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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
*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)
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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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!"
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
"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
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?"
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
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
White will cover
Black will fight
Blue will help
And so will come
Ileiruon will come on
Blue and grey will
Sarve will not sit and
And so will come
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.
"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.
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
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
"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
"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.
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,
The healer opened his eyes, and said, "Alive, and as well as can
"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
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
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
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
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.