Carlyn winced. It was difficult to watch the shy and nervous sisters attempt to follow the instructions of the monks. After a demonstration and a brief explanation of the moves they would learn, the sisters took turns practicing on the mat. It was obvious they needed time, even years to learn what he and his brethren knew, but reports indicated malicious creatures were spreading throughout the Commonwealth. It would be only a matter of weeks, if not days, before Vawdreyans would learn their country was under attack.
Carlyn watched as the females moved with grace, kicking and yelling as they were shown. Some fainted, others ended up crying, and a couple were injured. As a druid, Carlyn came to help teach and heal, but the real reason he came was to see his sister, Audrey, and introduce her to his best friend, Tavisan Swifter.
Very soon it was Audrey's turn on the training mat in the center of the courtyard. To her credit, the gnomette cried out like a warrior and leapt in the air, taking aim with both feet at the face of her opponent, a human monk that was easily twice her size.
"Aye," Carlyn hissed to himself, trying not to cheer aloud. She is no delicate flower. I know that all too well!
But the monk surprised Audrey by diving forward at the last second, rolling beneath her to avoid contact. Back on his feet, he turned to face her with a smile. He raised his hand and gestured for her to try again.
Audrey landed on her feet unharmed, and quickly got back into the proper fighting stance. She glared at the monk, tightening her fists, pausing to decide her next move. She was tired of these males smirking and whispering at her sisters trying to learn how to defend themselves. She aimed to show this monk and his brethren that she was different, here and now.
"So, this is thy sister, Carlyn?" asked the gnomish monk standing beside him.
"Aye, Tav, and she is a quick learner. She shall do well with... Ooooo!" Carlyn and Tavisan groaned together at the sight of Audrey being dodged by her opponent again, this time falling flat on her face. The impact sent wafts of dust into the air and over the crumpled body lying on the mat.
Everyone gasped and the opponent raced to Audrey's side. Looking worried, he knelt down and gently lifted her to a sitting position. He saw she was bleeding from her nose. "Sister? Be still. Shall I get you a healer?"
Carlyn gritted his teeth and stepped forward, but Tavisan grabbed him by the arm. "Stay, my friend. Do not make matters worse. Let him help her."
Carlyn cursed under his breath, but waited, eyeing his fallen sibling. "If anything were to happen to her, Tav…" Carlyn choked, unable to finish his words.
"Fret not, my friend. Behold."
Audrey opened her eyes and saw the young human monk looking down at her. She scowled and punched him in the face. "Unhand me, you… you oaf! Get thy filthy paws off me, scoundwel. Heathen, a pox on you and thine!" The dazed gnomette struggled to get to her feet, but once up, she started swinging and kicking, forcing the monk to back away.
"I believe she is unharmed, high priestess," he announced with a grin.
Carlyn sighed and closed his eyes as if in prayer. Better him than me, Goddess.
"She has a temper, I see. You never told me that," quipped Tavisan, watching Audrey chase the monk around the matted area. He chuckled and nudged his friend. "I hope she cooks better than she fights."
Carlyn covered his eyes with one hand. "Let us remember, Tav, that this is her first lesson in combat. Give her time. I wager you a bottle of my best wine she will make a fine cleric one day."
"Well, she has passion, my friend, but she lacks discipline. I accept thy wager."
The sisters cheered, but the priestesses did not share in their enthusiasm. "Audrey," High Priestess Veloraen yelled over the giggles and chatter, "if you are done swiping at the air and making a fool of thyself, come hither and rejoin thy sisters. ANON!"
The gnomette stopped, wiping the blood from her face with her forearm. Her hair fell loose over her shoulders as she stood there, listening to the shouts and laughter around the courtyard.
Her opponent grinned and crossed his arms. "Methinks you should do as she says, sister Audrey." There was a slight mocking tone in his voice and it pierced her spirit like a dagger.
She turned to see Carlyn, his eyes filled with concern and worse yet, disappointment. Then she saw the monk next to him, his smile fading at the sight of her pain. The high priestess was right. She was just another harmless female that needed protecting.
With her last ounce of dignity, Audrey brushed herself off and marched out of the courtyard, ignoring the high priestess' commands. Any chastisement for disobeying orders could wait. What mattered at that moment was solace and a bath.
Back at the courtyard, unseen in the shadows of the covered walkway, Alain had been watching, and he took particular notice of the exchange between the gnomette and the two gnomes standing together. His interest in medieval fighting techniques as such was lost when he saw what happened to Audrey.
This isn't right, he thought with a scowl as he watched Audrey stomp off. They have the talent and training to fight their new foes, but they're pushing these women too hard too soon and using the wrong order of instruction.
They are in need of haste, said a gentle womanly voice in his head.
Alain smiled despite himself. The Alliance between the Goddess and the Lightchild had its manifold benefits. Yet the Lightchild still had his doubts.
Milady, when I was a child, I was as gentle and yet as quick to anger as that poor gnomette is. Grandmaster Bakbuk taught me how to move, how to keep my footing, how to let the weight and balance of a Starblade train my muscle sense--and first and foremost how to master my attitudes, emotions and drives. Then and only then was I trained for combat.
We both know that inner mastery leads to outer victory, Astria replied gently. I will see to it that my priests and monks remember this. Intervene only when there is no other recourse. Allow my children the freedom to learn from their mistakes.
Alain nodded. Very well. I will remain hidden for now.
After Astria's departure from his mind, Alain watched as the next participants took their places on the mat, studying them as if they were pieces on a chessboard. "Raphael," he ordered quietly, "check to make sure the little gnomette is all right, but don't let her see you. Oh, and get Audrey's full name and background--and do likewise for those two gnomes over there. Then we can cross-check them with your database."
"Very good, sir," answered the sphere as it flew silently down the shady arcade.
Story continues: The Wandering Minstrel
Story continues: The Wandering Minstrel