Kestryl squinted against the glare of the afternoon sun, ready to do battle. He raised two swords in salute and advanced. Tanrif, his opponent, showed no sign of fear. Like the Bladesman, he held a sword in each hand. For a short time they circled. Then Kestryl attacked fiercely.
Tanrif deflected the blows and returned an attack of his own. The hills surrounding the conflict echoed the efforts of the confrontation. Neither man could find an opening. Soon, Kestryl stepped back and lowered his swords.
"Are you scared, old man?"
The Bladesman raised an eyebrow in response and thrust suddenly. As with the rest of his attacks that morning his blade was turned, though this time he came closer to scoring.
"Youth is not necessarily an advantage in combat," said the Bladesman. "Experience is on my side."
He held up a hand to signal a rest. Tanrif lowered his weapons, and Kestryl turned to face the woman watching. He bowed.
"Don?t stop," said Cyanne, smiling. "I came to watch."
The Bladesman again bowed then attacked. Tanrif redoubled his efforts in a furious onslaught Kestryl knew he could not maintain?at least he hoped that was the case. The Bladesman fell back further, parrying and retreating, drawing his opponent out. But Tanrif showed little sign of tiring.
When the onslaught finally slowed, the Bladesman pressed an attack of his own, no less skillful than that of the younger man but somewhat more focused.
Tanrif retreated until he saw an opening. He moved in, but the Bladesman shifted his attack and one of Tanrif’s swords took flight. Both men watched until it landed it a patch of tall grass several yards away.
The younger man looked surprised and continued his attack with the remaining blade. The Bladesman pressed the advantage. Tanrif was forced to concentrate on defending himself. A short time later, when both men were bathed in sweat, Tanrif lost hold of his second sword. He bowed then grinned.
"You?re sweating, old man."
The Bladesman saluted him with his weapons before sheathing them.
"As I said, you?ve improved."
The younger man didn?t respond. He turned toward Cyanne and moved in her direction. Her eyes shone with pride.
"Did you see that, mother?"
Cyanne opened her arms, and he embraced her. "You were marvelous, Tanrif. You?re the image of your father. When he returns he’s going to be so proud."
Tanrif opened his mouth to speak, but a reproachful glance from Kestryl silenced him.
Kestryl knew it was hard on the boy, but he couldn?t do anything about it. Nothing either of them could say would break Cyanne of her delusions.
It had been eighteen years since the final battle with the Sarithan Assassins, and Cyanne still awaited the return of her husband. Over the years, Kestryl had tried talking to her. The conversations often led to an argument.
He tried everything he could to convince her Tanrif was dead and would not be returning; but Cyanne had seen her husband come back from the dead once, and hadn?t seen him die the second time. Still, no one could have survived the collapse of the Fortress-Temple.
She would not listen to reason. Kestryl learned long ago that he could do little more than nod and smile. From a very young age, he?d taught the boy to do the same.
At first, Tanrif played along, but times had changed and he grew less and less satisfied with his lot in life. Kestryl couldn?t blame him. They lived in the middle of nowhere; Tanrif had no friends, no women, nothing but training and duty. Tanrif was a good lad. He deserved better.
There was nothing more Kestryl could do for them here. He?d already taught Tanrif what he could?how to read and write, the history of High Gondylar, court etiquette and more. Tanrif was uniquely prepared to sit on the Gondylarian throne, an event for which Kestryl had waited a long time.
Cyanne was already heading back to the cottage. He listened for a bit as he followed, but she?d launched into a story about her husband’s exploits, and he?d heard them all before. The way she told them, Tanrif had done it all on his own. Kestryl’s contribution was left largely unmentioned. It would have been amusing were it not so tragic.
Like the dutiful son he was, Tanrif forced a smile and feigned interest. Kestryl watched, feeling sorry for the boy. It had to be hard on him. He could put it off no longer. It was time for Tanrif to take his place on the throne.
Kestryl had one detail to attend to before he brought the rightful heir to Gondylar.