The Fine Art of Battle: Part Two
Saying nothing, Master Blepheros handed me one of the swords. Even in that distressed state, I noticed the excellent work. The hilt was carved gold inlaid with silver. The patterns swirled over each other. I couldn't think how they might have done it. The blade had curious writing lining the edge, and had a slight yellow hue to it. When you moved it, the writings almost seemed to change. He hadn't been lying when he said I'd get a chance to use a real sword!
"Are you ready to stop staring? It's time to use that precious sword which you think you are entitled to." Master Blepheros interrupted my reverie. Some of the students behind him had begun to wear wicked smiles. They had been waiting a long time for this moment, the moment of my humiliation.
"Get into position!" Master Blepheros barked at me.
"Now?" I asked, uncertainly.
"There is no time like the present." He smiled evilly. I stood with my feet apart, and tried to raise the sword to fighting position.
But this sword was much heavier than even the wooden practice blade. I could barely hold up the hilt, let alone lift the blade from the ground. Everyone watched me struggle for a few breathless moments. Try as I might, the sword only swished feebly back and forth over the floor.
Finally, Master Blepheros spit at my feet. "Let it be known," he began, his voice booming, "that Kentari is no longer a warrior in training. He is no longer welcome in the Field or in my salle."
My eyes widened as the room took a collective breath. Never had a warrior in training been banished. Hurt beyond repair, sick, deemed too young, yes... but never banished.
"What... what will happen to Kentari, Master Blepheros?" asked a timid young Pteri, trembling.
"It is not for me to say. His name and his fate are no longer my concern."
With a heavy heart and a spinning head, I put down the sword, gently, and walked out of the salle. I knew that his word was final. I crossed the Field, thinking to go home and lie down.
Allance saw me walking towards home. "Hai!" he yelled. "Are you sick?"
"No," I whispered.
"You don't look very good. Why are you being sent home?"
A tear slid down my face. Of all times, I could not let him see me cry. I just said, as steadily as I could, "Class got out early."
He nodded and fell back a little. "Remember, always the warrior!"
Allance may have been a little dense, but really, he was just looking out for me. I understood that he meant he wished me to be well and he was concerned. The boys in our village were not encouraged to voice anything in the way of feelings.
Slowly, I trudged home. I got many a curious stare from the village women out and about on their errands. My reputation as the worst student in the village was not a secret. I'm sure many of them thought the Master had sent me home in disgust once again. I wanted to run up to one of them, to shout "HE'S BANISHED ME THIS TIME! WHAT SHALL I DO!?" Instead I ignored their stares and made my way home. My mind was oddly empty as I walked up the stairs to my door. I couldn't think straight, couldn't concentrate, couldn't think past the next step. I opened the door as quietly as I could, not wanting to confront Mother until I'd had time to think.
"KENTARI!" a shrill voice issued from the kitchen. Why is it that mothers seem to have a sixth sense for when their children are in disgrace? Can't they find it in their hearts to let us have an hour or so to come to grips with the situation ourselves? I plodded into the kitchen, my heart thudding painfully in my chest, wondering if it would do me any good to lie.
"Kentari, what are you doing home early... again?" She raised her brow at me.
"It's a long story, Mother, fraught with peril and minute details that wouldn't interest you in the least." I knew that line wasn't going to work, but I had to make the effort.
She just stared at me, fury written all over her face. And I knew, it was time to decide if I was a Shoyru, or a mouse. "Mother," I began bravely, "I have been banished from the Field." We both stood there, the words hanging in the air. Her eyes widened in disbelief.
"Mother, it's not my fault, you know I'm not like the other boys, I just can't fight, but I KNOW what I want to do! I--"
"Get out of my house."
"Get out, Kentari."
"Mother, you can't be serious!" Whatever I had expected her reaction to be, it was not this. Mad, upset, indifferent... certainly there would be a long talk about how I'd failed my family again. But not banishment.
"I am. You have been nothing but trouble. What good are you here? If you can't fight, you can't make a living, and are just a mouth to feed."
"I can ask Master Blepheros to take me back in!" I cried, scared out of my wits at the possibility of leaving home.
My mother would not bend. "You will take nothing, and leave."
"Wait!" a small voice said from behind Mother. Lania fought her way between Mother and I. "Mother," she said quietly, "Kentari can not leave with nothing. Do you want to turn your own child out like a beggar? Would you do the same to me if I couldn't bake bread and wash floors?"
Mother softened perceptibly, "Lania, your brother... what else could he do?"
"I think he needs to leave, but not with nothing!" Lania was the youngest and only girl, the apple of my mother's eye. What she wanted, she got. She was intelligent enough to know that Father would want to make me leave as well. Something I didn't think of until later. She and I had shared many a late night talking about the future. But then, I found out later she had known this was coming all along.
Mother shrugged her indifference. She turned a jaundiced eye to me. "Kentari. I hope you know that I do this for the good of the family. And," she added uncertainly, "hopefully for the good of you as well." Abruptly, she turned on her heel and headed back into the kitchen. I heard the dishes clattering.
"She does love you, you know," my sister said, looking at me with a sardonic smile, "she just... doesn't understand you."
"I know, my dearest Lania. And neither do I understand her," I said, hugging Lania tightly. I stepped back and shot her a thoughtful look, "Lania... you fox, I know you have an idea of my future. You jumped in there so quickly, you must have already had time to think about this. So, tell me little one, tell me what you think I ought to do."
She laughed lightly, "Oh, you know me too well, my Kentari! You'll go to the coast, to the city that lies near it."
"Altador?" I asked quizzically, "I'm not sure I'd fit in there. It's so..."
"No," she laughed, "Shenkuu! Haven't you always wanted to visit?"
"Visit, yes! However, I never thought I might LIVE there."
"Well, now you must do more than THINK of living there... you SHALL live there!"
I laughed and thought how much I admired my sister. But I quickly became serious. I realized that this was the last I'd see of my sister. No more late night talks, or laughs at the world around us. She was the one person who truly cared for me. What would I do without her? She seemed to catch the somber mood that had come over me. "We will see each other again. I promise."
We hugged briefly and she handed me a small bag. "What's this?" I asked, fingering the small leather bag with gorgeous bead detail. My sister's greatest talent was sewing, anything she touched with a needle became a masterpiece.
She smiled. "Enough to get you started. There's a little money, a few kerchiefs I embroidered for selling, and a map to help you get to Shenkuu. You are meeting a friend of mine there."
"How did you meet someone in Shenkuu!?" I asked, surprised.
"We don't have time for that. You have to get out of here before Father arrives home."
"Father's coming home? Isn't he still on border guard?"
"Mother got a letter last night saying he'd be here today. Anyway, you need to find Tuan. He's a sailor in Shenkuu; he's well known." She slipped a necklace over my neck. It was a plain brown leather, with a small disk on the end. The disk had a strange pattern worked into it. I'd never seen anything like it before. "Tuan will help you."
"Alright." I didn't question my sister's plan. I trusted her with all my heart. "I love you, sister." I hugged her, tears threatening to brim over.
"And I you, brother. Be on your way." She started to go. I couldn't seem to move my feet. She turned around. "We WILL see each other again, brother." Slowly, she walked into the kitchen and I heard her getting down the mixing bowls for dinner that night.
I took one last look around. I smelled the aromas of my childhood. And realized with a pang that I was now leaving it. I walked out of the door to my new destiny.
To be continued...