Derry had little enough time to puzzle
over Dacia's words. He had not reached the hall before Lord Michael
after all, and the older man had immediately begun assigning duties to
each of his sons and to Derry and Colin Grant as well. Now they were
working in the armory yard, pairs of men and boys practicing the arts
of war. Derry was better satisfied with Geoffrey's work today. He
suspected their talk the previous evening had as much to do with the
improvement as the session that morning in the orchard, although
Geoffrey had accepted the instruction willingly, and they had made a
good beginning, Derry thought. He nodded now in approval as Geoffrey
partnered another youngster and practiced an overhand thrust movement.
"That's better, yes," he
said, "but you need to put more of your shoulder into the shield
movement for defense.
Lucas!" he called to the younger
McKelvey son. "Come help me show the lads here how to use the
shield to better advantage."
Lucas grinned at the boys as he
strolled over. "Watch Lord Derry now, lads. He's very good at
And normally that was true. Derry was a
good swordsman, having assimilated techniques from a variety of
teachers over the years. However, both Derry and Lucas had forgotten
his shoulder wound, which couldn't take the quick upward jerk of the
shield arm required to deflect the thrust. Sutures ripped loose, fresh
blood spurted, and Derry let out a yelp and dropped the shield. He
grimaced in pain and cradled the left arm against his chest.
"God, Sean, I'm sorry!" Lucas
cried, drooping his own arms and going to his friend's aid. "Get
those arms up, boys," he directed. "I'll see him to Lady
Dacia to tend his shoulder."
Dacia was in the stillroom that fronted
the herb garden. The long, low-ceilinged room was redolent with the
scents of the various herbs that hung in bundles along the exposed
beams. She was stirring something over a small fire, but she took in
the situation in a glance and set the pot off the fire.
"What happened?" she demanded
"We were showing the boys how to
use their shields-"
"Ach! Men! Get that shirt off him,
Lucas, and leave him to me. Sit him there by the table."
Lucas complied and then made a hasty
exit when she told him to. She was still scolding as she began to wash
the torn skin with some reddish liquid that burned like new fire.
Derry clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut against the new
"Honestly, Sean! What were you
thinking of? Do you think you're made of steel to heal up in just a
day or two?"
"I didn't do it on purpose,"
he muttered. "I was just showing them how to-"
"Never mind," she sighed,
turning away to her worktable to fetch a needle and sutures. "I
know well enough what you were about. Yes, Father?"
"Lucas said ye'd ripped out yer
stitches, Sean. Is he all right, daughter?"
"He will be, if he'll not try to
act whole and fit until he is the next time. I'll sew it up again.
Give him something else to do until he's mended all the way, Father.
Here, Sean. Drink this." She thrust a cup at him which he did not
"What is it?" he asked
"Oh, no," he shook his head
in protest. "Not that again."
Lord Michael chuckled sympathetically.
"Not sae much this time. But it's better than feelin' the needle,
Derry shook his head. "You weren't
inside my head the last time. I'll try something else today, thanks.
Just give me a few minutes to center down."
Derry closed his eyes, so he did not
see the surprised look that passed between father and daughter as he
took a deep breath and let it out slowly through his mouth. As he
continued to breath and exhale, a faint shimmer of not-quite-light
seemed to grow around him. Lord Michael and Dacia watched in mutual
wonder, exchanging another glance. It grew stronger as seconds passed,
until a soft haze of blue seemed to envelop Derry completely. He
opened slightly unfocused eyes and spoke softly.
"All right, Dacia. Do it now.
Don't be alarmed if I seem to nod off. Just give me a shake when
you're done. M'lord, don't let me fall off the stool ." He seemed
totally unaware of the light that shimmered softly around him.
"Nay, I willnae let ye fall,
lad," Lord Michael said, moving to support Derry from the side
opposite his wound. Dacia exchanged another long look with her father
before she began suturing, which was quickly accomplished in silence.
"Wake him up now, Father,"
she said when she had dressed and bandaged the shoulder again.
"And don't even think of taking him away to question about what
just happened. I want to know too!"
Lord Michael nodded and gave Derry a
gentle shake. "Wake up now, boyo. Open yer eyes."
Derry sat up straighter and blinked a
couple of times. His eyes were clear now, and all traces of the blue
aura had faded. He gave them one of his lopsided grins. "Done?
And no hangover." He started to rise, but Lord Michael laid a
hand on his unwounded shoulder.
"Not just yet, lad. We'd like a
few answers first."
"Answers, m'lord? To what?"
"Tell us what ye just did, lad.
How ye blocked out the pain."
Derry looked a little surprised, but
"Oh, well, it's part of what I
told you about, Dacia. The forms of Tan Che that I learned teach one
balance, both mental and physical. The movements relax and strengthen
the body and focus the mind inward. Let me see if I can remember what
he said about focusing the mind, blocking out all external
thoughts-" he paused for a moment thinking back to San Te's calm,
measured lecture. . .
"You are calm and centered; that is
good. You will learn that you are capable of many things now that you
are on your path. There are many different paths. Which one you choose
is up to you, but no two paths are the same. I am here only to guide
you in the beginning. The final choices are all up to you.
"You are calm and centered;
that is good. You will learn that you are capable of many things now
that you are on your path. There are many different paths. Which one
you choose is up to you, but no two paths are the same. I am here
only to guide you in the beginning. The final choices are all up to
"Now you are ready to learn
about your asyl. Each person has it, but the ability to house the
spirit within the asyl is a goal that every student of the Way
wishes to achieve. While one is within the asyl, all external
interference is nullified. You feel nothing except the peace that is
gained within the asyl. You must be careful, however. While you are
inside the asyl, your body is vulnerable. Your friend the Duke uses
ward cubes to cast a circle of protection when he goes out of his
body or while he is working on something. They are to protect his
physical body while his spirit is consumed with other things or is
turned outwards. You do not have such luxury, so practicing must be
done only in a safe place. Learning to retreat into your asyl will
help you block out pain, hunger, sickness, as well as most strong
emotions. These external things will still be there when you return,
unless you use it as the ancient warrior monks did when they were
injured. They would retreat into the asyl, waiting for their brother
monks to heal them . . ."
"And so, that's what I did,"
Derry shrugged, having summarized what his teacher had told him about
the inner retreat of the mind to a safe place. "I've used it
before, but I was so tired the other day I just forgot. Anyway, it
"Then you learned it from the
gardener? This San Te you were telling me about?" Dacia asked,
"Aye-What is it, m'lord?"
Derry had seen Lord Michael react to the name with a start of
"Ye did say San Te? A wiry little
man with pale blue eyes?"
"Aye m'lord. Why?"
The older man shook his head.
"I'd have thought him dead these
thirty years or more, that's all. I cannae have been much above
Geoffrey's age when I saw him last."
His eyes were unfocused for a minute as
if he were looking into the distant past. The he smiled down at Derry.
"That explains a great deal, Sean.
A verra great deal indeed."
"Not to me, Father," Dacia
said pointedly. "Just who is this San Te? Sean said he was more
than a gardener, though he doesn't know exactly what else he
Lord Michael looked at each of them for
a long moment before he spoke.
"San Te is just one name he's had,
Dacia. I know that one and another as well. I met him when I was just
a boy and was privileged to be a student for a time, but only in the
most rudimentary of Eastern forms. He hardly ever takes on a single
student, except in special cases. Those he takes on as single students
learn more than those in general classes of large numbers, like mine.
There were several of us when I studied with him. The ones he takes on
for special study, as he did with ye, Sean, are the ones he seeks out
especially. The other name I knew him by is Lao Tsu, 'the one who
seeks.' His life is dedicated to his search, but what he's searchin'
for, I dinnae know."
He gave Derry an unreadable look for a
"I never knew anyone he sought out
that he didn't find again when he wanted to, so I expect ye haven't
seen the last of him, Sean."
He again got that far-away look on his
face before he went on. "I wonder what it is he'll teach ye the
next time ye meet."