A foreign warrior learns to navigate a new land and realize her own potential
Trained in the Elemental Fist
Nanyya of Herak, daughter of the exiled tutor to the Great Khan of the North, stood in the chamber for the Tribunal of Arbitors, waiting to present her petition. She dressed in the garb adopted as a rook to Lord Marshal Baern; a leather hunting coat she dyed blue to match that of the color of the Order that covered a simple chemise tucked into leather breeches that lead into her tall herakeen boots with their distinct upturned toe. Her anxiety crawled around her body and she could feel the Qi inside of her mix with the powerful emotion. Her Qi began to seep out from her hand into the surrounding areas and her vision began to haze with a bluish light. Control the emotion, she thought. She frowned that her thought was in the voice of her father. She closed her eyes, trying to push him from her memory without success. Her Qi was warm in her palm; small tendrils seemed to slowly reach out from her skin and pulse with the disquiet in her mind.
"Qi is the dance of the fire," she began, drowning out her father's voice, "it is the rising of the wind and the flow of the water...."
As she spoke, she lifted her hand and stretched her fingers. She could feel the tendrils of her Qi reaching out from each digit.
"It is the stillness of the stone and the strength of the steel..."
She slowly closed her fingers one by one, retracting each invisible tendril back beneath her palm.
"It is the one element of all of the elements," she finished as she redirected her Qi back into its proper flow inside her. Her breath fell into a slow rhythm while her mind secured the worry she felt. She heard the door behind her open and knew her goal of becoming a Lord Marshal was close at hand.
She counted five distinct foot falls coming from behind her and she opened her eyes to look at the twenty-three desks arrayed in a half circle of two tiers. The five arbitors took their seats in various places in the tiers. A small woman with spider web hair walked up a small set of stairs directly in front of Nanyya and sat at the desk at the top. The desk appeared to be slightly larger than the others around her. When she was settled, her hazel eyes bore into Nanyya.
"Rook Nonya," she said.
"Nanyya, Lord Arbitor," she corrected.
"Apologies, Na-NY-ya," said the Lord Arbitor as she pushed the syllables out from under her Skarland brogue, "I am Sora VcKinnty, Chancellor of Arbitors for the Order of Law and Justice. Please present your petition to Secretary Verdun."
Nanyya began to walk toward a woman on her left taking her petition from inside her coat.
"Over here, barbarian," said the man on her right. She turned to the man without a break in her stride and presented her petition for promotion to Lord Marshal. He read all the documents through, looked up over his spectacles at her, and then reread them.
"Who prepared these for you?" he asked.
"No one, Lord Arbitor. I prepared them myself," she said.
He looked up at the Chancellor and said, "They're perfect."
"Good," said VcKinnty, "what is your surname?"
"I am not familiar with that," she answered. A raven-haired woman snorted with satisfaction as if something about Nanyya was just confirmed.
"A family name," said Verdun, "one needs to be entered into our records."
"People of Herak have no family name," she stated. The Lords Arbitor looked from one to another at the peculiar situation. The Chancellor was the first to offer an answer.
"She is the first Herakeen to stand before us," said VcKinnty, "let her surname be Herakeen," she looked at Nanyya, "is that suitable for now?"
Nanyya nodded in agreement and returned to the center of the half circle. A few moments passed as Verdun completed his task and gestured his readiness to proceed.
"This examination will now commence," said VcKinnty, "Can you uphold our laws and abide by the orders given to you from this tribunal or the Master of Marshals?"
"I can." She replied.
"Laws so foreign to your barbarian culture?" asked the raven-haired woman. She leaned forward placing her elbow on her desk., tracing the line of her elven ear, pushing her midnight strands up and over the sharp peak. She came to rest her chin on her thumb, while her index finger molded into her cheek
"Lord Arbitor..." she began then realized she did not know her name. The woman's emerald eyes glistened with a deep intensity. Nanyya shifted with unease and averted her eyes ever so slightly.
"Luciel," the woman said with the complicated talasian accent.
"Lord Arbitor Luciel, our laws here are no different than the laws in my homeland. There are simply more of them here," said Nanyya.
"Meaning?" pressed VcKinnty.
"The Nine Laws of Herak provide the basis for order and justice and the khans interpret them just as you interpret the laws here. We only have nine though in Herak."
A quiet chuckle from a dark-skinned man with long braids of gray and black hair secured by a leather thong echoed around the chamber. He looked at her with a wry smile peaking out from a thick beard that too was braided. He sat forward and spoke.
"I am Lord Arbitor Obeyle, Nanyya," she bowed slightly with the introduction and he acknowledged it with a nod and continued, "so, you have not had an issue in joining our society?" he asked.
"No, Lord Arbitor Obeyle, if have not," she replied.
"And you are loyal to our realms?" he asked, "will you defend us from foreign invaders when called upon?"
"My father," she said, careful to keep her tone controlled despite what she felt for him, "swore to the magistrate that his family would be loyal when we immigrated here. My actions as a rook has shown my loyalty to the Order. Nothing would change should I be made a Lord Marshal," she said.
"Including any invader from Herak?"
"I doubt it, Obeyle," said a woman with icy features and a flame of red hair tamed by a gold ring encrusted with jewels.
"Lord Arbitor Drauselle," said the Chancellor, "contain your remarks to questions," she turned to Nanyya, "what is your answer to Lord Arbitor Obeyle's question?"
"Without hesitation," Nanyya replied.
Confidence began to replace anxiety in Nanyya as the examination continued. More questions were asked of her. Are you familiar with Breed's Doctrine? What was the impetus for the creation of the Order? What is the section of the Turingen Accords describing the duties of a rook? Where are the one hundred and eight districts? How many rooks under one Lord Marshal? Nanyya answered each question without error. As she barely finished the answer to a question, another was fired out from one of the Lords Arbitor.
After an hour of the question barrage, there was a pause. She saw them exchanging looks amongst themselves. Luciel seemed impassive; Obelye and VcKinnty were impressed. Drauselle showed nothing but ice while Verdun never once looked up from writing even as he asked questions. She braced herself for the what she surely knew would be the next set of questions.
"How did Lord Marshal Baern die?" asked Luciel, confirming Nanyya's suspicions.
"He was killed while exercising a warrant," answered Nanyya. They waited for a reaction from her but no one saw tears in her eyes since she left them at his grave two weeks ago.
"Did you support your Lord Marshal in every way?" asked Obeyle.
"I did, Lord Arbitor."
"Where were you at the time of his death," asked Drauselle.
"I was assigned messenger duty," replied Nanyya, "I asked to go with him but he was insistent on my assignment. He said it was of low risk and one such as myself was not needed."
She could feel Drauselle's eyes roam over her, as if looking for some physical deformity or stain of evil painted on her. The intrusive attention given to her pulled at Nanyya's previous anxiety. She could feel the flow of her Qi begin to shift.
"Why was that?" she asked.
"I do not know, Lord Arbitor," said Nanyya. Drauselle's eyes continued to bore into her.
"Was it because of the witchcraft you practice?" Drauselle finally said.
"I practice no witchcraft," said Nanyya quickly but she had not anticipated this line of questioning.
"Do you not wield some barbarian magic? Something Baern would know not to trust?"
Of course not! screamed her inner voice. Thoughts sped through her mind as she looked for an answer. He never doubted my abilities! The Elemental Fist saved him so many times! Did he trust it though? Did he trust me? She quashed those thoughts immediately, knowing that they were false. Calm! You must remain calm! She thought. Her Qi could smell her anxiety returning and began to lick at it. Qi is the dance of the fire, it is the rise the wind and the flow of the water. It is the stillness of the stone and the strength of the steel. It is the one element of all elements.
When she finished, her Qi returned to its normal flow in her body and she slowly continued to recite the mantra in the back of her mind to maintain her composure as the waited for her answer.
"Yuanxiu Quan Kuxuei is the scientific study of what flows through all of Arthera," she began, "I believe your scholars call it Aither. We call it Qi. This is the flow of energy that is inherent to the planet and those who dwell on it. The Science of the Elemental Fist teaches us to harness that energy, both from within us and around us. We can use it to heal; we can use it to defend ourselves."
"The science of barbarians is sophistry at best," responded Drauselle, "did Lord Marshal Baern not trust you because of your witchcraft?"
"No Lord Arbitor, He trusted me many times with his life and the life of the troop. I cannot tell you why he died only that I obeyed his orders."
"Corruptions such as yourself continue to endanger these realms," Drauselle continued as if Nanyya had not answered, "how can we trust this magic that is a danger to..."
"Stay your preaching, Lord Arbitor. She has answered your question." said VcKinnty, "don't let the politics of Reine cloud this examination."
"She is a witch and a barbarian and I do not see why we are even entertaining this horse thu.. person's petition?"
"There is one point that needs to be addressed," said Verdun.
"What is that Secretary?" asked the Chancellor.
"Her requirements are incomplete. Her petition is perfect, but Baern died prior to completing her time in service and she does not have his endorsement."
"Then she cannot even petition," said Drauselle triumphantly. Nanyya felt a sharp pain of fear stab her in the heart. No, no, no! ran through her mind as the thoughts of her dream of wearing the star of Lord Marshal started to die. The Qi inside her surged and she turned all of her focus inward to control it.
"She will have to be dismissed," said Luciel.
"Or..." said Verdun, "she could serve under another Lord Marshal," he looked at some pages on his desk that he had set aside, "we have no one to take Baern's troop yet, as we are still attempting to replenish the Lords Marshal ranks we lost during the last Chasm incursion," he said, moving and scanning pages in one of his ledgers, "but we could put her under Ganteau." The room was silent at the suggestion. A glimmer of hoped warmed Nanyya's chest.
"Yes," said VcKinnty, "Lord Marshal Ganteau has delivered two rooks for examination and ten to the Constabulary. He is eligible to recruit again. Do we agree that Nanyya Herakeen may complete her service and stand before us again in two months' time? I vote, Aye."
"Aye," said Obeyle.
"Nay," said Luciel.
"Aye," said Verdun. There was a long hesitation as all eyes went to Drauselle, except Nanyya's. She looked forward at attention, maintaining the Qi that seemed so volatile inside her, listening as the voted on her fate.
"Nay," said Drauselle. Nanyya struggled to remain standing.
"There are enough votes in the affirmative," said VcKinnty, "We will allow you to complete your time under Lord Marshal Ganteau and be sponsored by him. Do you accept this chance?"
"I do," replied Nanyya as joy flooded through her. Her Qi rode the wave singing inside of her with perfect harmony. Verdun made a note of something on his desk. VcKinnty then stood as did the rest of them.
"You have your wish," said VcKinnty, "you are
The stench was sewn into the arthen road where he sat on his mount as years of wagon trains loaded with barrels of dracfish oil dribbled their contents onto the ground. They tasted the smell as its oily molecules hung in the air and coated their noses and throats. The heavy wagon wheels ensured the road would forever enjoy the brutal stench and Gorka's Bloodriders were doing just that. The men and women under his command that reveled in the blood of their victims lost their stomach to the malodorous air. As the wrenching of guts died away, Gorka motioned the loose formation forward, breaching the edge of the forest and trotting down the road, through the stench, knowing that it ended with one of their more prosperous raids awaited them--or it should have been.
Gorka spread his three score of marauders out to advance into Shova, only to find the once prospering village empty. The smell remained, but no one walked the streets, no sellers lined the market, no livestock wandered their pens, no boats floated at the dock. The store houses were empty of the hundreds of barrels of the oil rendered from the dracfish that would go out to villages and towns to fill their lanterns to light their streets and homes. Gorka ground his teeth harder at each discovery. He didn't have to look at his band to know their disposition. Never a good thing to dangle an empty hand in front of starving dogs, he thought. They reached the edge of town opposite from whence they came.
"Ket," he called out as he looked out on the roads leaving the town. A gray-skinned man-cat from Khmer rode up to his side, "find them," ordered Gorka.
Ket dismounted and looked at the sign in the road. He carefully moved in circles, inspecting the ground with his eyes, his hands, and several other senses that khmeray seemed to have. Soon, he was following a trail that he could only see. Ket stopped and stared east for several moments before remounting his horse.
"They took the road to Siegel," announced Ket, "no more than three weeks ago."
Gorka looked in the direction indicated by khmeray, as he considered his options. He could take them back west but there was nothing raid worthy for weeks perhaps months. He could take them north, but the harvests were only just beginning; nothing of value would be there either. South took them into Khmer, which was something he knew not to do. No, the choice was simple. Tanti, his second, rode up to his side.
"They're getting restless, Boss," she said in a hush, "What are you thinking?"
"We follow," he said.
"Out of the Borderlands?"
"To Hell with Ganteau," he said, "we're done feeding him and fighting over the scraps. Have them make camp. Spread the word that we are crossing over tomorrow. Have them clean their weapons; flog anyone without fresh flints in their firearms."
"Yes Gorka," said Tanti. She turned and shouted several commands. The marauders started to grumble but silence blanketed the band when Gorka turned to look for the sources. They dismounted and began searching the emptied buildings. Several surly looks continued to sit several faces but they kept them hidden from Gorka, or they thought they did. He knew who were the troublemakers were. If they gave him a reason, he would snuff them out.
As the night progressed the mood lightened as the word spread on what the next day held. Foraging in the empty town produced a stash of rum casks that were broken open and drained. They sang, they drank, they fought, and snuck off in pairs--or more--into the night. Gorka pulled a tarnished watch on a chain from his pocket to look at the time in the firelight. Took his pistol out and fired it into the air. Everything stopped. Gorka watched with satisfaction as his marauders dispersed to their last set of duties. Relief was sent out to their sentries and a final check of the horses were done. Soon Gorka's camp was completely silent as the band retired to the buildings they made into barracks. Gorka himself entered what would have been the constable's office, stripped off his boots, reloaded his pistol, and laid on a cot that he drug from the cell. Within moments, he was sleeping with his pistol in one hand and dagger in the other.