A Dance With Fire (Excerpt)

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Magnes Orowin II

The morning met Magnes with a bright warm sun, and cool breeze. He spent much of the morning walking the manor alone, he had been here once before during the war, it was brief and he was not allowed to wander halls alone back then, but he still remembered the decor and paintings of heroes and former lords and ladies that belong to the Fulmore dynasty. The Fulmore manor was a rather large light red sandstone brick manor with white marble pillars and to many windows to count at a glance, sitting atop Highhaven like a crown upon the mountain that gave it its name. It was a true testament to the city's wealth and power.

Magnes found himself in the manor gardens, reds, blues, purples, and yellows dotted the flower beds. Magnes did not know what the flowers names were but the sweet smells and informality of the flower displays were all he needed to understand the beauty. Laughter and high pitched shouting came with the breeze, curiosity lead him past the water fountain to find the source of the noise.

Fulmore and his head of the guard Mathis along with three servants were gathered around what seemed to be a large cage. Magnes made his way down the steps to the large grassy area barren of flowers and any features ,to the group hoping to get a glance at the.

"Good morning my lord." Magnes gave a bow in his cheerful manner.

"Good morning!" Fulmore announced "Enough of the lord shite, I get enough of that from lords and ladies vying for attention!" he said laughing.

Mathis gave his smile that hid his sarcastic looks "Morning Sir, sleep well? or do you miss the hay of a barn and lice of a common inn?" he grimaced.

Magnes gave a smile "Oh I don't know, I do like the company of lice to that of most people" he grimaced "Why all the fuss? If you don't mind the intrusion." he asked pointing at the cage that Magnes now noticed had a large cloth sheet draped over it.

"My new falcon, a fine bird straight from Pentia, got it for cheap too, just waiting for the rest of the price now." he laughed pointing out the greed of a Pentian merchant. "But you did not come to see my new falcon, would you join me for a walk Magnes?"

"Of Course, I am curious why I am here to be honest." He said folding his arms.

"And I will tell you." He said with a distinct change in tone, "gentlemen, would you do me the doing me the honour of doing some work?" he laughed, the three servants bowed and walked away.

Mathis feeling a little left out screwed his face, "Sir I really should stay with you... for your protection."

"I am sure I can keep him safe from, housemaids and the odd peasant tending to the flower beds," Magnes said in a sarcastic tone.

Mathis shot him a glare "I am well aware of the dangers here Sir, more so than you, it seems" he said adjusting his sword belt, he stared at Magnes for a few moments. Magnes knew there were hard feelings, he was not always easy to get on with, especially with knights.

"Now, now good Sirs, Mathis go tell the hunter that the bird needs feeding, while I have a talk with an old friend," Fulmore said trying to defuse the hostilities. Mathis gave a bow and walked away towards a large barn of in the distance, feeling dejected. "Now we are alone we can finally talk." He gestured to Magnes to begin walking with him, "I will say, though, that I am truly grateful to you for coming here on such little information."

Magnes raised an eyebrow "Well if I am honest, I am more curious about this job you have for me, I mean it's not every day I get letters from street urchins, that I have to pay for the honour mind you..." He gave a chuckle.

As did Fulmore "Oh don't play the money obsessed sellsword with me, I know you too well for that trick." He patted Magnes on the back as he led him up some steps to the water fountain, that Magnes passed on his walk through the manor grounds. "I will be blunt, I want you to take Jessica away from here." His face was stern now not his normal joking self.

Magnes was unsure how to react to this request, "Jessica? Why may I ask do you want me to take her away?"

Fulmore took a sharp intake of breath. "It is a long story, and I will tell you when you agree, I hate being secretive with you old friend, but I have little choice in this matter." He gestured again leading him down a path at the side of the manor, the path had large hedges on either side that were dotted with pink roses and unlit torches, the path itself was made from wood bark chips and stepping stones.

"How am I to agree? Would you?" Magnes asked calmly "If I asked you to kill a man not knowing who he was or why would you?" Feeling his question would perhaps gain some new insight, he folded his arms and waited.

"That question is unfair." Fulmore snapped.

"Is it?" Magnes proclaimed.

"Yes, you are not killing someone, but you are saving my daughter." Fulmore's eyes met Magnes with a look that spoke of seriousness.

"Saving?" Magnes was taken aback by the sudden shift in tone "from what?"

Fulmore breathed heavily again. "Come I have something I want you to see." He turned and began to walk the path again. The path came to Small unassuming building, made of timber and stone to the side of the door a plaque affixed to the wall read Training area.

"Why are we here?" Magnes asked in a curious tone, were it not for the sign the building could be mistaken for a servants quarters.

Fulmore smiled and opened the door, a small hallway filled with chairs and dusty boxes, the inside was very different from the outsides appearance, and much larger that the outside may first suggest. A large flat surface made from polished wood met them, training dummies ran along the left wall, and an area set aside with ropes for practice duels, on the far wall was a door with a sign reading the storage room. Sword racks lined the walls holding wooden practice swords to the left of them. Only one person was here this early morning.

Jessica was in deep thought while swinging her wooden sword at a helpless training dummy. She can't have noticed Magnes and Fulmore enter, as she did not react to them entering. Magnes found a smile on his face, it had been a long time since he seen one so young so focused on training.

"Is this what I came to see?" He asked as he looked at Fulmore, he noticed Fulmore's face had lost its normal smile.

"Yes, in a manner of speaking." His voice was low, almost sad. "She is my only child Magnes, my only love, a true beacon of light in a very dark world." His gaze was focused on Jessica who was still in her own world.

Sensing the atmosphere getting a bit too tense for his liking, Magnes pulled a wooden practice sword from the stand next to him. Taking large soft steps he made his way towards Jessica, holding his sword at arms length he stopped Jessica's downward slash from striking the helpless dummy.

"Back vile villain, I will not allow such butchery here!" Magnes said in his best acting voice.

Shocked at the sudden interruption Jessica stepped back. "Sir Magnes?" she asked out of breath and sweating.

"Nay foul bandit, I am the knight of the white rose!" He let out an embarrassed chuckle, he walked into the center of the room and tapped his sword on the floor. "Come fight someone your own size." He smiled and turned to see Fulmore grinning.

Jessica with a bemused look took steps forward to meet him, holding her sword out to gauge her distance. "So knight of the white rose are you ready?" She grimaced, they paced around each other for a few moments when Magnes moved his sword a little off center. Jessica seeing an opening lunged fast and straight hoping to gain a quick hit, Magnes moved faster than she could have guessed slapping her sword away with his own, leaving her to stumble past trying to keep her footing.

"Too soon little one." He mocked as he brought the flat of his sword firmly to her rear.

"OW!" She moaned holding her soon to be bruse. "What was that for?" She asked almost childlike.

"You left yourself open, you were struck, What did you think would happen?" Magnes chuckled.

"Hmm well, not again." She raised her sword, this time, holding it length ways across her body, giving her time to react to strikes and quickly step away if needed.

Magnes grinned and held his sword straight down at his side, but tilted slightly so it was pointed at her feet. " Well then, shall we begin?" Jessica nodded as she began to walk a circle around him, making sure not to show any openings. Magnes watched her pace around him looking for an opening, she took one slight step closer to him, though she did this in such a way that Magnes almost did not see it but it was enough, and all he needed. With one quick fluid motion he dropped to his knee and spun in place, keeping his sword straight he landed a hit on her right leg, bringing her to a knee also. "So what did you learn?" He smiled.

"That you're quick for an old man?" She snapped holding her second soon to be bruse.

Magnes stood and laughed. "Scathing!" He said holding the sword on her shoulder. "No dear girl you learned that you are always open to attack."

She screwed her face. "Always open to attack? Why then do I bother blocking?" She asked still nursing her leg.

"Well put simply, to block." He said sarcastically. "Look no matter how strong a defence, there is always a weakness, your need not to be hit again made you complacent."

She looked puzzled. "Well, of course I did not want to be hit." She said flippantly.

Magnes smiled, almost proud. "You remind me of Lendia, she was the same way during our training. Brash and headstrong, she rarely listened to anyone." He said still smiling.

"Lendia? You know her?" She asked, Lendia being the one Jessica reads about the most in the books her father got for her.

"Know her! I would think so, we both trained with Master Rylus as kids. She was very skilled if a bit hot headed, and a body too....Well, she was very athletic." Realising who he was speaking to he backed off from that particular comment. "I could introduce you if you like?" He offered her knowing that Fulmore would be happy, though he still wanted answers.

"Meet with Lendia?" She mused, she glanced at her father who was now sitting on a bench at the back of the room. "I wonder if father would allow me?" She looked as though she was in deep thought. "No matter I am needed here." She proclaimed.

"For what? I am sure your father can cope." Magnes smiled.

Jessica frowned at Magnes. "I am sure he can... But he needs me here." She said looking at her father.

"Tell you what, I am here for a few more days. Think on it, the offer will stay open. And I am sure I have much to teach you also, especially when it comes to your swordsmanship." He laughed.

Still deep in thought Jessica walked to the rack were the wooden swords are kept and put hers back. "Are you joining us for supper tonight sir Magnes?" She spoke softly.

"Most likely yes." Magnes placed his sword in the rack also. "I am sure your father wants me their."

"Perhaps my answer will come then." She proclaimed.

"I hope so." Magnes replied though he got the impression she knew more than she was letting on.

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