The series starts here
The estimated release date for the book is July 8
Kreg glanced over at Kaila and saw a wide smile gracing her face as they left the shop. “I take it he was as pleased with the price of the sword as you seem to be?”
“Pleased to have any coin at all, I think.” Kaila smiled still more broadly. “Still. ‘Tis a puzzlement.” She shook her head.
“A puzzlement?” Kreg asked.
Kaila nodded. “Despite all I said, the sword is of excellent make, although–” She smiled again. “–not quite the equal of the claims that yon smith made for it. Should you be so unfortunate as to meet a krayt, rely not on this sword to behead it at a single blow, but do as I would do and flee to the protection of stout stone walls. So if the smith made this sword, why then did he not put his maker’s mark upon it? And if he did not, from whence came it? A puzzlement.”
She shook her head again then said, “Also, did you note the manner of my speech while we bargained over the price? ‘Tis the manner in such things, to speak in only the most formal of language. You must learn this as well. Doubtless you will lose many a raben before you catch the knack.”
“Doubtless.” He guessed she meant bargaining in general and not just the mode of speech. He also suspected the most important factor was one she had not mentioned–knowing the approximate value of an item before one began to dicker. “Since you’ve mentioned language, there’s something I’ve been wondering.”
“Say on,” Kaila said.
“You and Shillond,” Kreg said. “He’s your father, but your speech is so different it could almost be different dialects.”
“Truly this confuses you?”
He laughed. “Truly, there is little about your world that does not confuse me.”
Kaila joined her laugh to his. Kreg braced himself for another clout, but Kaila’s hand only came to rest on his shoulder.
“As to our speech,” she said, “in my early years, I lived at court. My mother died in battle scarce one year after my birth and a witch in Shendar held Shillond in captivity while all thought him dead. The King raised me in his own household until Shillond escaped and returned to claim me as his own. And so, my speech has the flavor of the court, although not the full measure of those who lived their entire lives within palace walls. Shillond’s speech is that of his own southern province. And so, my own is a mix of his and that of the court. Do you now understand?”
Kreg nodded. He slapped the sword hanging from his side. “So how do I use this thing?” he slid the sword farther back around his waist, trying to find a comfortable position for the unfamiliar weight.
“I remember spying a training yard, used by the city guard, yonder.” Kaila pointed ahead and to the left. “They should have such as we need to begin your training.” She stopped and looked at him. “Do not imagine, however, that you will be able to stand against a blooded warrior for some time.”
“As you say,” Kreg said.
“No!” Kaila shook her head. “Hold your sword higher, thus. One could with ease penetrate your guard.”
Kreg shook sweat out of his eyes and raised the sword in both hands, trying to imitate Kaila’s stance. His forearms ached from lifting the weight of the sword and his thighs burned. His ribs, on his right side, still smarted from the last time Kaila had rapped her training sword against them.
Kreg and Kaila practiced alone in a large courtyard. At one end stood several pells, short wooden posts set in the ground and used as targets for sword practice. Along one side of the courtyard ran a roped-off lane at the end of which loomed a jousting dummy. The dummy could pivot on its post so that if the jouster did not hit it perfectly it would swing around and strike him on the back with a sandbag.
The sun had drawn all trace of moisture from the ground, eradicating all evidence of the previous night’s rain.
“Again,” Kaila said.
Kreg attacked, dancing the quick footwork Kaila had taught him. He struck in a middle line, aiming at Kaila’s rib cage. She neatly diverted Kreg’s sword then hers flew straight at Kreg’s neck. He twisted his hands over, interposing his blade before hers. He succeeded but the force of the blow drove him back. Before he could recover, Kaila’s sword whistled around again. He stepped back and parried, barely avoiding her blade.
Kaila’s sword plummeted from above. As Kreg lifted his sword to parry, he met empty air. The lack of resistance where he had expected it threw off his balance. He recovered quickly, but Kaila’s sword smacked the side of his leg, dropping him into the dust.
“Ah, Kreg,” Kaila said as Kreg stood up and dusted himself off, “you seek to strike my blade with yours in the old manner. One does not use the shashyn that way. You need to guide your opponent’s blade away from you, not hammer at it like a blacksmith at his forge.”
“You’re fast,” Kreg said. He kneaded the sore spot. A ridge of bruised flesh marked where her sword had struck. She had hit hard. “Strong too. I’d hate to think what would have happened if that had been a real sword.”
“You learn well, like one with a true gift.” Kaila let her arms hang loosely, her right hand held the grip of the training sword while the fingers of her other hand curled gently around the blade. “Already you master the details of footwork. Indeed, your balance is like none I have ever seen. Your handling of the sword though? Ah, this is most difficult. I can see the flaw in how you control the sword, but I lack the tongue to explain it. I can only hope that with practice you will come to it on your own. What most is needful is drill to build the hand and the eye, and drills to strengthen your wrist, which is still weak. Is it sooth that never have you studied the art of the sword?”
Kreg shook his head. “Still, once I stopped fighting the sword and started to think of it as an extension of my own arms it came a lot easier.”
“Truly?” Kaila looked him up and down. “That is well done indeed. Many months was I in learning the lesson of oneness when first I began my own training at arms. You have a true gift for the sword to accomplish so much in but a few candles. Join passion and training to that gift and few there will be who will stand against you.”
“I think I’m going to be one big bruise tomorrow.” Kreg stretched, feeling the knots in his muscles and the stinging of welts raised by Kaila’s sword. “Well, I guess I’m ready to continue.” He took a ready stance.
“Nay.” Kaila shook her head. “‘Twill suffice for the nonce.”
“In that case–” Kreg let his arms fall to his sides. His feet kicked up little clouds of dust as he scuffed over to the rack where they had hung their weapons. “I’m starved. What say we go find a good eatery?” He used his cloak to wipe sweat from his face and hair.
“‘Eatery’?” Kaila scratched behind her right ear. “Your words are strange, but if you mean an inn or a tavern I would say ‘aye.'”
“Right,” Kreg said. He stared at the cloak wadded up in his hands for a moment then shook it out. Since the buildings provided shade against the sun he did not really need to wear it so he slung it over one shoulder.
“Now as to food,” Kaila said as they stepped through the gate onto the street, “the common room at the inn is as good as will be found in Trevanta. In earlier days, perhaps…well, board is thin in Trevanta in these times. Moreover, Shillond should soon return from his business and we may meet him there.”
Kreg nodded. “One thing I have to do is find employment of some sort, and that fast. Not much money left. I don’t want to get more the same way I got this.” He tapped his belt pouch.
“What skills have you?” Kaila asked as they left the courtyard.
“I’m not sure,” Kreg said. “At least as far as what’s useful here. I don’t think my former line of work exists here.”
“What is this occupation?” Kaila asked. “Mayhap you will be surprised.”
“Have you ever heard of computers? IT?”
“Eye Tee?” Kaila asked.
Kreg smiled. “Don’t have it here? I thought not. If you don’t have IT how can I be an IT consultant?”
“Ha!” Kaila said. “Still, I am sure you will find your calling.”
“That reminds me.” Kreg turned to face her. “What is this thing with the nomads? For a second there I thought the smith was going to hit me for being one, never mind that I’m not.”
“It is simple enough. The lifeblood of the city is its merchants. When they travel by sea they face pirates, by land, they face….” She paused and looked past Kreg’s shoulder for a moment, then shook her head. “They face raiders. To them one desert tribe is like another and all are raiders.”
Kreg nodded. “One more thing I didn’t know that could have tripped me up.” He looked over his shoulder in the direction Kaila had but did not see what had drawn here attention, just a shadowed alley. “What?”
“I thought I saw someone,” Kaila said. “No matter. There is no one there now.”
“I was lucky to fall in with you and Shillond,” Kreg said thoughtfully. “Had I not, I would be in dire straits by now.”
“In truth,” Kaila said, “how could I refuse one possessing such courage, and a defender of the weak? And too, there was something about you that drew…. But stay. A thought has occurred to me. Mayhap you could teach your ‘way of yielding’. There is not much call for teachers of combat without arms but mayhap you could make a living thus.”
“Perhaps,” he said, unconvinced. “On the other hand, there’s still a bit of time before I have to make a decision. I think I’ll wait a while and see what happens.” He glanced down at his pouch ruefully. “A very short while.”
“I would not worry over much, were I you,” Kaila said. “One may always make one’s way if he has courage, determination, and a stout sword arm. The first two I have seen you to possess. For the third, have you not the best warrior in the eight kingdoms instructing you?”
Kreg started to retort, then stopped. While he was no judge of swordsmanship, he suspected that Kaila had ability far beyond what she had displayed in their training. While he had never touched her with his sword, she had always carefully measured her strikes on him. They bruised and raised welts, but no more than that. And when she had given blows against more vulnerable targets, such as neck or head, a much lighter touch.
After some minutes of walking, they reached the inn. Shillond ambled up to them.
“You seem in good spirits, father,” Kaila said. “I trust all went well?”
“‘Father’ is it?” Shillond smiled. “My, my, my. It is not often you call me that.”
“Shillond!” Kaila said, her voice pleading. “The treaty?”
“Oh, as to that.” Shillond winked at Kreg before turning back to Kaila. “The Lord Mayor was right glad to come under the protection of Aerioch’s armies. It seems that Schah has made a number of threats of late. Why Schah would threaten even a free city such as Trevanta, I do not know, but it seems that they intend to replace the Empire of Shend with the Empire of Schah. In return for our protection, our trade will pass through at a quite favorable taxation rate and Trevanta will pay a tribute amounting to eight thousand gold norbeni annually. In truth, I think they welcome our shipping more than our armies, for where our ships go, others will follow. I think they would have welcomed us had we come to annex Trevanta, but that would have been more trouble than it’s worth. All in all, it has gone well. In fact, as everything has been concluded, we may return home on the morrow.”
Shillond’s words, about threats of war from Schah, reminded Kreg of something, but the aching in his head drove the thought away.
“These are glad tidings!” Kaila clapped her hands. “Too long have we been away.”
“And you, Kreg?” Shillond turned toward him. “You will come with us, of course?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Kreg said and then grinned. “Either one.”
END CHAPTER TWO