Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Derry's Wedding



Chapter  16

The Poor Knight Surprised

For the next several days, Derry was up to his ears in his studies, his teaching, and his duties as garrison commander for Caer Dinan, with the latter being more hectic than he had anticipated. The other patrol leaders had to have their new orders delivered, and that meant determining where they were according to the old orders, then sending their revised orders and whatever additional foodstuffs they would need if they were to stay in the field for additional days. Then there was regular drill with the men of his patrol during the time he was not teaching Geoffrey or working with San Te himself. His abstemious diet wasn't very much help, either. San Te assured him he would become used to it in time, but it still felt awfully sparse, and he had been right; the herbal tea he had to drink tasted like medicine even if it was rather fragrant. On top of that, he had barely seen Dacia at all. For some unfathomable reason, there had been a rash of births in the past few days, and Dacia and her cousin Lady Amalie MacRae had been working almost around the clock in either the castle or the town.

On the fifth day of his rigorous training, the routine was the same as the other days. He met SanTe and Geoffrey in the orchard at dawn, and as teacher he worked with Geoff for perhaps an hour, until San Te called a halt. But instead of beginning his own teaching, San Te told Derry to go have his breakfast as well.

"When you have eaten your meal, Sing Hi, come to the armory yard. Your other student will meet us there this morning."

"My other student?"

"Of course, Sing Hi. Did not the Lady Dacia tell you she was to learn the Way as well?"

Derry felt his face flush. "Well yes, she did, but–Master, you can't mean I'm to teach her! I mean, I understand the need to pass on the knowledge, and Geoff is my squire, so I'm supposed to be teaching him anyway, but--" His protest trailed off as he saw the implacable look on San Te's calm face. "I don't think I can do this, Master."

"The task is yours, Sing Hi. We will meet you in the armory yard." San Te left Derry standing in the orchard feeling totally at a loss for words.

When he arrived at the armory yard less than an hour later, Dacia was there talking quietly to San Te. Derry was relieved to see that her training clothes were not as immodest as he had imagined. She wore a loose tunic that fell well below her hips and some of the baggy eastern trousers he had seen both Duchess Richenda and Lady Rothana wear from time to time. They were cuffed at the ankles, and she was barefoot, he noticed. Her honey-gold hair was pulled back into a single thick braid that hung almost to her waist. Her face was serious, almost solemn, as she spoke with the Master, and it remained so as she turned and bowed deeply to him.

"Teacher, will you show me the Way?"

The ritual of teacher and student was familiar and safe. Derry waited until she finished her bow, then asked, "Will you listen to the Way?"

She responded by bowing once more. "Yes, I will listen; please teach me."

Derry smiled inwardly, liking this ritual better than when he had done it with Geoffrey. "I am Sing Hi. What little I know, I will pass to you. You, are Shan Ji, or junior student. If you will listen, I will teach." He also bowed, teacher to student, and was pleased to see her return the bow correctly.

"Standing where you are, spread your feet until they are farther out than your shoulders, and bend your knees at right angles. Fists gathered at your hips, chin up, back straight," Derry instructed as he walked around from in front to Dacia's left side. "This is called horse stance. You will notice that your legs may start to burn a little, the muscles not being used to this position." Dacia smiled slightly, looking at Derry. He nodded for her to speak.

"I am a lot more limber than you think, Sing Hi; please teach me more." A snort from San Te seemed to echo her words.

Derry smiled at her. "Right then, let's begin learning some of the basic stances and blocks, and then we will move on to the kicks and punches. These first few blocks will be done from this stance, so we shall see how limber you are."

Derry's doubt about Dacia's flexibility and quickness faded as his chagrin grew. From basic blocks, which she mastered perfectly the first time, he moved into punches, which also gave her no difficulty. The kicks were the crowning touch. She had told him she was a good dancer, and she was. The final move he showed her was a flying kick called the Crane Step, and she seemed light as a bird as she launched herself effortlessly into the air and kicked out with her right foot, then landed perfectly back into a crouch. It had taken Derry days to land that well when he had first learned the move, and he was still feeling fairly stunned when San Te's voice brought him to face the Master.

"It is enough, Sing Hi. Your student has done well for this lesson. Dismiss her, and we will continue in a few minutes with the weapons."

San Te was too much in possession of himself to laugh at Derry's discomfort, but there was amusement in the glint of his eyes. Sighing at the unfairness of it all, Derry turned back to Dacia, and they went through the ritual bows to one another, to the East, to the Master. That done, she gave him a grin and moved off to the bench where she had left her shoes.

Derry was glad to accept a towel and a tankard from David McIvers, acting as general squire in the armory and trying, not very successfully, to hide a smile at Derry's expense.

"I suppose you all knew she was this good, didn't you?" Derry asked sourly.

"Well, m'lord, we'd all seen her trainin' with Sir Gregory and Sir Lucas before you arrived, o' course."

"Aye. Well, go on; take the lady something to drink. Such as it is."

"Good clean water, m'lord," David remarked innocently as he moved off.

A shout from the gates alerted Derry, and he draped his towel about his neck and headed that way. "What is it, Norton?" he asked his sergeant when he arrived.

"Sir Gregory's banner, m'lord."

"He's early, then. I didn't expect him until late afternoon."

"Visitors, too."


"Shouldn't think so, m'lord. Bishop o' Dhassa's device on the shields they're carryin'."

"Bishop Arilan, here? Good God, why?"

"Don't think it's himself, m'lord. Just some o' the episcopal troops. Appears to be a lady they're escortin'."

Derry raised his eyebrows at that. "That's odder still. Let's see what's up."

What appeared to be up was Gregory's patience, from the look of things. He was tight-lipped as he swung down from his horse and nodded to Derry. "Don't even ask," he said shortly. "I'll see to my men, Sean, and leave you to deal with her Ladyship. Lady Vivienne de Jordanet, Lord Derry is serving as garrison commander in the absence of my father; he will see that your men are accommodated. If you will excuse me." He executed the briefest of bows and turned away quickly. Derry wondered what the imperious looking old lady had done to so irritate Gregory. His friend was one of the most temperate men Derry had ever known; to see him so annoyed by a lady roused Derry's curiosity indeed.

Elderly as she apparently was, judging from the wrinkles on her face and the whiteness of her hair beneath the riding veil, she did not falter as a vaguely familiar looking young knight helped her from her saddle. Her piercing blue eyes swept Derry with disdain. "Well, so this is where they sent you after you scandalized the entire court with your uncouth remarks about most of the ladies of your acquaintance. When is Lord Michael expected back, young man? His son affected not to know but said the garrison commander should."

"My lady," Derry bowed. "The Earl of Drumaere is expected back in two days' time, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am sure he would wish me to offer you the comfort of his castle in the meantime."

"Yes, yes. Formalities. Where is Lady Gwyneth? More to the point, where is Lady Dacia? I would speak with her at once."

Derry was surprised both by the tone and the request, but he mentally shrugged off the idiosyncrasies of the old lady and turned to see if Dacia had yet left the armory yard. She had not, and he indicated her presence there with a wave of his hand. "Lady Dacia is happily still in the armory yard, my lady. Please, allow me to escort you." He offered his arm, which she took after a long moment of contemplation, during which he felt like a bug being eyed by a large, unpleasant bird. Suppressing the thought, he led the lady through the gate in the low wall that separated the armory yard from the main courtyard. Dacia stood beside the bench where David had brought her a towel and a tankard of water, and Derry spoke as they reached her.

"My lady," he murmured, "you have a visitor."

Dacia curtseyed to the older woman, which looked somewhat ridiculous in the tunic and baggy pants she wore. She did not, Derry noted, look particularly pleased to see the elderly woman. "Lady Vivienne."

Derry had to bite his lip hard as he caught the expression on Lady Vivienne's face when she took in Dacia's attire. He had been rather apprehensive himself, he admitted privately, but seeing Lady Vivienne's outrage put his own reaction into perspective for him, and he had to fight the laughter that wanted to burst out. Lady Vivienne seemed particularly shocked that the younger woman's head was not covered. Dacia's hair was as fine as silk, and some of it had worked loose from the braid during their training and curled down one cheek.

"Lady Dacia! Whatever is the meaning of this–this–hoydenish display?" The disapproval in the other lady's voice could not be disguised, nor did she try to do so.

"I was training, my lady," Dacia said mildly, her voice cool, "as I often do with my brothers and the other men here at Caer Dinan. My father taught me to use a sword. Surely you knew that."

"A sword! Does Drumaere not have men enough to defend its borders, then, that the women also carry swords? Well, never mind; it won't long concern you. Go and change clothes, girl, before your bridegroom decides he doesn't want a woman in pants."

Dacia drew in a sharp breath and glanced quickly in the direction the old woman indicated. Derry followed her gaze and saw the young knight he had not as yet placed, though he knew he had seen him at court. "Bridegroom?" Dacia asked.

"Of course. You didn't think we had forgotten, did you? Sir Sextus Arilan, nephew of the Bishop of Dhassa."

Derry gave Dacia a look that asked a hundred questions, and she failed to answer any of them. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Though they had seen little of one another in the days since he had begun his intensive training, he had felt that he and Dacia were finally overcoming that distance he had sensed earlier in the summer, when she had refused to let him kiss her again. He had thought. . .

"Come, Lady Vivienne; you are quite right," Dacia said decisively. "I am done training for the day, and I have work to do in the still room. I will take you to your own room, and Sir Sextus as well. Lord Derry, will you see to the escort, please?"

"Of course, my lady," he made a short, sharp bow, barely courteous. "I'm sure you long to speak with your bridegroom." He knew his tone was bitter; he felt betrayed in every sense of the word. Turning on his heel, he left them to make their own way into the castle while he stalked toward the barracks to arrange housing for the episcopal troops.

Derry returned to the armory yard after putting Norton in charge of the episcopal troops. He had been forced to; his anger had made him all but incapable of speech, let alone civility. He stormed into the yard and found San Te waiting for him, now with a bag at his feet.

"Calm yourself now, Sing Hi. Nothing is accomplished with frustration and anger. It has no place here; therefore let it go. For now at least."

Derry took several deep breaths, realizing that his teacher was right. "I will practice my techniques while I practice patience," he thought to himself. Closing his eyes, he stepped through Shi Na Ro, regaining most of the balance lost in his encounter with Lady Vivienne. Finishing the form by bowing to the East, Derry opened his eyes to see that San Te had moved. The Master stood right in front of him, looking at him curiously.

"I think it is time to test your balance and teach you how to focus and use an object as an extension of yourself," the Master said, reaching into a bag at his feet. Pulling out two large, round, orange objects, he looked back up at Derry.

"Do not miss, Sing Hi. Hoi!" he exclaimed in a commanding voice, as he launched the two objects at Derry, one at knee height, the other at his chest.

Through working on the techniques San Te had taught him, Derry's senses had been honed to instincts. He immediately dropped into a horse stance, feet spread wide, knees bent at right angles. Catching both spheres at the same time, he looked up at his teacher, waiting for the explanation of the lesson.

"Which hand caught the upper, and which the lower?" San Te inquired.

Derry stepped out of the stance. "I caught the upper one with my left hand, the lower with my right. What does this mean, Master?"

"There are strong sides and weak sides. You will notice that most of your knights are trained to fight with a sword in the right hand and a shield in the left. Strong side is the right, weak is the left. Most people are not as coordinated with the left; hence, a simple block will suffice. What I will teach you is to forget about sides and use each hand for either offense or defense." San Te reached into the bag once more, taking out two staves.

"In order to learn balance, you will learn to fight with jo sticks. Instead of using left to defend and right to attack, you will learn to use both hands for both purposes. I will leave you to learn the weight and balance of them. I would advise going slowly to avoid unnecessary bruising." Smiling slightly as he said this, he handed the sticks to Derry and walked away.

The staves were made of solid wood and were about two fingers in diameter and three feet long. They were heavier than he had expected, and Derry swung them awkwardly at first; after a few minutes though, he sensed a rhythm to his movements. Trying attacks at the same time in different directions and other basic patterns resulted in Derry eventually moving quite well with both staves, as if they had become a part of him. He thought idly that they lent themselves very well to some of the beginning moves of Shi Na Ro. His eyebrows shot up. Standing facing the East, he saluted first with one stick, then the other. Moving into the first few positions of the first form was a bit awkward at first, but he began picking up the rhythm of using the staves. As he moved slowly through the form, he heard San Te's voice in his mind, repeating the names of each of the positions, with slightly different names. "Striking Paw becomes Striking Claw, Eagle in Flight becomes Eagle Stoops to Kill," ran the moves through Derry's head. He finished, saluting the East, and turned to find San Te smiling at him.

"You learn well and quickly. Shi Na Ro becomes Tekki Shi Ro. For every form that you learn unarmed, there is a corresponding armed form to go with it. What we will concentrate on is finding the form and the weapon that suits you best, then continue from there." San Te bowed deeply to Derry, who flushed at the unexpected honor. "Sing Hi, we will go far, you and I." He smiled and walked away, leaving Derry standing in the yard, somewhat stunned but smiling to himself. At least one thing had gone well in a day which, otherwise, had been full of unpleasant surprises.



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