Halfblood Part XIII--The Lairds Take Council

Fiction By Heather // 2/1/2010

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"C'mon, lad, ye're no use to ayone if ye stand there gapin' like a fish."

Varian walked down the hill, still fixated on the tents of weapons and armor. Then he saw the two dragons fly overhead again. The smaller, orangey-red one shot up in the sky, turned a somersault, then dove downward, barely pulling back in time to land on the grass.

Varian recognized Fleet. For a moment, he smiled as the young dragon rolled onto his back and batted at Flameclaw, who landed beside him with slow dignity. Then, Fleet's dive brought back the memory of Jokk's words last night.

"Ye behavin' yerself? Dinnae havin' seconds thoughts, are ye?"

What had Jokk been talking about? Varian glanced at the Highlander captain. Jokk was talking to one of the men in the weapons tent. Varian figured he'd probably used up his limited amount of answered questions for the day.

Fleet looked up, saw him, and flapped his wings in greeting. Varian waved back, a cold knot settling in his stomach. How could he get on Fleet's back now?

"Here's yer sword. I took the liberty of havin' Dulcan clean and sharpen it for ye."

Varian took the weapon. "Thanks."

"Fleet! Stop rollin' on the grass like a horse and come over here!" Jokk bellowed.

Fleet grinned and lunged into the air. He turned a flip and landed heavily between two tents, making the ground shake. Varian stumbled, and from inside the tent he heard crashes and yells.

"Good morning," Fleet said.

"Either ye dinnae know yer own strength, or ye're doin' that deliberately," a man shouted from inside the tent. "And either way, Fleet, ye should be confined to the Mount! What was the Great Dragon thinkin' when he suggested that ye train to be a dragonmount?"

A blue flame flickered from Fleet's nose. "Dulcan, you sound like you need to go back to roost."

A red-haired, stocky man stomped out of the tent. "I was thinkin' about it, then some dragon came blunderin' along and knocked over all my stores. Ye dinnae have nae respect for my work, Fleet. I cannae send men out in dented armor and crooked swords!"

Jokk chuckled. "Varian, meet Dulcan, our master swordsmith."

Dulcan charged over and seized Varian's hand in a tight grip. His blue eyes squinted up at him. "So ye be the Lowlander prince that's got the village in an uproar. Glad to meet ye. Eh, Jokk? S'pose ye'll be wantin' armor for yer new recruit?"

"We'll see," Jokk said. "Why don't ye get back to workin' on yer swords?"

"Aye, s'pose I'd better. Ye'll be recruitin' more at the Summer Solstice before too long, eh? Always more weapons to be made." Dulcan glared at Fleet. "And messes to be cleaned up after young scallywag dragons see fit to land right next to the tents—and none of this landin' with any respect to an old man's knees either."

"Dulcan, I need ye to make Fleet a warrior's saddle."

"A warrior's saddle?" Dulcan groaned. "Ye're puttin' the new recruit on Fleet?"

"Once they're trained, Varian and Fleet should make a fine team. C'mon, Varian. While Fleet's being measured for the saddle, we can go over yer weapons training."

As Varian and Jokk walked away, Varian could hear Dulcan grumbling as he pulled out leather and a large ball of measuring twine. He glanced at Jokk and raised his eyebrows.

"Dulcan can be a mite like a hibernatin' bear," Jokk admitted. "But he's an excellent bladesmith."

"Do ye think I'll ride Fleet at all today?"

"I doubt it. It will take time for Dulcan to modify a regular saddle into a warrior's, and by that time, the other lairds will be here and ye'll be in the meetin' with them."

Varian let out a careful, gentle sigh. Then he started as Jokk asked, "What's botherin' ye about larnin' to ride a dragon?"

"Well, last night—" Varian started.

"Och, ye have sharp ears. Too sharp." Jokk waved at hand toward Mount Arborn. "On the other side of the Dragon-mount, there's a small clan of dragons who arenae friendly to the Highlanders. They're a remnant of the dragons who sided with Jeremas."

"Jeremas—the first king of the Lowlands? I never knew anythin' about that."

"Aye, they dinnae speak much of the Sunderin' War in the Lowlands. It's really only known to yer scholars—and to men like Danilos. But, that's all I can say without the permission of the other lairds."

"Ye dinnae have a king?"

"Isnae a point to have a king if he's always overruled by his counselors."

Varian snorted. "Aye, I'll agree with that."

Jokk stopped in the field, near a rack of weapons. "Well, now ye have yer sword—and I think I'll take this."

He removed a quarterstaff from the rack and held it out. Varian took it. The middle of the staff was wrapped in leather, with a metal sheet glittering between the gashes in the wrapping. On either side of the leather, two thin blades protruded along the length of the staff. On one of the ends, the two blades came off the staff into a point; on the other, the blades were cut off at the end.

"What is this?" Varian asked.

"It's called a quoroni. They're traditional Highlander weapons. Surely ye've heard of them."

"I've heard of them, but I didn't know they were still in use."

Jokk laughed and tossed the weapon in the air. It spun, flashing sunlight off the blades. He caught it again and spun it in his fingers. "It's one of the main weapons of the Highlanders. What have ye trained with?"

"Sword mostly. Axe, mace, bow, and spear just a little. And quarterstaff, before I was ever allowed to pick up an edged weapon, but that was back when I was about six."

Jokk put the edged quoroni back and picked up a regular quarterstaff. "Well, let's see how well ye remember the quarterstaff."

Varian caught the staff and dropped his sword on the ground. Jokk pulled out a staff for himself and dropped into a ready stance.

"When ye're ready," Jokk said.

Varian placed his left foot back, and crouched, scanning Jokk's tense stance. Jokk's right foot was braced against the ground and his right toes pointed just slightly right. Varian jumped in a short lunge, and Jokk jumped to the left. Varian dropped back, circling, again watching Jokk's feet.

His toes point to the right when he's going to jump left, and to the right when he's going to jump right.

Jokk jumped forward, one end of the staff pointed at Varian's stomach. Varian sidestepped. Jokk twisted the staff and hit him in the chest.

"Not like swords," Jokk reminded him. He swiped at Varian's head. "Ye cannae just sidestep."

Varian ducked and clacked his staff against the wood guarding Jokk's legs. "Got it."

They pulled back and started circling again. Varian noticed Jokk's face, frozen in a narrow-eyed, impenetrable snarl. Then he looked down at Jokk's feet as he concentrated on his own footwork.

 They clashed and pulled apart again, and Varian realized that Jokk's footwork was fancy, yet light. He seemed to treat it as an intricate dance. The man never stood in one spot for longer than a half-second, yet each move was calculated, strong, never superfluous.

They stood within reach of each other, the staffs tapping out a rhythm, one never getting past the other's guard. Varian stepped back, dodged to the side, and lunged forward. Jokk blocked his assault, then swept his staff down. Varain felt it hook behind his knees, and he tumbled to the ground. Before he could tighten his grip on his staff, Jokk knocked it out of his hands with a bone-jarring strike and planted his staff in Varian's stomach.

"Not bad for a youngster untrained in the quarterstaff," Jokk remarked. "But ye'll have to do better than that."

Varian rolled to his feet, rubbing his leg. He could still feel the sting of the thick oak staff. "I'll learn," he growled.

"Aye, ye'll learn." Jokk looked up, watching the activity in the air.

Fleet and Flameclaw dove, twisted, and spun in aerial combat. Then Varian realized that the two dragons weren't the only ones in the air. Three dragons, two with riders and one without, were circling above the village. Another had just landed in the practice field and was stretching its wings. In the distance, he could see another approaching.

"Who are they?" Varian glanced at Jokk.

Jokk smiled. "The Lairds of the Highlands."

They stood, watching the dragons come down one by one, each twisting or diving in a similar, but equally unique, way. All of the dragons were various shades of red, save for two—the huge, riderless dragon was obsidian black; and one, about the same size as Fleet, was emerald green. They dotted the chartreuse grass like enormous jewels.

Jokk started for the dragons. Varian tossed the staff toward the weapons rack, picked up his sword, and tagged after him. The final dragon landed. The riders dismounted and grouped together, shaking hands and laughing. As they noticed Jokk and Varian's approach, they became quiet, waiting.

"Lairds Revan, Mykale, Shotar, and Benvahr—I give ye welcome." Jokk extended his hand to each as he said their names. Then he looked at the black dragon. "And to ye also, Great Dragon Archflame."

"Thank you," Archflame replied.

As the dragon spoke, his deep voice sent tremors through Varian's body. Then Archflame turned his head, meeting Varian's eyes. Varian gasped. Archflame's eyes were deep pools of gold. The longer they held contact, the more certain Varian was that he stared into something ancient beyond human comprehension. He jerked back a step.

Archflame smiled. "Who is this?"

"Varian, a Lowlander prince."

Jokk's answer made the lairds start.

"A Lowlander," Benvahr muttered. "And why have ye given him sanctuary here?"

Jokk looked at Varian. "It's yer story."

Varian ran his hands through his hair. "By my own choice, I'm an exile here. I chose to help a Highlander who came into my country, Kerrin. The Counsellors took it as treason, though I saw it only as pavin' the way for better relations between the countries."

"Besides that, he's the son of my sister," Jokk

Varian almost choked. "Yer—sister! My mother?"

"We'll speak of this later." Jokk motioned for him to sit. The others took a cue from this and made themselves comfortable on the thick grass. The dragons, except Archflame, ambled away for a place to sun themselves.

Ye are the most infuriating man I've ever had the misfortune to meet, Varian thought. He sat down, between Jokk and the auburn-haired laird named Revan, and said, "Isn't this a strange place for lairds to hold a meetin'?"

"Why should it be?" Mykale asked. He was a thickset man with dishwater blond hair drawn into a ponytail and patchy stubble.

Archflame clarified, and again his bass voice trembled through Varian's chest. "There is no one around us, no tent flaps for spies to hide behind. We can see anyone who approaches, and the air is our only audience. Besides, how would I fit into a room or a tent?"

Varian shrugged to concede the point.

"Now, Jokk—" Benvahr pinned him with a glare. "Why did ye send for us?"

"To ask yer permission to tell Varian all."

"All?" The lairds spoke as one.

Benvahr continued. "Ye'd tell all to a Lowlander prince?"

"He ran here of his own choice," Jokk said evenly, staring at Benvahr.

"Of course he ran here. Where else would he go? No inexperienced man in his right mind would take his chances on the seas, not at this time of year anyway."

"With the falsehoods he's been brought up on?"

"Falsehoods?" Varian asked. His voice was lost in Benvahr's next words.

"Just because he was yer sister's son dinnae give ye no reason to tell him our secrets."

Archflame laughed. "You are too suspicious, Benvahr. The boy is half-Highlander. From the looks of him, he's starved for stories of his mother's country. I don't think he would have come to us, admitting he was a Lowlander prince and bringing the news of Kerrin as he did, unless he was truly anxious to be here—to know."

Varian hunched his shoulders, feeling like he'd been dropped into a whirlpool. Nothing was making sense and everyone was spinning circles upon circles of words around him.

"Well, whatever we say, we cannae talk about it in front of Varian," Mykale said. "Dinnae would be good manners as well as good policy."

Shotar held up his hand. "Aye, and I think perhaps we'd best stall our words for the time bein'. Kerrin's daughter is comin'."

Varian quickly turned. Kearah ran toward them, her head flung back, her feet dipping in and out of the long grass. The young women that Varian had grown up with would have been ashamed to be seen hurrying even the least bit. Even from yards away, Kearah was plainly enjoying her run.

"She's the swiftest runner in my lands," Jokk said.

Varian half-turned away, but still kept Kearah in the corner of his eye.

She jogged to a halt, her eyes sparkling. "Captain, my mother sends word that she'd be delighted to have Varian join us for supper. And, if my eyes dinnae deceive me, the Lairds have private business that needs attendin' to, so the invitation comes at a good time."

"You must have the ears of a horse, missy, to know that," Revan said with a chuckle.

"Nay, only the eyes of a hawk that read yer faces." Kearah looked down at Varian. "Well, do ye wish to dine with us tonight?"

Varian nodded and clambered to his feet. Kearah dipped her head to the Lairds and turned. The skirts swishing about her calves made the turn seem more like a graceful whirl in a dance.

They walked back to the hill separating the field from the village. Kearah seemed to be in no hurry now—in fact, she didn't walk, she ambled. Varian found himself having to remember to slow down. Neither one of them spoke, and the silence was getting old. Varian rubbed the back of his neck as they topped the hill. What was he supposed to say? Did he start with condolences about her father's death?

Kearah smiled at him. "Don't feel awkward."

Varian stared at her. "Why?"

"I just wondered if ye might—with bein' the bearer of—ye know. The news of my father."

"How did you think—"

"Compared to readin' Jokk, yer face is an open book. But, really, I feel like I need to apologize for my behavior last night. Mother wanted to stay up—almost like she knew—and she may well have, some say her great-grandmother had the second sight—but someone needed to be up with her. I was tired. But that doesnae excuse me at all, does it?"

"It's nae problem." Varian glanced at her again. "Yer mother took the news well."

"It's the Highlander way."

"Meanin'?"

"Meanin' that we mourn our dead quietly, and yet rejoice for them, because they're somewhere better than this messy world. None of this wailin' and caterwaulin' that goes on at a Lowlander funeral. It's just the Highlander way."

Varian chuckled.

"What're ye laughin' at?"

"I'm laughin' because I think I've barely begun to tap the differences between my two bloods."

 

 

Comments

Just as I was thinking, "But

Just as I was thinking, "But what about Kearah?", there she came! I love the end bit between her and Varian.

Anna | Mon, 02/01/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

I like this chapter

I like this chapter, Heather, especially the fight scene; it was well done. The interaction between Keerah and Varian also.

Kyleigh | Tue, 02/02/2010

Something worse...

The only comparable thing worse than ending a chapter in the middle of intense action (usually something like, "everything went black", which is so cliché) is ending a chapter right in the middle of interaction between a young man and a maiden.  That is far more frusterating to your readers, I assure you!  I hope the next chapter picks up exactly where this one left off.

James | Tue, 02/02/2010

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

That's MY girl!

Wow, Heather! My girl can plan for our wedding, which is only a month away, and still find time to write an awesome chapter of an awesome story! You may be asking, how can she do this? The answer: HEATHER IS AWESOME! I sure love you, Heather!

Justin

Anonymous | Sun, 02/07/2010

LOL--I LOVED this chapter,

LOL--I LOVED this chapter, Heather. I know you're busy...and with important things too, lol...but PLEASE post more soon. As James said, tis frustrating!!!

LoriAnn | Mon, 02/15/2010