Xenofos — All The Sweet Things I Am Missing
????, Dark Season, Season/Disorder Week
Dark Season/Disorder week?/Freezeday/Evening and night [[[s02:session-20|Session 20]]]
Mildly spoilery – contains stuff inside Xenofos’ head he will probably not talk of.
Freezeday. Towards evening. A cold rain has dried up as the desert wind brings heat to the day again. The bison have ground to a halt and a fire is warming food and people. Berra is a dozen meters from the group, in the direction of travel, with her iron sword in its plain scabbard set on two flat rocks next to her.
Xenofos walks over. “Planning to train, little cousin?”
“To drill, mostly. I didn’t bring wasters. Would you like to join me?” Berra’s smile is bright and inviting.
“I was going to ask whether you’d mind.”
“I… am a Humakti and the gift of Death is mine. Come practice.” Berra seems amused.
Scribe nods and rolls his shoulders as he approaches.
“I’m just going through basic forms, but if you have anything in mind, do let me know. We could … well, I can’t help you practise shield hooks, but I can use a stick for a spear if you want…” She trails off, and there’s another smile. She seems happy to see him.
He looks thoughtful. “Well I suppose I should work on the form of Eight basic cuts. Varanis’ father spent enough hours to teach it to me that I still know it by heart.”
“Do that, then.” Berra’s smile drops into concentration as she turns away from Xenofos and begins counting through positions in Esrolian. Each strike cleaves the air neatly. She has always gone for slashing movements and so each time she makes a move there is a tiny follow-up to make sure the slice is withdrawn neatly. So not quite classical.
Xenofos looks at her work for a moment. Then he draws his sword, makes the salute, utters some silent words with closed eyes and with a slicing move takes his sword to the one of the upper wards.
His cuts are light, like the blade itself is doing the work.1Pass? Something lost. For Rapier.
Berra’s counting moves smoothly into his tempo, so they do their different things together. She continues to murder the element of Orlanth with brutal efficiency.2 Ditto, but for broadsword
Cut follows cut, point always ending toward the imagined opponent. Steps take Scholar back and forth, crossing the centerline every so often.
Berra calls a halt after a half dozen repetitions, and nods. “Slow time practice?” she offers. Wind Tooth is still in her hand.
Xenofos picks his rapier to his left hand, rolls his wrist a couple of times and nods. ” With or without a shield?”3 passed con test easily, but with Xenofos’ puny strength that is still going to feel on forearms and wrists
“As you wish. I can’t use a shield, if that matters here.” Berra looks entirely fresh still.4 Pass on CON and STR because Berra is a tiny but healthy person.
“I like just sword, a beautiful form.”
Berra salutes neatly. A beautiful form?
Xenofos returns the salute precisely.
Berra moves smoothly, gently, into a threat to the heart and left arm, her sword half floating, half falling into place.
Xenofos takes a compasstep right to get offline while disengaging his rapier to ward the centerline.
Berra’s left foot goes back behind her, becomes a lever, pulls her around to face the new position, but her sword is left where it was for a moment too long.
Xenofos steps in displacing her sword with a thrust aimed at her left shoulder, stopping the thrust and pausing for a moment when his target becomes obvious.
Berra starts to twist out of the way, and pauses when it is clear she would have to either throw herself too far, or be hit. There is a tiny nod from her, and then she gathers herself and in slow time her sword comes in, leading her hand rather than following it, her palm down and her left hand falling back as balance.
Xenofos tries to parry down and left while stepping in to the right, aiming to face Berra’s left side if she lunges to full extent.
She does not lunge – Xenofos is moving. But the moment has brought her time, and she comes to an easy guard position that protects the midline and the left – the sides Xenofos is covering. It has her balanced to attack along his empty shield side, but she does not commit to it. Instead, she takes a step back, inviting him by the motion to make the next move.
He nods lets his swordtip fall and returns it to high guard, pommel toward Berra threatening the most basic cut from the above.
Berra waits, her sword rising fractionally to prepare for a high parry, but staying in a vertical guard. She is prepared for a basic thrust or a variety of happy surprises as well.
With a small nod as warning Xenofos starts a wide donward swing apparently aimed to cut Berra from left shoulder to hip, except he steps short and pulls the cut ending sword on centerline, point toward Berra’s face.
Berra’s sword comes up for that one, to parry for the head on a slant away from her. At the same time she moves sideways, so that a cut downward will not kill her, but what Xenofos tries comes down wide. Her sword is high, point downwards, and she drops the point further to try to get inside her opponent’s guard.
Xenofos takes wide circular step to his left, turning to face Berra and cutting diagonally up, hopefully closing that threatened line. “I should step closer, but then things become too unpredictable for practise.”
Berra’s sword-arm moves to take the parry directly. She would be using force to break the incoming movement if they were pushing each other. “I think I’d try to break your face with my hilt,” she admits. “Let’s stay at some distance.” Her face is peaceful and happy in concentration for once, without any of her furious look.
“And that cut should slice your arm while getting the point towards your face. If I could get it in proper place in time.” Scholar thinks he has the correct solution but recognizes the potential variables in execution.
“Yeah… good luck with that. If I don’t get the point in the way…” Berra flicks her hand to move her own guard a little, “Then I’m not trying to come down like that. I’d probably take a round shot towards your wrist, but I’d definitely be moving backwards.” Effortlessly she sinks lower, rolls her weight back on strong knees, and adds, “Foot moves fast there. Can’t help it.” She takes the step at full speed and gets out of theoretical danger. “But you can follow easily enough. It gives you the charge-right.”
“I should be wary of taking it unless I have your sword out of the way and warded. Point or cut may be waiting.”
“Mhm.” Berra smiles, happiness brimming over again. There is a tiny nod, for she is still on guard, but she is at a polite distance now as if considering where and how to slice an artery. She sways gently from side to side, scoping out the target.
Xenofos points his sword at Berra’s eyes, lets the point stand where it is and takes a halfstep forward. After which he launches a thrust from outside Berra’s sword aimed at her right shoulder. His speed is tranquil, to keep the attack safe.
Berra steps left, staying inside the thrust and using two hands briefly to make a parry – she braces her left against her right, but as soon as the pressure is off her right hand – braced against her left – is coming up towards her opponent’s face. Half coming off his sword and half her own strength, that would be a good strike.
As soon as there is blade contact Xenofos slides to his right, but Berra’s strong parry foils his idea to get inside for thrust and he looks at the incoming blade acknowledging the point with a nod ” Got me there.”
Berra stops in motion, steps back, pauses a moment, and presents her blade exactly as it was for Xenofos to try the same attack again.
Xenofos nods to signal his intent and taking two inches shorter first step refuses bladecontact before crossing the line to his right.
Berra’s shoulder moves as if in the same parry, and her cross to her left is slow because of it. Her feet are not well placed for a side-step, but she goes back instead. “There, I would have closed,” she says. “To slice in and up.”
“Do you mean before or after that parry?”
“After. I have to convert my defence into movement, and I’d take it inwards, not out, but for… what was your word? Unpredictable for practice.” Berra makes sure not to move while explaining.
Nod. ” Probably cutting my sword offline but failing that meeting my point. With both of us moving quickly. Hard to practise safely for you can’t really cheat on speed or range or intent without picking up bad habits.”
“Yeah.” Berra moves in then, looking to the neck and dipping in sudden slow motion to slice along the inside of the knee where Xenofos might be expected to expect her to go high.
His point remains aimed at center of her torso.
“Well, my arm’s going through that,” says Berra cheerfully. “Some might call it an odd choice, but each to their own.”
“At full speed I would probably have been lured by that feint.” Xenofos admits.
Happiness. Drifting happiness through the whole evening. Berra glows with it, as sometimes she does. Eventually, watches are devised and sleep comes, and with sleep, dreams…
“Some might call it an odd choice,” grandmother says, passing Xenofos a little plate of pastry. She is a dear old woman. “But each to their own, I suppose. And you’re happy, and that matters to me.”
Xenofos nods and reaches for the pastry. Meeting Granny has always been like a calm garden secluded from the hustle and throng of Nochets streets. Odd that some people are afraid of her.
Granny looks up, as a door opens at the end of the garden, and she sips at the bitter tea she likes, and says, “Well, then.” Some signal must have been given. There’s Berra. The dress is… it suits her, although she still walks like a killer as she approaches. She cannot help but stretch her steps, because she has seen Xenofos, and her eyes light up with love, and then she remembers herself, and Grandmother pretends not to have seen the moment. Berra comes to a halt by the table, and gives Xenofos another look, of the secret sort young people think old people will not understand.
Berra smiles. At him.
Faint worry crosses Xenofos’ face for this seems to be too good to be true, but any doubt is washed away when he looks at her eyes.5 pass truth, but special love
“I’ve decided to give my blessing,” grandmother says tiredly. “Because your cousin created a most intriguing precedent. But I must have you warn others you know against bringing home foreign loves…”
Berra gives Grandmother a respectful moment of silence, and makes the effort to bow over the table. “Thank you. So much.” When she bows over her hands, the ink stain on her forefinger shows. She has doodled it into a Movement Rune. Such a… half-educated semi-literate thing to do. So very Berra.
It seems like the garden is spinning slightly, when Xenofos rises to thank Granny.
Granny stands as well, which means that Berra becomes the shortest person present. “I know you have plenty to get on with,” she says. “And duty calls. There will be a lot of talk in the near future, but you need not worry yourself over that, and Mellia is almost expert in such by now.” Her smile is compressed, sweet, that of an old lady trying not to show joy that would go best with young hearts.
Xenofos takes her hands and bows over them. “Thank you, Granny.”
Granny’s hands are old, delicate, eternal. “Remember, she needs to earn that beard, not be given it. Eh?”
“He’s worth it,” Berra says, entirely out of turn.
“If she set her mind on a task, she can do it.”
He blushes when interrupted.
“Well, yes.” Grandmother sighs. “I expect Desdel will be along to catch his pupil… Ah, yes!”
Sage Desdel, balding in that old familiar pattern, never quite losing all his hair, but with a fine powdered beard that hardly scatters its chalk and charcoal at all, is just wandering into the garden too. Sage, of course. He deserves it!
Xenofos nods to his uncle.
Desdel knows how to walk in a robe, and how to prowl when advancing. “Scribe Xenofos,” he says. “I’ve the initial comments here on your work on the Lunar Histories. The bad news is, they like it enough to want to talk to you. The good news is, they like it a lot more than that. However did you get such detail, the Council of Theses want to know – quite blown away by your footnotes!”
Berra looks at Desdel with resignation, knowing she has been spotted, and reaches her hand for her love’s, for support.
Xenofos looks at Desdel with a polite smile, but wondering how work begun so erratically could merit such praise.6 passed truth and now failed illusion
“I suppose you finally buckled down, young man. Good to see your natural stubbornness turned to something. But I’d meant to say, is Varanis allowed to mention the wedding torcs? She guessed, of course. Smart woman.”
Berra’s hand is in his. Strong. Small.
He squeezes her hand a bit. ” I would like her to do them if that suits you Berra.”
“Um… I did mention to her that I’d need one that was pretty thin, so it could go under my helmet,” Berra admits. “I mean, she could have spent a lot otherwise and I don’t need anything fancy. And I’m getting married in this dress and that’s final – no getting me another.”
“Karne will be disappointed.” Xenofos says “But maybe Varanis will require something new that takes her mind off that.”
Berra brightens a little. That fear in her was only ever the fear of being looked after, an emotion she has rejected now. “I suppose we have to talk about children, but I’m not sure I’d be a good mother. I’m more a father sort.” She leans against him, and Desdel tsks.
“Time to get along with lessons,” he says. “She’ll never be literate if you keep taking her away from me. All the more reason now.” He almost manages severity.
“She will master pen as well as the sword, I am certain.” Xenofos says with confidence.
“Well, she’s certainly mastered the sword,” says a familiar voice behind. “I’d say she was capable of teaching you, to be honest.” Sestar. If all of the other things are impossible, why not that one too? He steps into view, bows neatly to Berra, with the precision of a gentleman, the calm of a man who knows the weight of his sword and the strength of the nobility in him. “Some might call you an odd choice for her, but I think you’ll be happy together.” He offers Xenofos his hand, from a hundred leagues and twenty years away.
It is impolite to point out to people that they are dead.7 Pass Truth Xenofos blinks but accepts the hand of his uncle.
“I’m proud of you, and what you’ve done,” he says, and then the dream begins to fade, all the impossible beautiful things together, and with them Sestar’s hand in his, even as Varanis comes dashing into the garden bringing yet more joy with her congratulations.
There is a stone under Xenofos shoulderblade he did not feel when settling down to sleep.
It’s his watch. It’s dark and cold.
The smoke of the little fire is pungent.
The stars are different here too.
He shakes his head trying to make sense of the haunting memory of the dream.