Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
          Hall of Seasons  







Derry's Wedding



Chapter  9

Who Teaches Leads the Way

Entering the main hall, Derry accepted the tankard of ale Keevan brought him and then slumped down in his chair. He was bone-weary, for it had been an exhausting day. Gregory was already eating, so he merely nodded to his friend and glanced around the hall. Neither Lord Michael nor Lady Gwyneth was present, but there were already empty trenchers at their usual seats, so he assumed both had already eaten and left. They did not usually stay unless it was a more formal supper like last night's. Lucas and his wife had apparently left as well, for their places looked used but empty There was Colin Grant, who had arrived mid-morning with a some twenty men and boys, sitting with Lady Kathleen.

Derry looked around again for Dacia and sighed, for she was nowhere in sight. It figured; the one time they might safely meet and talk out from under her father's stern eye, and she wasn't even there. He drained his tankard and looked around for Geoffrey to get him a refill; that was when he realized the boy was not in the hall either. He signaled to Keevan, who seemed to be serving that night and got a second tankard.

"Where's Geoffrey?" Derry asked him.

"I dunno, my lord. I haven't seen him since morning," Keevan replied.

"Well, if you do, send him along. We have work to finish."

"Of course, Lord Derry."

One of the other boys arrived with a trencher of food for him, so Derry turned his attention to that, concentrating only on the taste of the roast pork spiced with cloves and something else vaguely familiar. Finished with his meal, he slumped back in his chair again. Gregory gave him a glance now before speaking.

"You look done in, Sean."

"Um. I feel it too. I've never worked this hard at soldiering in the past twenty years. I thought we had it rough as boys, but this is worse than that."

"Well, we never had to get ready for a real war then. The worst lot we ever dealt with were those bandits we fought that one time. There's no comparison."

"That's so. You haven't seen Geoffrey, have you?"

"Not since morning. Didn't I see you with him after sword drill, running through some basic moves?"

"Aye. He's at that awkward stage, not quite child, not yet man. I was trying to work off some of the rough edges."

"Well, he's around somewhere. Want me to send Drew after him?"

Gregory indicated the red-haired boy sitting at one side table with some of the other boys. Drew was Lady Meagan's nephew, and he served as Gregory's personal squire.

"No, don't bother him. I'll go find him myself. If he shows up, tell him I'm looking for him."

"More duties?"

"What else? Your father caught me this afternoon looking bored, I guess."

"He's good at that."

"I noticed. Well, I'm away."

He rose and left the hall, wondering at Geoff's absence. He had been almost underfoot earlier in the day. In fact, Derry had literally had to move the boy out of his way at one point so he could demonstrate a move he was trying to teach in the armory yard. The lad did have a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Derry had ordered him back out of the way three different times during the horse patrol drill on the training field outside the town walls. Part of it was just overzealousness; he was a good rider, and he was eager to show off his one skill. But drill was no time to do it, and Derry had told him so quite emphatically. He first went to the stables, thinking the boy might be tending to their tack, but he wasn't there. Nor was he in the armory checking on weapons. At that point Derry began to get irritated. Where was the boy? Another look into the hall proved fruitless as well, so Derry went to see if Geoffrey might be in his quarters, waiting for him. No luck.

Really annoyed now, he decided to check the student dormitory where the boys in training slept. The dormitory was above the main barracks, a series of small rooms all facing the courtyard. Derry knew which was Geoffrey's, for Gregory had told him Geoffrey had Colin's old room at the far end of the passage. When he reached the dormitory level, he paused first by his own old room and touched a rough carving depicting his own device: Gules, a naked arm in fess couped at the shoulder proper, holding a cross betonny in bend sinister, Or.

He smiled as he remembered the careful carving and painting of a twelve-year-old following the tradition of adding his own arms to the others already carved there. The most recent looking one was the McIvers' couped boar's head, so his old room must now be David's. He went on down the passage to the next to last room and raised his fist to knock before he heard the muffled sobs from the other side.

What on earth? he wondered, and opened the door without knocking. As he had expected when he heard the crying, Geoffrey was huddled on the bed, shoulders shaking. From the look of his swollen eyes and tear-streaked face, he'd been there a long time. Even from across the small room, Derry could feel the adolescent anguish almost like a physical ache. He closed the door softly. Geoffrey had not even heard him enter, so he jerked in alarm when Derry sat down on the side of the narrow bed. He scrambled awkwardly to a sitting position and scrubbed at his tear-stained face with a sleeve.

Brokenly, he managed, "My lord, I-I-I'm s-sorry, sir. I'm so sorry."

He could hardly speak, he was so hoarse from crying.

"Geoff, whatever is the matter? Derry asked gently. "What is it, lad?"

"I didn't mean to do it. Truly I didn't."

"Do what, Geoff?"

The boy sniffed back another sob. "G-get in the way so. I-I just-I can ride, if nothing else. I-I just didn't think "

"Well, of course you didn't mean to. I'm sorry I snapped at you, Geoff. I just didn't want you to get in the way and get hurt. Drill isn't the time to show off your skill. Everyone has to work together in drill."

"Are-are you not angry with me, then?" He sounded as if he could not believe that.

"Of course I'm not angry with you, Geoff. Is that what you thought?"

The boy's miserable nod and whispered "aye" sent a pang through Derry. He had been short with the boy, but he'd never imagined it would hurt him that much. He reached out and lifted the boy's chin to make him look up.

"And you've been up here all this time, expecting some sort of punishment?"

He wasn't sure how he knew that, but he was as certain as if the boy had shouted it. Another nod.

"Have-have you come to thrash me, my lord?"

Derry sighed and shook his head.

"No, I have not come to thrash you, Geoff. I don't do a lot of thrashing of boys. I had far too many myself to believe in their efficacy."

"From-from my uncle?"

"No, from mine, when I was at Castle Derry when I wasn't here. My uncle is a lot like your father. Belt first, lecture later. Isn't that the way it's been for you?"

"Aye. A lot of both," the boy sniffed.

"I should have thought, and I didn't . I had a few from your father, too, for he was here two summers when I was a boy as well. I like to think I'm more like my own father and Lord Michael. Both of them used the belt as a last resort only. Now come on, you've had no supper. Wash your face and go down to the kitchen and see if you can't get something to eat. I want you up early tomorrow."

"I didn't mean to be late today--"

"You weren't. I told you I get up early. I want you to get up tomorrow in time to meet me in the garden before sunrise."

Geoffrey blinked in surprise. "In the garden before sunrise?"

"Aye," Derry smiled. "A new phase of your training. Now go on, wash up, get some supper, and then go to bed."

"Should I not come to your quarters, my lord? To tend to your needs?"

"Actually, Geoff, I'm fairly self-sufficient. And Morris has seen to my clothes and all. I'll see you in the morning. Early."

He stood and smiled down at the boy.

"Good night, lad. Don't forget to ask the duty guard to wake you so you won't be late."

"I won't, m'lord."

The boy's smile and his slurred honorific, in clear echo of his own pronunciation, told Derry that he was going to have to be careful or he'd have Geoff worshiping him. He was smiling too, however, as he left the dormitory and headed for his own quarters.

Geoffrey was already waiting for him in the garden the next morning, and he jumped up from the bench as Derry reached him.

"M'lord, should I have come to help you get dressed?" he asked, seeing Derry carrying his tunic and belt.

Derry shook his head. "No. Come on, let's go to the orchard instead of staying here. There's not really enough room for both of us to move around here."

Geoffrey looked even more puzzled but dutifully followed his lord to the walled orchard, though he was still unsure what was coming. He was a little startled when Derry turned to him and said, "Now, Geoff, take off your belt and tunic and shoes."

"Off, m'lord?"

Derry chuckled at the disbelief in Geoffrey's voice.

"Even so. See how I'm dressed. You need plenty of freedom to move around. I'm going to teach you something new. Some exercises of the body and mind, good for the spirit as well as the muscles."

Geoffrey complied and came to stand where Derry bid him to.

"Now just watch and listen for a few minutes, Geoff. And then do what I tell you to."

Derry assumed his position in the middle of a small grove of fruit trees, facing the rising sun. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths before beginning, then spoke calmly, confidently.

"This is called the Lotus form or Training form," he said as he began the slow movements, raising hands, turning torso, extending legs. "It's only part of something a wise man called San Te taught me, and I'd like to teach you what I know. It will help you attain the balance, both mental and physical, that you are lacking."

He could not have heard the tiny gasp Geoffrey quickly stifled, but he smiled to forestall the implied insult.

"I don't mean you personally, Geoff. All boys your age and a lot older than you suffer from the same lack of balance. You've grown rapidly for the past couple of years. In a year you'll be counted a man under law, but you aren't yet comfortable with your body and the whole idea of manhood. This is what the Way will help you achieve."

As he spoke, he continued the slow movements of the form, explaining the names of each of the positions by describing them as well as showing them.

"If you notice, the names of the moves do describe what you are doing in a way. For example," he said as the raised his arms and rose up on his toes, "Cobra Strikes Its Prey." He dropped onto his knees and snatched at imaginary prey with his hands as he rolled to his side and came up into the next move. He was poised, balanced on spread feet. "Now this is called the Cat Dance, and the stance, combined with two blocks, becomes Tiger Retreats from the Dragon."

He danced backward, blocking open-handed with both hands in front of him. He dropped his hands to his sides and turned to face Geoffrey. The boy was staring open-mouthed at Derry, which elicited his lord's lopsided grin.

"Close your mouth, lad,' he laughed as he walked toward the boy. "Now, stand here in front of me and first let yourself relax."

He took the boy through the deep-breathing exercises he had learned to settle his nerves and relax his body, then patiently showed him the beginner stances and one or two of the first combinations. After what he felt was a good beginning, he sent the boy off to get his breakfast, while he lingered a few minutes in the quiet orchard to listen to the birds singing and to organize his thoughts for what he had to do that day.

As he reentered the garden proper, Derry was pulling on his own tunic, whistling a little tune, one he'd heard Dacia playing on her guitar sometime, when she came out the side door that opened from the passage beyond the newel stair.

"Good morning," he smiled. "Or is it? You look tired. Shall I take that bag for you?"

"Oh, I'm not going far. Just to the stillroom there by the herb garden, to put these things away."

"Is someone sick? Is that why you weren't in the hall last night?"

He fell in step beside her.

"No, just delivering a baby down in Cooper's lane. Her first, and a long labor, but all's well."

"Oh, well, that's good. I looked for you."

"Oh? Why was that?"

"We've hardly had a moment alone since that night in the way hut, you know."

They entered the long, low-ceilinged stillroom, its walls lined with cabinets, shelves, and worktables. He leaned against one of these as she emptied her bag into various cabinets and shelves.

"Is it that you've something private to say to me, Sean?" she asked him as she finished and leaned against another of the tables, opposite him.

"I'd hoped we might at least have time to get that kiss we missed yesterday," he grinned.

She gave him an unreadable look. "Oh, is that it? You want to have a kiss or two and be on your merry way?"

"I expect your father will be yelling for me in a little bit."

"Aye, you're right, he will. Best go on before he comes looking and finds us in here alone."

"How about that kiss first?"

"Um. I expect it'll have to wait, Sean, until we talk about a few other things."

"Like what?"

She gave him another of those unreadable looks and sighed. "If you can't figure that out, Sean, it may be a good long while before you get that kiss."

And while he was still trying to make sense of her words, she moved past him and was gone.



~ Previous ~                               ~ Next ~

~ Story Index ~




          Camber Era Stories           Kelson Era Stories        Modern Era Stories


                                                                                               Return to the Keeill - Hall of Seasons