Sweat dripped from Williamson’s brow as he held the broadsword stiffly in his hands, bracing himself for the impact of Chief Meelocks’ sword. They had been sparring in the training yard for a good hour and a crowd had gathered to watch Williamson fight against the Palace’s Chief of Security. They were both breathing hard as Williamson watched the tall poodolian, his green hair moving with each deep breath. His red haired tail whipped back and forth in anticipation.
Lady Lynn sat on the fence wearing breeches, whooping every time Williamson gained the upper hand. A smile crossed his face as he remembered the day she had given him his first sword. He had never held anything so beautiful in his life. Since her arrival, everything had changed in his world.
Chief Meelocks blasted off a succession of three quick diagonal blows, but Williamson parried each without losing any ground. Then for a split second, Chief Meelocks dropped his left shoulder from exhaustion, providing Williamson with a clear opening. In a matter of mere moments, Williamson disarmed the Chief as he rushed forward, causing him to land on his rear. Williamson leaned forward and pointed the tip of his sword at Chief Meelocks’s chest.
“Do you yield?” Williamson asked the customary phrase.
“Aye, I yield,” came the response Williamson thought he would never hear.
A loud cheer erupted. To Williamson’s knowledge, Chief Meelocks had never been beaten. The crowed milled around Williamson as he clasped hands with several friends and received strong pats on the back. They all congratulated him over the victory as he continued to catch his breath.
“What is all this infernal noise about you bubbling, good-for-nothing dishwashing brutes?!” shouted a voice from beyond the crowd. Instantly everyone fell silent and made way for the stranger.
“Chief Meelocks, why do you lay on the ground gaping like a fish out of water? Get up man!” the stranger said holding out a hand to hoist Chief Meelocks back to his feet. “Now if you please, introduce me to the man who bested you for I would like to shake his hand. Only Kyle, Tristyn and I have ever beaten you and only half the time at that. So whoever left you on your rump must be a real warrior.”
A large grin came over Chief Meelocks’s green and hairy face as his red tail swished excitedly up and down. Chief Meelocks bowed and motioned to Williamson to come forward.
Williamson stared at his dirty boots, remembering his place as a servant and not a member of the guard. He would not look the stranger in the face unless given permission.
“This is Williamson,” stated Chief Meelocks as he backed up slightly to give the stranger full view of Williamson.
Slowly the stranger walked around Williamson, inspecting his build, posture and stance. Crossing his arms, the stranger stood staring at Williamson while the crowd remained silent. “How does it come to be that a slave is trained in the art of the palace guard?” the stranger asked in a straight monotonic voice.
Williamson shot a quick glance at the collective stance of Chief Meelocks, who by his behavior was not going to answer the question.
“Well, speak up lad. Do you have a voice?” asked the stranger.
“Yes, sir. I have a voice,” answered Williamson.
“Well?” probed the stranger.
“It is my Lady’s wish that I be trained to serve and protect her, sir,” Williamson explained.
“Is that so? What could a lady need protection from? An unwanted dinner invitation, perhaps?” jested the stranger. “Meelocks, how come you to teach this slave?”
“By my own misdoing and the will of Lord Kyle,” Chief Meelocks replied, a small smirk crossing his face as he remembered the embarrassing ordeal of gaining four slaves as students.
“Hmm… well that does change the matter. Well then, congratulations for winning the match.” The stranger thrusted out his arm and gripped Williamsons, shaking it vigorously.
“Thank you, sir” Williamson said while still avoiding eye contact.
“Now, please tell me, who is this lady you serve? For I would like to meet the woman that could convince the two most hardheaded men I know to allow her slave to be trained as a guard.”
“Lady Lynn, sir,” Williamson answered.
The stranger froze, and gripped Williamson’s arm even harder. Bewildered the stranger asked “Where is she?”
Williamson finally broke free from the grip and pointed towards the fence outside the sparring circle.
The stranger swung around, and there before them she stood. Within several paces, the stranger swooped Lynn up in his arms and twirled her around, all the while laughing heartily. Lynn’s eyes sparkled with laughter as she stood once more in front of the man she had not seen in some time.
Williamson was so confused at the embrace that he barely noticed that he had drawn his sword. What was this man’s intention? Why would he act this way? Was he going to harm her?
“Williamson, it’s alright. You can put your sword away,” Lady Lynn assured him gently touching his sword arm. “He’s a friend.” Turning to the stranger she continued, “It’s marvelous to see you Dloakar. How are things on Destiny?”
“Destiny is busy as always, but for now we are in port for the Leyente duels. I must say you lasted longer than I had expected you would, Pibbel.”
Lynn smiled softly at her nickname. “It has been some time since someone dared call me ‘Pibbel’. I go by Lady Lynn now.”
“Well tell you what Pibbel, I’ll make you a deal. You let me call you Pibbel and I won’t tell these tired warriors how you got that name.”
Lynn busted out laughing, tears filling her eyes. After she had composed herself, she admitted “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”
“Yeah, how so?”
Lynn’s mood changed as she bit her lower lip. Something that Williamson noted she has been doing more frequently as of late. “Let’s just say it’s good to have a friend around who sees me for who I am.”
“Well in that case, I better go see if I can find this friend,” Dloakar said pretending to leave.
Laughing, Lynn ran after him. They disappeared into the palace, presumably to go talk and catch up somewhere with fewer spectators.
“Well, that was strange,” observed Chief Meelocks.
“I’d say so,” Williamson agreed. “Who is that man?”
“He is Lord Dloakar von Eshod. He grew up with Lord Kyle and Prince Tristyn.”
Williamson tried to make sense of the strange encounter. Never before had a lord come up to him to congratulate him for anything. But before he could give it much more thought, Chief Meelocks interrupted his pondering.
“Williamson, I believe you are ready,” Chief Meelocks proclaimed as he started towards the palace.
“Ready for what?” Williamson quickly followed, curious to know what Meelocks had in store from him next.
“For the ordeal of Delmi.”
“What is that?”
“A test you must complete and pass if you wish to finish your training and become Lady Lynn’s guardian.”
“A test? I’m no good with tests,” Williamson admitted as his courage left him.
“Yes, a test. One that I am confident you will pass. I have already spoken to Lady Lynn and Lord Kyle about this. They both agreed. The test can occur at any time, so you must always be ready to give an answer. You will only be given one chance to accept the challenge, and a single chance to pass or fail.”
“Look. I know you don’t like tests but you must trust my judgement. You will do great.”
“But what if –”
“Look here. Do you want to complete your training?”
“Do you want to guard Lady Lynn?”
“Are you willing to die for Lady Lynn?”
“Will you take responsibility for her life?”
“Then you’re ready for the ordeal of Delmi. There is no more that I, or anyone else, can teach you and no more that you can learn at this time. Whether you pass or fail your ordeal, the choice is yours. Remember who you serve. Remember that she has placed her trust in you and all will be well.”
Williamson remembered the only thing Lynn had ever asked of him was to do his best. He could not write as eloquently as Jael, but now he could at least read and write. He did not understand math or mechanics like Marvis, but Williamson knew what he was good at. Something neither Marvis nor Jael could do well. He could fight. He could protect Lynn. No matter what lay ahead, he would succeed.