Chapter Twenty Six - The Cerebrally Buttressed Broadsword Parry
The next morning, I had company as I jogged round the quad. Carodoc was taking his whole ‘second’ thing really seriously and, even this early, he wouldn’t let me out of the dorm on my own. At first, he was pretty dubious about the jogging idea but, now his muscles were warming up, he was starting to see where I was coming from.
Of course he was surprised when I headed towards the stairs to the gatehouse roof.
“What’s up there?” he asked.
“Nothing much. There’s just a flat roof with a lovely view where I do my stretches.”
“Do you want me to come up with you?”
“I don’t mind,” I answered, “but I might be a bit… well… absent.”
Carodoc nodded but he didn’t bother saying anything as he followed me up.
As I started my stretching routines, I reached out with my mind to find Psion. As usual, he was down in his cave near the shoreline. He wasn’t exactly asleep… just dozing.
“Good morning, Young Mistress!” he said with a funny sort of mental stretch when he noticed I was there. “I was expecting you. How are you feeling? Have you fully recovered from your exploits of yesterday?”
“Psion,” I said urgently. “Something’s come up.”
The little dragon was instantly alert and listened carefully as I told him what had happened the night before.
“What on earth does he think he’s playing at?” he asked when I was done.
“I’m sorry?” I responded.
“I do apologise,” he replied. “I was contemplating Kiernonda’s motivation. No nonda in their right mind is going to call out a tyro in a personal honour duel. They have everything to lose and next to nothing to gain.”
“I think Quaro-Deryn’s behind it.”
“Do you now,” he said thoughtfully. “He is the second child of the House of Quaro, is he not?”
I gave a quick mental nod.
He thought about this for a few more moments but then his attention snapped to the more pressing issue. “Our first priority must, of course, be to ensure that you win this duel,” he said. “To do so, I need to understand Kiernonda’s character and combat characteristics as fully as possible.”
“I’ve got Carodoc here with me,” I told him. “He’s head tyro and he’s going to be acting as my second… and he can probably tell you about that sort of stuff much better than me. Is there anything you need to ask him?”
“Have you told him about me?” Psion asked.
“I’ve told him I’m going to be getting help from somebody and that’s basically it…” I said… “Oh yes, and that I’m going to need to meet up with somebody in the afternoons.”
He thought about this for a moment before responding. “There is some degree of risk in exposing our relationship, however you clearly had to tell him something. That was probably the minimum you could get away with. Never forget, however, in all your dealings with your fellow tyros that, with one word from their master, they will slit your throat. They may do so with the utmost regret but they, nonetheless, would be obliged to do so.”
“I know,” I said with a nod, “but I still think you need to talk to him.”
“I agree. It is worth the additional risk to better understand your opponent’s capabilities. May I borrow your mouth and ears?”
“Of course you can,” I answered. “What do I need to do?”
“You have no need to ‘do’ anything,” Psion answered. “In such a tight cerebral meld as this, I could simply reach out and take over any part of you. You could do the same to me. To do so without permission, is, however, considered the height of bad manners!”
“Carodoc!” I said, turning to him. He was trying to copy some of my stretches. “I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about Kiernonda. You might think that some of them are a bit funny but there’ll be somebody else listening in.”
“This is another one of your, ‘don’t ask, you don’t want to know,’ things, isn’t it,” he said with a grin. “Okay, fire away!”
“Please describe Kiernonda as a fighter,” I heard myself saying.
Carodoc gave me a funny look but then he shrugged and began, “Kiernonda’s one of our more skilled nonda transitors. He’s quick and ruthless with the broadsword, but he doesn’t always pay enough attention to defence. He is, however, not as fit as he should be and tends to tire easily.”
“Is he right-handed?”
A blizzard of questions followed, dragging out every possible detail of Kiernonda’s combat technique and habits. When Psion was done, Carodoc went to sit on the low wall with his back to the sea. He looked a bit stunned.
“That was amazing!” I told Psion.” I’ve been watching Kiernonda fight ever since I’ve been here, in the Saturday sparring sessions and that sort of thing, but just thinking about those questions made me look at him in a completely different way.”
“I would venture to suggest that you have been seeing him rather than watching him,” Psion observed with his bubbling cloud humour thing. “However I have considerable experience of preparing humans for duels, and, I might add, there has only been a single regrettable instance where my charge has failed to emerge victorious.”
“That’s encouraging,” I replied.
“Encouraging or not, you’re in for the toughest four days of your life if you are to survive this particular encounter. He is a much more experienced swordsman than you.”
“But I’ve got the best advisor on my side!”
“Have no doubt, Young Mistress,” he said in an unusually serious tone, “that he, too, will have the support of excellent advisors. It is my working assumption that he will have the full support of the House of Quaro in this encounter.”
“And they’re good?”
“Quaro is one of the four senior Edify. Their advice will be excellent. Our principal advantage lies in the fact that you are a completely unknown quantity for them.”
“Won’t they just ask Kiernonda and Quaro-Deryn the same sort of questions you just asked me?”
“Beyond doubt!” he answered. “I am, however, cautiously optimistic that they will fail to recognise your cerebral puissant capabilities, though you gave significant indication of your budding talents yesterday.”
“They may not recognise how powerful your mind is and how effectively you are able to bring it to bear in combat. That was quite a trick you pulled off yesterday.”
“But you told me I could do it?”
“I have had the privilege of observing your mind at close quarters,” he told me. “Furthermore, I was completely familiar with your mother’s exceptional talents so I knew what to look for.”
I went quiet for a bit as I thought about this.
“People in the house are starting to wake,” Psion warned me. “It would be wise to break the link soon.”
“Before you go – what training should we be doing this morning?”
“I would recommend that your young gentleman companion ensures that you are completely familiar with the full gamut of sword, dagger and cerebral parries. Your activities in the quad will doubtless be most minutely observed, however those exercises will reveal little to our opponents. Ensure you keep your will on a tight leash, however. I would not have you advertising your mental resources any more than is absolutely necessary before the confrontation.”
“And where do I find you?”
“Just before the track drops down towards the village, there is an overgrown path leading back into the woods. Follow it for about a quarter of a mile and you will find a dilapidated farmhouse where I will be waiting for you.”
“And do I need to bring anything with me?”
“You may wish to bring a training sword and dagger, though I intend rather to concentrate on the mental and psychological aspects of combat than on the crass mechanics of butchery. Is there anything else?”
I shook my head and Psion blinked out of contact.
Looking around, I saw that Carodoc was giving me a funny look. “I know you can’t tell me anything,” he said, “but I’m feeling a whole lot more optimistic about this thing than I was when I woke up this morning.”
I didn’t say anything but I nodded and gave him a smile.
“I don’t know who he is, but he knows what he’s talking about,” he added, then turned and made his way down the steps.
“This morning, I think it might be useful if you teach me all the sword, dagger and mind parries you know,” I said as we made our way across the quad towards the kitchen.
“What an excellent idea!” Carodoc replied with a smile that made it quite clear that he knew it hadn’t come from me.
We spent the first two hours of the morning training session practicing a whole series of cerebral-sword parries. I was finding the idea a bit tricky at first and had to fight a tendency to simply flap vaguely with my sword whilst parrying the blow with my mind. In the end, Carodoc got bored with that and called me over to the well for a drink. I sort of wanted to keep going but he told me that a rest would help.
“Hey, G!” he called to Geraint, who was also taking a break. “You’ll remember this. What is it that the manual says about the sword-mind parry?”
“I guess you mean, ‘In the cerebral buttressed broadsword parry, the sword is used to parry the blow. The mind is used to expand and buttress the sword.’” Geraint said.
“That’s the one, thanks!”
“‘The recommended exercise is to parry a series of blows of increasing force’,” he went on in his typical expressionless ‘quoting the manual’ voice, “‘at first using only muscle power, then, as the power of the blows increases, adding in mind power to support the sword.’”
“If all else fails, consult the manual!” Carodoc said in an exasperated voice . “How does that sound?” he asked me.
But at that moment, a flight of three dragons started circling the compound and prepared to land. “Clear the quad!” Zalibar shouted. The area round the well suddenly got really busy as people used the chance to grab a drink.
Then I felt a scrap of paper being pushed into my hand. Looking up, I saw Wastnonda, who flashed me a quick smile before disappearing into the crowd.
I waited a few moments before glancing down at the note:
’Kiernonda and Quaro-Deryn are to leave today, going up to the Quaro lair for training.
’Kiernonda’s chosen weapons will, of course, be sword and dagger.
’They’ve got some sort of trick planned which involves a weapon switch. They seem fairly confident that it will throw the fight in their favour.
’All the best.
As the three dragons landed in the quad, I handed the note to Carodoc who quickly read it. He gave it back to me and I stuffed it into my sock. Then I looked up to see that the three dragons were being controlled by a single rider. His dragon landed on the platform whilst the other two set down in the quad.
“That’s the Quaro sword master!” Carodoc whispered, nodding towards a tall man who was exchanging a few words with Zalibar. Then the sword master glanced around the quad, apparently casually.
Thinking about Psion’s words, ‘You are a completely unknown quantity for them,’ my right hand reached towards my mother’s bracelet and I gently slipped behind Carodoc. If the guy was looking for me then I wanted to stay out of sight. I felt him hunting for me in the cloud world, too, and I had to fight the urge to throw up a shield. I was still far too noisy and might as well start banging a drum… I’d just have to trust to my mother’s bracelet.
Glancing over Carodoc’s shoulder, I saw Kiernonda and Quaro-Deryn emerging at the top of the steps. Whilst the sword master gave Kiernonda an encouraging nod, his glance darkened considerably when he saw Quaro-Deryn.
I waited, alert and ready, as the two made their way across the quad and mounted the dragons. I tensed again when I felt another probe from the swordmaster brushing against my cloud and it was a relief when they took off and disappeared in the direction of the Edifice.
“Let’s go!” I said to Carodoc as I stepped out from behind his back. “We’ve got a duel to get ready for!”
The rest of the morning went by in a flash. With the hints from Geraint, I was quickly able to master the parries and, though I was still too noisy and cumbersome, by lunchtime I was able to block any blow Carodoc sent in my direction.
“We should hang on to our swords and daggers,” I whispered to Carodoc as Zalibar gave a whistle and shouted that everyone should break for lunch. “It’ll look like we’re just off to practice somewhere in private.”
As we made our way along the track towards the village, Carodoc tried to tell me about the arrangements for the duel but there was a blustery wind blowing in from the sea and we had to flip into the cerebral communication thing.
Just before the track dropped down the hill towards the village, I spotted what had to be the path. I’d never noticed it before because it was so overgrown
Carodoc still really didn’t want to leave me on my own but, after checking with Psion that there was nobody else about, I was happy to send him on his way. “Go and see Iola,” I told him. “I’ll be fine. I’ll come and find you in about four hours.”
“Try not to let anyone else see you!” I called after him as he made his way down the hill.
“Don’t worry!” he shouted back with a smile. “We’ll stay out of sight!”