I nodded. “I train… by myself, when you’re not looking.”
Their expressions cleared, but Dias looked disappointed. “Rael, do you know what you did wrong?”
“I didn’t tell you?”
Dias shook his head and sighed. “Rael, come closer, I’m not angry at you.” The strangest thing was I felt that he was telling the truth. Dias wasn’t lying. I didn’t see an iota of anger and the disappointment wasn’t aimed at me, but himself. A hint of sadness decorated his features.
Feeling a weird sense of guilt, I came forward. Even though I knew I was older than my father, this weird dynamic made me feel small and powerless. I guess, when you’re an adult, there was a liberation to lie and things like small deceptions and subterfuge didn’t feel so wrong.
My father gathered his breath and launched into it. “Rael, hiding things from us isn’t wrong, there are times when someone must do it.” He held up a finger. “But lacking trust in people who you should trust is the problem. You may not understand this now, but we love you very much. If there is anyone you can trust in this world, it will be us, because of this. Of course, like anything, trust has to be earned, and it is my fault that I wasn’t able to do that. Rael, I hope you can forgive me for that.”
Being a child gave me a different perspective on morality.
Or maybe there was something to be learned from the people and not only from the knowledge of this strange world.
“I’m sorry, father.”
Dias and Lilanthe both smiled, while the doctor had already excused herself from the personal talk.
Before she was excused, I apologised to the doctor as well. The doctor didn’t take any offence and told me she was glad I wasn’t sick in the first place. That didn’t make me feel any better, but she smiled in a way that made me feel a little more at ease.
“Just keep your mischief to a minimum, young master.”
I nodded, perhaps for the first time, earnestly.
After that reveal, Dias decided to give me sword training anyway.
“If you’re keen on training, you must train right!” He threw a carved wooden sword on the ground. “Pick it up.”
The sword was heavier than I thought, it must have been made of some kind of dense hardwood.
“That is a wooden sword. Your own sword. Though it may not look like much, it can hurt you and it can hurt others. You must take care with it. Respect the sword and it will treat you the same back.”
We were out by the garden at the rear of the mansion. Lilanthe had excused herself inside and was occupying herself with cooking, much to the dismay of the household maids. Dias winked at me and told me she was too worried about me getting hurt but knew this was a necessity. He said it was the charm of his wife to care about the weak and helpless.
Which kind of irritated me, but I think that was the expression Dias was looking for. He told me that I had the instincts of a good man then.
“See that wooden block over there? We’re going to practice with it. Sword training might seem a little dull to you, but in time you will be able to do something like this.”
Dias held the sword and concentrated hard on the the block, with one smooth, flowing motion, his sword almost leapt out of his scabbard and sung a deadly song as it whistled through the air, slicing the wooden block so cleanly that it sounded more like an axe parting the wood rather than a sword.
I couldn’t understand what I had seen. Didn’t he cut cross-grain? Would the sword normally bite into the wood and stop? How was he able to produce enough force to shear through the wood? I glared at the sword, trying to find its secrets through observation.
Dias laughed at my confusion.
“Haha, isn’t your father amazing?” He puffed out his chest, then slightly deflated when I continued inspected the sword instead, trying to get my hands on it.
“No, no, Rael, the sword isn’t the great part of this, this is just regular steel. It’s also a little blunt, see?” He slid his finger along the edge to demonstrate it. “But! What I’ve done is infused a little of my Essence into the blade and made it charged with power. It’ll made this sound, see?” He concentrated once more and I could hear a faint whine from the sword. Ah, this was similar to the vibration of the reciprocating blades. Fascinating.
“Now, this might be had for you to understand, but doing this requires a lot of strength and training. Grab your wooden sword there.”
I gripped the sword and held it out. Dias smiled and placed my hands a little further apart.
“You need to stop your hands from slipping too much. Take your hands and rest one near the guard and the other just a bit below it. That’s it. Now I’m going to demonstrate a series of movements and I want you to follow them as close as you can.”
I nodded, feeling a little excitement. I’ve taken a few classes of martial arts, but things like sword training and the like were a rare art that was barely practised by those who even knew it existed.
“This is an overhand, this is a backhand, this is a cut to the side, this is a parry and this is a block.”
Dias held my hand still as I made to imitate him.
“No, hold on,” he said, “I’m just showing you a few of the moves. All you need to do is concentrate on building your strength. Move the sword up and down and from side to side. Yes, that’s it, good. We’ll do this for a while and then after this, we’ll go for a run. Knights like us will have to wear armour, so I’m giving you this padded vest.”
He drew out a thick padded vest that seemed to be weighed down with wood.
“This is training armour, it will help you get used to the weight of armour before we move onto the next stage. Any questions?”
I tilted my head. “When can I use Essence?”
Dias chuckled. “Good question. Not for a while yet.” He held out a warning finger. “Essence is very dangerous if you try to use it without understanding how it works or preparing your body for it, so you must absolutely not use unless I tell you to, okay?” He gripped my hand and held my gaze. “Promise your father this, please?”
Caught back by his serious tone, I faintly nodded.
“Yes,” I replied finally. “I won’t use it until I’m ready.”
“Good boy.” He ruffled my hair. “Now, let’s do a few more swings and then go for a run!”
I must admit, there’s merit in training with others rather than alone. Psychology tells us that self-discipline is often weaker than peer pressure. Training with Dias, he pushes me to my limits everyday and though this left me dog-tired, I didn’t complain, because he was sincerely interested in my well-being.
That said, my studies started to lag a little bit and keeping awake long enough to decipher the next passage when you could barely turn the pages with your fingers was, in my opinion, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I comforted myself with the fact that I had to be prepared. There was no telling what could happen here, and if I didn’t learn and train, I could be at a major disadvantage.
I needed to survive long enough to get home.
On the other end of the scale, acting in my teacher role, Hylia was beginning to stir up some trouble. I had explicitly warned her against learning new spells, however, against my instructions, she was able to learn another fire spell when she stole my magic primer and read it.
When I found out, Hylia cringed as if I would scold her, but she squared her shoulders and tightened her fists with a stiff upper lip. She was prepared to defend herself, probably thinking that results equate to justification. I would have any of it.
“Hylia, you’ve learned a new spell,” I stated, rather than asked.
Despite that, Hylia defiantly replied. “I did.”
“Even though you knew this was against my instructions?”
I sighed. “Alright then.”
Hylia frowned at me. “Why don’t you get mad or something?”
“Is it my job to get mad? What would that accomplish?”
“But I’m your student and I did something that you forbade me to do!”
“And yet, you did it, didn’t you?”
“I did! So why aren’t you doing anything about it?”
When I rolled my eyes at her, Hylia threw up her hands and jabbed a finger towards me.
“Are you a spineless coward?!” She folded her arms. “Why aren’t you upset?”
I stared at Hylia with a placid gaze until her anger snuffed out. Instead of reprimanding her, I set aside the book I was reading and massaged my temples. “What do you want from me? A teacher only guides their students by teaching. If you don’t accept my lessons, then you’re not a student any more. Thus, there’s no need for me to do anything. If you don’t want to be taught by me any more you are free to leave or do as you wish. The only time I would intervene is if you actually committed some form of wrongdoing, but here, right now, you only hurt yourself.”
Hylia crossed her arms. “Then, what are you going to do about it?”
“If you’re not keen on following my instructions, then you obviously don’t want to be my student any more. There’s no point in continuing this, you can do as you wish, but on your own.”
With that, I picked up my book and walked straight out of the room.
Hylia didn’t say anything as I left and I didn’t do a thing either. From that point on, we kept mostly apart, only making contact robotically when required, like during lessons. During that time, to be honest, I made more progress than I did before. It left me with a somewhat bittersweet sensation. On one hand, I liked working on my own personal projects, but on the other, I felt a little responsible for that rambunctious girl. But I knew that these feelings wasn’t the point. Even though I enjoyed teaching, if the student wasn’t driven to learn, then I couldn’t do much about it.
Time passed and I grew more and more proficient in magic and the art of the sword. Dias took me on ‘long’ training runs where we would scale hills and make circuits around the territory he governed. Every time we passed a villager or nearby farmland, there were raised voices of greetings and happy, deferential smiles. Noblesse oblige was a term that was all but extinct in my world. Here, though, it held strong and it seemed the people under his domain was well-aware of that fact and celebrated Dias for it.
In these exchanges, if we ever stopped by, I was seen as more of a mascot, but the villagers held keen eyes and hoped that I would follow my father’s footsteps. From the ongoing conversations, the region had been enriched by my father’s presence. He had substantially lowered taxes and undertook public works in order to improve agriculture after… well, something to do with his family. The Primos used to be disliked. In fact, the deep-seated opinion of the older generation was that they were still distrustful of my father.
Dias’ father, Lord Ialis Primo, had pulled as much as he could from the land, pushing the villages and lands under his rule into starvation to fund a lavish lifestyle. Though this wasn’t typical of local barons to push villages to such extremes, it was not unheard of during times of stress and war. With what I gleaned from fragments and snippets of local conversations, Ialis had taken advantage of the war with the neighbouring Kingdom of Lunae, which was often dubbed as ‘the Kingdom of Darkness’. He often claimed land and forced peasants and serfs to contribute to harsh taxes under the guise of lending assistance to the war.
The Courts found nothing wrong with this. After all, he was contributing substantially more than usual. However, skimming from the top, funds quite often ended up in his coffers instead.
It was said that Dias tried his hardest under the thumb of his father to help who he could, but without the means to rebel, he simply left, going on a journey. His father kept a watchful eye on him, but approved of his leaving. Without interference from his own family, he did as he pleased and wrenched more from the helpless citizens under his domain.
Dias eventually returned after succeeding as a freelance mercenary cum adventurer cum drafted army grunt cum military officer cum trusted aide to the Prince. He almost single-handedly fostered a new age. Several events happened in rapid succession after that. The King passed away. The Prince rose to the throne. Civil war broke out across the country. Dias’ father joined the second Prince’s faction.
The country fell into a period of chaos and a miracle was born between Dias and his partner Lilanthe, who triumphed in a battle of over ten thousand men against a single unit of one hundred at Canter. Then Dias came back, ousted his own father from his own position and reinvigorated his own region as the King bestowed upon him the title of baron. He, in the eyes of many people, became a hero. According to whispered rumours I’ve accidentally stumbled upon, that is.
Still, there were some that prospered during Ialis’ reign. Dias rooted them out, but there were some sticking around. It appeared that Mariel’s attacker was somehow connected to that.
There was buried resentment, no matter how well Dias tried to bury suspicions. It seemed like some of the populace were waiting with bated breath to see when Dias would snap and return to being like his father.
Dias rarely paid such rumours notice, opting instead to keep an optimistic outlook.
“Lord Primo!” A voice among the tall corn field called out to him. It was deep and rusty, kind of like the collective crackling of gravel rather than a deep baritone.
“Ah!” Dias veered off the path and gestured for me to follow him.
I tripped and stumbled over a rock, but got to my feet as I caught up to Dias by the edge of the corn field.
“Jasper!” Dias exclaimed, putting his hands on his hips. “What brings you here?” He frowned at the corn. “Why are you hiding in there?”
“Ah… well… you know the story…”
Dias momentary confusion cleared as he grasped what Jasper was hinting at. “Even with my pass?”
“Even so… well, no matter, I see a young cub at your feet. Hello there!”
I waved back at the corn, feeling a bit strange for doing so. I could grasp there was a shape in there, but the vegetation was so dense that I only caught some darkened eyes peering out.
“Dias, I came to tell you about the situation in Lunae.”
“They can’t be on the move so soon?”
“Who knows? Although I am more welcome over there than here, it is a harsh environment to live in. I would not want a part of it, despite what it’s like here. There is simple mistrust here against others, I can deal with that, one can work with that. Those that hold contempt for their own kind… well… that can’t be fixed so easily.”
“Jasper, are you in need of help?” Dias reached out into the corn field, but was only answered with laughter as the figure stepped back.
“Dias, you must raise the little one well and join us when you have trained the cub to be a strong, fearsome beast that doesn’t yield to anyone! Then maybe, if you’re not still too old, join me.” There was a slight pause. “Darkness is growing again.”
The last part made Dias falter slightly. He glanced back at me and then to the corn field.
The mirthful chuckle came once more. “Ah Dias, there is plenty to do here, think of this as but a visit from an old friend. I will see you in the plains.”
“I will see you in the plains,” Dias replied sombrely as the figure disappeared into the field with a rustle.
“Who was that?” I asked Dias.
“A good friend that is about to do something reckless,” Dias replied with a smile.
The smile did not reach his eyes.
We immediately headed home after that.
At the mansion, as we opened the door, Lilanthe was there, wringing her hands and glancing back behind us.
“I felt something familiar,” she said immediately as we entered.
“It was Jasper,” Dias replied and then bent down to me, giving my head a tussle. “Rael, go along to your room with Eileen, okay?”
I nodded and headed there.
What was going on?
For some reason the backend is bugging out and only displays a short amount of text, second part here until I figure out what exactly is wrong.