Recap: The Connarii are making their way through the mists of a featureless land, the gateway to the Otherworld(s) in search of a new homeland. Crown Princess Edana and ambitious upstart Camlin have just been awarded co-leadership of a yet-to-be-formed guard in the absence of the warband, who were lost when the Connarii were banished. This is a huge opportunity for Edana, a chance to prove her leadership capabilities, as well as her martial prowess, but she takes it as a failure to have to share any of her power with Camlin.
Edana's eyes snapped open to take in the unchanging view with perfect alertness and clarity. It felt to her like the early hours of morning, though the pearlescent light that filtered through the mists never seemed to dim. Everyone seemed still to be sleeping; there was no movement as far as she could see across the encampment.
Gathering up the tangled mass of clothing and weapons that she had piled in an untidy heap the night before, Edana edged out of sight of her father and sister. She hummed quietly as she donned the various articles of clothing and weaponry. Over the tightly laced trousers and soft, sleeveless tunic went the stiff leather combat vest. Her mass of shining hair she gathered back from her face and bound with a tie, although several small braids that she had neglected to undo from the night before and a number of recalcitrant short curls she abandoned to swing freely around her face.
Over the whole outfit Edana slung thick leather straps, crossing at her torso and anchored at her waist. From these she could suspend her arsenal. A bow and quiver of arrows were strapped behind her right shoulder, and the hilt of a long sword protruded over her left. A long knife was sheathed at her right hip, with shorter throwing blades slipped between the ties around her calves. A pair of tightly braided hide ropes coiled around her arms, attached at the shoulders to her baldric, and threaded through rings attached to the studded cuffs at her wrists. In her right hand she carried a long fighting staff that could be stowed out of the way beside her sword if necessary.
So armed, Edana began her morning weapon's practice. Despite the recent upheaval, she would not neglect her usual schedule of workouts, but perhaps she could perform an abbreviated pattern, as a concession to the extenuating circumstances.
Taking a long, slow breath, Edana walked fifteen paces into the mists, throwing a small knife blade-down into the ground every five steps to mark her path, in case she should get lost in this featureless, directionless, silver void. She laid aside her bow and quiver, faced away from the camp, and knelt on one knee. Tilting forward and exhaling slowly, she closed her eyes and reached with her right arm for the long sword on her back. Hooking its hilt with her fingertips, she flipped it out of its sheath and helped it on its way with a soft touch against the flat of the blade as it rose, so that it spun twice and struck the featureless grey earth point first several paces ahead. While the sword was still in the air, Edana flung the long dagger with her left hand into the ground the same distance to her right. Before either weapon had planted itself, she was standing, spinning the staff above her head and in intricate patterns around her body.
As she did this, Edana slowly pivoted, facing back towards the camp, with the sword directly behind her and the knife to her left. Spinning the staff high into the air, she snapped her left arm out so that the braided cords wound around it loosened, and spiralled out into the mists. She twisted her arm and arched backwards directing the cord over her shoulder, while shrugging the cord on her right arm loose and directing it left. The tips of both ropes connected with the hilts of the two weapons in the same instant, coiling around the hilts and snapping back to yank the knife and sword out of the ground, and send them flying back towards Edana. She straightened as the tense cords re-coiled around her arms and caught the falling staff with her right hand, spinning it in and out of the cords as they resumed their former positions.
Leaning to her right as the weapons passed overhead, Edana caught the knife in her left hand, sliding it into its hilt at her right hip while simultaneously tapping the airborne sword with the staff to redirect its awesome velocity into an upward spiral. The staff she slammed into its pocket on her back, as she flipped backwards, releasing the cord on her left arm once again, which snapped up to coil around the hilt of the sword, now spinning down towards the ground, its perilous glint partially obscured by the mists. Edana tugged on the cord, which spun the sword towards her, as she caught herself in a handstand with her free arm. Seconds before the flashing blade would have bitten into her exposed wrist, she twisted her body up and over the revolving sword, flipping to land, the right way up, this time, facing away from it. The force of her midair revolution retracted the cord, which snapped the sword up and over her head, where she caught it and sheathed it in one fluid motion, as the cord re-coiled around her left arm.
Slow, sardonic applause rang out from the mists in the direction of camp. Edana frowned as Camlin's form emerged.
"Practicing for the traveling fair, I see." He nodded towards her ropes. "They suit you. After all, if a girl is going to make a spectacle out of herself, why not make it as spectacular as possible."
"You forget," Edana crossed her arms and stomped, bouncing the sword and staff from their sheaths on her back and catching them simultaneously in a slight crouch – one of several ready stances that she had perfected. "That I am also proficient in your more traditional weapons." She began to twirl the weapons in interweaving patterns.
"Save your strength." Camlin looked down his nose at her, though his eyes flickered as he tried not to track the flashing sword. "You'll need it today. No cause to go spilling that fine noble blood on something as unglamorous as guard duty. A princess has better things to do with her time. I can't imagine what your father is thinking."
"No, I don't imagine you can." Edana smiled, showing her teeth and slowing the weave of sword and staff as she dove into the argument. "Not your place, is it Camlin, to see with the eyes of the mighty. Your petty ambition lacks vision; I am more qualified to lead than you'll ever be. You'll see, when I lead the men into battle. I will lead them to victory – and you'll be waiting at home, saving your blood for less risky endeavours and cheering our return just like any other clansman."
Camlin flinched at the mention of his blood, his inferior blood.
"Big words for a little girl," Camlin mocked. "If you think daddy is doing anything but keeping you entertained and out of the way with your pretty toys and diversions, you're fooling only yourself. What you need is a good strong man who can show you your place. You've been given your own way far too long."
"And I suppose you think you're the one to tame me?" Edana's knuckles turned a furious white as she clenched her fists around sword and staff, both dropping to the ground, forgotten as she glared at Camlin. They'd competed since they were children, but Camlin had never been so forthright with his criticisms before – of her, or her father. He was going too far...
"Could be." Camlin eyed her, then paused, visibly struggling against himself. He took a step forward, and Edana noticed for the first time that he too was fully outfitted in the garb of a warrior of the Connarii, although he wore more and heavier garments, and carried an abbreviated arsenal of weapons, restricting himself to a massive sword strapped over the left shoulder, and knives of various weights, and shapes, tightly strapped to his legs and torso.
"It's time. To set. The guard." Camlin finally said. He turned away and walked back towards the camp, his shoulders tense. Edana checked to make sure all her weapons were secured before following, pausing to retrieve her knives as she retraced her steps. By the time she made her way back to Toryn and Aislynn, a sizeable crowd of young men had formed ranks, and was being divided into two units by Toryn. She stood silently, across from a smirking Camlin, as her father finished separating the young warriors into two divisions. He looked at her, then at Camlin, before turning to face the men.
"Each one of you has volunteered to be here today. I congratulate you on your devotion to your people, and thank you for your service. I have divided you into two forces. By day, each will cover the tribe as we march. At night you will take it in shifts to keep watch. As you know, Battlechief Corwin and your senior officers are no longer with us, so I have had to choose a new leader." At this a number of the men gave a friendly nod to Camlin and murmured some few words of encouragement or congratulations. Edana looked murderous. Toryn quickly continued.
"However, due to the dual nature of the force, I have chosen two captains, both of whom will report to me." Toryn said this last with some force, and the men looked at each other, and Camlin, in confusion, trying to decipher who the second captain might be. Edana straightened and looked hard at her father. She was fairly sure he wouldn't have changed his mind. Mostly.
"Both captains excel in the various arts of combat, and what they lack in experience, I am confident that they will make up in, (ahem), enthusiasm. Camlin Blyc will lead the rearguard, and take the second night shift.
"The first shift and the frontal guard will be led by Edana Ffarach. Your captains will assign you your positions." Toryn stepped back.
Then the laughter started.
YOU ARE READING
Flame of the Connarii: Book One of the Legends of the ConnariiFantasy
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