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
"Where's Geoffrey?" Derry asked him.
"I dunno, my lord. I haven't seen him since morning,"
"Well, if you do, send him along. We have work to
"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
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."
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
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
"Close your mouth, lad,' he laughed as he walked toward the
boy. "Now, stand here in front of me and first let yourself
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
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
"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."
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.