Chapter 4 :: Be For Battle Prepared
During the time of my recovery I was able to do little more than sit and read, and in this way the book Duane had given me came back into my hand, tingling and impatient. I studied the words for hours, alone in my room, or in the blazing green of the chapel garden. At such times I took no notice of the sky, or anything about me, and sought only to embed the strange words into my mind, to bring my will to bear upon them. Frustration plagued me, unable as I was to prove myself in battle throughout that summer; indeed, I was a very invalid forced to rely on others. I struggled for the power Duane had shown me, a might needing no sword, no arm, only will and word.
I despaired of ever grasping the concept of the spell, much less harnessing the magic of it. I sat one June afternoon in the shady green of the west chapel wall, well enough to walk but lifting my mace higher than my chest was yet beyond me. The twisted letters of the book taunted me. All was as Duane had said; I was nothing more than a blunt iron sword in an army of steel rapiers. In fury, I flung the book to the ground, and from it fluttered a small, sealed note. Curious, I found it to be addressed to me, in the hand of a lady. Surely the maid had slipped it among my books, perhaps while I was sleeping. It was folded so small that it might have escaped my notice for weeks, but it was dated only a day ago, and the seal was that of Samantha's house. Hands shaking not with illness, I broke the wax and unfolded the scrap of parchment, to find only the posy of a note, brief and elegant enough to be inscribed on the inner curve of a ring.
My heart is gladdened to hear that you are better. I have not forgotten the kindness you showed me on the day of my arrival, and hope someday to repay it.
I must have read it a dozen times over, as if it was the spell that eluded me, memorizing each curve of her hand, the path left by the deliberate motion of her quill. Almost without thought, as if it was the most natural conclusion in the world, I lifted my arm and quite carelessly spoke the words that had haunted me for so many months. The sky that day was blue and fathomless, and the burst of lightning that shattered the garden vase came not from its cloudless range, but from my own hand.
I had read both the common tongue and the letters of Iocus since I was a boy, and yet before that moment, energy still flashing blue over broken shards of pottery, I had never understood the sorcery of idea into word. I never forgot it again.
The next morning I returned to duty.
"The small one fights as if she were made of three," Neesa said, and Tieger's waster found its way neatly past my defense to my ribs. I feared my swordsmanship was lacking, not because of my illness, but because of the second tier of Blades, practicing short-bladed combat on the far side of the combat yard.
"Might I remind you," I said, appreciatively kneading the bruise left by the wooden sword, "that you are here to call on this match and not those of the lower knights?"
"It was a simple observation," Neesa said, her mocking smile very white against her dark face. "Not one to throw the match unless the combatants were unfocused."
"Indeed," Tieger's heavy jaw lifted in a grin. "Are you ill yet, Brother Grissom? You've not been thinking of the fight, today."
"Be silent!" I hissed, with a fury more at myself than at my comrades. They knew me far too well, the two of them. "This match is not yet over." I flipped my own waster up, wary of Tieger, who was circling me.
"T'would be over, and quite some more, if true weapons were used." Neesa sighed, leaning on her halberd outside the ring, bored already with watching us fight. Neesa did not care for over-training, and her gaze was contented on the other knights. "A pretty thing, at that. I would not think her good with a sword."
"Jealous, Neesa?" Tieger's smirk was for his partner, but his eyes were still on me.
"Ha. I would not be twenty again for the wide world." She rapped the butt of her staff on the hard packed earth. "Have done with that, lads. Your arm's not going to come back overnight, Grissom, and Tieger beating you bloody won't mend you."
I might have argued, and Tieger as well, were it not for the sound of Guildenstern's voice, calling the second tier to order. We stopped and listened, Tieger and Neesa not out of breath, and I less out of breath than I would have been a fortnight before. Guildenstern had been busy of late, and Duane had been often in council with him. I had given little thought to them, and I'm sure that was more than they had given to me.
"How fares the lady in ranking, Neesa?" I asked. Guildenstern had taken to speaking lower, and could not be heard clearly at this distance.
Neesa did not meet my eyes. "She did well enough in her trials, for a soft young thing." Neesa sniffed. "I've heard Guildenstern's picked her for special duty, but naught more than that."
"His special forces, perhaps?" Tieger said, rubbing his chin. "I've heard he's wanting something to best the VKP."
"Rumors," Neesa shouldered her halberd. "'Tis enough to remind me why I prefer the lower ranks, with men who speak plain." She clapped me on the shoulder. "Come on then, I'm hot just from watching you, and Grissom needs some ale to wash his thrashing down with."
"I'd not think on the lady," Tieger said to me, as Neesa strode ahead, into the cool shadows of the gatehouse. I had known the two of them since my first day in the blades, and had learned that while Neesa was the one most likely to speak, Tieger was the one most likely to speak his mind.
"Samantha?" I said, wondering what about the lady could inspire such grimness on Tieger's part. "I had not thought of her, not beyond curiosity."
"I've been in this army many a day." Tieger shook his great head, like some ancient white-maned lion, and sighed. "And it's not for mere captains to meddle in the affairs of his betters, brother. I'd not see you tangled up in it."
"I somehow don't think passing interest in the abilities of the lower ranks to be meddling in the affairs of my betters." My indifference was feigned, and somehow we both knew that. Tieger sighed heavily.
"Very well. I've spoken my piece, that's all." His hand came down heavily against my back, blunt features transformed by his smile. "Come then, Neesa is not one to like waiting."