Gerald and his men accompanied Lena Ulryck’s carriage to a nondescript town. The only thing that stood out in it was a lone, stone keep right in the middle of it, fancier than one would expect of a village-turned-town like this one. But it seemed that whichever house ruled these lands spared no expense in polishing their image in front of everyone else.
The keep was unique in its oddity, its walls painted white, but its two small spires unpainted. It seemed to be trying too hard to look like a palace but to no avail.
The town wasn’t surrounded by any walls. Some areas were surrounded by wooden palisades, but Gerald knew that this region wasn’t plagued by war or bandits. That was likely why they needed no such thing as high walls. But it was likely that that wasn’t the only reason. He assumed it was more about how badly the ruling House handled its expenditure along the generations, evident from the lavish keep.
As they rode into town along with the carriage, they drew a few curious gazes from its residents. If these people were used to guests coming for gatherings and feasts, they weren’t used to groups of armed strangers entering the town. Perhaps that feast for the soldiers was only for the lord’s men. Gerald didn’t like the thought. It meant that the odd lady had lured him here after all. Even if she had the influence to invite him to the gathering, she likely didn’t have enough authority to bring his men into town. Regardless, he would wait and see.
They soon reached the keep’s gates where the guards stopped them. They were armored in the colors of the Viscount of these lands, who was apparently Lena Ulryck’s uncle.
They let Lena’s carriage through the gates first, from which Lena descended. She said something to one of who guards who soon hurried into the keep. Then she turned and gave Gerald a soft smile from where she was standing, seemingly urging him to be patient.
Gerald frowned. It seemed that it was as he’d expected. She didn’t have much power here, even if she had some influence over her uncle. He glanced at Uncle Rudolf who shrugged. On the other side of him Gasper and Evron were on their horses, murmuring something. Gerald turned to them and saw Gasper taking a few coins out and handing them to the travelling Warrior with a defeated sigh. Gerald thought he’d heard Evron say something along the lines of ‘You shouldn’t have wagered against me’.
Gasper seemed to notice his gaze and smiled wryly. “Evron told me that the lady was leading us on, my lord. I thought he was wrong.”
Gerald didn’t know whether to be bothered or to chuckle. He didn’t get a chance to think about it as he spotted a man of perhaps forty years coming to the gates from within and meeting Lena.
She seemed to be pleading with him for something, less like a beggar asking for a favor and more like a spoilt child demanding something she shouldn’t have. The man was frowning back at her. They argued for a few moments, but Lena didn’t seem like one who let matters rest.
Soon, the man seemed to admit defeat. He signaled for the guards at the gate who allowed Gerald and his men inside.
Gerald dismounted and so did his men. They walked through the gates with their horses beside them.
The man stood there, waiting for their entrance. And as they did, he greeted them. “Welcome to my keep, fair men of House Tellus.” With a searching gaze, he sought something among them, then his eyes quickly settled on Gerald. “I suppose you are Lord Gerald Tellus?”
“Indeed, your lordship.” Gerald smiled amicably.
“It is a pleasure to meet you then. I am Viscount Lorius Ulryck, the ruler of this territory. You are welcome to attend the humble gathering I have arranged tonight, and your men can rest with mine and enjoy a feast as well.”
Gerald nodded, bowing his head slightly. “Thank you for your generosity, Lord Ulryck.”
“Please, it is nothing,” Lord Ulryck said. “You are welcome to rest inside the keep until nightfall if you wish.”
“No need,” Gerald said. “The training grounds should suffice for now.”
The man seemed relieved by Gerald’s choice. He nodded with a smile then called for one of the guards to lead them to the training grounds.
Gerald raised a brow at the man’s reaction. Perhaps he was still busy with the preparations inside the keep. They had come uninvited after all.
After they arrived at the training grounds, Gerald used the chance to speak to Evron. That was why he’d chosen to rest at the training grounds for time being. He wouldn’t have been able to talk to the travelling Warrior if he had decided to rest inside.
Gasper was sitting with him to one side. They were talking about something animatedly. A spar as it turned out. Gerald heard the word when he came close enough.
They both stood up when they noticed him. But Gerald decided to take a seat beside them on the large, jutted rock they were resting on. “No need to stay on your feet,” he told them.
They sat down.
He glanced at Evron for a moment and smiled. “I hear you don’t plan to stay.”
Evron shook his head apologetically. “Forgive me, your lordship. I have a journey ahead of me that I must complete. But I would be glad to return the kindness you’ve shown me by doing you a service, if you’d like.”
Gerald grew silent for a moment. It was that again. “I understand.” He nodded. He didn’t really have much hope of the man actually becoming a subordinate of his. He decided to ignore that ‘service’ for now. “Will you buy another horse then?”
Evron’s countenance turned melancholy again for a moment then he nodded. “I must. But I doubt they’d sell me one here. I don’t think that lady likes me very much after what happened this morning. It was reckless enough of me to come here.”
Gerald smiled. “I don’t think she would go as far as trying to harm you while you’re with us in here. But you’re right. I don’t think they’d sell you a horse either.” He chuckled. “But worry not. You can have one of ours, as a gift.”
“I can’t, your lordship—”
“You wouldn’t refuse my gift, would you?” Gerald leveled his eyes on him with an intense gaze.
Evron sighed and seemed grateful for Gerald’s insistence. “You have my thanks, your lordship.”
Gerald also produced a letter from his armor and handed it to the travelling Warrior. “Take this. Gasper should have told you about my territory by now. The southern border of it is blocked by my men. It wouldn’t be easy to persuade them that you mean no harm. Things aren’t very peaceful there at the moment. This letter will solve that.”
Evron accepted the letter but seemed uncomfortable with all the favors he was receiving. He was about to speak when Gerald cut him off.
“That service you want to do me . . . ”
Evron nodded waiting for Gerald’s request.
“Would I still be due that service after you become a Battlemaster?” Gerald mouthed.
Evron froze for a moment. “Ahem . . . yes, your lordship. If fate were to bring us together again and if I were to become a Battlemaster, I would still owe you such service and more.” He glanced at the letter. “But I’m not certain that I will become a Battlemaster. No one can be.”
Gerald smiled. “I have faith in you. And we will meet again.” The man was obviously entranced by the City of Saints like many others. And Gerald was as well. He would certainly visit it someday, and if Evron had become a Battlemaster by then, he would also be there as a true resident of the city. Only Battlesaints and Battlemasters were allowed to bring their family and stay permanently in the City of Saints. Other people would only be allowed to visit. If they were there to work, they would be allowed to stay as long as they were needed, then they would have to leave. The city was a thing of beauty, if what Gerald had heard about it was real.
Evron nodded, taking Gerald’s words with more gratitude than any of the gifts that preceded it. “Thank you. I look forward to that day.”
Gerald nodded back. “How will you go about your journey, I wonder? Will you take a ship from Andross?”
Evron shook his head. “I will ride my whole journey north, until there is nothing north of me but sea.”
Gerald shifted his posture, confusion all over his face. “You will ride through the Wild plains? And even if you survive that, you also plan to traverse the mountains between the Warring Duchies and Kanad?”
“Yes,” Evron said. He sighed and began to explain, “I swore that I would finish this journey from beginning to end without aid. I believe that through this experience I will take the next step on my path.”
“Or you will die,” Gasper said from the side. “You can’t survive the mountains, no matter how strong you are.”
Gerald nodded. “Crossing the mountains is nigh impossible.” He even wondered how the travelling Warrior had planned to take his horse with him through mountains.
Evron smiled and shook his head. “My father was a mountain ranger, and so was I. I know that it doesn’t make me invincible, but I trust my capabilities in the mountains. It’s a challenge that I must endure.”
Gerald chose not to press it further. The travelling Warrior seemed determined enough that no one could change his mind. “Then good fortunes to you. Now, you two were talking about a spar, yes?”
Evron and Gasper nodded in unison.
Gerald glanced at the middle of the grounds where Harrid was sparring with one of the Warriors and Yanna was watching from the side. He led Evron and Gasper there and watched as Harrid’s sword was knocked out of his hand. The boy and the Warrior soon stepped aside to make way for the two new combatants.
Gasper and Evron stepped in the middle and faced each other.
This was a good chance to understand the difference of strength between Sky and Heaven Warriors. Gasper was good with his sword and on his feet. He wanted to see how long he would last against Evron. Then he might even choose to spar with him as well.
The two opponents circled each other, swords ready and eyes alert. Gasper was obviously waiting for Evron to make the first move, since attacking would only be foolish, specially this early.
Evron complied when he understood the knight’s silent wish and leapt forward, faster than any man Gerald had seen. He was in front of Gasper in a moment, swinging his sword with the most ordinary slash possible. But the sight didn’t fool Gerald. He knew that even this ordinary slash could be deadly when executed with such agility.
Gasper wasn’t quite so ready to be beaten yet. He took a short step back and met the coming sword with his own. He parried instead of blocking, letting the parry lead him a bit to the side. Evron, however, wasn’t thrown to the side with the perfect parry. He retracted his sword arm like a whip and hopped back to receive Gasper’s riposte. He parried the thrust, but it seemed that Gasper had thrown it half-heartedly as the knight quickly retracted his sword as well.
The two of them stared each other down before the next clash. Then Gasper attacked this time. He slashed low toward Evron’s legs, but the Heaven Warrior hopped back once more to avoid it. Gasper followed it by fixing his sword’s path to an ascending slash, seemingly putting all his strength into it. Evron pushed it aside with his sword and sidestepped atthe same time. He didn’t return the attack though. He was giving Gasper a chance to go at him before ending the spar, it seemed.
Gasper seemed to notice, and he accepted the invitation. He leapt at Evron and swung his sword wide for a powerful slash. To everyone’s surprise, Evron took it on with his sword, blocking it entirely. There was a ‘Clang’ as his sword stopped Gasper’s in its tracks. The difference in strength was obvious to any who’d fought before. Evron’s sword wasn’t even pushed an inch back as it blocked Gasper’s strike. It had weathered the strike with unmoving defense. Gerald even believed that such rigidity had caused the two swords to dull at the spot where they clashed.
Gasper froze in surprise for a moment, but he soon took his sword back. Evron had used both his arms to stop his strike, but it was still unimaginable that someone could block a slash with such stability. Gasper had challenged him with a wide swing, expecting the Heaven Warrior to evade or parry, but he was given a surprise in return.
Evron abandoned his defense and moved to attack Gasper again, this time with a glint in his eyes. He struck three times from the same side; one high towards the head, one in the middle towards the ribs, and one low towards the knees. His sword blurred as the three strikes descended on Gasper. The latter barely shrugged the first two off before jumping back with all his strength and raising his legs with bent knees to avoid the strike. He did, but he lost his balance in exchange. He landed wobbling like a wooden doll. By the time he’d gotten his balance back to take a defensive stance, Evron’s blade was at his throat.
Silence followed as the sword was retracted and breaths were released. Evron spoke first. “You’re good on your feet. And your sword isn’t heavy, unless you want it to be. This would have been a nice spar had you been a Heaven Warrior yourself.”
Gasper didn’t look consoled by the words. He shook his head. “I thought I was better.”
Evron laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, I’ve beaten most of the Heaven Warriors I’ve sparred with. You’re good with the sword, and you’ll keep improving as you grow. Just give it time and you’ll be better than most.
Gasper nodded, a notion of a smile painting itself on his face. “I didn’t know you were that strong though. I thought the difference would be . . . less.”
Evron chuckled. “There are two reasons.”
Gerald approached them, wanting to hear in detail.
“The first is that I was stronger than most of those my age before I even became a Warrior. The second is that the difference in strength increases as one ascends our path. The difference between you and me is larger than the difference between you and an Earth Warrior. Not by much, but it’s noticeable still. From what I hear, the difference between me and a Battlemaster would be devastating if I tried to fight one.”
Gasper nodded as Gerald came to stand beside him. He patted his knight on the back. “At least you’ll now know what you’re fighting if you ever come to face a Heaven Warrior. He looked at Evron. “I wouldn’t mind a spar myself, however short it might turn out to be.”
Evron chuckled in response. “No harm in trying, I suppose.”