The Calling - Merry's Apprentice

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Chapter 12

Month 26

An Enemy in Avalon

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It was September, yet another new season had passed in the Human Realm, but it remained summer in Avalon, always summer, and always perfect. I was tired of perfect and Avalon. Where Lance and Benedict had made great strides in there time in Avalon, mine were almost immeasurable, though certain things were measurable. I was now six foot three inches and looked like a gymnast in built. The bamboo swords were put away and now Zaichi and I used cane sword and katana. Lance and Nan watched silently as Inari cheered Zaichi along.

“He has gotten better, but he still isn’t as good as you,” called out Inari. “Master Zaichi is still superme! He is the greatest of sword masters.”

Neither Zaichi nor I paid the fox any attention. We were too engrossed in our match of skills and wits with swords. My ability with the katana had grown enough so that he was the equal of many, maybe even the better of many, but Zaichi was still a sword master on a level which few others had attained. He gracefully blocked and parried my blows making sure that they didn’t their mark. The first to draw blood, even with a scratch, was the victor. Master Zaichi was a believer that a small scar could be a great educator.

Lance appeared to be almost in pain just sitting on the grass and watching me fight the master. He wanted to be up there protecting me more, even more than showing off his own skills, as he had sworn to be one of my protectors no matter what happened at Bealtaine. He just knew that I was born to lead and for him to be loyal to me. It wasn’t until I came along that Lance actually knew where he belonged.

“Brother,” Nan broke the silence, “has he gotten to be a good swordsman? From my point of view he looks as if he has improved a great deal.”

“Yes, very much. He has become an expert swordsman,” answered Lance.

“Is he as good as you, Lance?” Nan asked in a slightly teasing tone, which I heard.

Lance paused to think about what she had asked him. He had trained with a sword his whole life becoming proficient as a child. Just last week he did so well against Zaichi that the master applauded him for his skill. Yet, I was new to using a blade. I had grown playing sports, throwing a baseball and football, not swinging a blade. My childhood was strangely normal considering who I was. Yet I had so far to come and I had virtually overcome that inexperienced so quickly that it was almost miraculous. He doubted I could have improved as quickly as I had.

“I believe I am better right now with a sword, but I also believe he can be better in the future,” answered Lance. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” she laughed.

“You have a reason. What is it?”

“I have been debating asking permission to leave Avalon so that I may visit the Human Realm, brother. If Sean is the Cathal, I would like to join his fealty. I believe he could unite the realm and bring that peace that has been missing for far too long.”

“You must be invited to join a fealty,” Lance told her.

“You have been invited by him, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can put in a good word for me. I think I could be very useful for him,” she defended herself.

“It is worth considering,” Lance said with a smile.

“Are you teasing me, Lance?”

“Maybe,” he answered. She punched with her right hand on his left shoulder then they both laughed.

“Zaichi, you take it too easily on him,” yelled Inari. “He is a boy, so he can take. Punish him!”

I tried a quick combination attack with my katana, each strike stopped by Zaichi, who in turn did his own combination of strikes. The last blow of Zaichi’s combination almost caught me off guard so I had to do a back flip to avoid being hit by the master’s blade. I noticed that Zaichi had positioned me so that the sun was in my eyes blinding me. To counter this I did a sidesaddle flip to his left then a back flip, so the sun was out of my eyes. Zaichi laughed at this.

“So much work to avoid the sun when all you have to do is close your eyes,” he said to me with great amusement. “You have more than one sense you can use, Sean.”

“I know that, master. But I look really good doing acrobatics while I fight,” I told him, which made the master laugh some more.

It was then that a strange feeling came over me. It felt as if something icecold had touched me sending a shiver down my spine. I looked up to see a red and black sparrow flying overhead. Suddenly, Zaichi stopped all motion and listened to the air. He too felt something, too.

“Sean, there is something here in this realm that doesn’t belong,” he said.

“I know, master. I feel it, also.”

Inari started to run towards us when the sparrow turned from a bird into a large human form. Its human form shocked me to see, too. It had rough red skin, great yellow eyes with black dots for cornea, and a large, eight-inch long nose with a cruel smile on its face and long white hair along with wings. It wore blue pants and a loose blue shirt, but no shoes on its overly large red feet. In one hand it had a large thick bladed sword and in the other what appeared to be a lightening bolt, which it released and hit the running Inari, sending the fox into the air and landing hard on the ground. Inari just laid there unmoving. I hoped she was alive.

“Tengu,” called out Zaichi with vengeance.

The tengu released another lightening bolt, which Zaichi caught with his sword before it could hit his chest, but catching the bolt sent a strong electric current through his body causing him to loose consciousness. He fell to the ground. Lance got to his feet and grabbed his own katana, which lay beside him, and ran towards me along with his sister. The tengu continued down to the ground landing gently on its large feet. Its wings disappeared into thin air. Turning to face Lance and Nan it tossed another lightening bolt at them. Nan pushed her brother aside and attempted to absorb the bolt. She was forced to her knees from the power of it, as she tried to let her body absorb the electricity.

Lance continued towards the raging tengu, while I attacked from the other side. The two of us reached the creature at the same time and we each attempted to cut it down with our blades, but the tengu parried one then the other with great speed. I immediately sensed that this creature had the advantage of speed and strength over Lance and I, which meant he needed to find its weakness to exploit. Lance attacked again with several strong slashes, each easily stopped and returned by the red creature.

“So young to die. So young but so what? Some are meant to die young,” the tengu said.

“You are the one who is going to die,” Lance retorted making the tengu laugh.

“I have known many brave warriors; each one brave, each one dead. You are neither brave nor a warrior, but you will be dead,” it said.

I sensed its arrogance and knew that he had found a weakness to exploit. Arrogance led to underestimating your opponent and overestimating yourself, or so Alkimos had told him. I needed to bide my time and find a way to use the arrogance against him. I joined Lance in the fight against the tengu, although he knew they were overmatched right now.

“Little boys with sharp toys. Be careful little boys, you might cut yourself,” the tengu mocked them. “Sharp toys will be the end of little boys. I want to cut you, so be careful not to ruin my fun.”

“Shut up, you big nose, red butted baboon,” I ridiculed it.

“You don’t like my nose. It is a full nose, proud and large, a noble nose,” the tengu said.

This was an angry response. I had found something, chink in the tengu’s armor. It didn’t like to be teased.

“It is ugly, just like you are,” I retorted then I laughed, which caused the tengu to angrily kick Lance away sending him about six feet away where he landed and tumbled another five feet. I could see that he was knocked out cold from the blow.

“Ugly. I am beautiful, one of the most beautiful to behold,” the tengu stated.

And vain I thought, another weakness to exploit: “Beautiful if you think the moon ugly and flowers horrible to look at. Beautiful only in an upside down world.”

“You are insulting me. I don’t like that,” the tengu accused mer with hurt feelings.

“Yet, you are still ugly,” I said then I defended myzself against a vicious attack.

The tengu’s blade seemed to be everywhere at once now, as he struck out at me in anger. I was just barely parrying the blows, as they came in a blur. The tengu continued his onslaught. I received a cut on my right thigh, superficial, but it bled badly. I then received a deeper cut across his left ribs, which caused bleeding and pain, but I would not lose MY focus. Pain was pain. Master Zaichi taught me how to deal with this. Pain existed and could be dealt with. All my focus needed to be on my opponent and nothing else.

“Where are your lightening bolts? You’re sword won’t get to me, though your face is starting to make me sick to my stomach,” I taunted it.

“All out of bolts and soon you will be all out of blood.”

“You’ll still be ugly, though,” I teased it.

This caused even more anger from the tengu. It was a seething cauldron of anger now. The speed of its attack even increased more, which surprised me. Never had I seen a sword moving so fast. I managed to again block most of the blows, but I received a deep cut across my right forearm and another shallow one across my chest ripping my clothes and skin. I assumed I looked much worse than I felt and decided to use that to my advantage. The tengu took a dramatic step back to see the effect of his workmanship.

As the tengu admired how he had bloodied me, I noticed that Lance was struggling to get up. If Lance charged it, the tengu in his current state would cut him down. I knew I needed to act now. I fell to one knee and started to breathe heavily wanting to make the tengu believe that I had reached my limit and was ready to fall.

“Tired and weak, human,” the tengu taunted me. “Don’t worry you won’t be tired much longer, though you will be weak, even in the afterlife.”

“Ugly,” I spat.

“I am tired of your insults,” the tengu said then raised it sword and charged me.

When the tengu was but a foot away, I did a roll and came up with my katana aimed at the tengu’s midsection. With all my strength I stood up and drove my sword through the tengu causing the creature’s face to take on an expression of utter shock then its yellow eyes closed, as it fell to the ground. I had managed to slay it.

A sliver doorway suddenly opened not too far from me. Merry stepped through it dressed in his tweed jackets and corduroy pants, as if he had been teaching. He surveyed the scene and came running to me. I knelt down on the ground feeling tired and weak from blood loss. Lance was up and he, too, ran to me along with his sister, who had finally recovered from the lightening bolt.

“Bear, you killed a tengu,” Merry said to me in his gentlest voice.

“He was ugly, so I had to do something with him,” I said as I laid myself down on the ground.

“And he was a very formidable foe for you. Impressive, Bear,” added Merry. “Branwyn sends her best. She knew you needed me. When it comes to you, that girl is uncanny. I’ll attend to your wounds.”

I lay on the grass. I turned my head to see that Inari had recovered and was licking Zaichi’s face trying to wake him up. I then looked at those staring at me. Lance had a grave expression on his face, while Merry and Nan appeared calm and encouraging. I closed my eyes.

“That’s right, Bear. Go to sleep for now. I’ll have you on your feet in no time,” Merry’s voice said then I allowed myself to be enveloped by blackness.

*********

I lay in my bed in the wooden shelter I shared with Zaichi. Nan had brought me some vegetable soup for my recovery. She tried to feed me some, but I didn’t want any. Nan was persistent and finally forced fed me some of the soup. Once done eating I wanted out of bed, but Nan wouldn’t allow it. She was my acting nurse.

“I’ve already lost a full day of training,” I told her. “I can’t afford to lose any more.”

“Merlin says you need one more day of bed rest,” Nan said. “Anyways, Master Zaichi still needs another day of rest. His body absorbed a great deal of electricity, as did Inari. They are both in need of rest.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize that,” I said then paused. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” said Nan. “You did very well Arthur Sean McCoul.”

“Arthur. You like the name Arthur, don’t you?” I asked Nan.

“It is a noble name with great meaning to many in the realms.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. It’s not that bad a name, I guess,” I mused.

I thought about it: Arthur was a name that meant a great deal to the realms. The name was a symbol, a useful symbol. I had to keep that in mind.

“My mother wishes to visit you here to apologize for allowing a creature of evil into this realm. It is a great dishonor to her that you were attacked.”

“Tell her it is okay. It’s nobody’s fault or anything,” I mumbled.

“Sean, I know that you don’t trust my mother, but you have to allow her a chance to apologize. She is truly embarrassed that a tengu entered this ream,” Nan told me.

“She doesn’t have to be. What does Lance think I should do?” I asked her knowing that Lance’s answer would probably be the same as my own.

“I’m not a member of your fealty, yet, Arthur Sean McCoul, so I don’t have to take your teasing. I can tease back or worse. My mother may be a difficult woman, but she is my mother and the Lady of the Lake and deserves some respect. I want you to give her some respect, Sean,” Nan scolded me.

“All right. I’ll see her, especially since you have been good to me.”

“Good. I’m glad that you’ve come around to seeing it my way. She is visiting with Zaichi right now. I’ll escort in when she’s done,” Nan said then exited my small bedroom.

I threw my legs over the side of the bed and looked about the bedroom. The wooden walls had no decoration, except the one photograph of Branwyn. Aside from the bed and a night table with a candle, it had no other furnishing. It was simple, plain, and Zaichi’s idea of perfect for living. I missed my books and some clutter.

It didn’t take too long, but the bedroom door opened and Nan escorted in the Lady of the Lake, whose face wore an expression of great regret. Nan stood by the door while her mother came into the middle of the room.

“I owe you an apology, young warrior,” she said with respect in her voice.

“There is no need to apologize for the actions of the Aes Sidhe and their allies,” I told her.

“Yes, there is. Aes Sidhe and their allies know you are here training, so it was to be expected that they would attempt to get to you here. Unfortunately, we underestimated their determination to get to you.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Several oni and shadow wraith attacked the castle as well as the area of isolation for novitiates. Six of our warriors died defending the palace and novitiates,” she explained to him. “You will be happy to know that your fealty member and companion, Benedict, performed admirably in defense of the palace. He used both strong druid skills, as well as warrior skills.”

“I’m glad Benedict could help and I am sorry about your fallen warriors, Lady.”

“Their deaths are not an excuse for our laxity in protecting you. You are a guest, an important one. It is our duty to protect you.”

“Lady, the tengu did not succeed. All that it accomplished was to sharpen my skills with experience and to alert you for further attacks. I think apologizes are unnecessary now, but I thank you nonetheless,” I said.

“You show maturity for your age, Sean McCoul,” the Lady said.

“Is that good?”

“It is surprising. When you first arrived here, I did not expect too much from you. But now I understand why Merlin has such faith in you.”

“I hope not to let Merry down. Is he still here?” I asked.

“He has not left yet but he will be leaving soon. I will have him see you now,” the Lady told us then Nan opened the bedroom door and the Lady left. Before following her mother out of the room, Nan gave me an optimistic smile.

I contemplated standing up. Fighting the tengu had not encouraged me because I prevailed, but it made me worry that I didn’t have enough skills to prevail the next time. I won this battle on my wits and brains, which had made Master Zaichi so happy.

Merry entered the bedroom. He was still dressed in his tweed jacket and corduroy pants. He looked completely out of place in this realm.

“Hello, Bear,” Merry greeted me.

“Hey, Merry.”

“I can tell by the way she looked that the Lady of the Lake was impressed by you. Well done, Bear.”

“Thanks.”

“So, I’m on my way home. You are well enough for me to leave,” Merry told me.

“Do you have to leave so soon?”

“Yes, I do. I have students with empty minds that need filling.”

“But...”

“It is almost over, Bear. Soon the Lady will be calling you to the palace for her final formal dinner and then you come home for a month,” Merry said encouragingly.

“Four more months, Merry. I know I need to finish my training, but it seems so long.”

“Oh, how you have grown, Sean, but how much more growing up you have to do,” Merry sighed.

“How are Kieran and Fintain and Lucan?”

“They are well.”

“And Chota? How is he?”

“He lives in Kieran’s house and visits me occasionally. He is a happy man and it is because of you,” Merry told me.

“And Morgana and Branwyn?”

“Well, Morgana and Kieran are dating in the open now, much to Branwyn’s delight and Fintain’s embarrassment. He said just the other day that he isn’t dating but his father is.”

“That’s great,” I laughed.

“And Branwyn, of course, pines for you. She misses you greatly. It seems no one can take your place either. Last month Chota and I took them into Elizabethton for the day to shop and such, and some high school boys were enamored by her, but she paid them no attention at all. Even the football team quarterback thought her attractive but he received only a cold shoulder. She only has eyes for you, Bear.”

“You know that makes me feel better, don’t you?”

“You’re human. And I mean that as a compliment. Now, Master Zaichi asked me to tell you that tomorrow you and he will get your battered bodies back to work. And, as for me, I am leaving now,” Merry said then turned to leave. He paused at the door, though and turned back. “What do you think of Nan?”

“She wants to join my fealty some day,” I answered.

“Yes, I know. But what do you think of her?”

“She is wonderful. I wish her mother was more like her.”

“Yes, as do I.”

“Why do you ask about her, Merry?”

“I think she has possibilities. That’s all. Be well, Bear. I’ll see you soon,” he said then left.

I sat back in the bed. Four more months. That’s all I had to do was wait for four more months and I’d be able to go home. 120 or so days were all that I had left. Yet, there were times when one single day seemed like a month. A single day could drag on and on never seeming to end, while a week could buzz along as if it passed all too soon. Time was funny that way. One day could seem an eternity and a week pass in a flash. Four months was all I had left here. It wasn’t that long. Four more short months that would be made up of lone long line of single day eternities.

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