Winds of Change

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She felt the sleeping draught take firm hold of her awareness. That was fine with her... she hoped she would never wake again.....

Fiaz butted her hand with his head, his piercing gaze somehow was reassuring. He settled down next to her palette, purring. She would have to thank Elise for the use of her mindmate.

As she closed her swollen eyes, a final tear rolled down her cheek, stinging as it fell across her raw skin. She hugged the pillow to her tightly. Oh Cedric!

Gabriella had despaired at their deplorable riding abilities. Elise and Derrick had learned to ride back at home, but none of them had learned to ride iros. That she had been remiss in this rather important area had chagrined Gabriella, so she had had them out learning to ride in the way of this land whenever weather permitted. The Spring Market was only another month away and it was many days’ ride to Terruth City where it was held each Cycle. Since iros and horses were the principal means of transportation, they naturally would need to ride well.

The iros were quite agreeable beasts, though sitting atop one would take getting used to. Gabriella had discovered her oversight when she deemed the boys adept enough with the sword that it was time to teach them mounted fighting techniques. When blank looks met her declaration, Fiona had been most amused at Gabriella’s disbelief and consequential swearing. So Gabriella had shown them first how to how to saddle the iros, how to clean their tack, and how to groom them. Then she taught them how to ride, which wasn’t that difficult, though it took a lot of adjusting to.

Rick and Andrew were not as at home on the iros as Derrick seemed to be. Fiona and Elise had watched with some interest at their instruction, laughing whenever Gabriella cringed at some major transgression. Each day, Gabriella thanked Fate that none of the iros had lost their ears due to the boys’ sloppy and inexperienced first attempts at mounted combat.

Aside from learning to ride and fight in mounted combat, they were learning the finer points of battle, such as what kind of armor to use in what sort of fighting, how to repair armor, the different units of an army.... Fiona suspected that Gabriella was training them for some sort of combat, because she didn’t think that common people needed to know, nor knew, how the different parts of an army functioned.

Skirmishers could be used to protect an army’s flanks, though they were usually a separate unit hired to perform specialized functions, such as sabotage and subterfuge. They were essentially “dirty fighters” and considered dishonorable by many, though their style of fighting was stiffly referred to as “irregular fighting” by employers.

Scouts, of course, implied just that: scouting ahead. Scouts were best remembered as “spies”, for in wartime, they spied on the enemy and reported back their numbers, their configuration, their position, and their activities. Scouts could either double as regular soldiers or be specialized units.

Use of cavalry depended upon the region, for in mountainous or marshy regions, cavalry could be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Gabriella used Illyth as an example; when Illyth was still a Dominion, hundreds of Eras ago, the many marshes and bogs combined with the hilly forested land made it more of an inconvenience to keep cavalry units, as travel was limited. Most Dominions, however, made heavy use of cavalry. Mounted soldiers wore heavy armor and fought with either bows or broadswords and lances. Pikemen were included in cavalry but were equally distributed in the infantry.

Light infantry and heavy infantry were distinguished between by the use of armor and weapons: heavy infantry usually used broadsword and shield with heavy armor; light infantry made more use of the bow, longbow, or crossbow and often made use of large wooden shields as they reloaded their weapons.

Specialized units included engineers, mages, falconers, and any extra units hired for specific functions. The engineers built and operated siege machines, the mages of course, used their powers for whatever was needed. The Healers stayed behind the lines to tend the wounded, as did the baggage train, which provided food and supplies.

Fiona wasn’t sure she really wanted to be a Healer, yet neither did she know what other professions she would care to try. Merchants, she knew, made a decent living, but they had to know what Dominion was in need or going to be in need of a certain product. Not only did she know very little of the world around her, she didn’t even know how to count the currency here. Maybe Gabriella had a point. Working for someone’s army would give them the time they needed to adjust to the world, find out what made it tick.

Fiona stretched slowly, concentrating on each muscle. She was so tired of cooking and cleaning. Rick dropped the last of the wooden bowls into the barrel of water that served to irritate Fiona every third night, when it was Rick and Fiona’s night to prepare the meal.

“I don’t suppose you’d do the dishes tonight if I cook the next meal....” he asked Fiona hopefully.

Fiona grinned and shook her head firmly. “Not a chance. I cooked tonight, too, remember?”

Rick sighed and picked up the rag. Just as he was about to dip it into the water, Gabriella appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “That can wait until later. We’re going to have a discussion.” She beckoned before turning around, her long, red hair swirling behind her.

Fiona exchanged a puzzled glance with Rick, who seemed to know no more about the ‘discussion’ than she did. She shrugged and followed Gabriella into the main room. She had the feeling that this discussion had something to do with their upcoming trek to the Spring Market. At first she had been excited, but now that it was so close, she was growing nervous. This was their test, their final challenge.

Gabriella sat down gracefully on a large floor pillow with her back to the fire, as each of the small group took their places. Gabriella said nothing as she surveyed them sitting comfortably around her. Andrew sat easily on the floor, with a grace that he had not had when he first arrived. Fiona decided that it was his ever-growing knowledge of the kyors that lent him the confidence he had needed. Rick sprawled casually on his stomach, looking very much at home. Elise, her black curls falling about her shoulders, had gained a control on her temper and had, for the most part, set aside her rebellious impulses. Derrick, as was Rick, was much the same, still every inch the gentleman and still Mr. Charisma, yet he seemed to have matured in some way. Fiona glanced back at Gabriella and wondered if she had come to the same conclusions.

Finally Gabriella said, “Tomorrow we must prepare to leave for Terruth City, for the Spring Market is nearly at hand.” She paused, seeming to measure their reactions. “I have taught you all that I am able to teach you. You, Derrick, are at the least my equal with the sword now –”

Derrick said nothing, but his eyes glowed – “and you, Rick, are my equal in tracking.” Rick smiled a little, embarrassed.

She turned her eyes to Fiona, who tensed. “I would be willing to wager that you have surpassed my armsmaster’s skills in avril’shusta, and you are a remarkably patient teacher....” Gabriella sighed. “I wish that I had more time to teach you, but your Healing gift is strong enough to overtake that handicap.

“Elise, you are the best of us with the bow, and your accent is flawless. That will not keep you from being noticed, however, for with a zary’andu at your side, none shall mistake you, and of that you must beware.” Gabriella’s eyes were wide and serious as she gazed at Elise.

Finally, she turned to look at Andrew. “You, too, must beware, for your power marks you as possibly one of the strongest in this Land, and those who are so powerful do not care to entertain rivals. You have a great deal more to learn of both kyors but that is for later.

“I am very pleased with your progress, though I must tell you this: the hardest part is yet to come. Tomorrow we will prepare to leave, and the day after tomorrow, we will set out at sunrise. Seven days we travel to reach Tillabeth; that is where we will sleep that night. From there, we will turn north to Terruth City, which should take us, in good weather, about three days.”

Rick cleared his throat hesitantly. He had the map in his lap; gesturing with it, he asked, “Wouldn’t it be quicker to cut cross-country straight to Terruth City?”

Gabriella raised an eyebrow and answered, “Should a snow storm arise, would you prefer the road or open country?”

Rick thought that through and conceded sheepishly.

“In Tillabeth, we shall purchase suitable attire for you, and exchange some of our gems for currency. You must remember all I have taught you, from forms of address to etiquette. We must not attract attention, for not only will we be traveling with a great deal of wealth,” she indicated the chest of gems in the corner, “but we have Elise, who is like to the Kin’keska, and we also have Fiaz, though I strongly believe he will not care to enter the town.” Fiaz snorted and managed to arrange his feline features into an expression of disgust.

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