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.