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
"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
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
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
"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
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'
"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."
"Shouldn't think so, m'lord.
Bishop o' Dhassa's device on the shields they're carryin'."
"Bishop Arilan, here? Good God,
"Don't think it's himself,
m'lord. Just some o' the episcopal troops. Appears to be a lady
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
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
"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
"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
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?"
"Of course. You didn't think we
had forgotten, did you? Sir Sextus Arilan, nephew of the Bishop of
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
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
"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
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