Gerald absorbed another strike from Evron with his sword. It was beginning to anger him, this feeling. Every time he intended to begin a series of attacks on the Heaven Warrior, the latter would strike first, and his strike would come just in time to break Gerald’s rhythm before it even started.
He prepared himself one more time, hoping to land a few attacks on Evron, but he found himself on the receiving end of another strike that stopped him in his tracks. He gritted his teeth and took half a step back. If he couldn’t attack properly then he would defend. He hadn’t expected this spar to be this onesided. Evron’s quick strikes weren’t like Gasper’s from the other day. Gasper would use openings to strike between his attacks and break his rhythm. But Evron was worse; he used his anticipation to ruin the attack before it even began. It was infuriating to a certain extent, but the Heaven Warrior was just that fast.
Evron read Gerald’s offer to attack and didn’t refuse it. He approached with a blurring overhead slash that Gerald struggled to parry during his sidestep.
He now realized that his advantage, speed, was no longer his. Evron outdid him in every field. Another strike came, a slash from the side. He tried to parry it, but he felt shooting pain coursing through his wrist. Evron’s strike was faster than what he could parry, and his attempt at defending turned into a crossbreed between a block and a parry. He barely moved himself out of coming sword’s path, though he suspected Evron allowed him to do so.
He decided to try again. Perhaps he had simply been unfortunate during the previous strike. But the next attack from Evron dashed all his hopes of resistance. He found himself facing another attack from above, faster and stronger than the two that preceded it. He couldn’t move in time and was forced to block, but he didn’t find enough strength in his arms to block the strike properly. For a moment, he found one of his knees weakening by instinct. If it were real combat, he would have had to kneel down to absorb the strength of the strike instead of allowing it to cut down through one of his shoulders, but fortunately this wasn’t real combat. Evron, having realized Gerald’s dilemma, stopped his attack out of courtesy, retracting his sword and stepping back.
Gerald took an overdue breath and nodded to the Heaven Warrior. He wasn’t far from kneeling in front of his men, which wouldn’t have been a pleasant sight for them to remember, since they weren’t even in the thick of battle where everyone would have other things to worry about.
He admitted his inferiority silently by sheathing his sword. It had taken him more time than it should have to realize that even two of him wouldn’t be able to faze Evron. The travelling Warrior’s spar with Gasper had given Gerald the illusion that he could hold his own in a similar spar. But he was quickly reminded that he was not as good a combatant as Gasper, and of course nowhere near as good as Evron. The spar hadn’t passed without its benefits though. He finally realized why his use of the lightning attribute was so easy to interrupt by a Warrior’s good eye. I was his footing. Most combatants would watch their opponents shoulders, sword, or waist to look for signs of the next attack, but those with enough experience would be able to tell that the lightning attribute’s style of combat was better countered by watching the footing.
He wanted to chuckle at his own blindness to that problem, considering that one of the first things one learned while training in the attribute was how to spring strength from their feet all the way up to their arms and deliver strikes that didn’t need as much movement from their upper body. It was right in front of him all that time.
Now that he knew about it, he could work on improving his attacks and making them less readable. Regardless, it wasn’t like he could fight a Heaven Warrior as he was now, no matter how much skill he gained.
He thanked Evron for the spar before the travelling Warrior decided that it was time to depart.
“We shall meet again, your lordship,” Evron said as they saw him off.
Gerald nodded to that. They would, someday.
He spent the rest of daylight waiting with his men. It was a bit tiring that there was no one to attend to him. Frederick had been left in the Viscounty so that he wouldn’t be recognized by any of his uncle’s ‘friends’ during this journey, and Harrid either sparred with the Warriors or received Uncle Rudolf’s training.
Dusk came faster than he expected. It was then that Viscount Ulryck’s attendant came and invited Gerald inside.
He headed towards the keep that was masquerading as a palace. The edge of the training grounds overlooked the gates from which he and his men entered. Before he headed inside, he spied guests arriving in lavish carriages, escorted by mounted guards.
Gerald took Gasper with him inside. For the sake of propriety, he couldn’t take any man lesser than a knight with him. It was even preferable that he attend on his own, since it would mostly be a gathering of nobles and their kin. Knights would be scarce in these kinds of gatherings unless there was a tournament on the horizon, or a duel of some kind.
Being one of the earliest to arrive, Gerald found the gathering hall mostly empty. He saw some guests that he unsurprisingly didn’t recognize, but Viscount Lorious Ulryck was there, welcoming those who arrived, one by one. It didn’t take long for him to approach Gerald while holding his wine goblet.
Gerald faced the host and smiled. Gasper, who stood by his side, did the same.
“Lord Tellus,” Viscount Ulryck said, barking a loud courtesy laugh. “I hope this humble gathering of mine proves a pleasant evening for you.”
“I’m certain it will, Lord Ulryck,” Gerald said. He gestured towards Gasper. “This is Sir Gasper. My knight.” He took a goblet of wine from one of the servants patrolling the hall.
“I see,” Viscount Ulryck said, glancing at Gasper. “Let it be a pleasant evening for both of you then.”
“It will provide a chance to make new acquaintances, that’s for certain,” Gerald said. He glanced at the entrance, from which entered a trickle of new guests. “Let us not occupy too much of your time then.” He gestured towards the entrance with his goblet.
Viscount Ulryck glanced at the entrance and nodded to Gerald with a smile before taking his leave.
Gerald ran his eyes over the hall. It was better than anything he had in his keep. The floor was tiled in white, and the walls were thick with white paint that no longer showed the shape of the coarse stone the keep was built with. A golden crown of candles hung from the ceiling, reminding Gerald of the halls of Malfi palace. He sighed and moved on.
Along with Gasper, hetook to one of the hall’s corners then searched for Lena Ulryck with his eyes. And of course, she hadn’t arrived yet. From what he’d seen from her so far, he expected her to make a late entrance, like most ladies who seek to make a strong impression on a crowd like this one.
Gradually, the hall began filling up with guests. Gerald marveled at the amount of people Viscount Ulryck was acquainted with. Fortunately, the hall was large enough to accommodate the continuous flow of people.
To Gerald’s surprise, he spotted a familiar face entering the hall. It was Reya Elrite. The lady who’d visited him in Ard before. He’d met her father, Baron Elrite, not long ago when the latter had let him and his men cross the river before everyone else.
She arrived accompanying a few other ladies, all of them as young as she was. Their group was greeted by Viscount Ulryck first then beset by many persistent young men. They sailed around the hall greeting other groups and pairs of guests, all the while shrugging off the approaches of the eager youths that often crowded them.
A bard began to sing and the subtle melody of the harp floated within the hall. Gerald savored his wine and listened. It wasn’t long before two more of the bard’s kind joined him with a flute and a drum fashioned from sheepskin. A troupe of dancers then moved to the middle of the hall, occupying it to entertain the guests.
Gerald’s eyes strayed for a few moments before he realized that Reya Elrite had noticed him. She split off from the group she was accompanying and approached him and Gasper.
“Lord Tellus,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Gerald smiled. He hadn’t expected to see her here either. “During my journey towards the capital, I met someone who invited me here. I didn’t want to turn down their generosity.”
“Ah, no wonder.” She nodded. “It is still pleasant to meet you, Lord Tellus.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he said. “What brings you to a gathering this far from the Elrite territory though?”
“Oh, it’s Lena. She’s the Viscount’s niece,” Reya explained. “We got acquainted to each other in another gathering, one that was much closer to father’s territory. She invited me here for this evening. She promised that it would be worth the distance.” She glanced at the crowded hall. “And it is worth it indeed. So many people. This is not unlike what a Duke would arrange with all its grandeur.”
He nodded, smirking when she mentioned Lena. It seemed that the shrewd young lady Ulryck reached even farther than he imagined her capable. He wondered how many of the guests she was responsible for. Perhaps this wasn’t all due to the Viscount after all.
Reya glanced back at her companions who were waving for her then turned back to Gerald. “They’re already eager to have me back.” She smiled. “I will have to take my leave.”
He nodded. “I’m glad to have met you again, Lady Reya.”
She curtsied in response before trotting back to her company. He watched them join the troupe and dance freely in the middle of the hall. Reya was pushed into the dance by one of her companions. They danced even after the troupe left, and they were soon joined by others who wanted to enjoy their time.
Lena Ulryck didn’t disappoint and made her entrance later than most as Gerald had expected. When the large doors of the hall opened, everyone’s eyes were attracted to dazzling entrant. Lena arrived in a white dress, her shoulder straps missing her shoulders and holding onto her arms. Her brown hair was tied up high, and two swirling locks hung down to her cheeks. Like all the other ladies, her bosom was upheld by whatever invisible workings that women employed in the hidden recesses of their clothing. But unlike others, her breasts were half-bare at the top, a ravine splitting them and inviting the imagination of men and women alike. She came in followed by two younger ladies who seemed ready to fulfill her every need. She threw courtesy nods here and there while sauntering in, as if she didn’t realize that she was the focus of attention, or didn’t care.
Many approached her to deliver their greetings or seek her company, and she soon melded into the crowd.
Gerald was about to ask Gasper what he thought of her, when someone interrupted his first word.
Gerald turned towards the voice and found a man of perhaps forty years of age. He was dressed in very luxurious garments, even compared to the wealthy guests of this gathering. The skin on his face seemed overstretched and stuck to the bones, but it looked dazzlingly white.
“Forgive me,” Gerald said. “I don’t believe I know you.”
“Oh, but I know you, Lord Tellus.”
Sorry for the radio silence everyone. The past couple of weeks weren’t pretty. I was sick for over a week, and my fingers were literally too swollen to type or write. To top it off, I’ll have to repeat one of my classes in a summer course, and one of the most annoyingly useless at that, namely Pragmatics. You can imagine I wasn’t feeling great after all this since I’m senior and all.
Anyway, I finish the semester exams on the 24th. Pieces should easily fall back into place after that. Thanks for your patience.