In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 10: The Merchant

I opened my eyes and saw clouds. They were pretty, but the jolting kept making me lose my focus. I turned my head slightly, and I could feel the massive headache that was promising to come and swallow me whole. A moan of pain and frustration escaped my lips.

“I think she might be waking up!” I recognized that voice. It was, it was… familiar. No, it was Darin’s voice. I turned my head some more until I was looking upward, and there above me was Darin’s face leaning down over me. I tried to sit up, but my muscles wouldn’t move. I couldn’t sit up.

“It’s ok Dyrana, You’re in the wagon. You used to much energy, and Kyra had to give you some energy just to keep you alive. What happened to the powers the goddess gave you? Why didn’t she help you with the energy for your stone tree project?“ Why was he leaning over me? Actually, why was he there and not Kyra. Shouldn’t Kyra be watching over the injured?

“Let me guess. The ways of the Lady are mysterious and not to be understood by us simple humans? Are you not planning on talking? You know, that little stunt of yours was extremely stupid. We could have just burned the bodies and moved on. I saw you turn that tree to stone, and I tried to reach you, to stop you, but I just reached you in time to stop you from hitting your head when you collapsed. What was that whole thing about the end of the world anyway? What…”

“Will you just shut up for one second,” He was giving me a headache, or maybe he was adding to the headache I had. Why was he here and not Kyra? Shouldn’t he be on lookout?

“Where’s Kyra?” My voice sounded so tired, maybe that was part of the head ache and using all of my energy. I was surprised I even had had enough energy for that spell to begin with. Maybe Zedigrivikonola had given me extra energy when she left me. That would be the only explanation I could think of for why I was still alive.

“I’m giving Kyra a break. She’s on her horse since her horse still isn’t injured. We have to take turn on the horses with all the people we have and how few horses we have. We might have to take on a guard position or something to be able to afford our travel. And you are avoiding my question.” Did he always talk this much?

“What question, you asked so many. Why are you determined to talk so much?”

“The question of why didn’t the great Dark lady help you with your stupidity?” The light tone of banter was gone, and now he actually sounded serious.

“It was my task. It was for me to make the memorial to the warriors. It’s hard to explain, but that is about the best way to put it. She helped me as much as she could by replenishing my personal energy, but that was all she could do for me. Now can I just go back to sleep?” I yawned to prove my point and turned my head to side.

His voice was quiet, but I still heard it, “I’m sorry Dyrana. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to talk so much… I just… I don’t know. You worry me.”

I pretended not to hear, and I continued to pretend to be asleep as his hand gently stroked my hair. As long as he didn’t realize I was awake, I didn’t have to complain. It was actually fairly comforting. I wouldn’t say that I liked it. No it wasn’t anything about liking him, just it felt good, nice, comforting. Yes that was it, and soon I really was asleep.

I woke back up, but this time I felt more like my old self, and I could sit up. Kyra was sitting next to me, but she was paying attention to the archer boy, what was his name, Falarin or something?

On the other side of me was the female fighter. Facing me were two boys and Tyva. In the front on the seat were the women from the camp. I looked around, and I could see Darin on Kyra’s horse, Chrisin on his own horse, and Ollarin on Tyva’s horse. Gegarat and Varadill were tied to Tesa who was tied to Sarak. Guess Kyra’s rock was rock solid for leading as well.

“We switch up rides so everyone gets a chance to ride and a chance to sit in the wagon. I would prefer to walk, but they won’t let me,” I heard Tyva speaking and turned back to look at her.

“How long have I been out?” I asked quietly noticing that the sun was on the horizon which meant it was either morning or evening.

“This is the second day. You woke up once yesterday, and we left all of you in the wagon over the night. We’ve only been going for about an hour. Kyra says you have to stay in the wagon for at least another day. Also, don’t bother her right now. She’s working on Falarin.” I listened to Tyva with half my attention and the other half focused on Kyra and her work with Falarin.

“Will they be ok?” I needed energy so that I could walk and give them some more room.

Tyva nodded happily, “Yup, Kyra says they will both be ok.”

I could hear Zedigrivikonola laughing quietly in my mind. Need a little refill again? You need to learn to channel your energy better so you don’t waste as much of it. I won’t give you more energy every time you over spend yourself. I’ll give you enough now that you won’t collapse in sleep while walking alongside the wagon. I wouldn’t suggest using your energy for a little bit to change the world around you. If you do you might just manage to kill yourself yet, and we have a city to destroy.

I wondered at her words. Was that the final goal, the destruction of the city? I felt my energy levels jump up a bit, “I’ll be fine Tyva, Zedigrivikonola gave me some energy so that I can walk next to the wagon.”

I smiled at her, and jumped out of the moving wagon before anyone could stop me, and found myself next to Darin. “Beautiful day isn’t it?”

“You know you shouldn’t be up and walking yet. Kyra gave orders for you to stay in the wagon today.” I laughed at Darin’s disapproval. He was so stern and serious.

“I got a little boost on the whole energy thing. I’ll go back in the wagon when I tire. Can you believe what I did? I made a monument to warriors that will last till the end of the world. I just saw the end of the world. There are so many possible futures that all lead to one end of the world!” Now that I wasn’t exhausted I was ecstatic with what I had created. I had the power to create things that would last. I had the power to change the world around me.

“What are you talking about? I felt the monument, and all I felt was all the stories you locked in that poor stone tree. I have no clue about this end of the world nark.” Such a doubter he was.

“I felt it. When I turned the tree to stone, I saw flashes of the world the tree will see. The tree itself is a reminder that all of the Lady’s fighters are creatures of fortune, and for some fortune has smiled less brightly upon them. The Lady Rasalkina watches over the fortunes of fighters, and her fortune was obviously not smiling on these men. Their stories remind every fighter that they could end up desperate bandits just as much as the next guy. It is a fitting tribute to warriors of the Lady.” I was glad the pace wasn’t too fast. For all of my excitement over my spell, and the energy the Lady gave me, I still was a little tired from the spell, but what a spell it was! What a thing I felt!

“Umm, sure thing Dy. Sure thing.” Darin had no clue what I was talking about. He was so clueless sometimes!

“Dy, are you feeling ok? I haven’t seen you so chipper since you left to serve the Ladies. “ Sweetly clueless. So I was a little chipper. I was allowed a little celebration and excitement sometimes. I didn’t always have to be stern.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t realize I always have to be stern and commanding. I am just a little excited by what I created. I haven’t had a reason to be joyful in a long time. Previous to my becoming the host I was worried about what would happen to me after I joined with Zedigrivikonola, and afterwards I was constantly annoyed by the women of the temple and their sarged yapping or lapping at my feet. Then I was frustrated with the city, and focused on getting us safely out. Now… Now I was just having a moment where I was feeling free, where I was rejoining in what I could do instead of focusing on what was ahead. For a moment I had forgotten the future.” Now I wasn’t feeling quite as exuberant. I was starting to remember more about the state of affairs and what we had to do now. Why did Darin have to go and ruin my good mood. Wasn’t he supposed to try and cheer me up or something?

“Aren’t I supposed to be the chatty one? And anyway, we need you focused on the task ahead. I don’t think we have enough supplies to make it to the bears camp. We need more money and supplies to feed our increased force. I was thinking we could hire ourselves out as guards have a condition that our friends have to be able to travel with us. I don’t know what else to do. We need more horses with two of our horses out of use, and the ex-bandits need better gear as well. Have you seen Ollarin’s ill-fitting armor and rusty sword? I am surprised that thing hasn’t broken yet. I don’t know how his equipment got into such a state.” Darin was right. I did have a job to focus on. I always had a job to focus on.

“We should be able to find good hire. We killed a whole group of bandits, and our skills should be appreciated. We might even be able to get armor for Ollarin, Falarin, and Zireana through our employer. That is if Zireana and Falarin are awake any time soon. Do our healers know how long it will be before Varadill is ridable again?” I looked over at the limping gelding, and I wondered if maybe we weren’t hurting him by forcing him to come along.

“Don’t worry. Chrisin told me about seven days , and he said the walking was actually good and would help keep the muscle stretched out.”

Maybe he was right. I wasn’t my place to question a healer. I was a fighter. I just depended on those around me.

“Dyrana! What are you doing out of the wagon?” Sarg it! Chrisin had noticed.

“I had a little energy boost and decided to walk next to you guys instead of riding in the wagon. I’ll be fine,” I smiled innocently up at him as he rode over to where I was walking next to Darin.

“No, you are not fine. Get in the wagon. We need you in top fighting shape in case anyone attacks. Go get some more sleep. We have everything under control.” I exchanged a look with Darin and rolled my eyes. I could see him struggling to keep a straight face.

“Yes sir! I will just forget my job and hop right back up in that stupid bone jarring wagon.” I might have growled just a little bit at the end of that.

“Dyrana, you might not have a physically visible injury, but with the level your energy went down to, you almost died. You are part of the injured until Kyra or I say you aren’t and until that time we are in charge of you seeing as you are part of the injured. Now you will jump back in the wagon. We need you in fighting shape; at the moment you are barely able to lift your sword.” Healers were annoying stuck up bastards. I was fine. I didn’t need to ride in any wagon.

“Fine, ok. We’ll spar tonight Darin. You need more hand to hand combat training,” I grabbed the back of the wagon and hauled myself up into it.

“If you can fight me tonight, I would be happy to fight you,” he called after me. I just smiled, leaned against the back of the wagon, and went back to sleep. Might as well get that sleep I was ordered to get so that I could work on training Darin. He needed the extra training.

The next time I woke up the wagon was stopped and I smelled cooking. It smelled like they were just cooking beans, but I famished and beans smelled like the best thing in the world. I was still in the wagon, but I was the only one in the wagon.

I jumped out feeling much more myself, and saw that everyone else was gathered around a fire including Zireana and Falarin, who were both awake for once.

“I see our invalids are awake, and no one bothered to wake me up.” I called out as I walked over towards the.

“We just didn’t want to be bothered by your annoying chatter and continuous orders,” Darin’s smugged voice called back at me from across the fire.

“I think you were just trying to avoid our lesson tonight. Do you dislike unarmed combat that much,” I made my way around the others to sit over by Darin

“Will you two ever stop arguing?” Was that Ollarin I heard speaking up? What did he know about us arguing?

“It’s what they do best,” I heard Tyva’s voice from where she was sitting over next to Ollarin across the fire. Kyra was sitting next to Zireana and Chrisin next to Falarin. The other women and the two boys from the camp were sitting on the other side of Ollarin.

“Could I have some food as well? Seeing as I haven’t eaten in a little while, I am kind of hungry.” They could say whatever they wanted. I didn’t really care. A healthy argument kept people on their toes and their brain active and working. It was good to have an argument.

“Sure, there is a plate over next to the pot. Hope you like beans,” That was Kyra’s tired voice, and I was surprised to hear her paying attention to anything around her. I thought she was too focused on her patients to notice me. Wait, they still considered me a patient.

I got up and grabbed myself a plate before sitting down next to Darin again. “We need to work on your blocks tonight. You have to be able to block punches or dodge them. Getting hit in the face can knock you out and end your life if your opponent is out for blood.”

“Why would you care if I died? I thought you wanted me dead?” his voice was so bitter.

“Just because I can’t love you doesn’t mean you aren’t my fighting partner. We need to be able to watch each other’s backs, and if you can’t stay alive you can’t watch my back very well. I don’t want you dead; I just want you to understand that I will never be able to love you. It is physically impossible for me to love you.” Men were so impossible sometimes.

“And I’m convinced that there is love in you, but you don’t listen to anyone. You are so enamored with your own will that you can’t really see what is around you. You…”

“Shut up Darin. Please, I’ve heard your arguments before, and I think we should agree to disagree, and we should go practice those hand to hand combat blocks. I think you are stalling at the moment,” Did he really dislike hand to hand combat this much? Maybe he was just afraid I would hurt him during practice. I would go gentle on him, for now.

“You should be resting. You are probably still weak…” Was it me, or was that a nervous twitch in his facial muscles?

“I’ll be nice and gentle for now. Come on, get up and let’s go practice.” I stood up and moved away from the fire toward a nice open sandy spot on the road.

He came up in front of me, and stood in the open stance, which was correct, but his arms were completely wrong.

“We’ll start with how you hold your arms and then move to blocking my punches with your arms. I’ll move slowly so you can see what you are doing and we can get the technique and form down.” I proceeded to position his arms up and tight against his body, and then walked him through blocking a punch. We spent a long time on that until he was fairly proficient.

“Alright, we’re done for the night. Let’s head back to the others, clean up, and get some rest.” A fair amount of time had passed, and we were both sweaty.

He simply nodded, and we headed back to the camp. I went into the forest to clean myself with water and a rag, and then headed back to the camp and my well-earned rest.

The next day I insisted on walking. I was not going to ride in the wagon again. I was well rested and felt much better. I had slept the entirety of the previous day and the day before that, and I was not going to sleep through the entire day again. I really did need to learn to control the energy better so that I didn’t have to go through this again. I was tired of being treated like an invalid.

I could feel Kyra’s scowl focused on me, but it was Chrisin that spoke, “It hasn’t been that long since you wasted you energy on that pointless stone tree. You should go back to the wagon with the injured.”

“Fight me and I’ll show you how much energy I have. Wait, you can’t fight. I think I’ll walk,” I wanted to snap out at him, to yank my sword out and threaten him. I held myself back. I repeated over and over he’s a healer he’s a healer, he’s a healer, he’s a healer…

Eventually I brought the burning frustration in my gut back under my control. I had to keep control. I could strike out at everyone who dared to say something I didn’t like, but it wasn’t professional. I had to learn to control myself, well at least slight control. All I needed was some self-control.

Chrisin’s laugh almost broke my control though. He was laughing at my retort! “Peace Dyrana. Walk until your feet can’t carry you anymore. I won’t stop you.”

I handled myself well, “Good. I will walk. When will I be able to ride Varadill again?”

This time Kyra looked up at me, “I would give him two weeks to a month. “

I nodded. I needed to earn money so I could buy another horse. I wouldn’t sell Varadill though. For all that he was lazy and not the best fighting horse, a horse bred and raised in Gon Jarka Calt was worth a lot, and I would only sell him if I was desperate. There were many people that would abuse a horse, even an expensive horse, without a thought. Many people were cruel in this world, and for all that I didn’t like the horse that much, I didn’t plan on dumping him on the world, at least not yet.

About halfway through the day I had to switch to the wagon. For all my training and work, my body didn’t have the endurance to walk the entire day. At night, I helped collect firewood for dinner and then I trained Darin before dinner. I took the dawn watch again that night, and Darin did not stay around to torture me with his declarations of love.

The next day was much like the previous day. I managed to walk a little longer before I found myself falling asleep walking. My muscles were sore and aching, but I gritted my teeth and kept going till that point.

I was slow at training that night, but I was luckily training a complete beginner and I didn’t need to be fast. Darin again woke me up for dawn watch before he stumbled away to sleep.

The next day was the worst. I could see Darin was sore as he hauled himself onto his own horse. After awhile of walking the soreness always burned away in the overall numbness of tired muscles.

The next day we took the loop through the city Tar de Zal which meant something in that cities language, but I didn’t know what it was. It was nothing as grand as my own city, but there were traveling merchants and hopefully one of them would want some guards. Maybe I could sell my own time working for a merchant for a horse.

I turned toward Kyra, “Can you buy some more journey bread for use? That stuff lasts, and we need more. I’ll take Darin and Ollarin. We need more money and I need a new horse. We can sell our swords as guards.”

“What if I don’t want to sell my sword?” this time it was Ollarin being the thorn in my side.

I sighed and turned to face the obnoxious red head, “Do you want your wife to eat?”

“Well yes…” I left his words hanging and starting walking. I could hear both Darin and Ollarin following me. I skipped the first merchant noticing that his horses looked skinny and his people underfed. The second merchant was selling jewelry and looked much wealthier. This man looked to be in his twenties and had bright blonde hair like one of the children of light except he had brown eyes. I hadn’t seen children of light with brown eyes before.

“Good friend, are you looking for guards heading along the westerly road?” I used the title merchants liked to be called. It boosted their egos to think that people liked them.

“Nay Lady guard, I am heading toward Gon Jarka Calt where I plan to pick up some of the newly graduated black ladies, and from there I am heading to the coastal cities in the East. Unless you are willing to take the pay of a newly graduated…” The man seemed interested in trying to convince me to head back toward the city of the gods, but I had no plans to go back that way.

I quickly had to cut him off before he talked my ear off, “Sorry my friend, we are heading west.”

I turned and left without waiting to hear his stuttering reply. Ollarin stayed behind, probably to apologize for my behavior, but I didn’t really care. People could think of me what they wanted to.

I passed a couple more merchants before I came to one I liked the look of. The man had a silk turban that was yellow with some blue pattern on it and a greying goatee on a tan and lined face, “Good friend, would you perchance be traveling along the westerly road and in need of some guards?”

The merchant looked up from the roll of silk he was carefully measuring and at first gave me a blank stare, but then his eyes roamed down my body before coming back up to look at my face, “You look too old to be fresh out of that damn city’s training grounds and yet you look like you are from the city that trains the black women of the sword. You walk as one, you talk as one, you dress as one, but your age and the pristine freshness of your armor speaks a different story. And the men you travel with. None of the women travel with men. They can barely tolerate working with men. What is your story sell sword?”

The man had obviously hired city women before. He could tell that I wasn’t the normal sell sword, “I am Dyrana, and these are my companions Darin and Ollarin. There are others we travel with including two healing partners. I am a priestess of the dark lady, and I am on a quest in her honor. Darin is a priest of the dark lord, and he was chosen to be a joint part of our quest. Our healing partners follow as partners must stick together. The others follow out of a desire to worship the darkest ones. I am an expert fighter, and if you travel the western road, we would find gainful employment in your service.”

I prayed that neither Darin nor Ollarin showed any surprise at my story. I didn’t want my true status as a disowned citizen known yet.

“I do travel along the western road, and your credentials are impressive. What is the price you want for your service,” As he spoke he went back to measuring and carefully cutting the blue bolt of silk on his table.

“All I want is a new horse. My own horse is lame at the moment, and my company could use another remount. My companions will work for 10 Levians a day,” behind me I could hear Ollarin shifting as if he wanted to complain about the amount I chose, but Darin shifted into him and effectively shut him up.

“You charge a cheap rate. Are you sure you aren’t false guards? I don’t want to pay for guards that are not the real deal that are dragging along non-fighters.” The man new more about who was with us then he originally let on.

“We charge a cheap rate because of our entourage. If we weren’t the real deal wouldn’t we be trying to extort you? Nothing will harm you while we ride with you.” I kept myself from saying while I was with him. He might not hire the men if I claimed all of the ability to fight for myself.

“Fight a duel against my best guard, and if you win I will hire you and your men.” The merchant stopped what he was doing and was now looking directly at me. He eyes weren’t brown like I originally thought, but a dark grey. I wasn’t sure why I thought they were brown. He reminded me of my father except my father had brown eyes. Maybe that was why I assumed he had brown eyes. The only difference was his hair style. My father didn’t wear a turban and he didn’t have a goatee.

“I will duel any guard you send against me,” Maybe I sounded vain and bold, but I knew myself. I am the best living fighter. At least one on one I could beat anyone they sent at me.

“You’ll duel Tenale, the only dark mercenary in my hire at the moment. She’s the best guard I’ve ever had.” I nodded and waited. A duel to join a guard would be held directly in front of the merchants tent so that others could enjoy it as well.

A woman in a black cloak slunk out of the shadows. Her hood came down and revealed mocha brown skin and a black hair braided up in a crown around her head. Recognition flashed in her eyes and she bowed to me, “I never expected to see the host from my year outside the city. I would be honored to duel you lady host.”

I didn’t remember the names of my students, but I knew she was one of the better fighters in her class. She was one I expected to survive in the outside world. “It is good to know that one of my students is doing well. I survived being a host with my mind intact, and now I serve as the priestess of the absence of light.”

“Let us fight then, my Lady,” she raised her sword up in the salute and then lowered it into the guard position. I also raised my sword up in salute and then lowered it into guard. For a second we both stared at each other measuring weak points and waiting to see who was bold.

Tenale started with a thrust taking the offensive immediately. I batted it away with a J-hook carrying her sword to the side and away from protecting her. Her blade came under mine as she fought to put her blade back between her and me. My blade went for her arm. I only needed to draw blood once to win, or have her in a death position. Her blade swept upward to block mine before we both disengaged and went back to guard, our blades pointed as each other’s head.

This time I made the opening move by sweeping sideways toward her arm, catching myself just before her sword could block me and taking it back around the outside to strike at her legs. This time her block was hurried and barely made it in time, and I used that second of time to sweep my sword upwards and toward her throat where it sat. A second later her own blade was at my throat, but I had won. I would have already killed her and she knew it. She lowered her own blade in admittance of defeat.

I looked toward the merchant who looked impressed, “That’s the second time I’ve ever seen anyone beat Tenale in a duel. I’m impressed with how quickly you fought her.”

I bowed toward the merchant excepting his praise. He motioned me toward his table, “I will hire you on your terms, but I will also include my own bonus. I travel the western road to till the Inn at the end of the road. If you travel that far with me, and none of my guards die or my clothes are stolen on the road, I will reward each member of your company with new wool garments.”

Wool was the cheapest fabric out there, but it would give each of my company something new to wear. It was a better deal than I was hoping for. The end of the western road was where I planned to take the mountain road, “Good friend, where are you heading after you reach the end of the western road?”

“I will be taking the plains road heading south. If you are heading that way I would be glad to continue to keep you in my hire,” the man now seemed hopeful I would continue with him instead of having reservations toward my abilities.

“I am sorry, but I plan to take the mountain road from there,” the language of diplomacy, the excess apologies and politeness. I would be glad when I didn’t have to speak in pretty flowery words anymore.

The merchant nodded as if that was what he expected. “My name is Exentel. I head out tomorrow morning. My guards are all staying at seven son’s inn.” I nodded in reply. Exentel turned away from me toward a customer, and I turned toward Darin and Ollarin.

“Do you guys want to stay at the inn Exentel named, or do you know a better place?”

“I don’t know any places in this city,” Ollarin scratched behind his ear as he spoke and Darin just shrugged.

“Alright then. Let’s find the others and head to this inn where we are staying.” I stalked off to find the others, ready to get some sleep in a real bed again.

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