I have the flu. Blegh. Proper stuff; joints aching, temperatures, loss of appetite, upset stomach, the works.
Anyway, next chapter of Poisonroot.
“Hold this,” Victor rumbled. Trip looked up from the campfire where he had been staring into the soup pot, lost in memory. The man was holding a short sword out, hilt first.
Trip took it, holding it gingerly. “Right?”
“No. More like…” Victor came around behind him and adjusted his grip on the hilt. “There. Now, swing it.”
It felt unwieldy and heavy in his hand, but Trip swung the sword in a rough arc.
“Not bad,” Victor muttered.
“No. But it’s a start,” he said, a half-smile appearing on his face. “We all start somewhere. Now, watch.”
In one smooth movement Victor unsheathed his sword. It glowed silver and orange, fire on one side and moonlight on the other. Strange marks were etched along it, almost worn away through time, use and sharpening. It looked lethal and completely natural in Victor’s hands.
“This is Kanekh. She’s a Koruan katana, boy, one o’ the mos’ well-made blades in the world. See how the metal’s folded over on itself?”
Even in the low light Trip could see the rippled effect on the blade, as if it were cut out of a many-layered piece of metal. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
“It’s one of a pair. ’t’other… plants got it, back at the house.” Victor’s face was unreadable for a moment in the darkness, then he moved forward and began to swing the sword.
“Basic cuts; shoulder to hip, back up; other shoulder to hip, back up, head to groin, straight ‘cross the stomach. ‘ere, you try.”
Clumsily at first, then with rising confidence, Trip swung the sword at an imaginary opponent.
“Right. Now le’s try this,” Victor said, holding his hand out for the sword. Trip swapped it for the weighty stick that Victor gave him in return. Holding his own stick, the fighter stood in front of Trip.
“Now use those on me. I’ll block ‘em, don’ worry.”
Enjoying himself despite the serious nature of the exercise, Trip hurled himself into each stroke. No matter where he struck, Victor’s stick was there, moving somehow faster than anything.
“Now start to move, lad,” Victor said, barely breathing hard. He dropped into a lower fighting stance as Trip began to circle around, at first tripping over his feet and then becoming surer, stepping faster.
“Right. Now then, lessee what happens when you’re attacked. You seen me blockin’, right?” Trip nodded, feeling beads of sweat shake off his forehead and drop to the ground. “Well, now you try.”
Quick as a flash the man’s stick was coming in from the right. Trip barely got his own up in time; when they met it was with a thundering crack that nearly jarred the weapon from his hand. Rebounding off the momentum, Victor swung his stick over to the left and smacked the boy’s shoulder.
“Ow! That hurt!” Trip scowled at Victor as he rubbed the painful lump.
“It’ll hurt more’n that if it’s a real sword, boy,” was all the reply he got, the sword once again coming in almost too fast for thought. Again the attack, the rebound, the sword coming around to the left this time -
- The chamber under the One Tree in Deep Round. Victor is under attack from the tree monster that was pretending to be Father Liam. Trip watches as it attacks -
- The claws come in from the left. He brings his sword up there to block, ducks, uses the momentum to turn full circle and slice there -
Trip caught the incoming sword blow with his own, felt the reverberations push his own sword away and went with it, dropping into the memory. Almost like borrowing a stranger’s body, he ducked, spun, brought the stick around to thunk heavily into Victor’s thigh.
Trip dropped the stick and grabbed hold of Victor’s shoulder as the man bent over, clutching his thigh. “Are you ok? I didn’t mean to - Ah!”
Within a second he was bowled over onto his back, the stick-sword at his throat. Victor stood over him, his face half-lit and slightly demonic in the firelight.
“Never think of your enemy as a human, boy. That’ll getcha killed.” He held the pose for a moment, then pulled Trip up with the other hand. “Reckon we’re done for this evening,” he said, throwing the sticks off into the darkness.
“Why did you teach me that?” Trip said, coming to sit next to him by the fire.
“If we get attacked again, can’t hope I’ll be able to save ye. Protection was what ye paid for, aye? Well, consider this protection trainin’.” Victor opened the lid of the small soup pot, took a careful sniff of the contents and grunted his satisfaction. As he ladled two portions out, he took careful looks at Trip.
“My thigh. Gon’ be painful in the mornin’.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to-“
“Course you did,” Victor said, handing him a bowl. “We was sparrin’; that’s what happens. I meant to hit your shoulder, after all.”
Trip blew the steam off his soup and took a sip. It was all vegetables; Victor had agreed not to put in the rabbit he had found earlier.
“That move, though. Where’d you learn it?”
"The spinning sweepy thing? I watched you do it in Deep Round, just before I got knocked out. It was pretty effective there. I saw you coming in and it just… seemed like the right thing to do.
"Aye, it was; you jus' watched an' you could do it, eh?" There was a long silence between them as the soup was consumed.
"Tricky thing, memory," Victor said finally. The campfire was burning lower, the soup was gone and the bedrolls were out.
"I remember all kinds o'things. The good. The bad. Mostly that. Bad, I mean."
Trip stared into the night sky. He remembered talks that started like this with Father Horua after he'd drunk a bit too much peachwine.
"Funny thing is, boy, I never quite remember it like it was. Things come to the front. Others, pushed to the back. First fight; I 'member that like it were yesterday. He seemed ten feet tall, eyes like coals. Blue teeth." Trip heard him roll over, shuffling under his blanket. "I 'member arguments but not the makin' up; sometimes I 'member the good times, but not why we were havin' them."
"There must be lots of good memories in there, though. What about your wife?"
"Yeah, my wife. She was… good to an ol' grouch. Remira, her name was. Eyes of blue, a mouth to match; golden hair and a heart that matched that an' all." He chuckled a little, then sighed. "I hope you can have memories of someone who's loved you, boy."
"I… I remember everything. What we had for breakfast. What you were wearing when we first met. What the words are on page seventeen of Victor and the Hell-Cows of Shangief. Everything."
"The good an' the bad, everythin'? Boy, that's more curse than blessin'."
There wasn't much Trip could say to that; he hunkered down under his own blanket, trying to keep warm as the campfire slowly died.
The morning brought with it rain; dark clouds gathered over the course of their first hour's walking and when the downpour finally started it was heavy and seemingly unending.
"North Pid's just over the nex' hill, boy," Victor called. He was carrying the heavier bag; that morning he had picked it up without comment and Trip had forced himself to ignore the grisly contents of the small sack.
"Why are we going to North Pid? I thought you were taking me to Fennica!"
"Quickest way t'Fennica is down t'river. There's a man, lives in a workshop here, somethin' of a master at his craft. You'll see."
Apparently unhindered by the lashing rain, Victor seemed in high spirits as he hiked up the hill. Trying to keep the rain out of his eyes, Trip did his best to follow, though for every pace he took he uncovered either treacherous mud or a hidden puddle. It wasn't long before his feed, poorly covered by his sandals, were caked in greyish mud.
As they walked under the sign that said 'Welcome to North Pid', the rain seemed to lessen; by the time they had reached the centre of town it had stopped, the only sign it had ever been there the enormous puddles gathered on the packed dirt path.
"Now, lessee, it was 'round here somewhere," Victor said, looking around the small village square. A market had apparently been in full swing before the storm had hit; stalls were abandoned, produce hastily covered. It was an eerie sight and Trip started to look around anxiously for any sign of the plant life moving.
A door banging made him jump; from out of a large building, evidently the tavern, the stallholders were returning to their stalls. Within minutes the small open space was crammed with people buying and selling.
"Keep yer purse tight here, lad," Victor muttered, adjusting his belt. "These traders'll have yer coppers out afore you can say a word."
Trip just stared around at the mountain of produce that was suddenly available to him for just a few pennies. Bread, looking like it had been baked just moments before; whole fish whose scales shone in the sunlight; necklaces of river-polished rocks scored through for threading; parchment and paper, from very thick to incredibly thin. He was drawn to this stall; it had been too long since he had smelled the musty scent of paper and, he realised only now, he missed it.
"Hello, young lad," the stallkeeper boomed. He was a tall man, powerfully built; he reminded Trip of nothing so much as a door on legs. "What can I do you for?"
"Just looking, sir," he replied.
"Go look elsewhere, then, this is for payin' customers," the stallkeep sneered. Trip, startled by the sudden change in attitude, took one last deep breath and moved off after Victor, who was already out of the village square.
"There, lad," he said as Trip caught up. "The workshop's just up here." He pointed to a long building without windows, almost like a single-storey barn. "It'll be good t'see Richard again." Without any further delay he climbed the steps and knocked on the door.
There was no answer.
"Richard?" he called. Still nothing.
"Man's always in this time of day; shouldn' be a problem…" Victor said as he knocked again, then rattled the door.
"I'll go and see if there's another way in," Trip said, dropping his sack and walking off before Victor could stop him.
The small garden to the north end of the workshop was heavily overgrown and Trip felt his heart sink at the sight of it. The plant-things, had they been here first? Perhaps something terrible had happened… A small window, open a crack, caught his eye.
'I should go back and tell Victor what I'm doing,' he thought. Before he could form the thought into action, the window swung open with a sudden breeze, almost inviting him in. He clambered up onto the windowsill and slid down inside. Almost immediately, the same breeze yanked the window shut, plunging him into total darkness.