Lyncia Eyresin is about to play host to a strange array of visitors, and some of them have frightening powers beyond her comprehension. Life is full of choices and chances, and Lyncia's will lead to maddening oddities and a spiraling descent.
But on the world of Nalan, the fall may never end.
So Lyncia begins a struggle to understand the world as it truly is. Buried stories tell of concealed gods and sunken relics. Cracks in the known history reveal a shattered past. Somewhere in the truth, Lyncia will find power.
Find out more about Nalan here:
http://nalanwiki.watersartistry.com/ Show Less
The next attacks came on quickly. Each was strong and varied. I blocked, then parried, and successfully warded off harm. But my muscles trembled. I was traipsing my ability’s edge. My arms were burning and each fingertip sported new blisters. All the talcum powder from my gloves had run down my arms. It made the reddish tone of my skin look pink. My hair felt grimy with sweat and a loose dark strand tumbled in front of my eyes.
Jacob's gritted teeth told me he was frustrated. His muffled growl spoke of a rising anger. It was likely directed more at himself than me. My parry had sent his blade wide and he jumped back quickly. Creating distance, it was just enough to avoid my blunted weapon. He was taller than me, but just barely so. He hadn’t been able to depend on reach for years now.
I didn't hesitate to follow and sent out quick thrusts that were mostly feints. Part of me still didn't know how to close an attack. The knowledge was there from long bouts of reading and practice. Despite that, use of the information was fickle and elusive. It was the second week I'd prevented Jacob from 'killing' me. Our fights kept ending in draws or minor wounds. I couldn't kill him either.
Just surviving was getting old. The desire to win burned me in a way that was new, in a way that seemed irrational. When weapons practice had started, it'd been a tedious bore. There were forms to remember, harsh exercises, and painful lessons. Surviving each day was an accomplishment. Those early years had been hard won and immensely rewarding. Despite that, I'd almost quit, but I had wanted to prove my capability.
I needed to, really. The training had been a huge orchestration on my part. Father hadn't wanted me to learn the sword. He called it useless for a princess. I couldn't stand the idea of proving him right. All the barons of Galania did that for him. Even the blessing of Aldyor wouldn’t help me convince him he was wrong, let alone that I could be right.
Truth be told, I never thought I would use the skill in a real fight. Yet, finally I'd broken through some barrier of self-awareness. I could feel the power in knowing the ability. I understood more and had to depend on memorization less. It made winning feel like a tantalizing possibility. At first I was just glad to fight back without being soundly beaten. But then, there was a chance of something more.
Jacob eyed me warily while edging to my left. "Come on then, Lyncia. Let out that eagerness I've been seeing. Is your body so weak that it can’t swing the blade proper? Or is that really the best you can do?"
Reacting to your opponent's taunts isn't generally advisable. They would expect that, or so Jacob always recited. However, he knew me and was growing used to my style of fighting. I had never reacted to his stupid taunts. They had no power, no heft, for they were stupid and boring. My lady-in-waiting knew better japes. Jacob taught by the books, and even his curses were lifted from the pages. Usually, I was reserved and defensive. I would hold back and watch.
So, I changed. Instead of being patient, I darted forward with a loud cry. My intent was on broadcasting a false attack. I leaned left and couldn't help but grin at the flash of surprise in his eyes. It was gone so quick I almost believed it imagined, but I hoped the lost moment would be enough.
His sword rose in reaction to my false-intentions. The time between breaths hung still in my mind. All was frozen in that rushing clarity of surging adrenaline. I could hardly believe he'd made such a foolish mistake.
I saw the opening. As if driven to a beacon, some part of my brain gestured madly, "There! There! Attack!" My blade twisted as my arm whipped forward to reverse my swing. The motion slapped the sword's "edge" at Jacob's turned hip. His armor was just open enough, and I felt the hit reverberate from my arm to shoulder.
And at that same moment I flew backwards from a gauntlet-driven punch knocking the wind from my lungs. Caught completely off guard, I tumbled onto my side and rolled to a stop. Panicked, I scrambled away with thanks that I'd kept my sword. Standing in a hurry, the courtyard spun into focus as my mind cleared.
Dust filled the air within the dark circular walls. It slowly dissipated to reveal one of the tall castle towers against a backdrop of blue sky. We were in the western yard, a side space for inconspicuous guests to enter and guardsmen to train. The tightly-fitted tiles beneath our feet were in drastic need of being swept after a recent dust-storm from the eastern deserts.
Jacob stood where I'd hit him. He was pulling the armored faulds from his waist and rubbing his hip. I realized that his sword was already sheathed. "You got me," he said, grimacing, running a hand through his short black hair, "Hard to admit, but even that punch wouldn't have kept me alive. Not after the bite a real sword would've ripped open. Would’ve sliced clear to my thigh."
The tension left me with my muscles wavering. My body was very tired, and it was a struggle to sheath my own sword smoothly, "Truly, that would've been a killing blow?" The victory felt hollow. It would've led to survival, sure, but it wasn't the clean finish recorded in books. Then again, I hardly wanted a training session to lead to beheading.
Gloved hands clapped together from the side of the silty courtyard. Gulie grinned and pushed back his bangs as he stepped between us. “Impressive! Very impressive! I can’t believe you beat the old bastard!”
"Course she did,” grumbled Jacob as he crouched and thudded on his rear. “And a long-deserved win it was." His armor was covered in dust and his dark red skin was peppered in grime. I likely looked worse from my roll on the ground. “Sir, if you pushed half as hard as the Princess, maybe you’d improve that footwork of yours.”
The young man rolled his eyes and arced an eyebrow my way. “Lyncie, why do we let our teacher get away with such disrespect? I’m having trouble believing that was even a killing blow. Are you sure you didn’t give her the win?”
His voice grew a bit distant, "Nothing given there. I'd have been overrun in a battle, finished off by time or a caved in skull." He stretched his neck back while peering at the endless fire at the tower’s top, “Ald, I have tending duty today. I don’t want to climb all those stairs.”
“Hush, Gulie. You are just jealous, and I believe you owe me some tokens from our wager.” I glanced back to the old guardsman. His tiredness surprised me. I still thought him indestructible. When we'd first begun practicing, it felt impossible to even hold a sword. Bearing one against a seasoned fighter had been terrifying. "Such a noble death," I grumbled, "Falling into the mud, stepped on by worn boots." A column helped support my weariness as I wiped sweat from my brow.
He scowled and met my gaze. "Noble death?" He growled the words, "No such thing, just death, plain and dirty." His eyes swept to the young earl, "What is the first rule of a true fight?"
We both repeated the answer with smirks on our faces, "There are no rules in a true fight. When two opponents face each other, winning is the only rule worth subscribing to. Otherwise, you die."
Jacob nodded. "Good, now remember for real this time. If you go out in the world expecting people to treat you fairly, you'll be dead blinding quick. The borders will push back eventually, they always do."
I frowned and felt my expression tighten. He could be so moody. At times the guardsman came off as cold and foul. Time had lent understanding. Somewhen, he'd been hurt. Jacob trusted little, cared little, and seemed to enjoy even less. His mannerisms were dry even in good humor. What jokes he told were worth more groaning than laughter. His company could wear thin quickly, but his knowledge was worth the ire. "Father sealed the borders and created a unified Galania. It would be madness were any of our neighbors to attack."
Gulie nodded. “Madness because they would die horribly. Our kingdom has the supreme naval force in all of Nalan. Our guardsmen could draw together as a substantial army.”
"Yes," said Jacob, "But the King accomplished our peace through a brutality that frightens foreigners more than any ships or promised ranks. And it only proves my point. He did not follow any rules of battle. It was effective, but grudges have long memories."
My emotions swirled in opposing directions. I supported my father's rule, but disliked him as a person. "Is this to be the lesson for today? Borderline savagery?"
He waved me away as he started to get up. "No, I think you've earned a break." Jacob struggled upward with the use of his practice sword. "Aldyor be blessed, but finally one of you is bearing fruit. You’re what, nineteen this year? So it only took ten years to best your teacher.”
The earl made a face and mimed the words ‘ten years’ with a wrinkled nose.
I lifted an eyebrow and tried not to snort laughter. I redirected my attention to Jacob’s serious grimace. “And you are forty-two this year, are you not? Then I think ‘only ten years’ is a bit of a dismissal. You have an entire life that I just matched in half your time.”
Jacob smirked. “Alright, alright. You did well today, milady. But go on, we’re done."
Gulie turned to follow me.
“Not you, sire. Apologies, but I’ll need one more bout from you.”
The young man scowled. “Guardsman Jacob! Are you sure you can even stand? Would it not be better if I accompany the princess through the halls?”
My arms crossed over my chest. “Why? Are you going to protect me, dear Gye?” I gave him a wink. “I rather think I would fare better by myself.”
He pursed his lips at me and drew his blunted blade. “Maybe I will stay. While you go off to relax, oh Lady of the Blade, I will be getting better.”
Jacob grunted. “It’ll take you more than a couple of swings of the sword to match her.”
I laughed and turned away while I still had the energy to leave. My body wanted to collapse. I was glad I wouldn't have to sit down for more book studies. That would've been a recipe for having to listen to Jacob drone on about death and pain and the triumphs of father as a tactician. Aside from a reluctance to bear such tediousness, I really wanted a bath. I called over my shoulder, "Thank you for the lesson, Guardsman Jacob. As usual, you were masterful." I twirled my fingers in an informal goodbye. Practice was always a delightful reprieve from the royal formalities.
My step was quicker than I would've liked as I walked away. Risking more lectures wasn't worth grace. I moved into the hall and felt grateful once out of view.
The castle still slept. The emptiness was always a relief when I would wearily return to my room. There was peace in the streaming beginnings of sunlight filtering through long empty halls. Rich carpet made my footsteps into whispers. Mounted mirrors on the walls made everything glow. Without Jacob or Gulie near, I let the limp I felt show, and I extended each stride to stretch out soreness in my calves. Swordplay was my training's primary purpose, but it also included conditioning that left my body weak.
Guards were out making their rounds as the only presence while dawn still lingered. The bright white of their uniforms took on the rosy light in the halls. Their golden rank and sigil gleamed. I nodded to them, but I did not expect an answer. Though I knew them all by name, father’s orders were for strict discipline in Eyreso's military. The entire kingdom was run with that discipline. All bowed either to the rule of law or for the faith of Aldyor. That tight expectation of order could chafe.
Rounding the corner into my room's hallway, there were a curious number of servants already rushing from one room to another. That was unusual, but maybe some baron was attending a visit. I usually sat in on council meetings, and did not look forward to more dry speeches on which duchy needed which allocation of imports. Let the merchants send their goods all down the Trade Road with abandon. Deliberations on tariffs could be maddening in their tediousness. Still, politicking was a necessary evil. Law was the civilized way to power.
No, I realized, it was doubtful that the visitor was just one baron. Already I’d spotted colors of several different duchies rather than only Galan’s baronies. Whatever was going on involved the whole kingdom of Galania instead of one part or the other. My aggravation at father grew. Had he called for some great ceremony? Would I be expected to prepare a speech or travel somewhere for support? I took a breath to stop myself from following that mental path.
Thinking nothing more of the servants filling the halls, I opened the door to my room. After all, whatever was going on, I'd learn about it from the king himself soon enough. Perhaps he would refrain from shouting at me this time.