Taking the Maalrah’s advice, Callindra had tried learning to swordfight. The result had been a near complete disaster, and she’d had to give up after only two attempts. No sword that she wielded survived and after one of the blade’s death throes nearly claimed the life of Olaf, who was attempting to be her trainer she decided to stop.
“I’m sorry Olaf, it seems I’m just not cut out for this.” She said, standing on tiptoe to wipe the blood from his face with her kerchief. “I don’t care what that old woman says, this is not the answer.”
“Yeh do seem a mite… unfit fer this type a fightin truth be told lass.” The big man agreed amicably, “Yer mode a dress ain’t exactly fit fer it either.”
She had insisted on wearing proper skirts. After all, she wasn’t going to go about dressed as a man all the time and she could hardly imagine any assailant would wait for her to change from a dress into breeches before attacking her. Callindra shrugged, not bothering to take up the old argument.
“Mylee can teach me more tumbling instead. It doesn’t help much but the stretching and meditative kata seem to give me some relief and focus.”
“Aye. I’d sooner yeh knew how tae use a blade teh defend yerself but wi luck yeh won’ have tae worry bout it.” Olaf said, turning to give Mylee an appraising look, “If yeh could learn some a tha hand fightin Mylee puts ter fine effect it wouldna go amiss.”
Mylee’s cheeks colored ever so slightly at the compliment, “I have tried, but as soon as we move from the kata to the faster, physical strikes my lady’s stance gets soft and her form just falls apart.” The girl shrugged, “I’d settle for her not bringing a gale down upon our heads every time she gets in a mood.”
Callindra ignored this barb with aplomb, instead settling into the easy, wide parted Stance that the first kata began from. Following Mylee’s instruction, she moved smoothly through the meditative Stances, allowing each one to flow into the next. She finished the one hundred and eleventh, ending by shifting back into the Ready Stance. Her instructor stared at her in undisguised admiration.
“You have real talent for the kata my lady.” Mylee said with an approving nod, “You’ve actually moved beyond my skill truth be told. I’ve heard of other practice Stances that involve weapons but I haven’t ever seen anyone who knew how to dance the Korumn before.”
The word resonated through Callindra like a stone falling into calm waters. “That word sounds… familiar.” She mused, feeling the languid relaxation that the kata always brought to her. “Where does it originate from?”
“Certain schools of swordplay that have produced the most renowned Weaponmasters in history swear by them, saying they focus the warrior’s energy to the point that their blade becomes an extension of their body.” Mylee said wistfully, “They bond with their blades, becoming completely attuned to them and gaining incredible fighting prowess in return.”
“Ah’ve heard a Elven Bladedancers as weel.” Olaf said with a scornful shrug, “But ah ken better n teh believe in fairy tales.”
Mylee punched him in the shoulder hard enough to make him grunt. “Shut up!”
“My friends, I seek your council.” Callindra said, “They are asking me to lead them to war.”
The other two glanced at each other and then looked at her. “War against who?” Olaf asked.
Callindra lowered her head, “Against the city folk. Against the people of Caer Corwell.” Looking up at them, they were surprised to see a fierce gleam in her eyes. “I will not allow it to happen. I will NOT see the people of the Isle of Gwynneth fight one another.”
“Wha?” Olaf said incredulity painted on his rough features. “Yeh think yeh cn stop a war between th folk?”
“My Lady, the people will do as they always have. Those of the City will look down on those of the Moor, and the Moor people will never accept the Cityfolk as equals.” Mylee said, sadness creasing her face. “I wish you could, but nobody has ever been able to make the Clans and the Royals see eye to eye.”
“I will not allow it.” Callindra insisted, “Times have changed. I will simply not allow conflict between living beings. The Abyss must needs be our concern now. They will be destroyed. I shall not rest while ONE SINGLE spawn of the abyss lives upon MY ISLANDS! We start with that treacherous slime Daleus.”
“Eh… nae offense ‘meh lady’ bu how exactly do yeh expect to hurt tha sonofabi-“
“I intend to kill him.” She said, cutting Olaf off mid curse. “Once he is gone, his hold over the people of Caer Corwell will be gone and I will be free to martial the entirety of our forces against the remainder of the Abyssal Spawn that dare to stay behind after his destruction.”
“He may prove difficult to kill.” Mylee said, “I’ve already seen what he was able to resist. The destruction you visited on him before was… quite impressive and yet he survived.”
“Then I shall have to do better.” Callindra replied, her mouth thinning into a grim line, “I tolerate failure in myself less than I do in my subordinates.”
“Yer… wha?” Olaf asked, his eyebrows crawling up toward his hairline.
“Retainers?” Callindra said, trying to cover a slip of the tongue that took her by surprise. She wasn’t a warrior and this kind of speech was unbecoming of a Lady.
“My Lady, what are you suggesting?” Mylee asked, quirking an eyebrow, “You don’t expect me to believe that you want to break in and assassinate Daleus do you?”
“Certainly not!” She said, “I wish you to bring me within striking distance of the filth and I will deal with him as he deserves, preferably within sight and hearing of as many citizens as possible!”
“An then wha? Yeh get killed an we hav teh handle wha follows?” Olaf asked, “Yeh ain’t na fighter.”
“I may not be a warrior by trade my dear Olaf, but I know how to deal with a … with someone like Daleus. The only way I can destroy his base of power is to kill him and do it in a way that humiliates him, showing his weakness to any that might wish to follow in his footsteps. They need to fear and respect my power or it is all for nothing.”
“An yeh got a plan?” He said, fixing her with a skeptical look.
“Well… I have the idea. I have you two to help with the plan!” Callindra said with a hopeful smile.
Olaf was cut off by the sound of splintering wood. Behind him, the barricade that surrounded the city shattered and a creature of nightmare reached through with wickedly curved claws.
“DOWN!” Callindra shouted and the big man dropped to the ground like a stone. Razor sharp claws that would have torn him asunder clove thin air instead. “DIE you abyssal scum!” She shouted, whipping the thin blade from the scabbard with a whistling rush of air.
To Mylee time seemed to slow as she saw her mistress leap through the air as though flying, easily clearing the prone form of Olaf and striking the monster across the eyes. The thin silver sliver of steel exploded even as she struck and the creature roared in rage. Mylee stared in horror as the woman she worshiped stood before the ravening abyssal spawn, now weaponless but no less defiant.
“You shall NOT have him! Your filth shall be BANISHED from my island!” A light seemed to shine from her as she spoke the words, “I swear it by the four winds, the end of your kind is near, but YOUR end is NOW!” At the last word, Callindra flung out her right hand and it was as though all the sound in the room coalesced into her palm before exploding out in a shattering blast that tore the monster and a chunk of the wall into pieces the size of grains of sand. The wind whirled around her, tearing her hair loose from the braid that usually tethered it and sending her skirts flying almost to her knees.
“My Lady.” Mylee breathed, “My beautiful, deadly Lady.”
The hole in the wall showed a host of monsters much like the one Callindra had just killed. She did not hesitate, instead leaping through the hole without even bothering to try and pick up a weapon. The first few fell to open handed strikes that destroyed them as thoroughly as the first but then her power faded and she looked around for anything she could use to defend herself.
Dorgaard’s voice rang out from the top of the wall, “Here lass, CATCH!” Callindra spun and caught the weapon he threw, sweeping it from the scabbard and striking the head off one of the monsters with a single, smooth stroke. The blade sang in protest, but did not burst asunder with her first strike, nor the second or the third. Callindra lost track of the fight, forgetting herself in the flow of the battle.
A massive shape loomed out of the rabble of spawn, roaring a challenge and breaking Callindra’s reckless charge. It wielded a sword made of some strange red metal longer than she was tall in both hands, swinging it in a vast overhand strike faster than seemed possible.
She twitched sideways at the last possible second, allowing the huge sword to miss her by the slightest margin and slam deep into the ground. Her return strike stabbed through the thing’s wrist, punching through and flicking back out before her opponent could wrench his sword free. The monster tore his blade loose and swung at her in a brutal upward arc.
Again, Callindra could see exactly where the strike was aimed and was able to move just enough that it missed the mark. The wind of its passing ruffled her hair and she saw a few strands parted by the blade’s jagged edge. “You cut my HAIR!” She yelled, irrationally enraged.
Before the giant could bring his blade down again, Callindra leaped forward, tucking to roll smoothly under its legs and lashing out at the tendon on the back of the left knee. As it spun to face her, she pivoted on her heel and struck at the other leg. The blow it aimed at her changed mid-swing when both of its legs failed to hold its weight and the flat of the sword struck her a glancing blow on the side of the head. As it began to topple she drove the point of her borrowed blade through its eye, twisting to inflict the maximum amount of damage possible. Laughing in triumph, she jumped over her fallen foe, looking for the next enemy.
When the battle fever subsided from her veins, Callindra stood surrounded by the bodies of her fallen foes, the slender blade Dorgaard had given her still whining in protest. She looked at it in astonishment. “How have you managed to survive?” She murmured. The sword seemed to quiet under her scrutiny.
“My Lady!” Mylee was picking her way through the clutter of the battlefield, “Are you hurt?”
Callindra looked at herself for the first time after the fight, noting the dreadful state of her dress. In spite of the fabric of her clothing being shredded by multiple slashes, she found only one or two shallow cuts in her flesh. In spite of the relatively minor amount of damage she had sustained, Callindra couldn’t help but wince in pain.
“I do not think they are life threatening but these thrice cursed wounds hurt!” She said, awkwardly attempting to investigate the one across her middle that seemed the largest.
“What kind of pain?” Mylee said, brow furrowing.
“There are different kinds?” Callindra said, “What a horrifying idea. Mylee, I believe I have chosen the wrong path. This being a leader thing does not suit me very well.” Her thoughts seemed slightly scrambled.
“Where is the sheath for that sword?” Asked Mylee, looking around, “I don’t want you to stab me when I have to carry you back to the healers.”
“Over next to the … the hole I made in the wall I think.” Callindra giggled, what in the nine hells was wrong with her? “I am afraid I feel slightly dizzy. It’s all right though; this sword didn’t break so I think it’s safe.”
“You aren’t making sense.” The girl whirled and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Olaf! I need you!”
“Oh, ask him to bring some wine.” Callindra said brightly before her eyes rolled up into her head and she collapsed like a puppet with cut strings.
“I dinne recall seein anathin like her.” Dorgaard said softly. “She fights wi th might a many men wi nae regard fer her own life. Thas th mark of a warrior bu nae a leader.”
“She’s not supposed to be a leader on the battlefield.” Mylee retorted, “She is a Lady. I have seen her take an entire court of highborn Lords and Ladies and bend them to her will with nothing more than subtle innuendo. A smile here, a curtsey not quite as deep as it should be there, making direct eye contact with one of higher station and overnight she is the subject of everyone’s attention. My Lady Stormchild does it without even seeming to try.
“But your people do not respond to such things. Here she knows the only way to prove her worthiness to lead you is to show how dangerous she is, but my Lady is discerning enough to let it happen gradually. Even after defeating you in single combat she refused to take advantage of it, only responding to the evidence of her prowess when it was obvious that it would put your position in danger. So tell me Clan Chief Dorgaard, has she earned your respect?”
The big man sat back in his chair which creaked warningly under his bulk and crossed his arms. “I dinne think o it like tha.”
“Of course you didn’t.” Mylee said, the laughter in her voice more playful than mocking, “As I said, she is a born leader. This is what she knows and why you need her to lead you. I understand that you have a narrow vision of how to manage your people, but she has the ability to bring the entire isle together.”
“Mah folk inna likely teh follow a lass.” Dorgaard rumbled, “More teh th point she’s a wisp o a thing.”
“I think you do them an injustice.” She said, “They aren’t as close minded as you think, and besides her actions show strength beyond her physical appearance. My Lady managed to beat you did she not? In spite of being unarmed, asleep and vastly smaller and weaker than you?”
Callindra stirred on the bed, groaning softly and kicking a bare leg out from under the blanket. With a sigh, Mylee tried to tuck it back in and narrowly avoided a knee to the head. The prone figure grumbled like a hibernating bear and rolled over, hair tangling into a cloud around her head.
Dorgaard shook his head, “Hard teh believe this’s th same lass.”
“Yes, well you aren’t really supposed to be in a Lady’s bedchamber.” Mylee said primly, “If it wasn’t for the fact that we needed to have this little chat I never would have allowed it. In fact, I imagine she would be most angry with me if she knew you were here.”
“Yeh aint gon ta tell her?” He asked.
“Not if I can help it.” She muttered, shaking her head, “Now get out of here. You have plenty to think on and I need to watch over her. The healer said she needs willow bark tea as soon as she awakens. They say she has taken a blow to the head that may have caused some damage.”
“Tryst.” Callindra’s voice was heavy with emotional pain, the words coming out slurred and indistinct. “Why did you leave us? After you died everything just fell apart. We lost at Hellgate keep. I was sure the whole thing was over then. I never imagined it was possible for her to die… she was a goddess.”
Dorgaard froze, his hand on the door as if afraid any movement would interrupt her words. Mylee gasped in shock, her face bone white. Who was this woman? Callindra’s left hand reached for her right wrist and a moan of despair escaped her lips when it touched bare flesh.
“He’s gone.” She whispered, the fear making the listeners skin crawl, “I’m lost.”