ve seen swordsman who could show you up in the midst of old age, older than me. I could take you now, or sober in the mourning…”
“Is that a challenge?” Robin said with a smile, he loved a good spar, no matter the time or place.
“You’re both drunk!” Hara protested.
“The old man’s drunk, Robin,” Daniel said offering up his council. “Don’t want to go breaking him do you?”
“I want to spar him! That is what I want,” Robin said excitedly.
“Let’s make an event of it, we’ll take wagers.” Hari said with a flourish.
“A Dakt on myself.” Hari tossed the fat gold coin on the table.
Robin reached into a pouch and tossed a Dakt of his own onto the table. “That’s my last month’s earnings. I mean to double it!”
Soon coins were being produced from pockets and purses all around. I drunkenly bet half the value of my purse. Two Liches sadly enough. I choose Hari out of loyalty and that fact he seemed so matter a fact that he could beat Robin.
Fello made us take our match outside where a small circle began to form as Hari and Robin were changed out of their respective suits and into the padded dueling armor. Some of the town’s folk were throwing down bets as well. Most seemed to favor Robin, the younger and stronger looking of the two, though some I heard commenting on Hari’s pose and Height. He did have over half a head on the Glren. They were both passed helms and blunted swords and the battle began. Robin attacked first. Hari parried the attack gently and moved in for an attack of his own. And so they danced, a brutal and physical dance that I tried to keep up with in my alcohol dimmed mined. Neither of them seemed to have an issue however, despite both being intoxicated.
The fight ended swiftly and suddenly. Robin had just taken the offensive with a vengeance. Hari side stepped a thrust and slashed at Robins throat. Robin parried it. Hari took a lightning quick stutter step forward and delivered a gut wrenching side kick just below Robins ribs. Hari returned the kick swiftly to a chambered position and then lowered his leg slowly to the ground. He took a step back moving out from in front of Robin who keeled over and vomited up that nights drinking.
Cheers went up as Hari returned his blunt sword to a squire who immediately began helping him out of the padded armor and into his Blood Hunter robes. I collected my winnings a solid golden Drakt, the first to ever to way down my pockets. We all moved back inside. Hari now wore a satisfied expression as we all returned to our drinking.
“The drunk deserved it.” Yates commented.
“You bet on Robin!” Daniel chided.
“Aye, I did! Doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. I make a point never to bet on Hari, never know what the bastards thinking, might be he meant to lose. At least on Robin, I knew he was going for the win!” Yates explained to a roar of laughter. The night went on. Robin would join us later, back to his former self.
The next morning we woke with the sun and began our journey north. The Quatane when properly applied is excellent for curing hangovers. Robin claimed I was worth keeping around just for that trick.
The day passed and around midday we turned off the Boreas Road for the Holy Road that went west till it reached the Church. The High Church, as I’ve learned, is not in its self a city. However it is surrounded by numerous farming towns spread throughout the plains. Also, the three cities of Flora, on the southern tip of the Holy Range, Vesta, less than half a day’s ride south of the church, and Maia, the largest and further north along the Boreas Road,along with the surrounding farming towns, belonged to the High Church and paid taxes to it. They also tended to be the most vehemently religious of the Ruaheon population. The Heart of the Church, they often called themselves.
We put another town behind of us as we road west, and something massive and white was appearing in the distance. I’d read descriptions of the High Church before but nothing had prepared me for this. Constructed on the eastern side of the lone mountain, Ruah‘s Mount, small by comparison to its brothers and sisters of the Holy Range but still reaching a half mile into the sky. All along the eastern face the High Church was constructed. Great terraces where carved into the mountain’s face. Twelve of them, all white stone, with walls rising up around them. As we got closer I saw that not all the structure was manmade. That cliff faces were intricately worked with into its construction blending them almost flawlessly.
The sun poked through a cloud and its light struck the pinnacle of the of the Great Church itself, Ruah‘s Spire. It sat on top of Ruah’s Mount and added another hundred feet to the top of the mountain. The top was plated in gold and glistened beautifully as we approached. Inside would be where the High Seat met, and from which the church was run.
“She is a sight.” Hari said coming up next to me.
“It’s amazing.” I said.
“Enjoy your time here, learn what you can, I know that I will not be here long. It is unlikely the High Speaker and High Chair will let you sit idle either.” Hari explained.
“Will I get to meet the High Speaker?” I asked.
Hari narrowed his eyes at me. “Perhaps, you won’t do anything dumb will you?”
“Probably not,” I said smiling.
Tyler W. Golec