We rode out early the next morning, as the sun just beginning to rise. No one spoke as we made our way out of Maia. Once we passed out of the populated areas around the city our pace quickened and we rode hard. The pace surprised me based on our previous days ride. But I wasn’t complaining, I preferred this. We covered a lot of ground as we rode north. The Rode looked well-traveled and was wide and hard packed. The sun was beginning to set when we turned off the great high way on a road that roughly traveled east across the plains. We made camp shortly after on a small rise that might have been called a hill out there.
As soon as the camp was made I found Luke. “Luke,” he turned from where he watched Orion start a fire. “Now a better time?”
He looked at me seriously. Then drew his sword. “If you’re in such a rush, I can’t see why not.”
I smiled and drew mine off my shoulder, and followed him to the road where the ground was more even and we had space. Abalyn and Orion took notice of us but didn’t move from their positions. Hexla didn’t seem to care.
“We’ll start off slow,” Luke said. “I don’t trust you yet, and our blades are sharp.”
“Afraid of getting hurt?” I asked acting cocky.
“No, just afraid of what I might do to an arrogant boy who tries to do something… dumb.” He spoke bluntly. I frowned. “Are you ready?” Luke asked.
I nodded, and moments later we began. He started on the offensive setting the pace which was slow. His strikes were not too difficult to predict, but he didn’t seem to struggle in the least to parry any of my strikes. I earned several stern frowns when I unintentionally quickened to try and sneak a strike through his guard.
“Calm down.” Luke said, aloofly, I hadn’t notice till he’d spoken but he looked half asleep as we sparred. “Your body is stiff. I can read how you want to move from your tension, it’s projecting through your sword.”
“I am calm,” I said, but then I thought for a second and realized that perhaps I wasn’t.
“Speaker Atique was supposed to have trained you?”
“I’m disappointed then, I thought he’d be a better instructor.” Luke frowned. “You just got tenser, take deep breathes, relax.”
I held my tongue and kept up the training, I knew I could prove what I could do when we were done moving slow. Till then I gave Luke what he wanted and focused on my breathing and tried to relax. We sparred in silence for quite a while when Luke abruptly ended it.
“Good, time to eat.” Luke said as he sheathed his sword. “Orion’s done cooking”
“What?” I asked.
“That was good practice, you at least learn quickly.” Luke said before he made his way up the hill.
“But…” He ignored me as he continued walking. I wanted to ask, if that was all? But that question seemed painfully stupid as I frowned and made my way up the hill a distance behind him.
When I reached the fire I saw Abalyn lift a full bowl of soup and gestured for me to sit near her. “You look like you were just cheated out of your life savings?”
“What?” I asked confused.
She laughed. “Like Luke said, you need to be more relaxed. Luke probably just gave you one of the best practice sessions in your life and you look like a scorned child.”
I just frowned deeper though I accepted my soup and began to spoon it into my mouth. “If we weren’t practicing so slow, he’d think differently,” I said after finishing a good deal of the soup surprisingly hungry.
“I doubt it.” Abalyn laughed. “And realistically, however fast and strong you are, Luke is probably faster and stronger. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I’d be nervous to spare full speed with you. Your fundamentals aren’t too hot, though you were doing a little better at the end.”
“They’re not that bad, I beat the glren at the church.” I said. “Sometimes.”
“With that foot work?” She seemed like she was about to laugh. “Granted, your hands weren’t bad, but you seemed to just place your feet however.”
“By Ruah, it‘s the truth,” I said defending myself.
“If you’re not lying then I wouldn’t spare with you unless I was sure your sword was blunt, and I was in armor.” I looked at her weirdly, and she continued. “No matter how strong you are, it’s hard to control your sword with your arm extended, unless your feet are well place and your balance is centered. I’d have to worry about you accidentally taking my head off.”
“I can control my sword,” I said continuing my defense.
Abalyn rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless, for your sake, I hope Luke keeps teaching you.”
I frowned and continued to eat. She smiled and spoke. “You graduated young didn’t you? How old were you when you joined the church?”
“Fourteen, Just Graduated, seventeen now.” At this point I didn’t really want to talk about myself. “What about you? Fadella, it sounds familiar?”
“My dad is a steward in Flora, I have a cousin who’s a lord in the west but our relation is distant.”
“How did you become a glren?” I asked.
She half smiled. “Kind of just happened. Big family, tomboy daughter who liked playing boy games too much. My mother thought that if that was what I was into, I might as well do it in an honorable fashion. Though she put in eleven hard years trying to break me from that path. It’s a good education too, you know, becoming a glren.”
“I’ve heard” I answered. “Similar to ours in some ways.”
“They say that but it’s pretty different. A lot more military tactics and a lot less plantology or whatever you guys learn. And we didn’t get summers off, practice fields for us.”
“I did apprenticeships over the summers,” I said.
“Probably in shaded alcoves with water easily accessible,” she said tauntingly.
“The hospitals in Ruah can be quite uncomfortable places, and the wastes in southern Ruaheon can get hot,” I responded.
“Who took you there to Apprentice?” She asked disbelieving.
“Speaker Hari Atique,” I said smiling.
“Oh, why?” She asked with a curious smile.
“To hunt a Lion actually.” I explained.
“What does that have to do with being a Speaker?” she sounded amused.
“It was training for hunting Hemomancers actually.”
“Maybe I should suggest that to the glren. They might add that into the curriculum.” We both laughed. By now the others had made their ways into their beds and my bowl of soup sat empty on the ground.
“You should get some sleep, I drew first watch.” Abalyn said looking up at the night sky.
“When’s my watch?” I asked. “When did we decide watches?”
“Orion and I did while you sparred Luke. Luke gets second watch since he wasn’t involved in the decision.
“But what about me?”
She looked at me queerly. “You’re a Speaker, you get to sleep.”
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s what it is.”
“How long are your watches?”
“Two hours and a bit.”
“I’ll stay up with you.”
“Don’t be dumb.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll be more aware if you’re not bored,” I said leaning back and looking up.
“Well I won’t complain.”
I don’t believe I made it her entire shift that night. But I would do a better job in the future. That next morning, we continued east, our next few days were nearly identical as we rode across the plains. Luke sparred willingly whenever I asked, and I was loath to admit it, but the practice helped. Abalyn was the only one of them I would truly call a friend then, we stuck primarily with each other, interacting with Hexla and Orion only when needed, and Luke on occasion. Luke was better company once he got more comfortable with you. I could even get him to laugh every once in a while.
After about six days of hard riding we entered a small town on the eastern edge of the plains. We had stopped wearing our church garments till this moment, but now Hexla insisted that we dress as what we were. So reluctantly I donned my Blood Hunter robes and rode into the town. Two Blood Hunters and three Glren on display for all to see. We got looks of all types. And children ran around our horses forcing us to be cautious, trying not to run them over. Aditi nearly spooked when a pair of children ran up to tug on one of my boots. I threw them some coins and they disappeared happily. Hexla eyed me and I shrugged. She was very conscious of the coin we spent, even the coin that came from our personal purses. That was unless she was the one spending it.
It was only around second bell but Hexla decided that we would stop here for the day. I didn’t mind too much at his point. We’d ridden hard for most of the last six days and I agreed our horses could use the rest. Hexla, Orion and Luke made their way to the town’s single tavern, while Abalyn and I explored. Small towns fascinated me, having grown up in the city. There were so few people and gaps between buildings. They had no walls except for small ones around distant fields. In the few conversations I had with the people in these villages I could tell that they cared for each other in a way that was impossible in a city as large as Ruahden.
A couple of the locals approached us. Two women, one middle aged one older. “Excuse me Speaker, but do you know anything about healing?” It was the middle aged woman who spoke.
“Well…” The middle aged women sounded hesitant.
“Speak up girl, he’s only a boy.” the older woman piped in. “We run the church in town.”
“Oh, I didn’t see one,” I said.
“Well, we have gatherings in my house.” the middle aged women spoke. I nodded. It made sense that people would still find a way to practice their faith even if a church was unavailable. “We also tend to the sick…”
“Her husband’s sick and her herbs can’t fix him, neither can mine, she wants to know if you’ll have a look at him. He needs to get back to clearing the fields.”
“I could take a look? do you know what’s wrong with him?” My brain instantly started firing off common ailments that I’d be able to cure easily enough that they may not.
“We’re not sure?” the older woman answered.
“Well, take me to him. Tell me his symptoms while we walk.” I said.
They nodded and we started off down the street, meanwhile the middle aged women began listing symptoms.
“That sounds like the flu,” They looked at me not understanding as we entered the woman’s house.
“What’s that?” the older women asked.
“It’s…” I tried to think of what they may know about it. “Winter Chills… it’s common during the winter.”
“Ah, I know what you’re talking about,” The older woman spoke. “Winter’s cold is long gone, and we already thought of that and couldn’t cure it.”
I cringed at the thought of how they might have tried to cure the flu. The middle aged women led us through her house into a room were a man lay on a bed.
“Melissa?” the man asked sounding delirious.
“Mathew, we found a Speaker who can help you.”
“The boy?” Mathew asked confused.
“Yes,” I answered. Medical Quatane was only really useful if you knew what was wrong with the person. I quickly looked him over felt his temperature then his pulse. “This looks like the Flu.”
“It’s not, I’ve cured winter cold a hundred times in my life.” the old women said sternly.
I rolled my eyes. “What about ticks? Have you searched him for ticks?”
“Ticks?” the middle aged woman asked. “It’s Treum, there are no ticks out now.”
“I haven’t seen any.” at least the old women knew what those were.
“Where did you check?” I asked.
“In exposed areas, his hair, why?” she asked.
“We need to check everywhere, if a ticks gotten him sick I can kill a portion of the disease before I have to leave, and then the rest you can handle. If it’s not Flu, it could be a tick, he works in the field, right?”
Melissa nodded. “Yes.”
“We need to remove his clothing and search his entire body.”
Matheoh didn’t like that. “What?”
“I wouldn’t do it. Your wife would, would that be fine?”
“Well, yes but…”
“Fine,” I turned to Mellissa. “Search him thoroughly; check every crevice in his body even if he complains.”
Mellissa nodded. “And if I find something?”
“Let me no, remove it, and I’ll do what I can for him.” With that we left Mellissa and Mathew and waited in their living room.
“You sounded like a regular physician,” Abalyn commented as we waited.
“Speaker Larissa Saving trained me in medicine and the medical Quatane. I learned quite a bit from her and working in Ruahden’s hospitals. Ticks are common with farmers. I treated several farmers who were brought to Ruahden after their local healers couldn’t treat them. Usually those are pretty far along; I can probably treat this if it is actually a tick.”
The old woman was looking at me sternly. “If they can teach a boy so much so young, I wonder why the church doesn’t send Speakers to train us local healers as you put it.”
“Well,” There were probably enough Speakers with the time on their hands to train several local healers in basic medicine in a year. The problem would be motivating them to do so. Most didn’t like leaving their libraries or churches. “That’s not a bad idea, I’m a Blood Hunter in title, not even specialized in medicine. Most local Church Speakers no almost as much medicine as I do, if not as much Quatane, maybe they could be persuaded to educate.”
“There might be three churches in all of the plains that have actual Speakers.” The old women said. “I meant that the church should send others who have the knowledge.”
“Speakers are…” Abalyn started then stopped. Then gave me an apologetic look, I was betting the rest of the statement was not too kind a statement about Speakers.
“I have a boy,” the old women said before I could speak again. “When he was your age, he got it into his head he wanted to be a Speaker. Saved up all his coin for two years. My husband, Ruah bless his soul, gave him our only horse, not the beasts by any means that you folk road in on, but a tough little mare built for long roads. He traveled half the kingdom to Ruahden where he took a trial to be accepted. He said the place was littered with the sons and daughters of Lords, all speaking perfect dialect. When he was tested they asked him to speak in a language he could not know unless the Church had trained him. When he couldn’t they sent him away. Boy made his slow way back here but was never the same after that. Frequents the tavern more days than not, he used to be the brightest boy. What Lord and Lady birthed you?”
“Ma’am!” Abalyn seemed aghast at the old women’s comments.
“A whore named Diana Skagora,” I said bluntly. “I was borne in the Coastown slums in Ruahden.” I let her gather herself for a moment, “Though, I was luckier than your son, a Speaker named Hari Atique taught me a bit before I was tested by the Church.”
The door to Mathew’s room swung open ending our conversation. “I found it!” Melissa said, holding up the insect at the end of a pair tweezers. She looked happy for the first time since I’d met her.
I strode into the room without hesitation. “I’m never pissing in the fields again!” Mathew claimed. Malissa had left Mathew uncovered. I cringed for a moment at seeing where the tick had bitten in. I quickly hid my reaction. There was no point looking like the boy they all claimed I was.
“I just need time with him now,” I explained. The others nodded. “Abalyn, can you let Hexla know what I’m up to so she doesn’t get upset.”
Abalyn nodded, “Then I’m coming back here, I don’t want to wait around back with them.”
I smiled and went to work. Ticks, as explained to me caused a disease that is very hard to permanently be rid of. What I could do was kill as much of the disease as I could then instruct them on how to treat him from this day on. I went to work speaking with the Quatane. I spent most of the day with Mathew, who as it turned out, had quite the sense of humor. He joked more often as the process went on as he felt better. I made sure to work on bettering his symptoms as well as removing the disease. He found it particularly amusing to watch a “boy” as he claimed I was, instructing Claudia, the old women, in medicine. Apparently, she was strong of the belief that no man could possibly be a competent healer. I’m sure he was exaggerating but it was humorous all the same. The sun had set and I was thoroughly exhausted. I leaned back in the chair Melissa had gotten for me.
“You look worse than me now,” Matthew said sitting up. “Honestly all I heard was bunch off ugguly bugully nonsense, but I feel a whole of a lot better. Actually, I’m starving.” I hadn’t told him to sit up, and by protocol, I shouldn’t have let him, but I was tired. “Smells like my wife’s been cooking, I haven’t ate well in a long time.”
“Food will be good for you,” I said as almost as a side note.
“Thanks for fixing me up, boy. Most of you speakers would have ignored my wife’s request.”
I shrugged. I could picture Hexla turning them down but not Hari, “There’s still some of the disease in you, will probably always be, nothing else I can really do, though your wife and Claudia will be able to handle it.”
“Will it kill me?” he asked.
“Not sure, maybe one day.” I answered.
He laughed, “One day I might get run over by a carriage, or Jahzny Hemomancers might raid, or I might catch the chills real bad or something. Just one more thing right?” He said it so optimistically that I had to smile.
“Yeah I guess.” I said.
“You’re a Blood Hunter right?” He asked then continued. “Dumb question, look at your robes, and you got a sword. You’re going to fight Hemomancers, right? You’ve got a lot more to worry about then me.”
“Probably.” I answered.
He laughed. “Blood Hunters are the only Speakers I can properly stand. Even the nasty ones are better company than those others. They don’t mind getting dirty, come on let’s get some grub.” He stood up and strolled out of the room easier than I did.
“Melissa what did you cook?” He said as we entered the dining room.
“Mathew, what are you doing out of bed?!” She scolded.
“Boy used his special words and fixed me up, I feel great! Though he looks like I did an hour ago. You better have cooked enough for him and his lady friend there.”
Abalyn had removed her Glren plate armor and now sat dressed in simple dark shirt and trousers.
“She’s a glren honey,” Melissa said hastily. It was just Melissa and Abalyn, Claudia must have left at some point. “And I cooked enough for them as well. The boys should be on their way back from the field.”
“By Ruah, if they muffed up anything while I was in bed…”
“By Ruah’s name I swear…”
“Swearing on Ruah’s name in front of two of his servants! Mathew, I can’t believe you!” Melissa complained.
I shrugged it off and sat next Abalyn as Melissa served us dinner. Their children joined us later. The three of them weren’t that young, the oldest was actually my age and the youngest was fifteen. Over dinner, I explained to Melissa what she needed to do to keep her husband healthy and answered the seemingly infinite number questions her children had about being a Blood Hunter. Though, despite the mysterious powers of the Quatane that had bettered their father they seemed more interested in the swords Abalyn and I carried. Eventually I was forced to let each one of them at least get a chance to hold my sword. I cringed when the youngest swung it precariously close to one of his brother. I quickly confiscated the weapon to Abalyn’s laughter and Melissa’s harsh words. We eventually escaped dinner and made our way back to the tavern. I would never have the chance to see that family again.
We made our way back into the Tavern. Abalyn was back in her Glren Plate, not wanting any type of confrontation with Orion or Hexla.
“Hey… what did ya jus ask me?” We entered the Tavern to the sound of Hexla drunkenly addressing the Tavern Keeper. One thing I learned early about Hexla, despite her piety she had a weakness for drink.
“Ma’am I just asked if you would pay for your drinks and rooms. I meant no offense.” The man was late middle aged, tall and lanky with a small pot belly. Orion was sitting next to Hexla on the opposite side of the bar as the Tavern Keeper.
“Ya dare ass that to a Speaker of… Ruah!” Hexla slurred.
Orion wasn’t speaking, but he looked as if he’d had a bit to drink as well, and a man like that could be dangerous. Realizing the situation I tried to intervene.
Approaching the bar I spoke. “I’m sorry sir, but how much for the rooms and their drinks, I’ll take care of it.”
The poor man looked quite relieved. “I’m sorry to bother you Speaker, it’s just I need the money is all.”
“I understand, just how much?” I asked.
“You!” Hexla said pointing at me. I ignored her.
“A Lich, they were drinking my best wine.” he said apologetically.
“Not a problem,” I said as I tossed him the coin.
“What are you doin? Don’t make me look dumb,” Hexla said coming unsteadily to her feet.
“Let’s just get to our rooms,” I said in my best voice for handling drunks.
“Nah, you! You… do not deserve to call, ya self Speaker.” Hexla said with some difficulty. I tried not to roll my eyes but it was inevitable, and unfortunately she noticed. “Orion, I need to teach this boy his place.”
Orion stood, much steadier on his feet than Hexla. He was a large man by anyone’s standards. Abalyn came nervously to my side and then to both our surprises Orion drew his sword. Abalyn and I both took a step back. Our hands loosened each of our own blades in their sheaths. The Tavern Keep backed nervously away from the bar.
I hadn’t even seen Luke when we entered the Tavern, but in the blink of the eye he was on Orion and had him thrown to the ground. Hexla turned surprised and received a gauntleted back hand which dropped her.
“Luke,” I said surprised.
“She won’t remember leaving the bar in the morning,” Luke spoke perfectly calm. “Abalyn carry her up the stairs, Dmitry, help me carry Orion.”
“You think he’ll remember?” I asked.
“If he does I’ll make sure he doesn’t talk about it,” Luke said. We were silent while we carried Orion up the stairs. Luke spoke half to himself as we dragged Orion into his room. “A Glren never draws their weapon on a Speaker.”
Tyler W. Golec