Chapter 2 - Part 4 of Sword of a Saint by Katy Colby
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Sword of a Saint



Chapter 2 - Part 4


After he mastered the rings Michael was taken to the training yard and made to follow his normal weapons exercises while drugged, then a gauntlet of grown men with wooden swords that he must run through with only a small shield to defend himself. He was forced to use his powers with a full dose of merasha in his system.

Nearly two years later his final test came. All present came to watch as Michael was led to the training yard, stripped but for a loincloth and leather vambraces. The Grand Master prepared the cup himself, wine laced with nearly three times the usual dose of merasha.

Michael swallowed the stuff and fought not to grimace at its taste. Sweat broke out despite the chill desert evening. He closed his eyes for a moment and pictured a shield in his mind surrounding the spreading effects of the merasha, confining it, controlling it. Then he stepped into the circle and picked up a sword and buckler.

Six slaves waited for him, all armed. From the glow he saw about three of them, he knew he must fight not only with steel but with magic also. If the slaves managed to kill him, they would be freed.

Four of the assassins outside the ring raised their arms. A moment and a quick incantation later the training ring was surrounded by a circle of flames that marked the barrier and protected the onlookers from wild shots and spells. Now the fight was on!

Michael attacked first, dropping to his knee to slash the nearest slave's hamstring while focusing on a slave across the ring. That man's heart beat wildly, so tense and eager for the end was he. Michael reached out his hand, envisioned the heart in his fist where the hilt of his sword now rested, and squeezed.

The man fell, clutching his chest. At the same moment a blast of force hit Michael, knocking him backwards. His sword flew from his hand and skidded beneath the fence and through the ring of flame. Two of the Deryni slaves threw themselves on him. One slashed at his side, opening a wicked wound beneath his ribs. Michael rolled away and lashed out with a fireball at the other before he could strike. The slave deflected the fireball. It struck the remaining human, bursting into flame all around him. His screams echoed in the magical circle as he fell, writhing.

Michael fought to keep his shields firm despite the persistent disruption of the merasha. He smashed the edge of his buckler into the chest of one opponent while seizing the other's sword arm. A quick twist and pressure applied to a nerve and the slave's sword was Michael's. He struck for the throat while lashing out with pure power. The slave he had disarmed blocked the magical attack but could not defend against both. Michael dropped the dead man, beheaded the remaining Deryni as he fought to recover his breath and finished the lamed slave who lay, moaning at the edge of the ring.

Michael dropped to his knees and retched violently, too tired to fully control the drug raging in his system. Onlookers stepped through the now cooled circle to congratulate him, slapping his back even as they helped him to stand. He was given a cup of water, then another. The rest of the evening was a blur in his memory.

The next day, his wound healed, his head still spinning, Michael stood before the Grand Master. Robed in black silk, a small turban binding his hair, he received a fine curved sword and the black silk sash that marked his place among the guild.

It was later, after the ceremony and after Michael had moved his few possessions from the apprentices' dormitory to a private chamber that marked his new station in the Guild, that Michael was called to the Grand Master's study. Grand Master Khuzaymah motioned him to a pile of velvet cushions and offered Michael a cup of Fianna wine and a tray of fine cheeses and figs.

"You have been with us two years, Michael Cameron," the Grand Master said as he settled himself on another pile of cushions and folded his legs on the bright rug that covered the floor. "And you have done very well indeed. I doubt more than three of our apprentices have completed their training so quickly. I called you here for a reason," he continued when Michael remained silent. "For I have worked you harder than any other apprentice under my training I have given you no respite, little praise and few rewards. I do not regret the necessity of driving you so hard. It was necessary."

Michael swallowed the cheese he was chewing and pressed his lips together against the words he wanted to shout. Better to wait in silence and discover why the Grand Master wanted him here. He knew this was not usual.

The Grand Master sipped a cup of wine and leaned against the cushions. "As you have probably noticed, we are receiving more young men from Gwynedd in the past year, youths much like yourself. Their desire is vengeance against those who have driven them from their homes. Not quite what you aspire to, but close enough if I am right?"

Michael stiffened for an instant before he forced himself to relax and show no emotion. How could the Grand Master know his dreams?

Khuzaymah gave him an indulgent smile. "Did you think I would not Read you while you slept? I had to know, you see, where you heart lay. You came to us late and I was not certain of your heart."

"And you trust me now?" Michael's heart pounded as he waited for the answer. Even now, the Grand Master could easily have him dispatched and none would question his disappearance.

Khuzaymah nodded. "Let us say I trust you enough to ask for the truth. Do you still wish to return to Gwynedd and kill the man that destroyed your family?"

Michael nodded. There was little point in hiding the truth.

"I thought as much. Still, I wonder if you would be good enough to help with some of your countrymen who have come under our care." Khuzaymah refilled Michael's goblet as he spoke. "You cannot, after all, return to Gwynedd immediately. Such a quest as yours will take time, money and maturity. Besides, one does not leave our Guild without permission and, at the moment, I do not give it."

"And if I agree to train my countrymen for you, when will you give your permission?"

The Grand Master's smile let Michael know Khuzaymah felt he had won the debate. "I will decide when you are ready, young Michael Cameron. When the situation in Gwynedd is such that your desire might serve our purposes. You see, we are being paid well to keep a close eye on what happens in Gwynedd, both among the common people and in the households of those in power. There are many with an interest in the fate of that crown. In the meantime, I've a task for you." The Grand Master pulled a scroll out from the mound of cushions he sat on and handed it to Michael. "It seems the ruler of Bremagne is having difficulty with one of his sons. He wants the oldest of his line removed so the second may succeed. Of course, such a delicate task cannot be accomplished in the open. Thus he asks for our assistance."

"And what is the price for killing a prince?"

The Grand Master handed Michael the scroll. Michael glanced at it and bit his lip to hide his surprise. The Bremagne court must be rich indeed to afford such a sum.

"You understand, it must look like an accident or a natural occurrence. No blades, no weapons, no marks of any kind to reveal our presence." The Grand Master took Michael's goblet of wine and set it aside. "You will leave before dawn. Blend into the court. You should be back within two weeks. Your recompense will await you."





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