Continuation of the story
The morning rays were peeking through her window as Nanyya completed her morning exercise. She stood with her hands held near her stomach with her hands arched; palms facing each other--left on bottom, right on top. She attempted to meditate, concentrating on manifesting a ball of Qi in her hands. In for four, out for eight, she thought to herself as tried to match her breathing with the flow of Qi inside her. Slowly, she could feel the two synchronize. Her palms felt warm and tendrils of Qi rose and fell to meet between them. Qi is the dance of the fire... Even with her eyes closed, a blue white haze began to cloud her vision. It is the rise of the wind and the flow of the water... Her Qi began to coalesce at the tendrils mingled into one pinpoint. It is the stillness of the stone... The pinpoint grew to the size of a grape. Pride surged through her as she had not gotten this far before on her own... and the strength of the steel...the grape of energy grew to the size of an apple, creating a small sun in the room. The energy pushed against her palms, looking for an escape. Her breathing became erratic as she tried to compress the energy with her hands, rotating them to the sides so she could use more leverage.
"It is the one element..." she said through gritted teeth as she continued to contain the globe of energy by force, "in all el... em... ents..." It was going to escape. It was going to destroy the room--the inn--the street--or worse, she feared. She found her breath again and fought to control it. Her body began to tire as it wrestled to control its own energy manifested. As her breath grew steady though, the pressure was less against her hands. She focused on her breathing, in for four, out for eight. She thought of no other words. Soon the glowing ball was dimmer, losing luster as it reduced in size. In for four, out for eight. Soon it was the size of an apple, then a grape, finally a pinpoint again. The haze from her eyes vanished and the room was once again lit with only the early morning sunlight. Her Qi retracted and she pushed it deep inside herself. Drauselle's icy voice from the day before whispered her accusations in Nanyya's ear flooding the young herakeen with guilt; she realized how close she was to slaughtering innocent people around her. Before her Qi could devour the emotion, Nanyya worked to hide her guilt, keeping it way from the energy inside her. She dressed and packed, concentrating on the new Lord Marshal she would be serving.
Still grappling with that morning's failure, Nanyya guided Sune through the throngs of people heading to the Travel Bureau of Turingen. Her mind watched the small girl that she was perform the same exercise with her father. No aithereal light emitted from her hands and she felt the disappointment anew. Her father's image demonstrated again, shaping a spark of his Qi into a perfect globe that balanced between his right and left palms.
"Good morning, barbarian," said Verdun. Nanyya blink the memory away to see the Lord Arbitor holding the reins of his mount in a nervous fist as he stood by the entrance to the Travel Bureau. She nodded her good morning and started to get in the line travelers heading to the aithereal gate.
"This way," said Verdun, pointing to a door marked with the seal of the Executive Order. He entered, dragging at the reins of his mount with her and Sune falling in behind him. The corridor veered away from the commercial traffic and into a room that could hold a full troop of rooks. A wall of polished silver faced them, their reflections distorted by gold colored filigree etched into its mirrored surface. Nanyya watched with fascination as the filigree begin to move in response to their presence. She travelled by wall commercially before, spending all of her savings to transport her and Sune from Grunkreiss to Turingen, but she had not witnessed the gates opening through the mass of travelers. She was enraptured as filigree slithered and coalesced at shoulder height as Verdun advanced and presented his badge of office. A faint aitherlight emanated from the filigree as it swirled in the metallic wall.
"Claust," he said, and a symbol materialized in the whirling, glowing gold. It flashed, and the silver wall melted away to reveal another room identical to the one they stood in. He walked through without pause. Nanyya shook off the reverie and followed. As she crossed the threshold, the silver wall dribbled back into place. The filigree retuned to its ornate status, decorating the corners once again of the metallic mirror.
In the reflection was her, Verdun, and another man. Nanyya turned to see a man with coffee colored skin wearing the colors of the Executive Order. On his right shoulder, the paldron of a Lord Marshal sat prominently; a small gorget hung from his neck upon a golden chain. In his hand was the reins of the blue roan that could have been Sune's twin. The unmistakable short legs and stocky build of a Herakeen mare made Nanyya's heart jump with surprise and pleasure. Without thinking, she approached the mare and began wooing it. The horse nickered at Nanyya's herakeen words, edging closer to her open palm.
"A bit presumptuous, rook?" asked Verdun. She looked away from the mare and saw both men staring at her.
"Forgive me," she said, snatching her hand back, "I have not seen any other horses from Herak, in quite some time," she indicated her own horse, "Sune was a colt my father purchased and hoped to breed, but she is barren."
"Is your father the stablemaster for Baron Gruhn?"
"Yes," she said.
"I am on my way to see him now," said the Lord Marshal. He handed an envelope to Verdun, who slipped it into his coat, "I will give him your regards." She chewed her cheek to maintain a stoic look as she nodded.
"Maxim," said the Lord Marshal, offering his hand to Verdun.
"Idris," said Verdun, taking the proffered hand and they held their grasp for a moment. Idris, the Lord Marshal walked up to the wall of steel, presented his badge and said, "Gruhnkreiss."
The wall melted away in aitherlight and he walked into a room, identical to the one she and Verdun stood. They mounted their horses upon exiting the Bureau and they rode through the dull light of late autumn to the outskirts of Claust. She could feel he Qi roaming in her body, looking for a way to manifest. She felt some peace being once again on a horse, a natural state for any Herakeen. Nanyya found that the metronomic pace of the ride gave her a rhythm she could concentrate on, allowing her to balance her emotions, giving her Qi little fuel.
"Is this where the barracks are?" asked Nanyya.
"The tavern district," said Verdun, "the most likely place where we will find Lord Marshal Ganteau," said Verdun. The tone of his voice was irreverent, Nanyya noticed, adding to her other anxieties. Verdun rode stiffly in the saddle, not bothering to hide his discomfort for being on a horse either. Nanyya watched the horse respond with its own growing sense of unease.
"May I?" she asked, riding closer to his mount. He hesitated, then nodded and she stroke the animal. Her touch was gentle and she whispered in herakeen as she stroked the side of the animal's neck. The horse responded to the touch and relaxed her muscles. As his ride became smoother, Verdun too, began to relax, loosening his grip on the reins.
"Is talking to animals part of your sorcery?" he asked.
"No," she said curtly, the mention of sorcery stabbing her guilt, "the Herakeen are born for the horse. Yaunxiu Quan has nothing to do with that."
She stopped stroking the horse's neck and returned her attention to the road. Verdun rode up next to her noticing her new found tension. She looked at him and quickly looked away, maintaining a stoic face.
"Born for the horse?" he asked. She jumped at the chance to talk about other things than magic.
"Yes. After the Great Maker carved Herak from nothing and filled it with her greatest treasures, She made the horse to roam the land and guard it. However, the horse soon grew too wild and neglected its duties as sentry for Herak, so the Herakeen were made to tame the horse. For our success, we were given the treasures of Herak; the land, the food, the horse--so long as we do not become wild and forget our duty. The horse is the great protector of Herak and the Herakeen were born for the horse, so that it does not stray."
"I see," he said, "I was not born for anything so noble," she looked at him sideways, "is that why your father is a stablemaster?"
"His talent with horses in unmatched in the realms."
"A bold statement, barbarian."
"It is true. Lord Marshal Baern sponsored him for the position."
"And took you as a rook," said Verdun, "how does a pair of barbarians become so ingratiated into our society?"
"I suppose, it started the night that Lord Marshal Baern rescued us."
"Rescued? You have me intrigued."
"He was on patrol between the border of Grundkreis and Eldirgard when he found us we were leaving Herak," she steeled herself for the pain of the story and continued, "my father was the tutor for the great khan of the north. He was greatly respected, but something happened and we were forced to flee."
"He has not told me," she replied, feeling her anger with father rising up, but she pressed ahead with her tale, "we were led through some of the ancient passes in the Eldir range. Our guide tried to extort us for more money, but father and mother had no more, so our guide abandoned us."
"Faulerwolf," Verdun spat, his interruption filled with vehemence, "trafficking scum."
Nanyya was not taken aback at his hatred of the people that worked the borders preying on the desperate. The Osterlinders found the cheating tactics of the 'guides' at the border to be unsporting at best, vile at worst. Lazy Wolves the Osterlinders called them, Faulerwolf. She did find it odd each time she her someone from the realms proclaim their hatred for a the faulerwolf for their evil tactics and then in the next breath curse all of her barbarian kind for being uncivilized. She smiled at the thought and continued.
"We tried to continue but were lost. We finally made it to the border but both my mother and I were near death. Father bundle me in coat and carried on.
"What happened to your mother?"
"I do not know." she said, "I have fading memory of her getting smaller in my vision," she said, her moment of amusement wiped away by the rising grief, "my next memory is Baern wrapping me in a massive fur and riding fast. Later I woke in his Marshal's barracks with in the same bed as my father and piles of furs and blankets on top of us." She felt her Qi leap at the emotions coming to the surface, but she buried them quickly, starving the hungry energy.
"I'm sorry," he said, "truly."
"My father never spoke of my mother after that. I never found her," she felt her legs remember the heavy snow that trapped her scrawny legs as cold seeped through to touch her shins; the poorly wrapped blankets she used as makeshift boots failing to halt the bite of the snow drifts. Her younger eyes saw nothing as she scanned the barren white. Not a soul--not her mother. Qi is the dance of the flame, she began, letting the sorrow pass through her and channel it away from her Qi. The mantra completed, Nanyya regrouped and continued her tale.
"When we were able to stand, Lord Marshal brought us before the magistrate in Grundkreis, found guilty of Trepass of the Barony, and we were sentenced to five years indentured servitude to Baron Gruhn."
"In the stables?"
"Yes, we sent the privies; the smith's; anywhere that needed hands. Father always took the time at the end of the day, no matter how late, to take care of Baern's horse; to show his gratitude for saving us."
"At the end of your servitude, Baern sponsored you and your father."
"Yes," she said, "he saw our value."
"as the Baron's Stablemaster."
"And you chose to be a rook."
"I wanted more than to teach horses."
"I see. I'm still surprised that Jainus took you as a rook."
"There is no law against."
"True, there is nothing written. Most of the dealings with herakeen have been... strained."
"I understand that most of my people that come to the realms do not behave in what you would consider civilized," she said, "I would say that some of the treatment they received though is equally uncivilized."
"There is little trust of your people," said Verdun, deflecting her response, "some of our traders and holy travelers have seen the carnage that just one of the Hordes of Herak can wreak--and I believe several hordes roam your country. We are, understandably, cautious."
"Caution is good," she replied, "the troops of the Lords Marshal are not much different than one of the hordes. They keep the peace and defend Herak as do the Lords Marshal for the realms."
After a moment of thought Verdun replied, "I can see the similarity. It could be an apt comparison to Ganteau's troop."
`I have a duty to teach you as much as you have a duty to teach me," she said, not quite understanding the smirk that formed after his comment, "what we understand we cannot fear."
His smirk grew a bit wider at the comment and asked, "something you learned from your father, the tutor?"
"Yes," she said, begrudgingly.
Their conversation took them into Claust and she noted the marked difference in garb and manner. The dress was more utility than courtly, with several folk in simple jackets, leather breeches, and dirty stockings. Verdun directed them to a shack with a simple carving of a cup and a chicken hacked into the front door. They dismounted with a wet thud as mud and manure oozed from under their boots while they went about tying the horses to posts near the entrance. Verdun halted at the door, turning to Nanyya.
"Lord Marshal Ganteau is not one of our best," Verdun said, his tone softer than it had been with her, "In fact, he is a bastard and not even a proper one," said Verdon, "this is your moment to walk away."
The thought of giving up turned her stomach with fear and threatened to unleash her Qi. She curled her fists and stomped her Qi down inside of her.
"I cannot go back at this point," said Nanyya. Verdun quirked his lips and nodded. He pushed the door open and entered into the fouled air. She passed thought the stench of tainted alcohol, rotting meat, filthy men, and stale tobacco smoke with a wrinkled face. The room was dark and noisy, making sounds and faces indistinguishable. Verdun squinted through his glasses and found the table he was looking for. She fell behind him once her eyes adjusted.
"Lord Marshal Ganteau," he said to a ragged man wearing a scarred leather paldron bearing the tarnished gold star of the Lords Marshal.
"Damn, you came all the way to Claust to tell me my rooks shit themselves, didn't they?" he said looking up at the Lord Arbitor.
"They haven't been to the examination yet. I assume you taught them enough to at least write out their petitions."
"Nay, they knew enough already."
"I am not shocked at your efforts," said Verdun, his contempt evident for the Lord Marshal, "I am sure they will be adequate mortar for the wall along The Chasm. The ranks of the Lords Marshal continue to grow. Soon we will be able to replace some of our aging ranks." Lord Marshal Ganteau brought a pipe to is his mouth and smirked contempt back to Verdun as he took a pull from the stem. The pipe bowl glowed red and Nanyya caught the aroma of Tirza's Sweet. She watched as the powerful opiate took its effect on the Lord Marshal. He turned his shrinking eyes to look on Nanyya.
"What's with the horse-thumper?" he said, then he narrowed his eyes to focus on the rook's badge on her lapel, "a horse-thumper rook?" he bellowed with laughter that drowned out the other denizens of the tavern.
"She is being transferred to your service to complete her apprenticeship," said Verdun. He withdrew a letter with the mark of the Chancellor of Arbitors. Ganteau snatched it and tore it open.
"She used small words for you," said Verdun. Lord Marshal Ganteau looked up from the letter and grinned a lazy half grin. He leaned back and held the letter out with two fingers.
"Meaningless. We don't answer to the Lords Arbitor in such matters," he said. His words were starting to slur and Nanyya saw drool forming at the side of his mouth.
"Oh yes, of course," said Verdun and produced the letter given to him by Idris, "orders from the Master of Marshals, accepting the transfer. Consider it payment for us accepting your rooks this time. I'm sure she is worth both of them."
Nanyya felt her stomach lurch as she realized the significance of Verdun's and Idris' brief passing at the Travel Bureau earlier. She smiled at the thought she was trying to pat the horse of the leader of the Lords Marshal Service as if he were a common rook such as herself.
"What!?" bellowed Ganteau as he stumbled to his feet and Nanyya extinguished her smile, "I don't get my bonus for raising the ranks?"
"You've been paid for your contributions to the Constabulary. If she completes her service under you, we will consider what more compensation you deserve," said Verdun.
"This goes against the code! The Lords Marshal shall never..."
"Lord Marshal Ganteau, you are bound by your oath. You have orders from the Master of Marshals; everything is by the code."
She saw murder flash through Ganteau's eyes. She fought the urge to take guarded stance. Verdun smiled.
"Now do your duty," he said, turning to Nanyya he said, "Rook," with a note of respect that was not there before; with that, he left the tavern. Ganteau swayed with rage and Sweet coursing through his body. He turned to Nanyya.
"GET OUT HORSE THUMPER!" he screamed. Nanyya backed away slowly. The room was silent as she made her way out of the tavern and into the gray sunlight.