- April 24, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 21)
“The lesson is don’t go into the ocean during a storm, and then you won’t need Lapis.”
– Astrid, First Disciple of Lapis, 448 A.C.A.
“But we just got back!” Lucy complained.
“But this is one of our own that we need to save,” Quintus told her, trying to coax her from her tantrum.
She laid on her boat’s railing, cheek against the wood, mocking tears. She stroked the boat she apparently didn’t want to sail. “But we just got back…” she puttered.
“Aren’t you always looking for an excuse to sail?” Quintus questioned, raising his eyebrow at her theatrics.
The facade dropped for a more honest glare. “Not to Susanna.”
Malum overheard as he passed her and Quintus talking. “So,” he said, “if I told you we were going somewhere new past Susanna, you’d be excited?”
Lucy stood up to ask, “Are we really?”
“No, but you should still quit your bitching,” the assassin said, before walking off. Lucy gave him the finger and raised his own behind him as he walked away.
“He sucks,” Lucy groaned.
“Sucks to sucks!” Andy called out, just before she took the captain’s quarters.
“Wait, what? That’s my room you little shit!” Lucy yelled across the S.S. Lappy as she raced to the door, about to fight Andy for the Captain’s office.
Quintus was left leaning against the railing, wondering just how this was going to go. They’re doomed, he thought, as if his recent mission had gone any better.
Quintus was about to leave without much of a goodbye to his squabbling friends, when he noticed one of the recruits in the armor of the ex-Stormguard. The Black Legion never had many Stormguard deserters, even fewer who managed to leave with their Iligsia, so they always stood out.
Quintus walked up to the kid, who was in dire need of a shave and a haircut. “What are you doing here by the boats, surely you would have something else to do?”
The kid looked up and was stunned into near silence as Quintus towered over him. When one sat in Quintus’s shadow, all the man’s warmth is stolen from you and you are left with only his opposing figure.
Quintus squatted down, used to this.
The kid answered, “I work on the ship now. I have the Wind, so… I can make the ship go faster.”
“Shouldn’t you be training with Jack?”
“Jack isn’t training anyone, even after I embarrassed him in front of the tribes.” Quintus stood straight up when Malum appeared behind him.
“Malum, I don’t think of myself as a violent man, but one of these days I’m going to backhand you in shock, and I’m not going to feel bad.”
Malum actually chuckled at that and rubbed his chin at the thought. “That sounds worth it, knowing I’ve scared you that bad.”
“Don’t mistake shock for fear.”
“I won’t,” Malum promised before making his way towards the plank.
As he saw Quintus off the boat, he told him, “Jack needs to get his act together. If he isn’t teaching anyone, there’s no reason he should have command over anyone. His old students have found other teachers, and we’ve truly failed these people if one of them takes up with Lucy.”
“I heard that!”
Little harsh, but I see his point.
“I’ll talk to him,” Quintus offered.
“Just what I had in mind,” Malum agreed before coming over and giving Quintus one of his own customary pats on the shoulder. “Good luck.”
“Yeah,” Quintus mumbled. Why do I feel set up to fail?
Quintus waved them goodbye from the dock and waited a bit just to make sure no mermaids bothered them before making his way back up the plateau. Might as well pull off the bandaid now.
Quintus walked through the camp looking for Jack, helping people where he could. The Black Legion had been there for a while and had little to set up when they first arrived, but when the Hotun came, the legionnaires had to move around to make room.
Quintus eventually found Jack helping the smith finish moving his spot. Jack was holding a pole up as others beat in the nails for the tent. When he was done, he picked up the next pole and found himself looking at Quintus’s barrel chest.
“There are others to help with this,” Quintus told him, as the man looked up.
Jack glared and said, “So? Leaders are not above doing hard work.”
Quintus grabbed the other pole, and with a tug, Jack let it go, rather than try to fight him for it in front of these people. “You’re right, but you need to get back to instructing.”
“Is this what you do now?” Jack asked.
“Don’t do this.”
Jack threw up his hands with this cruel smirk befitting his splotchy beard. “Do you just tell other people what they should be doing? You’re whole zen shit it’s getting old, and your never-ending well of wisdom isn’t cute anymore.”
Before Jack could walk away, Quintus put his arm in the way, the one with the pole, and drew a line in the dirt. “I understand that you’re hurting, you feel betrayed-”
“I was not betrayed,” Jack snapped in Quintus’s face, and that’s when the legionnaires around them stopped working. Jack looked around, and while they turned away, they were listening. As Jack opened his mouth next, he did so in a whisper, “Someone was stolen from me, and you know nothing about that.”
As Jack said this, he pointed his finger in Quintus’s face, and there was a flare in Quintus’s eye that Jack had not expected to see.
Quintus grabbed Jack’s finger, and twisted, making the man hold his breath to avoid making a squealing nose at the sensation. Quintus then raised him to his toes with a twist of his arm and brought Jack’s face a bit closer to his.
“I was bound in chains when I was but a child hoping to be a man. Everyone I cared about was taken from me, so yes, golden prince, I know exactly what you’re feeling tenfold, but when I let it stop me, people were hurt. I will not let you make the same mistake, for that feeling was just as terrible.”
Quintus let Jack go with a toss, leaving the man to rub his arm as he slowly stood back up. “Jack Starshield, once of the Stormguard, trainer of the Black Legion, you have a job to do,” Quintus declared, “avoiding it will not bring your love back. It will only make you unrecognizable. Today is the last day, you get to waste your time.”
Quintus turned his back on his friend before he even had the chance to say a word.
‘His spy is watching you,’ Lapis warned Astrid.
If you know that, I know that, Astrid reminded him.
‘Yes, but you forget if I don’t tell you.’
Astrid nearly grumbled but Hana’s tugging of her wrist warned her to cover her mouth.
The kids from the Raze clung to Astrid and her followers from the getgo. Some mornings and some days, families from among the Hotun and Icee would try to get the kids to socialize with some of the village children. The younger kids were polite, after a talking to, but they always found their way back to the Pennies, and the Pennies always found their way to Astrid.
It’s not like they were put to work yet.
“What is it, little plum?” Astrid said, despite the fact that she was shorter than several of the teenagers around her.
“Are you talking to Lapis, right now?” she asked.
Astrid grew a bemused smirk. “How could you tell?”
“You were mouthing words and making faces to yourself.”
‘You should really get better at that.’
You… shut up.
“You did it again!” the kid laughed, which made some of Astrid’s followers grow stern.
‘You need to fix that.’
‘You should also encourage the kids to socialize with more than each other and your cult.’
Wait, don’t you mean your cult?
‘Cults are rarely about the god you’re praying to. You know this.’
Astrid took Hana’s hand and looked over at the beach they walked along. It was a regular tradition Astrid and her followers took in the morning. They always sought to take a breath of fresh, to get the salt in their nostrils and on their tongues so everything would smell and taste better later.
The followers walked in single file behind Astrid, but the children were sprawled all across the beach. It was hard for Astrid not to smile seeing the kids trying to get the panthers to chase after them. The big cats were more than content to watch Astrid’s followers with bated breath beside the lounging Pennies, who did much the same.
“Do you want to hear a story?” Astrid asked Hana.
The girl nodded her head while chewing on her lip, noticing the face she was making herself.
Astrid then looked to the Pennies and waved to them, getting their attention. Astrid pointed to this hole in the plateau that created this arch around their path. “There’s a cave up ahead!”
Hana threw up her arms and yelled, “Astrid said storytime!”
The kids murmured to each other, wondering what it would be about. The Pennies turned to each other to murmur among themselves and got up without much indignation.
‘It’s not you they dislike.’
I know, I’m good with kids.
‘I feel like this is an outlier rather than the norm.’
Before they even reached the cave, where they could make a fire and gather around it, Hana was pulling on Astrid’s arm. “What kind of story is it? Tell me, please, please, please! Is it about Jia?! Jia!” Hana pled as she jumped up and down.
Stories must have been the best kind of entertainment for these kids
“Not about Jia, but it’s still the best kind of story,” Astrid began, taking her hand, swinging it around to get into the spirit of it all. “This is the kind of story that’s been told a thousand times, a thousand different ways because the clerks haven’t written it on paper. The kind that you can only hear once, but with a lesson you hear a hundred different times over.”
“What is it about?” Hana asked as they all funneled into the cave, with Astrid’s followers working on making a small fire.
“Who else would I tell stories about? Who else but Lapis?”
“Tell me, children,” Astrid asked them as they took their seats, Hana trotting at her side until she sat down in the darkest corner of the caved, “what do you know of Lapis?”
Many raised their hands, others shouted, and several did both.”
“He was kind!”
“He was pretty!”
“He controlled the weather!”
“Yes, yes, all correct,” Astrid said, before tapping her finger to her lips. “Well, maybe pretty is debatable.”
‘Don’t you dare imply I’m homely.’
“But how many of you know where he came from?” When Astrid asked that, many of them grew silent, and with their silence, the followers lit the branches between them on fire. “Well, that will only make it that much more fun. How many of you know of Thassia, Goddess of the Sea?” She was met by some shrugs and nods of the head. “How many of you know Gronin, God of the Earth?” There were many nods of recognition.
It made begrudging sense to Astrid. Thassia was a god of Krone, whereas Gronin was a god in every culture. Even the countries that bordered the ocean, didn’t spread the gospel of a goddess beloved by conquerors. Gronin belonged to no one, despite what Raydorn claimed.
“Gronin and Thassia are the parents of Lapis,” Astrid told them, as she raised her hands slowly brought her palms together, parallel to the ground, “the weather is what happens when the Earth and the sea come together in unsavory matrimony.”
‘Why are you talking about my parents having sex?’
Prepping them for when they learn. I also, I’m mentally winking at you, in case you didn’t know.
‘I know, I always know, I’ve never not known…’
“You see children, the son of Gronin and Thassia, the product of their love, was taken from them all too soon. But the loss of any child would be too soon, and so like many other parents, they have this little tradition. Sometimes, they find a way to think about the good that made up their son’s soul by remembering his deeds.
“On the anniversary of his birth and the anniversary of his death, his parents come together and tell each other a story they remember. They’ve repeated and told some stories a hundred times before just like we do. Sometimes they appreciate hearing a story again, and other times they don’t.
“There is one story that seems to always bring a happy tear to their eye. One that they heard not from each other, but by mortals.
“To say it was one story is a bit little misleading, I’ll admit, but it was a similar story told by multiple people. There… was once a tropical storm hitting the Icy Pearl Isles, the place we are, right now, but back when there were more Isles that stretched so far, they crossed a sea.
“You see, Lapis had a cold, that was why there was a storm. It all put quite the damper on the weather.
“During the storm, a deep-sea mermaid was ripped from her home. You think shark mermaids are big? Deep-sea mermaids live at the bottom of the Insa, the Neverending Sea where they have all the room to grow. Some say they’re the size of castles, that they could pick up one of the isles with their hand. Because they don’t see the sun, they’ve gone totally blind, and for the few times they come up, they let their hair grow so long that light can’t peak through to their pupils.
“Sounds like a terrifying creature, right? Well, this deep-sea mermaid, as big as she was, was still nothing to nature. Nothing beats nature kids, nothing. You can’t outswim it, you can’t outsail it, once you get in nature’s way, whether it be nature’s wrath or nature’s cold, you best stay out of the way. Because guess what happened to that giant mermaid?
“The currents forced her to the surface, into the waters of her shark cousins.
She was forced into waters far too shallow for her, and a frenzy of starving shark mermaids attempted to make her their meal for the coming storm.
“Now, during that very same storm, Rayne trading ships tried to travel back home from the Icy Pearl Isles, to avoid getting beached on them. Hey, maybe they were legion? But guess what? They still got in the way of nature. They failed and found their ship’s sails torn and pulled apart, mindlessly sailing with the storm’s winds.
“Then, on the outskirts of that same set of islands, a dolphin, this cute, fun creature that’s a secretly dick so don’t pet ‘em… was separated from its pod, with no idea where to go for shelter.
“Lapis, in a…. *Achoo* in a sneezing fit… ”
Astrid stopped her story to enter her own hyperbolic sneezing fit that made some kids laugh, but not all of them got the joke. Hana tried to offer her sleeve for Astrid and Astrid just patted it away laughing.
“Sorry, sorry, I got carried away!” she apologized as she looked out and saw the sea of faces absolutely locked on her, and the one trying to hide in the shadows too.
Look at his little bird, thinking I don’t know she’s there, Astrid thought to herself.
‘Well, don’t keep staring, or else she won’t think that anymore.’
“As I was saying,” Astrid continued her story, “Lapis noticed the three caught in his storm. He made a float from the nasty boogers that dripped from his nose and sailed all around the Isles to pick them up.”
She got a collective ‘ew’ from the crowd and laughs from a group of boys who pretended to blow their noses.
“Alright, alright,” Astrid waved them down, “listen, listen… Lapis, he went and he scooped up the deep-sea mermaid into his float before her cousins bit her. Then he grabbed the dolphin and promised to find his pod after the storm. He even personally lifted the sailors’ ship right out of the ocean like a toy boat and put them all in his float. It was a night of fun and stories as they waited together for the storm to go on its way along with his cold, each of his guests having a different joke they heard from the lad.
“Thassia, Lapis’s dear and fierce mother, always likes the story of her gentle son, of how he made friends wherever he went. Gronin always finds it funny how they’re secretly sitting in his boogers.”
Again, they thought said ‘eww.’
Like she would after a sermon, though without the sense of seriousness, she asked them, “What’s the lesson here, kids?”
Quickly she got a flurry of answers, nice ones, naive ones, ones that a little kid would give. Ones like…
“Learn to sail!”
“Be like Lapis?”
“All good answers, all wrong,” Astrid told them with a slow and steady shake of her head. She let her eyes slowly settle on the woman in the shadows as she waited for them to calm down.
‘She’s going to know.’
Astrid stared, and the darkness shifted with her leaving, but Astrid was willing to bet that she was still listening as she held her fingers together, resting just below her face.
“The lesson is don’t go into the ocean during a storm, and then you won’t need Lapis.”
Nightmares felt different from dreams. Nightmares could make you feel claustrophobic in your own head. They trap people inside the very thing that allowed them to think.
The consciousness that people retract to as a mechanism, assaults them when they have nightmares. It’s this ultimate betrayal that some people forgive without a second thought, never growing. It’s this small thing that some people can never let go of, and can never forgive themselves for.
There must be a reason for this. There must be a reason why nightmares have always been so polarizing and damaging. How can they be so powerful?
One might suggest, as different as they are, nightmares are just dreams without someone’s want and need to disguise them as anything other than the conscious’s purest thoughts.
But, if someone felt inclined to ask Jack Starshield, there is one thing worse than the hope of a dream or the despair of a nightmare.
The lies of visions.
They hounded Jack the night his allies left and Quintus had confronted him, as they had many nights before. Dreams are many things, but they have never held a reputation for being bright in a literal sense. There’s always this film over it, like the film of the eyes.
Visions were not like that, visions were bright, and they came with the touch of a goddess.
Jack tumbled and turned on the hard ground of his tent, as the light seemed to fill his eyes. It crept from between the eyelids he held shut.
It was her hand of light that she saw, but was another’s voice he heard. “Free me,” he heard.
He had never heard his love speak, but like with dreams, Jack knew whose voice it was. “Please, it shouldn’t be you, but you can set me free.”
Find the witch, the hand signed to him. Take her head, the hand commanded of him.
The voice of the light, the voice of the Goddess, she spoke and she signed, “Find the Puer Luminis, find him to whom your heart is promised.”
With those words, the memory flashed before him, the taste of mud in his mouth, and the fear of death in his mind. He rememberedwhat it felt like to be saved, to see blood spilled for him.
Her words repeated, and when he looked up, it was the Aurora Knight who saved him in some backwater alley years ago, but the world behind him was the barracks. Jack grabbed his hand, when he pulled Kion down, his armor fell away.
Kion was in his arms, and Jack was on his lips, but as they were together, and Jack’s lips were on Kion’s neck, Kion whispered, “Find me.”
Jack woke with a start because as often as he’s been able to hold Kion close, Kion has never spoken a word into his ear.
He held his face in his hands as he pondered what the dream was. “I can’t even tell the difference between nightmares and dreams anymore.”
Then he thought to himself, How early is it?
He could see light barely peeking through the lines of the tent. Maybe get a headstart on a day of fishing? Maybe I could take up Geri’s offer on learning how to smith. Could be a good way to pass the time.
Jack may be used to getting up early in the morning, but that didn’t stop him from being as slow as molasses when getting ready. The sun was barely creeping over the horizon when he opened the drapes, but somehow, he wasn’t the first one up.
Jack gasped, spooked by Quintus’s presence as if he just perfectly timed his arrival. “Perfect, you’re already up, it’s time, today is the day.”
Jack sighed and started to rub his eyes. “Look, I can’t today, I’m-”
“It’s the third hour of the morning,” Quintus began, as Jack hadn’t said a word. “Others will be up at the fourth, so lessons start at the fifth.”
“Quint, listen, I-”
“Hemwidge and Darson will be there to help you, be your examples. The Hotan and the Islanders have staffs made already, and are expecting you to teach them basic spear work. They could work as swords if you think that’s a better place to start with of course.” Jack just let him keep talking, waiting for him to finish. “Told the kids, the ones with the panthers, that they can watch, thinking better than to make you deal with kids on your first day back.”
Jack made his attempt to interject, “This isn’t-”
“Jack,” Quintus spoke his name, with no pretense in his voice, “it’s time to step up.”
Jack’s hand stopped massaging his eyelids, and he slowly raised his eyes to meet Quintus’s. He hadn’t noticed before just how serious they had become. “I step up.”
“You do work anyone can do, but if you still consider yourself a leader-”
“Did it ever occur to you, that maybe I don’t?” Jack interrupted him for a change, leaving Quintus to be the one stunned into silence for once.
Quintus raised his head back, his eyes locked on Jack’s as they both felt the rising tension and anger.
When Quintus’s eyes looked away, to the faraway sky, he did what he did best and bore his heart out to Jack. “Of course it occurred to me,” he admitted, “and then I remembered that you still walk into that tent whenever we convene. That made me angry that you would have the gall to do that,” his voice growing gravelly, and his eyes descending on Jack with the fury Jack was familiar with from his father. Then the sympathy came, the self-awareness that only this man of Seca seemed capable of.
Quintus dipped his head and looked away. “But then I thought of why we allow it, why you do it…” His eyes turned towards Jack’s again, without a twitch of anything red. “Kion thought better of you, that much I know, and after that, I found my doubt to be ridiculous. You’re a man who stands tall, Jack Starshield, but only when you choose to. I’m choosing for you that that day will be today.
“See you in two hours.”
Quintus did what few know how to do, and leaves at the perfect moment when the opponent feels the least emboldened to say something.
“Damn you, Quintus,” Jack swore under his breath.
At the southern end of the isles, one you can only reach by crossing the rope bridges the Icee Islanders have maintained for generations sits this large circle of stones. The original use for the circle has been lost, a relic from when the isles supposedly spanned the ocean, but it still has its uses.
People from the Hotun, Icee, and Black Legion alike sit and surround the circle. Mostly the young and middle-aged among them, with the children of the Raze in their little corner of the group.
They waited until the fifth hour as Quintus asked them to, the man himself doing nothing but watching the rope bridge. Before the sun took its place at the fifth hour, a man was walking across the bridge.
There wasn’t such a thing as formal dress attire on the isles. The closest thing to formal dress was for ceremonies on the solstice. Yet, Jack still managed to look as disheveled and unseemly, wearing the same shirt for practice as he wore to sleep, and his beard as uneven as can be.
They asked for lessons in battle, not a ball.
He had to have seen all the people who waited for him, but when he finished crossing the high bridge, he appeared shocked by the number of people.
A good turnout, almost as many in a class back at Iron Rock.
Jack walked around the circle, in silence as he sized everyone up. He wore them down with his eyes, making them check over themselves for signs of weaknesses. He sniffed a few times as looked towards randomly selected people in the crowd, and each time they checked their armpits. Not even the children of the cult were safe from his demeaning glare.
Not even the man who made him come.
Jack looked Quintus up and down as if he were any maggot, and Quintus did his best not to show his approval.
Jack slowly walked to the middle of the circle with his hands behind his back and looked to the ground. “Hemwidge, Darson, attention!”
Dawson trotted over immediately, and Hemwidge made a short walk. Both carried staffs, with Quintus having told them to be prepared to be called on.
As soon as their two staffs started clacking against the ground, the laughter of children could be heard over them.
Eyes turned to Penny Tweed, save Jack’s. He only gestured for the girl to come out.
Penny Tweed pointed to herself, and Jack said, “Come out, Penny, you two can tell us what you think is so funny.”
Penny Tweed rolled her eyes and shrugged as Penny Prim groaned. “What did I do? I kept my mouth shut.”
As they came out, Penance with her hands in her pocket and her shoulders slouched to appear as small as possible. Penelope strutted with her thumbs out.
As they stood in the middle, eyes on them, Jack brought his hands in front of him, seemingly holding something in them. Before either Penny could ask, Jack asked them, “Well, what was so funny?”
“Why the hell are you using wood? I thought you were going to tell us how to really fight!”
Jack remained silent as he raised his chin at them. He looked between them, taking notice of how the two teenagers appeared placed at the center of attention. “Hmm,” he mumbled as he revealed the two knives he held in his hands. The girls both tensed at the sight of steel, but that calmed when he threw them both to the ground at their feet.
“Pick them up,” he said, and their muscles both seemed to seize in place.
Penny Tweed was quick to pick up hers and started flipping it around, playing with it as if it weren’t a weapon made for killing.
Penny Prim was the opposite. Penance was slow to bend down and pick up the knife, her eye watching Jack the entire time.
She knows, he told himself.
Jack turned his back and gestured Hemwidge and Darson to take a step back as he did. He turned back, now as the girls had plenty of room, and told them, “Now spar, basic swings, let me see what you can do.”
Both girls hesitated, and people began to whisper, but Jack’s hard stare was unrelenting. He watched them both with expectation as if he really wished for them to test each other on the blade.
“Go on,” he pressured them again, which got Penny Tweed to raise her blade to her friend, and that’s when she got it.
Penelope held steel towards Penance, who raised her blade slowly, and as everyone watched. Their blades started to shake.
Penny Prim’s arm shook as she took a step to stab, but Penny Tweed, all of her bravado gone, stumbled back, away from a blade that only made people bleed.
Penelope stopped, looked at the blade in her hand, and her eyes only stayed lowered on the ground. “I understand now.”
Jack held his hand out to Darson as he approached the Pennies, and the soldier placed his staff in his hand. He walked up to Penny Tweed, and only once he was in her shadow, did she look up at him.
“Do you?” he asked her, then hit her in the foot with the staff.
“Oww!” she yelled as she hopped on one foot.
“You’re afraid to hurt your friend, to be hurt, correct?” he asked as he swatted her other foot, making her stumble and fall to the ground.
He held the back of the staff to her throat as if it were a spear, and waited for an answer.
At first, her eyes were wide in shock, looking at Penny Prim, waiting for help, but her friend wasn’t there. She brought Penance into the mess, and Penance wasn’t going to get her out, and no panther was swimming to this isle.
Penelope bowed her head around the staff, and said, “Yes.”
Jack pulled his staff away and asked, “Why?”
Her head remained cowed, as she spoke. “If-”
“Louder, for everyone,” he told her.
She growled to herself, but it was only a moment’s longer of hesitation before she coughed and spoke louder. “If I hit her with the sword, she bleeds! She could-”
“Ow!” she yelled as Jack jabbed her with the staff again.
“Do you think I’m afraid to hit you with a stick?” Jack asked her.
Penny Tweed mumbled, “No…”
Jack nodded, looking out at the crowd who understood and would teach all future teachers to understand. You train with wood, and you don’t say anything about it.
“You can go now,” he told them.
Penelope picked herself back up, Penance was already walking away without her. This time, Penelope walked with her head down.
As they did, Jack stood at the center and spoke to the people around them. His voice spoke of commands, despite the fact that his words carried only lessons. “We will train with wood. It is more important that you train with the intent to fight and to kill than to train with the weight of an actual sword. You need to hone your movements and skills as they actually connect with flesh. You must practice while fearless, not as you fear to strike your opponent. You must not fear striking your opponent, because when the time comes, they will not fear to strike you.”
Then he turned to his examples, as everyone watched with bated breath.
Jack spoke in commands that made the two behave like they’re trainees back in the barracks. “First, you will learn the spear! It is the superior weapon to the sword! You will learn how to use a sidearm when the time comes.”
He moved the staff into his two hands and took a step forward to make a basic but powerful thrust through the air as if it were a spear.
“The spear is the deadliest weapon you can wield, good for when you’re on foot and on horseback.”
He raised the staff over his head, stabbed forward as if an enemy were there with a shield.
“It has the reach and stabbing power a sword never will, it is the preferred weapon of every foot soldier in the world.”
He then continued to thrust repeatedly, showing off a bit of the defined biceps he hides in his baggy shirts.
“Krone uses them, Raydorn uses them, Susanna uses them. You hear of someplace that doesn’t, they’re lying. Only a good shield is a proper defense against it.”
He mocked a sweep of his spear, another way one could defeat a soldier with a shield.
“I will teach you how to defeat them as well.”
He pulled back on his performance to hold the staff over his head, showing everyone how and where they would grip a spear. “With the spear, you are to hold and stab with two hands. You may have seen or heard of master spearmen and Stormguard using their weapon to move across the battlefield, for one-handed throws, and one-handed twirls.
“Excise those thoughts from your foolish minds. Few such stories are true, and you are likely to never meet someone so powerful or so skilled, and if you did they would slaughter you.”
Again, he brought the spear to his hands, and pulled it in beside his hip, “You will learn to chamber the spear,” then stabbed with it, “and thrust.”
He held this attack for as long as he spoke, finishing his lesson.
“You will learn this day, you will practice it tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, for weeks, and the rest of your life. You will master the motion you will use to kill a hundred men until stabbing through armor is no longer a challenge. Until pushing back a man’s shield brings you no fear.
“You will practice this again and again, even once I begin teaching you how to disarm and dodge. A true master will not fear the man who learns a hundred techniques that he practices a hundred times. A true master fears the man who knows how to thrust perfectly, who practices it thousands of times.”
Jack let his staff dip, and stood straight back up, before tossing the staff back to Darson, who promptly caught it.
“Prepare, first you watch Hemwidge and Darson, then you will try alone, and tomorrow you will practice against each other.”
When the day was over and people were tired, there was this excited exhaustion. The Icee Islanders had fought mermaids and mermaids alone for generations. When ships sailed into the islands, the Black Legion turned them back and did that for them for centuries.
The Hotun saw all their fighting men leave one morning and never come back. They relied on others to fight for them, and eventually, the day came when that wasn’t enough.
The Black Legion had lost nearly everything they had ever known until they had a lesson from Jack Starshield like so many of them had years ago.
So there was excitement behind their exhaustion, for more than most, even the children who had little choice to come in the first place.
As everyone took their rest, with some crossing the rope and boarded the bridge a few at a time, Jack stayed back, to answer a few questions. He stopped when he noticed Quintus waiting for him, leaning against a rock, with a smirk on his face.
Jack thanked his new students for coming, particularly the Pennies who felt the need to apologize after their outburst in the beginning. He accepted and then made a beeline for Quintus, stopping ahead of him.
He’s leaning against the rock and he still feels a foot taller than me, Jack thought to himself.
Quintus was still smirking when he spoke first. “You did very-”
Jack interrupted him without a second thought. “We need more staffs.”
Quintus’s eyes went wide in surprise, but his tone stayed civil. “I can talk to Astrid,” he said, “have her followers work to make some more while they’re on watch tonight.”
Jack turned as if to leave, but Quintus chuckled a little, sounding a bit nervous. “You haven’t lost a step, Jack… it’s almost frightening how stern you can be when you’re teaching.”
Jack gave Quintus a stern look over his shoulder so he could see it.
“I’m teaching people how to kill,” he said, turning around to face Quintus in such a way that Quintus stood up straight. “There’s nothing light about it, this isn’t Susannan martial arts, no mysticism, no pacificism, there will be no disarm and restrain.
“It will be disarm and kill.
“I may be teaching them how to defend themselves, but they’ll only do that by killing. That’s what I’m teaching them, make no mistake.”
Quintus was quiet for a moment, and Jack did not make a turn to leave, not until he heard Quintus say it.
“You already have by making me start again,” Jack said, turning his back to the man who did not feel so much like a paragon.
Then he stopped.
“Oh, and another thing, Quint,” he said looking over his shoulder, just as Quintus was letting his head fall down. “Never forget, they may see you and think of niceties, but…
“You smirk like everyone else at the table.”
Then Jack left him by the rock.
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