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L. E. Modesitt

Cyador's Heirs

L. E. Modesitt Cyador's Heirs
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Series:

Saga of Recluce

Excerpt from book:

I

 

The sun beats down on the palace, and Lerial tries not to trudge as he makes his way out into the private south courtyard that has always served as the arms practice area for the family—since the palace was completed some ten years earlier. The north and south courtyards are the same size, half that of the main central courtyard, with its multiple fountains and its walled gardens. The north courtyard has two fountains, making it cooler than the south courtyard, with its small single fountain, its paved open area for weapons practice, while the central courtyard boasts four fountains, spaced so that their mist cools the entire open space.

The wooden wand Lerial carries feels heavier than the cupridium blade he will use once his father has decided he is accomplished enough to ride with the Lancers on patrol missions, against either Heldyan border forces or the nomadic raiders that occasionally make their way northward through the grasslands of Merowey.

Lerial knows the heavy feel of the wand comes from what awaits him in sparring with Lephi, who is only three years older, and not that much taller, but far more at ease with a weapon in his hand than is Lerial, whether the weapon is a sabre or a bow or lance, not that Lerial has had any practice with a lance, and little enough with a bow.

“Are you ready?” asks Lephi from the sunlit center of the courtyard, where he stands waiting, raising the heavy wooden wand that approximates a Lancer’s sabre.

“I’m coming.” Lerial walks from the shadows cast by the three upper levels of the palace and into the sunlight, a brightness whose intensity always seems to surprise him. He can feel the fine grit under the soles of his boots, grit that is everywhere no matter how often the rough courtyard tiles are swept.

Lephi, of course, stands with his back to the sun. Lerial takes a position with the brilliant white sun to his left and motions with his wand for Lephi to move to a point directly across the circle marked in red and black tiles.

“You can’t do that in battle,” observes Lephi.

“No … but I can choose to fight or not and take a position.”

“Not always.”

Lerial just waits for Lephi to move or attack.

After several moments, Lephi moves, taking a position directly across from his younger brother. Lerial sets his feet, lifts his blade, and concentrates on Lephi and his brother’s wand.

Lephi half turns, starts to do what looks to be a thrust, but Lerial knows the movement is a feint, because his brother’s feet do not move, nor does he shift his weight. Instead of trying to block a thrust that will not come, Lerial merely holds his guard. Then Lephi suddenly drops and brings his wand up, and Lerial barely can beat down the thrust and has to move to the side.

Wands move quickly, and then even more quickly. Lerial is already sweating heavily with the effort of countering Lephi’s constant attacks, thrusts, and counterthrusts … and just trying to react.

Abruptly, Lephi turns a thrust into a twisting move that rips Lerial’s wand out of his sweaty hand. The older youth grins. “You didn’t see that one.”

Lerial doesn’t reply but moves to the side of the circle to recover his wand. When he picks it up, the grip of the hilt feels rougher in places where grit has clung to the dampness from his hand. Maybe that will help.

In the shadows, he can see Amaira, and her mother, his aunt Emerya, and Ryalah, all three sitting at a small table. Amaira and Ryalah are playing pegboard, but Emerya has been watching the sparring. Why? The other courtyards are cooler. He is still wondering when Lephi speaks.

“That was quick. Do you want to try again?” Lephi lifts his wand.

Lerial considers the invitation, ignoring Lephi’s tone, a tone that implies that Lerial is smaller and weaker, and always will be. He smiles, painful as it is. “I won’t get any better if I don’t keep trying.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Again, Lerial can sense the undertone by which Lephi suggests all the trying in the world won’t help Lerial. He finds his teeth clenching. He takes a deep breath and tries to relax before he slowly walks back and takes a position on the edge of the circle.

Lerial and Lephi spar for almost a glass.

By the time they are both exhausted, Lerial’s shirt is dripping wet, and he has bruises in too many places. Those bruises would be far worse if Lephi had not pulled his strikes, Lerial knows, and that leaves him feeling even more despondent when he leaves the circle.

Ryalah and Amaira have left, perhaps following Lephi, but Emerya remains at the table near the small fountain.

“You worked hard, Lerial,” she says kindly.

“Hard, yes, but not good enough to hold my own.” Lerial takes a deep breath. “There ought to be a way for me to do better against Lephi.” He tries to keep his words from sounding despondent, even though that is how he feels. He glances at his aunt, whose once shimmering red hair is now mostly white, although he can sense that she still is a strong healer with a core of black order.

“There is … if you’re willing to work at it,” Emerya says quietly.

“There is? Really? Can you show me?”

“If you’re willing to pay the price.”

The utter seriousness of her tone and the feeling of truthfulness behind her words cools his enthusiasm almost as quickly as a bucket of winter water from the Swarth might have.

“Come see me after dinner. If anyone asks, tell them that I think it’s time for you to learn something about battlefield healing.”

“Won’t that be lying? If it is, Mother will know.” If she concentrates.

“I’m supposed to begin teaching you about some healing, and I will. That will help you with bladework.”

Lerial can’t help but frown.

“Trust me. It will. It will also be harder than practicing with Lephi … until you learn how.” Emerya smiles. “That’s true of every skill worth having, you’ll discover.”

“You sound like Grandmere.”

“Where do you think I learned such matters?” For a moment, Emerya seems to be somewhere else. Abruptly, she smiles. “After dinner, then? My apartments?”

“Thank you. I’ll be there.” What other choice does he have? No matter how hard Lerial tries, no matter how much instruction he gets from his father, or from Undercaptain Woelyt, Lephi seems to be getting better faster than he is.

He takes his time walking back to his room up on the third level, where the breezes are stronger, but it is a good glass before he has cooled down enough to wash up and change into trousers and a plain pale green shirt for dinner. He walks to the window and stands there, letting the light spring breeze flow past him as he looks to the north, out over the small city that Cigoerne has become just in the years he can remember. Once there was the single pier where the Kerial had been moored until operating the fireship had become too dangerous, and Lerial’s father had ordered it dismantled and the fittings and metal turned to other uses, with the limited amount of cupridium remaining being chaos-forged into Lancer sabres, lighter and stronger than the heavy iron blades of Afrit or Heldya. Now there are two shorter piers, used mostly for trading vessels … and the handful of craft used by the L


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