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1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME FIVE NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial Orny *Kittara Comes to Town Ovis Ceda the Executioner: 2 Joel Slatis *Respect thy Elders: 2 Orny *A New Life John White Date: 082486 Dist: 155 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the huge, wide, vast, double-sized issue of FSFnet! This is a very special issue, as we have some very special Dargon stories - the first stories from three new authors. The first tale introduces us to Kittara, and the events that surround her arrival in Dargon. The second story is part 2 of Joel Slatis' Ceda story (which is, for now, unrelated to the Dargon project). The third yarn is part two of my own tale about Kite and Pecora, and their time of trial. And the issue ends with a king-sized epic by John White, introducing us to Je'en, a very captivating and deep character who also has been seen hanging around Dargon Port. I will cut this short, due to the size of this issue, and simply state the things I always seem to be saying in these editorials: welcome to the new members; spread the word to your friends about FSFnet; if you want to write, mail me; and, finally, enjoy! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Kittara Comes to Town Her name was Kittara Ponterisso, but most folks that knew her usually called her Crossbow Kitty. She was an expert shot with any kind of crossbow, because she had to be. Her skill with the crossbow put food on the table and kept a roof over her head. Kittara's skill was such that it was easy for her to find work as a bodyguard or a hunter. Kittara came to Dargon with a purpose. She had been paid to put her skills to use against a wealthy merchant, a merchant who had enemies in this world, a merchant who called himself Yan the Yellow (most people called him Yan the Yellowbellied). Yan had a son, but he didn't know it. It was this son who had hired Kittara to find Yan and use her skills to bring about "...a more equal distribution of wealth," Yan's son had said. Well, that was fine with her as long as she was paid. What she knew of her employer was next to nothing, simply the fact that he was the unknown son of this merchant, and that he wanted his father's wealth which, according to law, he would receive as inheritance should his father meet an untimely death. A crossbow bolt was considered an untimely death. Kittara was used to larger cities, but didn't mind Dargon for its size. Dargon was a suitable place to work although it mean more effort on her part to blend in with the residents. In a town of this size strangers were often noticed, she would have to take up residence for a while at least, probably after she had earned her payment. Yes, that would do. She would pretend that she was the widowed wife of a royal soldier. Her husband had taught her to handle a crossbow when they had lived on the frontier, a skill which was necessary there to protect oneself from bandits and other nasties. She would be looking for a place to settle down where life was not so dangerous. The journey here from the capital had been uneventful. Kittara was looking forward to the excitement which her mission would bring. How many times had she gone on similar assignments? Many indeed, but each still had its own feeling of thrill, each could be her last. She thought about what she must accomplish. She must locate this merchant and then watch him, learn his ways. A man could not protect his life all of the time, thus he must be vulnerable to death sooner or later. Although a crossbow quarrel in the throat did not look natural, there were other ways of disguising a person's cause of demise. Yan was a merchant with ships, his house was on a cliff facing the sea. A plan was rapidly becoming clear. Get the merchant to stand on the edge of the cliff while his ships sailed out, then put a bolt in his back and he would topple into the sea where his body could be found (or what remained of it after the sharks had finished feasting) and turned into the proper authorities. Yan's son could be informed of the death and he could show up with proof that Yan was his father and that he was entitled to the proper inheritance. Kittara rode into town on her faithful Randy, a horse which had served her for the last three years. Randy was a retired light cavalry horse, retired because he had been stolen by her from a scout who had tried to have his way with her. She didn't care that the scout had been a royal messenger. He wasn't the first soldier to receive a present from the delivery end of Old Henry, her crossbow. A few eyes turned in Kittara's direction, but they did not stare. There were more important and exciting things to see and do on this last day of the festival than watch some dull woman on a plodding horse. Kittara did look rather dull, she was not prepared for the festivities and was tired from her journey. Randy was also tired and plodded along in hopes that his master would provide him with a nice bed and food. Kittara scanned the festive crowd and the buildings along the street looking for a place to stay for the night. Perhaps she could get a few hours of sleep and then join the fun; it had been such a long time since she had enjoyed herself. Presently her glance presented her with a choice: The Hungry Shark Inn or the Inn of the Panther. Since the Inn of the Panther was a bit closer she headed for it, praying that it still had a room. Kittara slid from her saddle, tied Randy to the hitchin' rack, and entered the brightly lit common room of the Inn. The room was crowded with people of all ages who were busy celebrating the last day of their festival. Kittara went over to the bar and asked for a room. She was given the last room in the inn, she was told, and should be thankful that she had found one. It cost her a more than triple what she would normally have considered fair but it was not a bad room. It was a small private room at the end of the short hallway on the third floor of the building, roughly furnished, but suitable for her present needs. She left the room, locking it behind her, and went to retrieve her saddlebags and care for Randy. Kittara took Randy to the Inn's small stable, settled him down for the night, and headed back for a few hours of sleep. Kittara awoke several hours later with the pain of hunger in her gut. She rose, donned some fresh clothes and headed down to see if there was anything left to eat. The festivities were still going on, but at a more subdued level as those too drunk to make merry had passed out, and those who were still merry were busy drinking. She got a plate of food from the bar and headed for a side table where she might be alone; Kittara would not be comfortable until she had gotten to know some of the townsfolk, a problem she would begin work on tomorrow after a good night's sleep. Kittara finished her dinner and sat back against the cushioned wall)bench and watched the people of Dargon. There were all types: poor, rich, merchants, craftsmen, apprentices, masters, warriors, clerics, thieves, old, young, and in)between. As she took a sip of her wine she noticed the inn's namesake. Above the fireplace was a mounted stuffed head of a huge panther. The beast's eyes stared out over the festive crowd as if they were hungry and resentful, resentful of being stuck on a wall instead of out in the wilds where they belonged. Kittara shivered, the head gave her a strange feeling. She would have to hear the story of the panther, as there surely must be one connected with so large a beast. Kittara was not aware of the man until he was standing behind the chair opposite her bench. He was a short man, dressed in strange blue and white patterned clothing. He had short black hair and carried a beautiful pair of swords which were of the kind easterners often fought with. She had heard stories of weapons such as these, stories which described them as being so sharp that they would slice a fresh leaf, floating on a slow moving stream current with only the slightest touch. She did not feel at all comfortable without Old Henry. Her boot knife would never do to defend herself should she need to. The man smiled and said, "Hellro, may I be pleased to join you?" Kittara nodded, thinking that the strange)looking foreigner might also be new to town. The man turned towards the door and held up a hand to attract the serving wench in order that he might order a drink when suddenly the huge chandelier that had been hanging over the common room came crashing down. The chandelier was a great wheel holding many candles ) it smashed into the middle of the room crushing several people, destroying tables and benches, and causing alcohol to burst into flame. People panicked and ran hither and thither shouting, trying to help, or trying to pilfer what they could. The little man leaped to his feet without a glance a Kittara and rushed headlong into the chaos. Kittara grabbed a forgotten cloak and started beating at some of the flames which were coming her way. She thanked her god that she had not been any closer to the center of the room. It took several hours for order to be restored to the Inn of the Panther. Luckily the fire had only caused minor damage and the town guard had arrived quickly so that the pilfering losses were also slight. Jann, the Innkeeper, had come rushing in from the festival to see what the problem was in his inn. Jann had noticed Kittara beating the flames and, upon discovering that she was staying in the inn, had offered her free room and board for as long as she needed it in thanks for her efforts. The incident would cost the inn some business, but the innkeeper was thankful that no one had been killed in the incident and promised one and all that he would be open again the following night. Kittara thanked Jann for his offer and climbed the stairs to her room. Sleep was not long in coming this night and Kittara faded off into a dreamless slumber. She wondered who had melted the chain that the chandelier had hung from. -Ovis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter Two Three weeks later Ceda arrived in Dhernis. The city was built after the fall of the Grandydyrian empire (which was soon after the strange disappearance of their army in the desert.) Grandydyr had at one point ruled the world except for the small islands that lay between the two worldly continents of Cergaan to the South and Beehnerne to the North. The Island were not populated largely because of the frequent volcanic eruptions and earth quakes which devastated the small them until about the time of the that the empire was defeated and fell. Until that time, the elves had been living on the Southern continent of Cergaan (This was not the continent that the desert lay and Ceda now rode). When the Islands had at last become safe to live on 10,000 years ago, the elves had moved most of the population there because it was more secluded and easier to defend. They left some elves on the continent to maintain a stronghold and since then, It has grown into a large City populated and run by the elves. The rest of the continent has been long since forgotten. To this day, no one but the elves have ever seen the insides of the City of Elves (as it is called). Dhernis was also populated mostly by elves. They were mostly in business for themselves as sailors to and from the Islands of Learis, but some chose to be mercenaries or just to leave and find work in other cities throughout the continent. The city was very busy and there would be almost no chance of finding Rincraw in the city if he was by chance still there, so he didn't bother to get a room. That evening Ceda found a sailor who would permit him to sail back to the Islands with him and also bring Melgon along for a small price and they left the following morning. Ceda had slept on the ship that night and he felt very refreshed when he finally awoke the next morning. They were now sailing through the open seas towards the Learis Islands where the elves dwell and the crown was being kept. The crown would be in the palace and Ceda thought all day about how he would gain entry to it without anyone knowing. This however was not Ceda's chief concern for he was an assassin and had to get into more heavily guarded places than this before. The thing that most worried him was the problem of getting the crown and escaping the islands before it was discovered missing. Dusk came and Ceda went to sleep for the morrow would bring the Learis Islands and he must rest. When Ceda woke the next morning, The Islands tall volcanoes outlines were already visible from the ship. They were so tall that the tips of them were hidden amongst the clouds. That night they would dock and the adventure would begin. The night came quickly and Ceda told the captain to pull into the harbor of the largest of the 8 isles called Perstanie where the palace was and dock. The ship glided through the water and at last Ceda was on land again. Ceda gave the captain of the ship a small amount of gold and told him to wait all night if need be for him to return. The captain nodded and Ceda left the ship for the palace where the crown was almost certain to be. The streets were now empty as the night was about half over, only now and again would the city guards pass by and until they were gone, Melgon and Ceda hid in the shadows. The palace now stood before them, its large gate made from some magical material that lighted the entire area around it. Ceda had been in the castle many times before because of some of the business that he had done with the King of the elves. He stood some distance away from the gate and watched the guards walk up and down the area. Then he turned walked the other direction away from the gate around the castle to where it was darker and there were less guards. He counted the guards and watched as they walked by a final time before he hoisted himself onto Melgon's back and climbed up the back of its neck while it picked itself up on its hind legs. Ceda stood on his dragon mounts long snout and looked down; it was about 12 feet to the ground and another 2 feet from Ceda's head to the top of the wall. He jumped up and grasp the top of the wall pulling himself up. Then he sat for a moment checking that the guards had not heard him and then continued on to the wall and down the stairs to the palace grounds. He was in. Then Ceda made his way to Rincraw's room knocking out the guard that stood outside and entered. He went slowly over to the bed and sat down next to it. He couldn't see and would have to hope that he could feel where the elf's mouth was before it had time to scream. Ceda didn't even want to think about what would happen if he was not sleeping alone, but knew that if he didn't get Rincraw, he would never find the crown. His thoughts were beginning to annoy him, so he put them out of his mind. Then he sprang up onto the bed. Ceda felt one figure under his body and he grabbed for its mouth. He got it before it had time to scream. "Good," he said to himself and checked for another person in the bed. There was no one. By this time the person was squirming and trying to scream but could not. "Now Rincraw, I get a chance to repay you for your treachery!" He tightened his grip on the neck of the elf, but something bothered him. The elf's skin was soft and smooth, not like that of a male, but of a-- "By all the lords of Tavaar!" He exclaimed. "You are a woman!" His voice just loud enough to here. She tried to speak but could not because of Ceda's hand. "I'll let you speak, but if you yell for help, I'll not die alone." He tried to see into here eyes but could not. He felt her nod and he withdrew his hand from her mouth. "I am Miratia, Rincraw's wife," she said, trying to see his face. "Where is he, I have a score to settle with him." "I know not, for I also seek vengeance upon him." Ceda looked harder to see her face but could not. Without light to see her eyes, he could not be sure if she was telling the truth. "Then we have a common goal," he said. "Where is he?" "Neither do I know that, he never returned from Pheeng'Am." "He didn't return?" Ceda grew angered. "Then the wench lied!" "What?" "Nothing." Ceda thought about how he would get out now and finally said to the elf: "Miratia of Perstanie, do you wish to accompany me to the great city of Pheeng'Am to find your husband and take your vengeance upon him?" "I do." "Then come now in haste, but quietly," he cautioned. They got up and left the room. The guard was still where he left him and all was good. Then Miratia screamed and ran towards one of the buildings. Ceda started for the wall but the guards were already upon him before he could get there, so he drew his sword and tried to fight though them, but Miratia was calling for more guards. "Tavaar!" he mumbled and lowered his weapon. Then he was led off and put in a small damp cell in a cave under the castle. Morning came and Ceda was awakened by two burly looking elves and led back up to the court of the palace in chains. The king of the elves sat in the back of the room on a raised platform, all around the room at regular intervals were armored men and the rest of the room was filled with nobles and subjects that were just standing talking with one another while some elven women danced in the center. Now the room was quite. Everyone looked at Ceda except for the women who kept dancing as if nothing was happening. The king looked over to the women and clapped his hands and at once they left the room. Then Ceda was led into the room to where the dancers had been. Still no one spoke but everyone's attention was focused on the king. "Greetings Ceda of No-Al Ben, what brings you to my kingdom again?" Everyone laughed except Ceda who was not at all pleased with the current turn of events. The king got up and stepped down to where Ceda stood, his richly colored robe dragged along the smooth stone floor. "Why I have not had you executed yet I do not know. Is there anything you wish, now that you stand before me?" "My argument is not with you King Rackins, but with your servant Rincraw, who stole Grobst D'arbo's crown from me." Ceda said this loudly so that all the room heard quite clearly. The king glanced at one of the other elves who shook his head at the King. "And, Ceda of No-Al Ben, where did you get such a crown?" The king mocked. Ceda told the room his story and at once all the people were talking about at and arguing whether he spoke the truth. The king walked to the other elf and spoke with him for a moment quietly, then he returned. "Can you prove this?" The king asked as the room again quieted. "I can not...," he started but remembered the skulls. "I can prove what you ask," he said. "But I must get to my dragon mount for what I need." The king looked at one of the guards at the door and he nodded. "What is it you require, Ceda of No-Al Ben? We've already found him." "There is a pouch on the side of the saddle, in it are three skulls, bring one here." A messenger soon returned with one of the strange looking skulls and gave it to Ceda. "Now look, King of the Elves," he placed the skull in the kings hand and looked up. The king examined the skull and looked at Ceda, Then he laughed. "You play games with me, Ceda of No-Al Ben," he said as he through the skull to the floor. "No!" Ceda tried to catch it but the chains held him back and before anyone knew what had happened, the skeleton stood before them with his sword in his hand. Two of the Guards leapt forward and one fell dead from the skeletons sword. The other swung and hit the skeleton in the backbone tearing it apart. They all stood and watched thinking the trouble was over as it came apart into separate bone except for Ceda who kicked the skull. "Get the skull," he shouted and the skull flew towards the already reforming bones only to be caught by the king. Ceda relaxed. The king looked at Ceda and then back at the weird looking skull which he now held. The sword and boned were now nothing more than dust on the floor and the room at one became calm. The guard that had been killed was taken away and they resumed talk. "It is a dangerous toy that you keep, Ceda, but one that saved your life." The king told the guards to take his chains off. Then they went to the king private chamber with the third elf and talked. The third elf's names was Merth; he was a wizard and was one of the closest friends of the king. His worldly experience was far greater than some of the best warriors in the known world, and this also added to his usefulness to the king. This for the most part was why the elf was with them while they talked. "Well Mirth," the king paused. "What do you think?" The elf's voice was a high pitched wine at best, "This could prove to be ample cause for Rincraw and Quendell to betray us if my suspicions are correct. Ceda looked curiously at Merth. "What suspicions?" "I cannot say now, but if I'm to be sure, I must talk with Sarve, the son of Tain, cousin to Tavaar the Great Overlord. "You cannot speak of the gods themselves?" Asked the king. "Is the matter that urgent?" "the Great Army? Is that your thought?" Ceda interrupted "Possibly, but it is of great importance that I Make haste to my chamber. I will journey from there to their realm, for I have felt that there was a break in the natural order of things." The little elf got up and bowed low to the king. Then he left. The king, still totally oblivious as to what had just happened, looked at Ceda who's face was enigmatic. "What was that about?" "The Great Army may yet have it's day," Ceda said. "However I do not yet understand how or why. This is the information that Merth seeks from the gods." "Then what can we do?" "Wait." Five days later, the meek elf opened the door from his chamber and emerged. He was paler than usual and he look perhaps 10 years older. He went down the stairs of the tower in which his room was and into the main room of the castle where the king and Ceda sat and talked as a few Elven women danced for the subjects that were also in the room. The king and Ceda both got up as he came in. "Sit my faithful servant, for I have troubling news for you." The kings voice was firm, "And you are in need of rest." "I also carry news, news from the gods. They are displeased for the King of grandydyr and his army may rise again." "The Hidden Army may yet walk the earth again?" The Kings voice changed to worry. "Aye, my king." "but why are the Gods not happy for this? How is it possible that after all these years the, the Gods do not rejoice?" Ceda was now very confused. "Sit," said the little elf, Merth. "For this will take some time to Explain." The king nodded at a guard by the door to the room and clapped his hands four times. "Be gone, everyone until later." "Good," said Merth as they finally sat alone, now I can tell you of what has happened." And the elf began. "10,000 years ago, the army of Grobst D'arbo, King of Grandydyr, left Grandydyr on a mission. This mission was to destroy all evil that dwelt in the world, from the most southern tip of Cergaan to the most northern tip of the country of Weuyrt on the northern continent, or more correctly, any and all beings that were swore alliance to the evil lords of Endillion. "The army was the biggest one ever assembled in history and could have easily completed its task except that the lords of Endillion called on the Over Lord, Tavaar, to stop them, and they were granted permission to destroy the army. The Lords of Endillion sent the Army to Limbo and transformed Grobst D'arbo into a Tree that would forever live in the desert wasteland. "Tavaar was enraged by this punishment, he thought it unfitting and deemed that one day, Grobst would again walk the earth, and it is very possible that the day has come. "Grobst may even now be free of his hell tree and be summoning his army from limbo where they otherwise would live forever." Ceda looked confused. "But if the army is to destroy all evil, why were the gods not pleased?" "They could not say, but they gave me a riddle from the Over Lord, Tavaar. He toys with them and will not let them tell me openly. "The riddle?" Ceda asked. "It goes like this:" "Black and White forever fight, And Green is in in between. But when blue comes in, Then all is left astray. And so will come the night. White will cover Black will fight Blue will help And so will come the night. Ileiruon will come on Deadly Mount, Blue and grey will join, Sarve will not sit and wait, And so will come the night. When at last night falls, Things will be as they were. On the last night, All things, know thee well. And then will come the time Of the blue and the grey. And then and only then will there be day. Mayhap." "But Sarve did leave me with a word of warning: If night will live, only black will there be, as is in every night; white, blue, grey and all other colors will go unnoticed." Merth looked at Ceda. "I can not understand it, but it is bad." "Mayhap I can stop Rincraw before he uses the crown?" asked Ceda. "Mayhap, but I do not yet even understand why." "And the riddle, must it go like this, or can we decipher it?" "Sarve said that the Green Monks that may be of help in that matter," Merth said. "And he told me how to reach them." (The dwelling place of the Green monks has always been a secret known only to the gods. The Green Monks are all knowing. Not even Tavaar possesses the knowledge they have. It is for this reason that Tavaar hates them and it is the same reason that he does not destroy them. He's afraid of their power because he knows not its capability.) "You know of the place of the Green Monks?" The king was amazed. "I do, but It is only for Ceda to travel there." "Where are they?" "The..." Merth paused. "They dwell in a land only reached by passing through the Caves of Arnmere." "And you want me to go there?" Ceda laughed. "I would sooner go to the Sharshirian mountain alone!" He laughed again. "You jest!" Merths expression didn't change. "You surely jest..." Ceda repeated. Merths expression still didn't change. "You surely jest.... ?" "You must go, Ceda." "Now you speak the truth, I must go; But not to Arnmere. I will seek Rincraw." Ceda got up and left the room. The king looked at Merth. "What will happen?" "The answer lies in Weuyrt, where the caves lay." Two days later, Ceda the Executioner set sail for the city of Pheeng'Am in search of the elf, Rincraw and his partner, Quendell. -Joel Slatis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Respect thy Elders: Chapter Two Kite slowed his horse as he came upon the peasant village. After several long days and nights of riding, he was weighted down with weariness and worry. His trip had begun over a week ago, when his fiancee, Pecora Winthrop, had fallen ill. Following the advice of her nurse, mistress Izetta, Kite had ridden west, in search of an Elder named Isentraum. The journey had not been easy, for it had rained nearly every afternoon, and Kite's mind was heavy with worry for his fiancee. Stopping at the crest of a hill, Kite regarded the small hamlet below. There was no one about in the darkness, but the lights of several wooden buildings shone warmly, and one large building bore a weathered sign that was undoubtedly the crest of an inn, though Kite could not make out the caricature from where his horse stood. Kite rode slowly into the village and tied up his horse, peeking into the inn through a dirty, thick-glassed window. After a moment, he stepped inside into a low, smoky room filled with peasants. A great fireplace fogged the room with wood smoke, and several customers turned to view the newcomer, then returned to their draughts. Kite strode purposefully to the bar and requested a pint of stout. "Right away, milord," responded the barkeep, who, true to his word, promptly brought Kite a stein, filled to the brim. Kite placed a Scrod on the counter, which the barkeep quickly snatched away. "Will there be anything else, milord?" "Ah, yes, a room for the night... and... uh..." "Yes, milord?" prompted the barkeep. Kite pondered. He was in the area where mistress Izetta had said to search for the Elder, but he had no idea where to begin to look. Might as well ask someone, and who would be more likely to know than a barkeep? "Can you tell me anything about a man named Isentraum?" At the barkeep's reaction, Kite knew he had not asked the right thing. "Well, milord, not... no, I'm afraid I can't. Ah, excuse me, sir, let me see to your room..." The barkeep bustled off. It was obvious that Kite had agitated the man. He turned his back to the bar and looked around the room, but he found many nearby patrons had their eyes on him. He made bold to face the group as a whole, but suddenly a small, wiry man stepped up to him from behind. "Now, sir," he began softly, as he turned Kite back to the bar. "You mustn't go stomping about and hollering about old superstitions in a town such as this. People don't take kindly to it. Now sit down and drink your stout." After a moment, Kite complied, and soon afterwards the barkeep returned with a set of keys to Kite's room. The thin stranger leaned over to Kite and whispered, "Now shall we go discuss this as it should be, behind a locked door?" Kite, still rather bewildered, agreed and led the man to his room. Having recovered his composure, Kite began to question the man. "Now who are you, and why have you taken me aside like this?" "My name," began the stranger, "is Palawan. I overheard your question of the barkeeper, and wished to avoid any violence that might have come from it. The people of this town are a very suspicious and superstitious lot. Now," began Palawan, as he settled in a chair, "why do you wish to find an Elder?" "That is for me alone to know." "Ah. Well, then, I fear it is for me alone to know where to find the one called Isentraum." He made to get up, knowing how Kite's would respond. "Very well," Kite began. "I am betrothed to a lady of the House of Winthrop. She has fallen ill, and I have been told that this Elder may be able to help her." "Do you love this girl?" What kind of question was that? "Of course I do... very much." "Aah. Then perhaps I can help you. I will guide you to where this Isentraum lives, and I will present you to him. What follows is up to him." The path Palawan had chosen led across the north face of a small mountain, and Kite found the going very difficult, but he persevered. He wondered about the small, wiry Palawan. He was obviously not one of the peasants of the village, but he seemed so weak that he would not be able to make a fighter or messenger. The previous evening they had talked while sitting by the fire. Palawan seemed interested in every detail about Kite and Pecora, and how Kite thought the Elder might be able to help him. Kite had also listened as Palawan had told him of his late wife; it seemed to Kite that Palawan was a very lonely man. That afternoon, as they approached the crest of the mountain, Palawan spoke with Kite. "The Elder lives just over this outcropping of loose stone. It is very dangerous, so be careful." The two began to climb the loose rock, but Palawan seemed to make much better speed than Kite. Then Kite saw Palawan slide on a loose rock, and come tumbling down the slope. Kite knew that the old man would tumble to his death if he wasn't stopped. Kite danced toward Palawan as he rolled, and tried to anchor himself. He caught Palawan's arms and held fast. The old man looked at him with deep bronze-green eyes and smiled, apparently unhurt, save for minor scrapes and bruises, and a small wound on his right elbow. They finished the ascent a little more slowly, and came upon a small hut. The two approached the hut, and found a figure bent in a garden. Kite scuffed his feet to make sure the man knew someone was there, then he stopped. The man slowly stood, tentatively holding his lower back, and turned. The man who faced him stood somewhat less than Kite's height, and lank. His coarse black hair framed a long face with deep, bronze-green eyes. Palawan walked over to the Elder, and for a moment seemed to occupy the same space, before melding entirely into the form of the Elder. "Marquis Kite of the House of Talador, I am Isentraum. I know the hows and whys of your coming, and I have seen the worthiness of your soul. Know that am both able and willing to aid your fiancee, and the price I request is small. There is a rare herb, known as Elmin. You must bring me as much as you can. You may find it at the home of a druid named Hartley, who lives outside the village of Greenmont, two days north of here. Give him my regards. When you return, I will see to your favor. Go now." With that, the old man returned to his garden, but Kite couldn't help but notice the wound on his right arm as he walked off in search of Hartley the druid of Greenmont. -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> A New Life What does a Bard do when she can no longer sing? Two years. Two years was a long time, but not long enough. Never wouldn't be long enough. Two years since the incident... It was really her fault. No matter how much she wanted to blame someone else, the primary fault lay totally with Je'lanthra'en. If only she hadn't been so proud, so sure her status would provide as much protection as a full phalanx of Baranur's army. Bards were very respected, but, in the black of night, where no one else could see, even a Bard could be attacked. Je'en had been in Magnus for an annual meeting of the College of Bards. She had stayed out late one night, and, in deciding to take the fastest way to her lodgings, had set her horse onto one of the three "tunnels" that led thru the Fifth Quarter - the sometimes called Thieves' Quarter: really the slums of the city. The "tunnels" - the only properly-wide, glow-globe lighted, patrolled (if irregularly) streets in that Quarter, the light creating a 'tunnel' of safety thru the darkness and danger of that Quarter - were the safest way thru the Fifth Quarter during the day. But, midway between the dark of the night and the first light of day, nowhere within the boundaries of the Fifth Quarter was safe. Je'en felt, however, that her green cloak and hood, the silver-embossed leather harp case on her back, and the harp on yellow on green of her horse's trappings would ward off any evil-doers: not only was a Bard the most respected non-Royalty possible, but there were rumors (not unfounded) that some Bards could do magic! Je'en couldn't, but no one else could know that. She felt herself so safe, that she didn't even make sure her sword was limber in its sheath, and ready to draw - in fact Leaf-killer was peace-bonded into its sheath because the Inn she had been at had required that precaution. Totally unconcerned with the shadows beyond the meager illumination on the "tunnel" she had chosen, Je'en was caught off guard by a shape that hurtled out of the darkness and knocked her from her horse. She hit the ground hard, but managed (by luck) to land on her attacker, so she was able to recover quicker than he. She was on her feet, cloak back, and Leaf-killer out and ready, by the time the man in tattered clothing (but a nice and shiny sword) was able to face her. Unfortunately, he had some friends with him - five to be exact. Self-protection was a skill all had to learn in this semi-civilized world, and Je'en could protect herself, but not as well as some (due mostly to the demands of her profession - she spent more time perforce at singing and harping than at sword-drill), and not well at all against six determined vagabonds, attracted by her rich trappings, and emboldened by their numbers. She put up a good fight - she actually incapacitated two of them, killing at least one - but they knew what they were doing. She felt an iron point score her cheek perilously near her right eye, and she was temporarily blinded by frighteningly profuse blood. Then, another sword scored on her leg, slicing into her thigh and buckling it. And, almost simultaneously, another edge caught her under her right bracer, cutting deeply into her right wrist, causing her to drop Leaf-killer as she sank to the ground. Helplessly unarmed, and weak from pain and blood-loss, Je'en watched as her horse was looted of the few resaleable goods she had. Irritated by the meager haul, the leader of the ruffians turned on Je'en, and noticed her fine green cloak and the harp. She was relieved of those, and the few items of personal jewelry she wore (including the pendant of her Rank in the College), and it was harder for her to see her harp, Soft-Winds, in the hands of the thieves than the thought of her battle-loss was. Until the attention of the leader was turned on her person. "Pretty," said the leader. "A little more money from the slavers, to make up for the trouble we've had wit' you." His leer was pure evil. "She'll take too much time, be too much trouble, Skar!" said one of the survivors. "I know someone'll give us 5 Crowns for this 'ere neck-chain - 'e needs it for a job 'e's got: 'personatin' a Singer, it is. Five Crowns's more'n we'd get fer her and all the rest o' her stuff, plus she killed Han, and probably Charet, too. Let's kill 'er, Skar! Real slow like, too." Skar was a man of action, but he knew his men well enough to listen to them. Five Crowns was more than the skinny girl would fetch, and the fact that she was a Bard, a Singer in the slang, could complicate matters. So, he decided. He drew his knife, and knelt next to the ever weakening Je'en. Then, casually, he placed the knife to her throat, and slashed quickly and cleanly. The new pain pushed Je'en over the edge. As blackness closed over her mind, she felt herself being dragged into the shadows at the edge of the "tunnel", heard some rude comments about what they were going to do to her before she cooled down too much, and then there was an odd honking noise just before the blackness claimed her. The 'honking' had been the Quarter's Early Warning System. It signaled a patrol, and said it was close. Skar was forced to leave Je'en behind, but he was long gone, with all the loot, by the time the patrol found the wounded Bard. The City Patrol, while in existence to keep order, also did its best to help people in need, when such aid wasn't directly dangerous. So, when Je'en's body was found, a stretcher was fashioned, and four of the patrol escorted her to the nearest Healer. Magnus, like most cities of the Realm, licensed its healers, insuring a minimum level of competency in the healing craft. But, some Healers bearing the gold-covered, city-seal-embossed, iechyd leaf (a simple pain-alleviating remedy when boiled in water) in their front windows were little more than potion-mixers, having no magickal knowledge whatsoever. Of course, the Court had claim to the best of the healers, but the other Healers thruout the city had no rating other than the gold leaf of minimum ability. Advertising by word of mouth generally led people to the best Healers, but the Patrol didn't have time for such shopping around. The moved rapidly thru the well lighted streets of the merchant quarter looking for the nearest gold leaf they could find. Of course, had they known she was a Bard, they would have made best speed to the Castle - a Bard was 'royalty', and would be treated as such. The healer living in the house they found was irritated at being awakened in the middle of the night, but when he saw Je'en, he shut up (after a short utterance in plea of aid) and went to work. The healer, unfortunately, was a potion-mixer. He knew three chants of healing: two to ease minor back-pain, and one to stop bleeding in the head area - i.e. only one of particular use. But he did know his herbs and potions, and he used his knowledge swiftly and surely to save Je'en's life. But, he just didn't know enough of the craft to return her to her former full health. When her life was no longer in danger, she was taken to a recovery-house. All but the most wealthy of healers operated from their homes, which usually didn't have enough room to house patients who required extended care. So, there were the Recovery-houses, large dormitory-style hostels where patients could receive the care necessary to help them to recover. She wasn't there long. Only four days, during which time she was unconscious, her body healing itself as best as it could with the help of various potions prescribed by her Healer. When she woke up, finding herself within the easily recognizable curtained-walled bed of a recovery-house, she called out - painfully and not very loudly - for an orderly. When one came, she said, "Rydw i Canur." The words were barely recognizable, and they hurt her throat like swallowing fire, but the peculiar resonance inherent in the almost-magical phrase conveyed their meaning, and the orderly went hurrying after someone in charge. Shortly thereafter, she was transferred to the Castle, and the care of the Royal Healer, Master Enowan. He immediatly set about implementing further healing using the more powerful magicks at his command, but he was too late to be must help. Once the body accepts a pattern of health, it takes massive magic to change that pattern. Most normal healing serves to help the body restore its normal pattern. But in the case of traumatic injury, special healing is necessary to force the body to survive, and thereby create a new life-pattern. Such had been done to Je'en, and not even the skills of Master Enowan could reverse the process now - it had been too long, and Je'en's life pattern had accepted tha injury to her throat and wrist as natural. Enowan was able to eradicate the scar on her leg, but he could only smoothe out the scar on her face, make it a little less ragged, and heal it as far as it would go. The damage to her throat - her windpipe, and therefore her voice - was irreparable, as was the damage to her wrist. When she awoke from the healing sleep that master Enowan had placed her in, she found herself in a private recovery room within the Castle, with an apprentice healer attending her. As soon as she was fully awake, the apprentice raced off to get Master Enowan. While she was alone, Je'en tried out her voice and then her hand. Her throat still burned a little, feeling a bit like an incipient cold just lingering at the back of her throat and tickling her with an unreachable itch. But, when she coughed to relieve the itch, it set her whole throat to such aching that she strove to ignore the minor discomfort to avoid the major pain. When she looked at her hand, the only evidence of injury was a small diamond of scar tissue at the center of both sides of her wrist. But, when she tried to flex her fingers, she found that she had almost no fine control over them - she could bend them all together, but not one at a time. And, when she reached for the pitcher at her bedside to pour herself a cup of water, once she was able to grasp the handle, she found that she couldn't lift it. There was absolutely no strength in her hand at all. Totally dispirited, she sank back on her pillows to await the Master healer, already afraid of what he would say. Master Enowan arrived, smiling the false-and-not-very-reassuring smile of a healer, and took her pulse at her throat and left wrist. Then, after lifting her eyelids to look at her eyes, he crossed his palms an inch above her chest, and closed his eyes. His hands began to glow, and Je'en knew that he was examining her deeply, the way only the best calibre of Healers could. When his hands stopped glowing, Je'en said, "So, how am I, Master Enowan?" The healer opened his eyes, and said, "Alive, and as well as can be expected." "But, what about my...my voice, and my hand? Will they heal?" "I'm afraid not, Je'en. The scar on your voice box will never be gone, tho it will stop hurting shortly. And your hand will never be as dextrous as it once was, tho it, too, will recover some. I...I'm sorry, Je'en, but there wasn't anything more we could do. We tried..." Je'en's eyes closed on her tears. She knew, somewhere deep down, that she would never sing again. When she was pronounced fit, she would go to the local College, and get tested, but she was sure she would fail. And, when you've been one thing all your life, how do you change? Two weeks later, the verdict was in. She could no longer sing, and her voice was deemed unsalvageable. She could no longer play, and her hand was also deemed unsalvageable. The Masters of the College ruled that she could remain a Bard if she so chose - but she did not. She stood in the anteroom waiting for the Hall of Ceremonies to be prepared. The Ceremony of Leaving was seldom performed, and there were special preparations to be made. She wore her finest tunic and breeches, and a new green cloak, and Rank pendant. The sword at her side wasn't Leaf-killer, and the harp on her back wasn't Soft-Winds, but she would never see those artifacts again anyway. These replacements had been given to her out of the stores of the College, tho she would only be keeping the sword after today. It was a fine weapon, well crafted without being showy, and she was glad to have it (but it couldn't replace Leaf-killer, that had been in the family since her father's father's father's mother's time). She was in all ways prepared for the ceremony - her lines were memorized with a Bard's meticulous skill, and she had steeled herself not to get emotional (at least not under the eyes of the whole College). Finally, two journeymen bards opened the great doors of the Hall, and beckoned her to enter. She did so, and began walking down the aisle formed by the huge, floor-to-ceiling Screens of Privacy - intricately carven wooden screens that narrowed the vast hall to a small lane that led from the doors to the Dias at the far end. Behind the Screens, the whole College-in-attendance was gathered, silent and mourning for the loss of a sister. As Je'en walked the aisle, she looked up at the huge escutcheon that hung behind the Dais. The blazon ran thru her mind - Vert, a bend or, over all, a bard Harp, proper: the green background for the World that was the Bard's home, the gold diagonal stripe for the allegeance the College paid to the kingdom of Baranur, and the Harp that signified their profession. She would miss being under the protection of that proud coat-of-arms. She reached the steps to the Dais, and mounted the leftward ones as was proper (normally, the rightward steps accessed the dais, but she was leaving, so it was reversed for her). The two journeymen waited at the steps until she was on the Dais, then they turned, and walked back down the aisle and out, closing the doors behind them. Je'en was alone on the Dais save for the Master of the College in Magnus, Master Heagn. The somewhat old man still had a fine voice for all his years, and his hands were as sure as a new journeyman's on his harp. He looked fondly on Je'en, and sadly, too. Tho Leavings weren't totally unheard of, usually the Leaver was one who had made a bad choice early in life, and found the College not quite right for them, or something came up that changed their lives in a happy way, and led them away from the College. The tragic nature of Je'en's Leaving was accentuated by the fact that, in Heagn's estimation, she had had the potential to one day become the Master of the College. When the doors were closed, the Ceremony began. Je'en advanced to the podium standing between herself and Master Heagn. On the podium was the Crystal of Oathes, an Artifact as old as Bards themselves, on which all promises within and to the College were made. Je'en placed her hands on the conic, multi-faceted, clear Crystal, and said, "Rydw i Canur," which meant 'I am a Bard' in the ancient language of the first Bards ever. As the words' resonance filled the chamber, she could feel the vibration travel down her arms and into the Crystal, which, after a moment began to glow softly, infusing her hands and arms with a pearly opalescence, and soothing the ache that still lingered in her throat when she spoke. Master Heagn then said, "Je'lanthra'en, Journeyman of the Eighth Stave, you and I have met here to dissolve your allegiance to the College of Bards. Is it your intention to continue with this course?" Swallowing from more than the discomfort of her throat, Je'en said, "Yes, Master Heagn." "Then let it be known that Je'lanthra'en is leaving of her own accord, and her own choice. Should circumstances change, or any aid ever be needed, the doors of this College, and all other Colleges united in the fellowship of all that is Bardic, shall not close their doors unto you, and readmittance will never be barred from you. "Now, return unto me the symbols of your former calling." Je'en took her hands away from the Crystal, but they continued to glow. She swiftly slipped off the harp's strap, and handed it to Master Heagn. If it had been hers, as had Soft-Winds, she would have been able to reclaim it from him after the ceremony, but she would leave this one with the College. She next unfastened her cloak, and handed it also to the Master Bard. And, lastly, she took off the chain that bore her Rank. That Master Heagn also took, and Je'en returned her hands to the Crystal. "Now, say the words that will release you from your vows and set you free of us and our ways," said Master Heagn. Je'en hesitated, swallowed again, and finally said, "Didw i ddim Canur." meaning 'I am not a Bard.' And the glow of the Crystal faded, finally going out. She felt a slight push against her hands as the Crystal emphasized her apartness now, and she lifted them from its surface. Oddly, she didn't feel any different - but maybe that was because she had long since accepted the fact that she was leaving, and this was just the confirmation of that fact. Master Heagn offered her his hand before bidding her farewell, and as she descended the rightward stairs, those behind the Screens began a minor key chant of parting that did more to bring on her tears than the actual ceremony had. She was now, finally, on her own, no longer a Bard, and no longer protected like one, either. What was she to do? Revenge was the first thing she thought of. Those six thieves had ruined her entire life. Two had already paid for it, but there were four more to catch, and torture, and eventually kill. But, Je'en wasn't vengeful. Another might have taken out at least a little frustration on that first healer who hadn't known enough to save her life as it had been before the accident. But she knew that it wasn't his fault, and she sent him a gold arm-band she had been given once for stopping a revolt in one of the western duchies by satirizing the upstart so well, and so scathingly, that his followers all left him, laughing. The arm-band was enough payment for a years worth of bone-setting, and ache-curing, and ague-warding for a wealthy family, and the healer immediatly moved into a better neighborhood (one not so close to the Fifth Quarter) after thanking her for such a generous gift. So, since revenge, as such, was really out of the question, she decided to join the city guard, and help protect others from what had happened to her. But there was one problem. She wasn't a very skilled fighter, and what she knew applied to right-handed techniques, which she could no longer use, of course. She had heard about a training school outside a little village to the northwest run by a retired adventurer who had quite a name as both an adventurer and as a teacher. It was said that those who survived his school were the best swordsmen around. His fee was high enough that he wasn't inundated by students, and his policy of a one week trial period to determine trainabilty, after which one could be rejected without a refund, kept the idle rich from cluttering up his practice yard. Je'en had a lot of money - she had kept most of it at the College in Magnus, and of course it had all been returned to her when she left. So, hoping she had the talent to go with her money and drive, she packed up and headed north-west. Besides, she thought, even if I'm not accepted, I'll be two-thirds the way to Dargon, where my brother Kroan, lives. I could always just keep on, and pay him a visit - haven't seen him in years. The School of Lord Sir Morion was quite impressive. It was set ten miles from the village of Tench, in the forest that covered most of the area. It looked like a citadel from the outside - massively walled, with great square towers at each of the five corners, and a huge ironwood drawbridge to span the fifty-foot deep, twenty-foot wide chasm that surrounded it. The drawbridge was down, and the portcullis up when Je'en arrived in the afternoon. The forest was cleared for a mile on all sides of the citadel, and the clearing was filled with activity - several neatly-planted fields were being tended to; one of three oval tracks was being used to race horses, and another hosted a foot race. Elsewhere, there were roped-off squares wherein two, and sometimes more, people fenced with wooden swords, and all manner of other weapons. From the number of people around that she could see, Je'en hoped that Sir Morion's school wasn't filled. She stopped by one of the roped enclosures, and watched the two people fencing within. They seemed very good as judged by her knowledge: they at least put on a good show. Finally, one of them, in all-black armor with a very stylised gryphon painted on the breastplate and wicked-looking silver trim around the eyeslits of his helm, executed a slashing backhand that caught his opponent in the side. Action stopped, and then the one in tattered blue slumped across the other's sword as if slain. He layed on the ground for a minute, then rolled over and sat up, took the hand offered him, and got helped to his feet. Both men removed their helms and began discussing the finer points of the battle. Je'en caught the attention of one of the similarly armored young men around the ring, and asked, "Where can I find Sir Morion, please?" "O, din tye know? Tha' one, in ta black. Tha's t'Lord o' tis place, miss. An' t'oter one, tha's Ironfist. Goin to graduate soon, 'e is. Real soon. Gonna miss 'im, too. Come on, lemme int'r'duce you to 'em both. Foller me, now, quick. Tey get away and a' talking, tey won't be back 'fore supper." Je'en followed the rather jovial, if hard to understand, fellow over to where the two combatants were talking away while two younger men removed their armor. Je'en's guide stepped right up to them, and said, "Hey, 'Fist, Bull, great match, eh? I bet you'll beat the Bull before ya leave, 'Fist - i know ya can do it! Yer gettin' beter every day! O, hey guys, this here little lady was askin' after ya, Bull. I'll leave ya to 'er: almost my turn in the ring. Bye, now." "Take care, Kyle," said the man who was still wearing black even tho his armor was all in a neat little pile at his feet. "And watch March's third-return: remember the counter I showed you." He turned to Je'en and said, "Hello. My name is Morion, but most of my students call me Bull. How do you do." Je'en shook his hand, and gazed at the man. He was tall, and full-bodied, with broad shoulders, and a thick chest, arms and legs. His hair was raven-black, his face handsomely aristocratic, and he had the oddest eyes she had ever seen - they were ice-grey, so light that there seemed to be something wrong with them. She said, "I'm fine, Sir." Her throat had ceased hurting by now, but her voice was still a bit gravelly, and she still swallowed a lot. "I was wondering whether you have room for one more student in your school, Sir. I...I have had to leave by previous profession, and I thought perhaps I could be a guardsman, or a mercenary, or something, now. Morion looked at Je'en carefully. She was rather tall for a girl, and she was in rather better condition than average. She obviously wasn't some maid, or tavern-girl, out to make something of herself. And then there was that terrible scar across her face. She had a history, and a reason to come here. "You know the rules?" "One week trial, fee in advance and non-refundable." "Yes. Well, if you have the money to spend, I'll take you in. Either Ironfist here, or myself will work with you each day, and you will know whether we will let you stay seven days from now. I'll show you to your temporary quarters - if you'll follow me?" The next week wasn't what she had been hoping for. She had practiced while traveling from Magnus, trying to get used to using her left hand to fence with, but it hadn't been easy. And, she appeared truly clumsy when she was sparring, especially since either Ironfist or Morion was usually her partner. She refused to explain anything about herself to them, tho, at least before she was accepted, and so they let her try to fight with what was obviously her off hand. But, she did her best at everything she was told to do, and that included some of the other work around the school, as well as running, jumping, climbing, and horse-back riding (which she was rather good at, even left handed). By the end of her trial period, she was sure she would be heading on to Dargon the next day, minus about half of her accumulated wealth. She hoped there were plenty of jobs for an unskilled wench in Dargon - she didn't want to live on her savings, and they wouldn't last all that long, anyway. Still, she was out in her practice armor and wooden sword, a wooden shield strapped to her arm in such a way that her wrist didn't come into play when moving it, and faced off against Sir Morion (she couldn't bring herself to call the man Bull - it just didn't fit him, tho she was sure that he had a good reason for keeping such a nickname). She had learned a few things in her week, and she wasn't quite so clumsy anymore. She had a good stance, and a good grip on the sword, as well as one good power-shot that was, unfortunately, all too easily blocked. They sparred, her sword-and-shield against Morion's single-sword (at which he was a master). She held her own, tho Morion was keeping his attacks down to a good novice level. She kept her eyes on his sword, and not on the distraction of his helm and its decoration, and she moved her whole body in response to his movements - the "rooted" technique was for superior strength or skill, and speed was one of her advantages. By the end of the match, she was sweating (tho Morion was as dry as an old bone) but feeling very good about herself, and how she had done. She removed her helm, and, more slowly, the rest of her armor (she didn't rate personal squires). As she did, she saw Morion, out of his armor, Ironfist, and the ten other farthest along students come her way. 'This is it - time to get told to leave' she thought, and her good feelings vanished like smoke in a good wind. Morion stopped before her, and the others gathered around her. He said, "Je'lanthra'en, you have been here your seven days. What do you think of your performance in that time?" Je'en said, "Sir, I really cannot answer that. Firstly, I am rather too prejudiced to judge my own fitness, and secondly, I am no judge of skill in any case. I...I think that I tried hard, but...was probably not good enough to be taught here." Morion wore a thoughtful expression thruout Je'en's little speech, and he said when she was finished, "Well, judge or not, some of what you said is true. You did try hard. And, we are judges, and we all think that you may someday make a very fine fighter, and an even better one if you train here, with us." Je'en's elation was echoed in Morion's twinkling eyes as she jumped up and down, and flung her arms around him. After being hugged for a long time, he disentangled himself from her, and said, "Put those things back on - you're doing first and second drill for at least two hours: we've got to strengthen up that left arm of yours. Go, get busy, you're my pupil now, and I don't like slackards!" There was no sting in his voice, tho, and neither of their smiles lessened a bit as he helped her back into her armor. The first thing she did, once she was accepted, was have a suit of practice armor made for her. She did that for two reasons - first, the loaner set she had been using, while adequate protection, didn't fit very well, and looked really silly; and second, she had an obstacle to overcome aside from her awkwardness: one of pity. All during her trial week, only Ironfist and Morion had treated her as an equal, testing her fairly and objectively. The other students, after seeing the scar on her face, and the way clumsy way she used her left hand, began to feel sorry for her, and treated her very gently, like china. So she decided to build for herself an image that would make the others forget about her disabilities. Thus: her new armor, flashy-green, ornamented, daunting in aspect, and another addition - a silver half-face mask to match the one on her helm, and which she never removed except to sleep (and only when alone). It didn't take long for the students to replace the 'poor thing' image she had with that of the formidable 'Green Blade' (as she came to be known, which was sometimes shortened to 'Greeny'). And so the months passed, almost unnoticed. She was finding that learning to fight was hard, but also exciting. And, once she got used to using her left hand (which did take a while), she was good at it. She became Morion's star pupil, and the darling of the school. There were few women in training there, but that didn't affect her status - rather she attracted a following of the same type as Ironfist had: people who were inspired by her ability, and wished her well for it. There was more to do than fight, too. There was the other training; physical fitness, riding, and such, skills to compliment that of the sword (or other chosen weapon). There were the chores - tending the garden that helped feed the school, keeping the citadel clean and in good repair, keeping the practice armor and weapons in good repair, too. And, aside from work, there was fun, too. She learned some games, and listened to stories that the others told (tho she steadfastly refused to tell any of her own). She learned that the citadel was the ancestral home of Lord Morion, and that its name was Pentamorlo. Many were the tales of that House, and, tho she burned to tell some that only she seemed to know, she kept to her resolve not to, fearing to venture anywhere near the realm of Barddom. Of all the people - teachers, students, and servants - at Morion's school, she told only three her full story. Two were Morion, and Ironfist, and she told them for their kindness to her, and so that they would know her well enough to trust her, and maybe to like her. Both were sympathetic to her pain and sorrow, without being pitying. The third was a young man named Timirin, who was usually called Oak. He had been Ironfist's student, and was near 'Fist's equal when she arrived. Came the time for Ironfist to graduate, Oak sort of took his place. He took over teaching Je'en, going at her own pace, but never going easy. In time, they grew close, as she never had to anyone as a Bard, who usually felt too far removed from other people, and too busy to cultivate a relationship with fellow Bards. But, she was free of that, and Timirin was handsome, intelligent, and an excellent swordsman. It was easy to fall in love with him, if love it was. And, one night when they were alone in one of the towers, and he began to get a little over eager, she told him her story. If that had been meant to scare him off; it failed. They became faster friends, then lovers. But, they were not in love. Eventually, it was time for Oak to leave, and there wasn't enough between them to persuade Je'en to go away with him. He had helped her immensely, tho, giving her confidence in herself as her skill grew, and she thanked him for that, and then said farewell. She was a very fast learner. By the end of her first year, her reflexes had been retrained, and her left hand was now as capable as had been her right. She had all the basic moves of sword-and-shield and single-sword combat drilled into her until they were second nature. And she had begun to learn special defenses and attacks - those things that lifted an ordinary fighter into the realm of the special. She learned the 'rooted' technique, wherein one planted oneself in one spot, and tried to draw strength from the earth itself to protect and to attack. She also learned the 'lightning' technique, where one stayed in one place as little as possible. That was a variation of what she had originally learned, but there were subtleties that turned mere swiftness of foot into deadly force. And there were other techniques, some named for a phenomenon of nature that they resembled, some named for the person who invented it, or made it famous. Some were strictly for defense, some only for attack, some for certain special conditions, some to be used at all times, even with other styles and techniques. She also learned to use several other weapons well, tho not expertly - mace, staff, polearm: she was limited in the use of two handed weapons, of course, and a second hand weapon as well, which was why she concentrated on the simple sword, and shield. Eventually, the shield had to go, because of the time it took to put it on properly with her bad hand, so she became even more expert in single sword. By the time she ws ready to graduate, she could hold her own in single combat, even against Morion's famed double-sworded 'Windmill', and in a melee, alone against up to three, and more if she had someone or something to protect her back. All in all, in just under two years, she had become a most accomplished Swordswoman, and when she graduated form Morion's school, she went with all honors, and the well wishing of all in Pentamorlo. Before she left, she discussed her plans with Morion. She told him that she intended to return to Magnus, and join the city guard. Morion said, "That is a noble idea, but perhaps not a good one. You have spent months here creating for yourself a new life, and have been very successful, too. Magnus can only hold bad memories." "What else is there, then?" she asked. "Well, for starters, you could stay here and teach." Je'en smiled, and shook her head. "Okay, okay. I know it gets a little dull around here, and you want to do something with your youth. Why don't you go visit your brother in Dargon? That is a good city for adventure - you could join its guard, or hire out with a caravan, or on an exploring ship. There's plenty to do in a frontier city like Dargon. And, if you find nothing, well, you'll have had a nice visit with family, and you can move on, even back to Magnus. But give something different a try, first. It'll be good for you." And, Je'en took his advice. When the ceremony of her graduation was over, she mounted her packed and ready horse, and rode away from Pentamorlo to the northwest, and Dargon. -John White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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