After his sleepless night, Derry was
distinctly out of sorts when he reached the orchard just after first
light. His head ached, and he was irritated not to find Geoffrey
already waiting for him, despite the fact that it was still nearly
"You're late," he snapped at
his squire when the boy arrived perhaps five minutes later.
"Punctuality is a very important quality in a squire, Geoffrey.
Can you not remember me saying that?"
Geoff blinked in surprise at the curt
tone and critical words, but he wisely chose to say only, "I'm
sorry, m'lord. I'll try to do better in future."
Unable to find fault with either answer
or tone, Derry only nodded and turned sharply toward the East.
"Let's begin, then." Geoffrey moved beside him to assume the
It was not a good session. Derry found
fault with each movement and position. Geoffrey was close to tears
when San Te spoke from behind them. When he had arrived neither could
have said, but he rose from the bench as they both turned to face him.
"It is enough for today, Sing
Hi," the Master said quietly. "End your student's lesson so
that we may begin your own."
Derry didn't need to see the slight
frown on San Te's usually calm face to know he had been censured. He
bowed to the Master and brought the session to a close with the ritual
bow to the East. Geoffrey left gratefully after making his own
obeisance to San Te, and Derry stood with his head lowered in shame,
expecting a further reprimand from the Master for his over-harsh
treatment of the boy. He was almost afraid to meet San Te's eyes when
the small man came to stand before him.
"You are troubled, Sing Hi."
His voice was compassionate yet firm.
"Yes. Master, but that's no reason
to take it out on the boy."
"You see that. That is good. Now,
what is the next thing that you see?"
"That's the trouble, Master. The
next thing I see is the hopelessness of the situation. How do I
overcome my–my need for a woman's love that is not mine to
"Is it not? Are you certain of
"She is promised to another
"She is promised? Or a promise has
been made on her behalf?"
"It's the same thing."
"Is it indeed? Do you think this
is her own desire, then?"
"That doesn't matter, does it?
It's a question of honor."
"Where does honor lie, Sing Hi? Is
it honorable to assume you know a thing is true without asking those
most closely involved?"
"Well, no, but--"
"Would you condemn a man to die on
"Of course not. But I saw--"
"What did you see?"
"I saw them together, in the
garden, in the moonlight, talking--"
"I don't know. I–I couldn't hear
"Are you then so certain they
spoke of anything apart from mutual friends or the weather or the
defense of the passes?"
"Why would they talk of things
like that in the garden?"
San Te sighed softly. "Perhaps
they, too, did not care to be stared at in the hall and kept under the
eye of one whose presence is–shall we say–unsettling?"
Derry was surprised by the tone of
amusement. The Master went on, "I have known the lady a very long
time, Sing Hi. She is no more or less agreeable now than she has ever
Derry nodded slowly in acceptance of
that possibility. "Well, I–I suppose you're right. But I still
don't know what to do, Master. What should I say, and to whom? What
would you do?"
The small man smiled slightly.
"That is not the question, Sing Hi, for I am not involved in the
disturbance of emotions that has unbalanced you so. Each person must
find his or her own Way."
"But are you not my teacher? Will
you not guide me?"
"I can only teach you how to seek
the Way, my pupil. I cannot lead you through it."
"I don't understand."
"You must seek your answer in your
own heart, Sean. You must discover your own Way. I have told you
before that each person finds a separate Way. Only this can I tell
you: You must know your own desires, and you must seek to balance
those desires against necessities and possibilities in each situation.
When you find that balance, your Way will become clear, and you will
know what you must do to overcome each obstruction. There will always
be obstacles; the Way is never easy. You must overcome them in the
manner that seems best to you. But if you seek and find balance first
within yourself, then you will succeed." San Te waited a moment
to make sure Derry would think about it, then sent him to eat and
ponder the lesson.
When he arrived at the armory yard
after his scant meal, Derry was still thinking of San Te's admonition
to seek the balance of his desires against the necessity of honorable
behavior and the possibility that Dacia did not wish to marry Sextus
Arilan. He had not expected to find Dacia there waiting for him,
dressed in her training clothes.
"Teacher." Her bow and her
voice were respectful, student to teacher.
"Shan Ji," He also bowed,
then let his resolve to be civil slip. "Are you certain you wish
to learn today, in light of your bridegroom's arrival only
Her voice was polite, if cool. "I
wish to finish what I have begun, yes, if you will consent to teach
"Very well, then. We worked
yesterday on the basic blocks and kicks. We will begin today by
reviewing what you have learned, and if you are ready, we will begin
combining the blocks and kicks into combinations. If I feel you are
ready, we will finish by showing you a few sweep techniques."
Derry turned away from her and took a
step forward. He heard Dacia come to attention as they bowed together,
first to the East, then to San Te. He turned slowly pulling his arms
together behind his back. "Shan Ji! Ready stance, HOI!"
Dacia flowed crisply into her ready
stance, feet spread apart, hands at her sides. "Kyasah!" she
answered strongly, telling Derry she was ready to begin.
They began with the high and midlevel
blocks with both hands, and as they worked, he ventured, "Dacia,
why did you not tell me you were promised to Sextus Arilan?"
Caught off guard as she stepped back
and lifted her right hand to block Derry's overhand chop, Dacia
responded, "I am not precisely promised to him."
"Then why did she say you
"Lady Vivienne likes to provoke
Derry snorted his feelings about the
woman in question. He decided to teach Dacia how to do a basic leg
block/sweep maneuver combination. He explained the mechanics of
blocking the kick to the groin with the knee brought up to take the
force of the kick on the shin, followed
by the drop to a three point stance to use the right leg as a sweep at
the attacker’s legs. He demonstrated the block and dropped to both
hands and left foot, extending his right leg out in front then bending
it quickly at the knee for the sweep.
He had Dacia repeat first the block,
then the sweep, then slowly combine the two moves. As she finished, he
said, "Let's see what you've learned. Block where I strike."
Fitting actions to words, he slowly punched out with the right hand,
then the left, switching to the left leg, then the right. He slowly
sped up the sequence until they were working quickly though the
Derry lashed out with a backfist, which
Dacia caught in a outside crescent block, bringing them close
together. "Well, you might at least have explained the situation
a little more clearly!" he said hotly.
"I couldn't! I gave Father and the
Council my word." Dacia disengaged as she saw Derry's reverse
knifehand coming in low.
She stepped back and blocked it using a
wheel block as he spoke. "Then why didn't he tell me himself? It
was obvious to everyone how I felt!"
"He's told you repeatedly to keep
your distance from me. What did you think he was doing, trying to lure
you in by telling you to stay away?"
"Dammit, I thought he was just
being a normal overprotective father–especially in light of Helena's
behavior!" Derry broke the block and stepped quickly to Dacia's
left side, forcing her to turn and hop as he tried a leg sweep.
"Oh, come now, Sean! I'm hardly
fifteen! Nor am I the least like Helena," she objected as she
landed lightly on her back foot, her front foot coming up on the toes
as she assumed a cat-stance.
"Though that might be one solution
to our problem."
"We could meet in the loft and be
sure we were caught--"
She stepped out and assumed a strong
stance, legs solidly planted. "Well, it got Helena married, now
"I don't believe I'm hearing
this!" Derry's brow furrowed ,and he launched a punching kick
His eyebrows shot up as she blocked it
easily and said, "You mean you don't want to have me, Sean?"
"I never said that!" He
disengaged and attempted another, more difficult combination. She was
getting very good at this.
She blocked it as well, adding,
"I'm beginning to wonder, Sean, if you really love me all that
"Of course I love you!" he
practically yelled at her.
"Well, that's the first time I've
heard you say so," Dacia said with a sweet smile. Derry saw a
gleam in her eye that made him a little uneasy. He tried a difficult
double kick combination, landing behind her as she scuttled out of the
He spun quickly, panting, "Well,
I'm not the one with another suitor, now am I?"
"True. But thus far I've had no
better offer." She assumed a low stance.
Derry sidestepped quickly, throwing a
rather lame backfist. "What do you mean?".
She blocked it rather easily, knowing
that the time was ripe. She finished the block, augmenting and opening
it to grab his hand, thus pinning him into a very awkward position
indeed. "You speak of love, not of marriage. Don't you want to
marry me, Sean?"
Derry took a half step back, breaking
her hold; he stood up with his hands on
hips. His tone was indignant and
emphatic. "Of course I want to marry you! Why else would I give a
damn about Sextus Arilan if I didn't?"
As he spoke the final word, Dacia
dropped into a three point stance and swept his legs out from under
him. He hit the ground hard, landing flat on his back. The next thing
he knew, Dacia had knelt beside him and kissed him briefly on the lips
as he wheezed to get his breath back.
"Very well, I accept, " she
said, and before he could get his wits back together and draw in
sufficient breath to speak, she had risen quickly, bowed to him with a
tiny smile, and gone. Derry was still trying to draw in a deep breath
when San Te appeared at his side.
"Sing Hi, I never told you that
achieving the balance would be easy. I believe Shan Ji has won this
"Aye, Master," Derry managed
finally. "In more ways than one, I think."
"Oh, yes. Sing Hi. Oh, yes."