Sweat cascaded down Aerimon Clyde’s forehead, shoulders, chest, back, and arms as he held a wooden sword before him, the blade running parallel to his nose. His knuckles were bone-white as he was forced to maintain a death grip on the hilt of the blade to keep it from slipping from his grasp. Although he knew the blade was light, it felt like a boulder in his arms. He was being tested; the welts and blood that abounded across his body were a testament to the brutal nature of it. His years of experience had brought him to this moment.
Reprieve was short-lived for Aerimon, however, as his attackers darted in once more, stabbing and slashing with their wooden weapons. His exhausted body moved solely as a reaction to what his opponents did.
Ducking beneath a blow intent on colliding with his temple then deflecting another aimed at his side, Aerimon survived another volley of attacks. He did not manage a counter though and knew that unless he did so soon, he’d be overwhelmed.
The grass beneath his feet had been moist when this began, now it had become a low field of splattered green and brown. Uncertainty followed Aerimon’s every step but he had faith in his ability to recover his balance quickly if he ever slipped. Nearly three bells had passed since Aerimon had begun this test and the bright sun, unobstructed by clouds, had baked his exposed skin. Every so often, the assembled people gasped in amazement at the combat.
A shoddy mask protected his head from serious injury should a strike manage to slip past his guard. His skill had kept the mask from having to serve its purpose just yet, however.
Through the mask’s eyeholes, Aerimon saw one of his opponents, Simon, take an ill step. Simon fell to one knee and Aerimon leapt at him. He knew he’d have to defend against the man who was still standing, Dale, but his body had acted on instinct when it propelled him forward.
Aerimon was on Simon in a flash but Dale was at Simon’s side a moment later. Aerimon threw his hips back as Simon, still on one knee, crosscut as his legs. The wooden blade sailed past him just a few knuckle lengths from making contact with his thigh.
Out of the corner of his eye, Aerimon saw Dale bring his blade above his head then cut downward at the top of his skull. He raised his blade high to deflect the blow then side kicked Dale in the gut, sending him stumbling backwards several steps.
Aerimon turned back to where Simon was just a moment ago to behold a blurry, thin object shearing through the air and speeding for his head. All the discomfort of his body fled from him as he ducked below the strike. The pain his body felt had no place in this realm for Aerimon. He was the essence of his wants, his passion.
Without unbending from his crouch, Aerimon thrust his blade skyward and the point of it collided with the underside of Simon’s jaw. Simon stumbled backward and barely kept his feet beneath himself.
Turning away from his defeated opponent, Aerimon surmised that Dale was in worse shape than he was. Dale’s exhausted state became even more apparent when Aerimon unleashed a series of vicious attacks. Dale managed to defend most the attacks while evading the others, however.
There. When he crosscut at Dale’s head, Dale blocked high, steeled his body and then exhaled his breath. He was weak in that one moment. A plan formulated behind Aerimon’s eyes.
Again, Aerimon cut at Dale’s head. This time, however, Aerimon followed the strike with a powerful front kick to Dale’s midsection. He forsook regaining a defensive posture, much to Dale’s surprise, and threw the attack at the time when he knew Dale would recover. The ball of Aerimon’s foot drilled into Dale’s stomach, the muscles protecting the fragile organ lax. Dale doubled over and began retching as Aerimon’s wooden blade cracked him in the temple.
The other three men that Aerimon had dispatched were much luckier in that they did not find themselves face down in the wet earth clutching their stomachs, or any part of their bodies, in agonizing pain.
The assembled crowd began applauding Aerimon’s spectacular performance as he stood bolt upright and waited as his mentor approached him. He held his blade pointed to the ground and his eyes locked on his teacher’s as Arrick stalked over to him.
Aerimon was ready for what came next only because his years of rigorous training with Arrick forced him to adopt an attitude of perpetual alertness.
Arrick dropped to a crouch then sprang forward in the time it took Aerimon to blink. The greying man wrapped his arms around Aerimon’s legs and drove forward. Aerimon, however, dropped all his weight down on his left hip and threw his legs back in an attempt to keep from being taken down and driving Arrick into the earth. He might have tried stabbing Arrick in the back with his weapon had it not fallen from his grasp as he had defended the takedown.
Arrick compensated for the proper defense by forsaking the takedown and springing up to his feet while circling Aerimon to end up behind his student with his arms wrapping Aerimon’s midsection. Arrick positioned his foot behind Aerimon’s ankle, fell backwards, and twisted. Aerimon ended up on his side with his master pressing his weight down upon him.
Even through the protective head gear, the blow that came down upon Aerimon’s head had his eyes spinning in his skull. He managed to create a shell with his arms around his head as he recovered from the blow. Blood pooled in his mouth.
In an explosion of motion, Aerimon twisted himself towards his mentor, spun on the small of his back, and locked his legs behind Arrick’s back. Arrick dropped his upper body down as he struck at Aerimon with his elbow. Aerimon covered his head to block the strike then wrapped his arms around Arrick’s back to keep him from regaining his posture.
By shifting his hips, gripping one of Arrick’s legs with his hand, then throwing his leg out in a windmill motion, Aerimon managed to throw his instructor onto his back while following the man to straddle him. Aerimon immediately began raining fists and elbows down upon Arrick, although with controlled vigor.
Arrick covered from the attacks and threw his hips up to dislodge Aerimon from his chest. Aerimon expected the move, however, and posted one hand on the earth to keep from falling off his instructor.
Aerimon’s other hand grabbed his instructor’s head and pulled it up to create a gap between the man and the ground large enough to allow him to lift one of his legs off the earth then swing it over his instructor’s arm and under his head. Dropping his weight down to keep Arrick from wiggling out from beneath him, Aerimon then brought the knee of his other leg up next to his instructor’s head then locked his foot behind his own knee.
The crowd gasped at the efficiency of Aerimon’s technique and at Arrick’s dilemma.
Pressure from Aerimon’s legs wrapped around Arrick’s neck staunched the flow of blood from his carotid arteries to his head. Shades of red blossomed on his cheeks as veins across his forehead nearly erupted from beneath his skin.
Utilizing all his strength, Arrick managed to roll Aerimon off him, but the choke did not slip off his neck. Aerimon felt triumphant as he saw his instructor’s eyes become unfocused as if he was immensely groggy. This feeling fled him quickly though when Arrick suddenly surged up to his feet, carrying Aerimon with him.
Aerimon’s mistake of counting this as a victory before the fact afforded him with a jarring pain that blasted the air from his lungs as Arrick bore him back to the earth. His legs became weak for a moment and the lock slipped. Aerimon recovered enough to cinch his legs tight again. Although they would not serve to choke the flow of blood to Arrick’s head, they would at least keep him from regaining his posture.
A deep exhale escaped Arrick and he warily made small movements in an attempt to release himself from Aerimon’s legs.
Arrick made to reach around Aerimon’s back, likely in an attempt to lift him up and slam him back to the earth once more. Aerimon used both of his arms to hug one of Arrick’s to his chest though, unlocked his legs, then swung the leg that was over Arrick’s back in front of his face and attempted an arm lock that would break or dislocate Arrick’s arm. Aerimon hugged the arm tight and jolted his hips into Arrick’s elbow to apply pressure.
Arrick quickly bore all his weight down upon Aerimon, pushing him up onto his shoulders and forcing his knees down towards his own face. Unable to extend his body, Aerimon knew that the attack on Arrick’s arm was now futile. Before Aerimon could abandon the attack to attempt something else, Arrick used his free arm to land an unexpected punch to Aerimon’s jaw.
The shock of the blow caused Aerimon to free his instructor from the hold. Arrick then lifted his leg above Aerimon’s head and brought it down, leading the strike with his heel. Aerimon covered his face but was surprised when an immense force did not crash into his arms and head.
Moving his arms from his head afforded him a very close look at his instructor’s heel.
Arrick retracted his foot then helped Aerimon stand. The crowd watching exploded with noise as they began clapping and hollering, some of them rejoicing as others slapped coins into their hands with a scowl.
Blood flowed from a gash in Aerimon’s mouth and he spit an enormous glob of saliva and blood into the earth. Arrick seemed uninjured although dirt covered his clothing and his breath escaped him in deep exhales and voluminous inhales.
The four others who had been Aerimon’s partners throughout this test had already risen to their feet and had watched the spectacle as well. They seemed beaten but not too severely and for that, Aerimon was grateful. Although he had lost to Arrick, he was proud of his performance throughout the day.
Arrick clapped Aerimon on the back and said, “Come, Aerimon. We should move inside before they carry you off and parade you through town.”
Aerimon spit more blood then followed Arrick into the man’s home.
Several days had passed since Aerimon’s test. Or so he thought.
Arrick watched him as he taught three children their art. Reminiscing of his own training throughout his childhood caused Arrick’s focus to blur. He had been the son of a father obsessed with understanding how the human body worked and how to defeat it. Also, his father was a man who thrived in the beauty of art. He would string techniques together that soon became more of a dance than a practical means by which to defend one’s self.
Arrick was not excluded from the training. He learned much in the ways of defending himself but also, he was forced to learn this dance of martial prowess. In this dance, Arrick found little usefulness. It all looked so good but each stunning pose had a flaw. Chinks he saw while he watched his father lose himself within the aesthetically stunning movements. It was strong and elegant but Arrick always saw ways to beat it.
Instructing at a young age caused him to make leaps and bounds in his progress as well, as he would accompany his father on trips across the continent. On these excursions, Arrick’s father sought to share his knowledge with any who would pay. He was a man that did not settle down for long and constantly had Arrick moving with him.
Then, when Arrick was nearly at his twentieth winter, they came upon Aubrite Keep. The keep sat east of the Barony of Leavenfell and was nestled against the shore of the Cirrangill Sea. A small village surrounded Aubrite Keep. Arrick and his father had met with the instructors of the military force stationed at this keep and they had spent a month learning from one another. Arrick’s father thrived on absorbing what he could learn from others, but he could not stay in the same place for long. He was convinced that other opportunities to learn and teach always lay one step ahead.
Arrick quickly made friends and began teaching them how to defend themselves when he wasn’t assisting his father. He did not show them how to construct a dance with any of the techniques but his father did. He saw the loss of interest in his friends’ eyes when they danced and knew that he wanted to teach something else. He wanted to turn people into weapons of self-defense and forsake all beauty in doing so.
A woman caught his eye, and he caught hers. They began dating and quickly fell in love. Thus, when Arrick’s father told him it was time to leave, he decided that he could not. He stayed, exuberant at the thought that he could finally call a place home. He was married soon after and worked with his wife’s father, farming their small plot of land while still teaching. Eventually, a position as an instructor for Aubrite Keep became available when one of the current instructors passed away. Arrick jumped at the chance to train the soldiers.
It took sennights of persistence but eventually Arrick prevailed and was given the position. At first, the other instructors and soldiers were hard-pressed to show him any respect since he hadn’t lived the life of a soldier like they had. He wasn’t truly part of the military. But his art spoke for him and they began to respect and admire him.
Soon enough, travelers would stop by Aubrite Keep as word of Arrick’s teaching spread. They would stay in Aubrite Keep for several days and spend time training with Arrick. Years later Arrick became the head instructor at the keep and surrounding cities and keeps sent their own troops to Aubrite Keep to be trained.
Eventually, Arrick had enough coin to buy a home for him and his wife. He entertained the idea of moving to Dargon and becoming an instructor for the Town Guard; both he and his wife had talked before about what an exciting adventure it would be to move to a big city and start from scratch. Days before their departure, his wife’s father became sick and his wife begged him to stay in Aubrite Keep and continue helping tend to the farm. In due time, Arrick decided that he would remain in Aubrite Keep, and was happy and content.
Arrick’s art worked and it worked well. Several times, military strategists and instructors came to Aubrite Keep to convene with Arrick and learn techniques that they could then teach to their students. Many of Arrick’s students referred to their training as a “gritty and ugly art”.
Once Aerimon had finished his lesson with the children and dismissed them, he snapped from his reverie. Aerimon heeded Arrick’s call and stepped from the large open room that dictated most of Arrick’s house and onto the porch. The few feet of ground-level wood paneling harbored two chairs and had little room for anything else without blocking the entrance to the home.
“Sit down, Aerimon.” Arrick handed him a cup of steaming liquid once he had done so. He remained standing and sipped the hot liquid. “The soil of your mind must be accepting. Let me plant seeds of thought in you and do not choke them out until you have considered them carefully.
“You did very well in your test, Aerimon. Better than I did when my father evaluated me at such a level. Your test is now complete. I’ve been watching your classes as a part of it throughout the past few days. I think you have a lot to give people who will listen. Even one such as me.”
“Thank you, master. I’ve been with you since I was a boy. Fourteen winters now. I found passion here, a job, and the rest of my family. If you think I’m good at this, then it is only because of you. So I should really be thanking you.”
“You’ve taught me quite a bit too, Aerimon. Like to not get into a grappling match with people of your age and skill.” Arrick cautiously bent and extended his arm several times and grimaced. “That arm bar hyperextended my elbow. Great form. Should have known to keep it standing with you.” Arrick smiled but Aerimon did not.
Arrick could tell that he wanted to make an outburst at hearing what he had done to his instructor but kept quite out of fear of seeming disrespectful. So he waited for his turn to speak, “Arrick, I didn’t know I injured you. I apologize. I took it too far with my aggression.”
“Nonsense. You countered my force with just as much force. You’re just one damn good grappler.” The two shared a smile at that. “Now, what am I going to do with you?”
“What do you mean, Arrick?”
“Well you certainly can’t stay here after embarrassing me like you did. I’m going to have to run you out of town to maintain my pride.”
“I’m lost, master.”
“I never was good at making a joke, huh? Drink your regenerative; I don’t want you to spill it.”
Aerimon did as he was told, gulping the hot liquid even as his mouth and throat protested. “There. Now will you stop killing me with suspense? I’d rather fight you again than go through this.”
“Would you now?” A raised eyebrow from Arrick showed a challenge to Aerimon. “Okay, I’ll stop. This is yours now.”
Arrick watched with a smile as Aerimon’s eyes became plastered to the cloth held in his hand. Slowly, Aerimon stood from the chair and let his hands fall to his side, spilling the remnants from the cup and onto his foot. The heat of the liquid seemed to not affect Aerimon at all as he stared hard at the arm band. It was extremely rugged and of a rough cloth that had been stitched together many times. It was old and worn, the knot in it a permanent bind. He had seen Arrick wear it only on special occasions. He had worn it during Aerimon’s test.
“Arrick, your father gave this to you when he left. I can’t take this from you. You’re not that old, you can’t be done teaching. That’s the last thing you have of his, isn’t it?”
“Oh, I know that. You aren’t taking anything from me, you’ve earned it. You’re right, I’m not done yet but you are ready to begin your journey, and I can’t keep you from that. Take this, take your experience, your mind and tactics, your body, and your passion and go spread your knowledge. You’re very young to be so good at our art, Aerimon. You remind me a lot of myself at your age. You can learn so much by teaching and Aubrite Keep isn’t where you’re going to do it. Go and share your knowledge. Begin your life.”
Aerimon was silent for a moment, then, “I don’t know what to say, master.”
“Say nothing of it then. We will tell your parents of your plans tonight and we will celebrate. You’ve got a lot to give and a lot to learn. You can learn so much more and you’ll be very successful elsewhere. You won’t realize your potential by teaching under my shadow your whole life, Aerimon. Here.”
Arrick thrust the arm band into Aerimon’s palm then gripped his wrist with a tight squeeze. Aerimon pulled Arrick towards him and the two men clapped each other on the back in a tight embrace.
“Thank you, master.”
“You know what you need to do is shut up about work. It’s a challenge to keep you on task wherever we are. Can’t we talk about something else or go do something that doesn’t involve anything about work? I swear by all the gods, Kalen Darklen, you make no sense. Sometimes I wonder why I married you.”
Nearly three sennights had passed since Kalen had uprooted the spies that had been placed in the Town Guard. Since then, there hadn’t been any signs of Liriss’ activity and Kalen craved the arrest of that man.
Kalen suffered through his wife’s verbal lashing in silence and allowed an insincere somber look to overcome him. It was true that he tended to dwell on matters that dealt with the Town Guard too much after he and Ilona had walked back to their home, constantly wondering where Liriss might be hiding out and who he was already involved with.
It was also true that Kalen had successfully made Ilona feel as though her words had actually hurt him by the look of regret that claimed her face. This knowledge made his retort all the more enjoyable as he said, “I like to think you married me because of how devilishly handsome I am and because of my extraordinary wit. But we know that’s not the case. The real reason is because of how good I am under those covers. It’s because I can move my hips like this. And like that. And make you go…”
The bewildered mask that claimed his wife’s face made him cease his ridiculous dance and smirk at her. Ilona burst into laughter at her husband’s manner.
Kalen laughed as he playfully wrapped her in his arms and began wrestling with her and biting her neck. She wiggled in his grip but could not dislodge her vivacious husband from tickling her.
“Kalen, stop. I swear I’m going to hit you if you don’t.”
“Oh come on. How about we go figure out why you really married me. We can just check to make sure that we’re both right about that one. Let’s test my theory first.”
“Wait. Wait dammit!”
“Oh, you are energetic today. That’s going to make waiting even tougher than normal.”
Once Kalen had ceased grappling with Ilona, she forced her smile to hide as she said, “Okay. I was being serious when I was talking to you earlier. I don’t think it’s good of you to always have work on your mind. You go to work and come home with me and that’s it. And don’t get me wrong, when you aren’t obsessing about Liriss I enjoy our time together, a lot actually. Hey, stop that. Let me talk.”
Kalen kept himself from gloating but could not keep his enormous smile in check.
“Why don’t you start doing something else? Look around for a hobby to engage in after work to kind of be a buffer between work and personal life. What do you think?”
“Can’t you and me having…”
“No! Something other than that!”
“Fine! Uhm I’m not sure. I could start going to taverns but I don’t think you’d like that. Hell, I don’t think I’d like that.”
“What about that new instructor that came from Aubrite Keep? Maybe you could train with him a few days a sennight. You’d have something new to learn and I’d much rather hear about that than about work.”
“Not a bad idea. I actually hear great things about him. He’s even teaching out of his home here now, not just going to nobles’ houses and teaching there. He’s renting a spot not too far from the Old Guard House. Guess I’ll go see him tomorrow.”
“But what are you going to be doing? You don’t do anything other than work and spend time with me.”
“I figured I’d take to the arts. I’d like to finally try painting and learning to play a few instruments. I know it’ll be a little expensive but we’re both making more now. And… Well.” The prolonged pronunciation of the last word had Kalen’s eyebrow raised in a question.
He waved his arms in a motion that meant, “Continue.”
“Well, I was thinking that we could talk about having a baby.”
Kalen was thoroughly caught off guard but he did not feel trepidation about the idea of having a child. He decided that was a good sign and said, “I haven’t even thought of it but it’s an amazing idea.” As he spoke it became more real and felt more right. “What made you want this now?”
“Well with how well things have been going for us I just thought it was time. I know that work is stressful and there’s the whole Liriss thing but I figure that there will always be reasons not to have a kid but once we have one, I don’t think we’ll regret anything. I was going to stop taking Maidenkeep and then we just have to make love more often.”
“Like I’d say no to that! Gods I’m a happy man. I’m going to be a daddy and you’re going to be a mommy! Come here.” Even though Kalen beckoned Ilona, he was the one to skip over to her and pull her into a tight embrace. They kissed with smiles on their faces.
Ilona pulled away from Kalen for a moment and said, “But don’t think I’m going to sit at home for the rest of my life after this.”
“Of course not!”
Kalen lifted her up and began carrying her back to their room. “Time to make a baby.”
“Aren’t we also testing your theory?”
“Does it really need to be tested?”
Ilona rolled her eyes but smiled wider as she said, “I guess that is one of the reasons I married you. Don’t let it go to your head though.”
“Oh I have so many puns to say to that it isn’t even fair.”
Thumps sounded as Aerimon watched his few students practice a specified string of techniques with wooden swords, striking at wooden pylons. The noise comforted him as he weaved through the three gentlemen and corrected their movements.
Aerimon made periodic trips to the homes of nobles to teach them but also taught classes in group sessions at his home.
He had leased a building with only one large room on the first floor which he had kept mostly empty. A hearth was placed in one of the walls and although no fire burned there at this moment, it was still warm from the water he had boiled earlier. A square table meant for four people was pushed up against the corner opposite of the front door. A second floor spanned only half the distance of the first and was really designed to serve as a storage area. A ladder led up to it and the ceiling was only several feet above it causing Aerimon to crouch whenever he climbed up to lie down on the cot placed there.
Boots marching across the wood floor caused Aerimon to let off correcting a student for a moment to see three men entering his home. He noticed as their footwear left tracks of mud where they tread.
Aerimon turned back to his student and said, “Hey, focus here. Your strike is too wide. You need to move from your body to the target. Not outside your body then to the target. That is how you’re going to get stuck.” Throughout the explanation Aerimon demonstrated what he wanted his pupil to do. The student nodded then stared hard at the pylon before attempting the strike again, this time correctly. “Good.”
Aerimon turned from his student and to the newcomers. They were leaning against the wall but looking around his home with interest. “Gentlemen I have a class running now. Please watch and I’ll be with you in less than half a bell.”
They looked to Aerimon long enough to nod then resumed scrutinizing the place.
With a force of will, Aerimon pushed them from his mind, not allowing the suspicious aura he felt from them to cloud his mind as he taught. It was a feeling brought on by intuition, something that Aerimon had learned to trust. The next dozen menes passed slowly but Aerimon finally called his students over to him. They stood shoulder to shoulder with each having the tips of their blades pressed into the floor and their hands resting on the end of the hilt.
“Good work today, students. I’m seeing improvement in all of you. Now, we will begin sparring soon. I have some protective masks but they are worn. They’ll get the job done but if you would like to have your own, then see a leatherworker soon. I’ll need a few menes to speak with these gentlemen then we can drink and talk.”
One of the men allowed his eyes to drift over to the trio then said, “Master, you have business to attend to. We won’t keep you.”
The other two men mumbled their agreement as well.
“Fair enough. Attention!” The three men snapped their arms to their sides, their blades on the left side, and their feet together. “Bow!” They bowed to their instructor as he bowed to them. “Have a good day. See you all soon.”
“You as well, Aerimon.”
Once his students had departed, Aerimon approached the others. They pushed off the wall at his advance and seemed tense. The rigidity of their bodies and devious set of their eyes frayed Aerimon’s nerves. Aerimon immediately took note of the blades strapped to their hips. He stopped at a distance too far for any of them to strike at him without lunging. Of course he would be the one to strike first if he believed he needed to defend himself. He still carried his wooden blade.
“How may I help you today?”
“You know, I could go for something to drink.” The man in the middle smiled, showing his rotten teeth after he spoke.
“Yes. Where are my manners? Take a seat at my table, I will be with you in a moment.”
Aerimon swiftly spun away from them as he moved to a counter where a pitcher stood atop a wooden disk. He removed the cloth cover and a torrent of steam spewed from the nozzle. He then pulled four porcelain cups from a cabinet and walked over to the table, setting them down in front of each man. He went back to get the pitcher and poured the hot liquid into each cup, aware of each man’s motions as he leaned over them and poured.
Once he had served each man, he sat down in front of his own cup. Steam issued upwards to obscure the face of the man who had spoken earlier. Aerimon took him as being the man who led the group.
“So, are you seeking instruction in unarmed combat or in swordsmanship?”
Aerimon was not surprised when the same man spoke again, nor was he surprised at his answer. “No. See, we’re businessmen much like yourself. Last I checked, my blade cuts through flesh just fine and I’m still around so I don’t think instruction would be necessary. Gods, this tea is hot, man. It’ll be a few menes before I can even touch the stuff. I hope I’ll be here long enough.”
“It’s not tea. It is a mixture of water, honey, and a root native to the shore of Cirrangill Sea. It’s meant to revitalize the body after training. Please tell me what this is about. I have engagements.”
The man quirked his eyes up in interest as he looked at the contents of the drink then said, “Of course. So, I see that you are a legitimate business now. Congratulations, Aerimon. Well businesses need protection, you know, from others and whatnot. Now my associates and I provide that protection for a reasonable fee. A negotiable one too. So…”
Aerimon’s hand held before him told the man to stop. “No. I pay protection to the Town Guard through my taxes. You picked the wrong place to strong-arm. Now get out of my home and do not come back.”
The man smirked and huffed in disbelief. “Aerimon, I know that you don’t like the idea of spending more coin but this is probably the best investment you can make. Without us things could happen to you or your home. You wouldn’t kick us out without letting us finish our drinks, now would you? That’d be ill-mannered of you. Let us drink and talk.”
“A mind is much like a garden. Only one with malleable soil may have seeds planted in it. And only those that are not choked by weeds have any chance of making an impact. The soil of my mind is hardpacked. Your words will be wasted on me.”
“Really, Aerimon? That’s how it’s going to be?” He paused and watched as Aerimon’s stoic face remained unmoving. “Alright then. But just know that you’re making a mistake here. I’ll contact you again and see if you’ve reconsidered. Now, I think I’m going to take this cup with me. You still didn’t allow me to even take a sip.”
“You leave here with no hands or both. Either way, none of you are taking any of my belongings.”
“Whoa, you are sharp, Aerimon. I’m speechless. Come on boys, let’s leave.”
The four men stood up from the table at once and Aerimon backpedaled until there was a wide berth between himself and the men as they walked towards the door. He followed them out of his home and watched as they moved down the street and turned a corner. He was certain that he saw a grin upon the face of the man he had spoken with.
Kalen flung his body against the brick wall, barely avoiding the speeding bolt that the thug before him had fired from a hand crossbow. Smashing into the wall sent a shock of pain through Kalen’s shoulder. The thug who had fired the bolt spun and fled the alley.
Kalen pushed off the wall as he growled, “Son of a whore!” then began chasing after the thug.
He turned the corner and nearly fell flat on his face as he skidded to a halt. He came face to face with the man he had begun chasing, only the thug’s face was being smashed into the side of a building. His mushed visage was almost laughable. Ilona grinned as she held the man against the wall.
“Nice work, hun.”
“Thanks. He get anything?”
“No, I came up on him as he was breaking into the back door. Didn’t even get a step in. And this asshole shot at me as I stopped him. Didn’t even give me a breath to talk to him.”
“You weren’t hit, right?”
“Guess we’ll charge him with more than just burglary huh?” Ilona drove a knee into the man’s side as she spoke, eliciting a groan of pain from him. “You really shouldn’t attempt to kill the Captain of the Watch.”
Ilona tied a leather strap around his wrists and made sure not to care whether the binding was too tight or not.
The shining rays of light bathing Dargon dimmed as the sun crept nearer to the horizon while Ilona and Kalen escorted the man back to the Old Guard House. After depositing him in a holding cell and logging his name with the record keeper, the duo left the Old Guard House, finished with another day of work.
Once outside, Kalen stopped, causing Ilona to stop as well.
“I’m going to meet with that instructor. I’ll be home in a bell or so.”
“Alright, I guess I’ll make dinner tonight.”
“Hey, you think you’re pregnant yet?”
“I don’t know, we’ve only been really trying for a day. Why? Are you getting tired already?”
“Never too tired for you, babe. See you tonight.” Kalen leaned in and planted a deep kiss on her lips, resulting in both of them walking away with a smile.
After several menes, Kalen was lost. Of course he knew the layout of Dargon very well but it seemed as though the information he had been given as to the location of the instructor’s home was not too accurate. Finally, Kalen allowed his sense of pride to leave him as he asked a merchant at a stall where he might find the instructor.
“You mean Aerimon?”
“If Aerimon is an instructor of the martial arts, then yes.”
“Well turn around, friend. It’s that one there.”
Kalen followed the man’s pointing finger to behold a plain building, one that he had walked by several times. Problem was, he had been searching for a sign to distinguish the instructor’s home the entire time and this building was void of such a marker.
Kalen walked into the man’s home, sounds of men speaking wafting from the inside and escaping through the door. Across the floor from the doorway sat three men, all of them drinking from white cups and speaking intently about something.
“What I have yet to cover with any of you is even the most basic grappling. See you must know how to handle a fight, which will begin on your feet, of course, but…”
Aerimon followed the intent stares of the two men he was speaking to and twisted in his chair to behold Kalen.
He excused himself from the conversation and approached Kalen with a smile. “Hello, sir. I am Aerimon. How may I help you?”
“Aerimon, I’m Kalen. A pleasure to meet you.” By then the two men had cleared the distance between each other and Aerimon held out his hand. Kalen embraced Aerimon’s extended wrist and applied a stern grip to match that of Aerimon’s.
One of the men sitting down said, “Wait, Kalen Darklen? Yeah, Captain of the Guard. How are you, captain?”
“Well, and you?”
“Tired and sore, but better for it. This drink works wonders though. A regenerative that Aerimon will have to show me how to concoct one day.”
“One day, Derik. Seems like I have a celebrity in my home. Come sit with us and speak more, Kalen.” Aerimon said.
As the two men made it over to the table Derik said, “Kalen, you should get the recipe too. With all the running around and whatnot that you’re doing I’m certain you could use it. And Dargon’s gotten pretty bad too. In some parts at least. You have one farking tough job, captain. I commend you for it but you’ve gotta be a special kind of crazy to deal with all of it, huh?”
“Not a ‘special kind’ but just a little more than the average Dargonite.”
Derik huffed then said, “Yeah I bet. Don’t think I have that in me. Sorry I distracted you two. I’ll shut up now. Go ahead.”
Aerimon smiled at Derik then said, “Thanks, Derik. So, captain, what can I help you with?”
“I’m interested in your services. I’ve heard some good things about you and your teaching. I wanted to see exactly what you offered.”
Derik, a student Kalen presumed, spoke up, “All those good things you’ve heard are true, captain. You’ve got one damn fine fighter in front of you and an even better instructor.”
“You humble me, Derik. Kalen, I teach my students in two different ways. With the sword and also in unarmed combat. Normally these arts are separated but private lessons can consist of any combination of the two. Do you know which you are more interested in?”
“Well learning how to better use a sword would probably be more helpful but I wouldn’t mind learning unarmed combat as well.”
“Are you available to come tomorrow at the tenth bell of day? I will be holding a class for my students training them in the art of swordsmanship. I would love to have you try a class.”
“I’m off duty a bell before then so I can make that.”
“Great. We’ll discuss the unarmed training after.”
Two sennights had passed since Kalen had begun his training with Aerimon. He had worked out a deal with the instructor to receive training in unarmed combat after each session spent training with the others with a blade. Kalen had joined the class as they had begun to spar with the wooden blades and had the bruises to prove it.
As they were leaving the Old Guard House together, Ilona asked Kalen, “Honest opinion. What do you think of Aerimon? Is it any different from what the Town Guard teaches?”
“Not extremely different but just better. Aerimon obviously knows more and he has real answers to our questions. Remember when we used to ask questions about our training and our instructors would say, ‘Just don’t worry about that. It’ll work.’? Aerimon has real answers. I’ve shown him a bit of what we’ve been taught and he’s shown me that some of it isn’t that good. Like the technique where we get ahold of the person’s wrist when they try to stab at us and we push it into their hip and hit them, if they fall down but keep their grip then the blade is going to facing right at us. We could fall right on it!”
“Really? I just used that one too.”
“I know. That’s why I asked about it.”
“What’d he say to do?”
“Keep the wrist and grab with both hands then kick them in the balls once then snap the wrist. He’s very direct with a lot of his attacks. To put it simply; it works. And I’m really enjoying all of it too.”
“I think I’m going to have to get in there sometime soon.”
“Next time, hun.”
“Alright. See you tonight.”
“Yeah you will.”
Ilona winked at Kalen then turned and walked away. Kalen considered not training tonight, but only for a moment. She’d be there when he got home. This whole baby-making thing was working out quite well for both of them.
Kalen was traversing the streets of Dargon on his way to Aerimon’s home for another session when he came upon a small group of people assembled on the street outside of the instructor’s home. Most of these people he recognized as being students of Aerimon’s, several of them his training partners. Derik saw him coming and broke off from the group, jogging to intercept Kalen.
“Captain,” he spoke even as he ran over, “have you heard about Aerimon?”
“No, Derik. What happened?”
Derik was before him by now, speaking with his hands and mouth in a vibrant manner. “He was poisoned, Kalen. No one knows who did it but we came to his first class and he was out: unconscious on the floor. We rushed him to Araminia’s temple and after the priests there examined him and asked us a few questions, they said it must’ve been poison. A plate of lamb was spilled on the floor as if he had slipped out of his chair half-way through the meal and knocked it off his table.”
“Gods, man! How is he? He’s alive?”
“Yeah. Barely though. Healer said it’s really up to his body at this point. It just has to work to reject the poison and accept the medicine. They said they should know by the end of the day. Either he’ll survive it or be dead tomorrow. I came back to tell everyone that would be showing up for instruction today.” Derik was silent for a moment as he intently stared at the earth. He looked back up into Kalen’s eyes then said, “These people, captain, they go too far.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Derik. Goddamn worthless whoresons! I’ll go check in on him. Has the Town Guard been informed?”
“Yeah I sent someone there. Surprised you didn’t hear of it.”
“They probably thought it was beneath my attention.”
“Ya know what, captain, I’m fed up! I’m done with Dargon having this criminal underworld! When is the next recruitment period and how do I sign up?”
“Derik, I admire your fervor. We need more men like that. Come in tomorrow and ask for me. I’ll walk you through the entire process and you’ll get in. This is what you want?”
“Of course. I believe in this now, in your cause. My mind will be completely open when I join. Anything I can do to help you just tell me and it’ll be done.”
The two men shared a smile then clasped wrists.
“Good to hear, Derik. Looks like Aerimon has already taught us quite a bit. I think Dargon needs to weed out some of its people. That seems to be our job though.”
“We’ll get it there, captain.”