Chapter 2 – The Final BattleThe Practice Yard
Barony of Tehryn
Justin de Tehryn watched his sister warily. He had blocked her last thrust and had almost trapped her wooden practice sword, but she had twisted at the last moment and slipped away. He was taller and stronger than his sister, with a longer reach. He was also already tired from training for the last hour with his brother under the watchful eye of Sir Aaron. Jäna was fresh and determined, holding her sword corrie-fisted, circling to his right, ready to take any advantage, always tricky and quick…
Justin dove away from her upward thrust, knocking her sword aside but almost slipped in his recovery on a patch of frost that had not yet melted. Jäna drove forward to press the advantage, not seeing the sudden look of warning on Sir Aaron’s face.
Jared, standing far enough behind his sister to be safe, saw it and quickly moved forward, catching her around the waist from behind and lifting her off her feet.
“Jared!” she yelled. “That’s not fair!” Jäna slammed the flat of her sword against his leg, forcing a yelp of pain but no release from his grip.“Amah!”
he warned, almost eye to eye with her as she attempted to twist and face him. Her eyes widened as she looked across his shoulder at the woman in black, dark eyes narrowed and standing very still at the entrance to the yard.
For a long moment, no one moved. Lady Amah Furstán d’Arjenol studied the tableaux before her. Jared stood still gripping his sister, dark auburn hair tousled and green eyes looking at her cautiously. The homespun tunic he wore for practice showed streaks of dirt from falls or deliberate rolls on the hard ground. He had shoved his practice sword under his belt so he could grab his sister with his right arm.
His sister’s head was still beside his, a feminine reflection of his own, many loosened strands of identical dark auburn hair falling across her face. For propriety’s sake her tunic was longer, reaching to just above the ankles of the sturdy boots she wore. Amah had objected to the tunic as encouragement of an activity it was time for Jäna to set aside, but Baron Jerrill had pointed out that it was exactly this kind of activity that had made Jäna strong. He also thought it was good for the boys to practice occasionally against a left-handed opponent. Amah had not objected further but declined to visit the practice yard thenceforth.
Justin stood rooted where he was, mirror image to his brother, sword levelled to parry whatever Jäna had intended. He had moved only enough to recover his footing. His eyes glanced from Amah to his brother and back again.
Old Sir Aaron broke the silence, coming forward from where he had stood equally frozen and bowing to Lady Amah. “I believe we are finished for the day, Master Jared,” he said quietly as he began to take possession of the practice swords. “You may want to set Lady Jäna down now, lad, before she starts to squirm.”
Hastily Jared set Jäna down on her feet, took a deep breath and bowed to the woman who had acted in his mother’s stead for all of his life. She had that inscrutable look on her face that made it impossible to guess what she was thinking, with or without her shields in place. Brother and sister followed suit and waited. His father had often called it the “Torenthi look;” it was wise to proceed with caution, but even better to retreat.
“Jäna,” Amah said firmly. “You will come with me back to your room. You two,” she fixed each of the twins with a cold stare, “will continue on with your duties.” She fixed her stare on Sir Aaron. “We are indeed finished here for the day, Sir.”
She turned and waited for Jäna to join her on the prisoner’s march back to the girl’s chamber. Jared squeezed his sister’s hand before he stepped aside to let her pass. Instinctively, without realizing he had done it, he had edged slightly in front of his sister, putting himself between the two, even though he knew how dearly the older woman loved them. Amah was careful not to let her approval show.
“Do you think we should warn Papa?” Justin asked quietly as he moved up beside his brother.
“T’would not be a bad idea, Master Justin,” the swordmaster replied. “It never hurts to take precautions. You will likely find him at the stables, checking on the horses for the trip tomorrow. “ He held all three wooden swords in one large hand. “I’ll put these away.”
Sir Aaron Meachen watched as the boys hurried off toward the stables, his thoughts turning inward as he realized how long he had been the swordmaster at Tehryn Keep. He had known Jerrill de Tehryn since they had served together as squires to the Baron’s father. As part of the Tehryn levies, he had campaigned alongside Jerrill as fledgling knight and later lieutenant after Jerrill had succeeded his father as baron. When the baron’s first son was old enough to begin his training, Aaron had accepted the post of swordmaster, instructing the boy as he grew from page, to squire, then knight at his father’s side. He had been with young Sir Jayce that fateful day at Jennan Vale, and he had brought the letter back to Tehryn from Prince Nigel, advising Baron Jerrill of his son’s death.
Sir Aaron smiled to himself as he walked toward the armoury at the side of the yard. Jerrill had needed a new heir, but he had not counted on three exuberant, energetic children coming all at once. The boys had been handful enough, feeding off each other’s enthusiasm and each determined to out-do the other. Then there was Jäna, standing beside her father at that very first practice, reaching up to pull at his sleeve and ask where her sword was. She had one the next day.
She was a determined little sprite. He had only known her to cry once; Jared had cracked her across the knuckles and then tripped her. She hadn’t been hurt but had burst into tears because she had lost. Damn near broke his heart to see her cry so. After a nod from Lord Jerrill, he had picked her up, set her on her feet and told her to try again. Jared had dropped his guard just long enough to allow her to strike a good blow. He had that bruise for least a week. Afterwards, Sir Aaron and Jerrill had agreed privately that most of the boys’ sword training would be without Jäna, but she could join them occasionally, when the boys were already tired.
The old swordmaster entered the armoury. He would not have the privilege of training them beyond today. They would leave tomorrow for Rhemuth, and he would retire to a comfortable home in the village. He paused before the rack that normally held the triplets’ swords. There were only two notches, but one was cut deeper than the other so that Jäna’s sword sat neatly behind it, out of sight. Lady Amah had no reason to come into the armoury, but one never knew. He did not slide the small swords into the rack, but instead opened a chest in the corner. Propping the swords against the chest, he withdrew a cloth bundle. Carefully, he unwrapped it to reveal another wooden training sword. Sir Aaron added the triplets’ swords beside it, re-wrapped the bundle and replaced it in the chest. After a long moment, he resolutely closed the lid.