14 years ago.
“You there! There’s a shield in your hand! Use it! If this man was your enemy you’d be dead.” A tall woman clad in black and blue platemail paced to and fro like a pendulum across the line formations the recruits were in. They faced their sparring partners, going through their drills as instructed by the woman in black.
“Yes, lady Keldrik!” The nervous but determined young recruit addressed her quickly while raising his shield higher in proper form before resuming the drills with their partner.
Nailla Keldrik was retired, sort of, not really. Anyone that knew her, knew she didn’t know how to not work. Even with a young daughter, that still was not enough work for her. She survived retirement for maybe two years and had enough. She wasn’t in the active line of duty anymore but she still offered her military council, consulted and taught. While night still hung in the sky, she rode off to teach tactics and train new recruits every single morning before the sun caressed the horizon. Nailla had a strong reputation for her strict training regiments, and even stricter standards for her soldiers.
Normally at this time in the morning her husband would be out by the center of the forked river at the modest shrine he built for Leira. teaching a handful of people her lore and word. About her graceful deceptions and the protectiveness of her mists. There weren’t many in these parts that worshiped her, but those who did were typically lovely people. Tranan was a devout follower and relished it anytime he could teach those who sought knowledge on the trickster goddess.
But he wasn’t there this morning. He traveled west and wouldn’t be back for a few days. He instructed Talithey to be kind to her mother, and she agreed. But let’s face it, it’s not just Leira who has a knack for deception.
At this time Tali should be out of bed tending to her list of morning chores. The most she did was feed the chickens before sneaking out of the farmlands. And of course gave extra attention to her favorite of the flock, Moon-Moon. A chicken whose feathers were colored as black as the night.
Her sneaking out in the mornings wasn’t an uncommon affair; the majority of times she did it was because the town held far more interesting things to keep her attention. This time she ran off because she wanted to say goodbye to the son of the leatherworker just a few doors down from the market. They were going to be moving locations soon and she wanted to be sure to see him again before they moved. They sat in the grass and talked about their plans for the warmer months, what they wanted to be when they grew up and how annoying their teachers were.
The boy stared at her for a long moment and finally stuttered out, “You’re really pretty…Erm. I got you this.” He reached for her hand and placed a small glass bottle painted purple in her hand. The label was golden and ornate with small sliver flowers around the borders that read, ‘wisteria’.
Tali’s eyes were wide starring between him and the gift, cheeks progressively getting redder.
“Thank you. Did-” When she looked up again the boy was about as red as she was. He briefly stepped closer to her and turned and scampered off.
Tali stood there for awhile longer. A knowing smile on her face. She had pointed out the perfume bottle to him before, a noblewoman was selling them and others like it in the market for two platinum each. She giggled to herself, knowing full well he stole it.
She tucked the present in her little satchel bag and stepped out of their little hiding place and back into the street. A quick stare at the sun making her grimace.
“Oops.” Almost midmorning. She broke out into a sprint back home, hoping to make it back there before her mother did.
As soon as their home came into view, she lowered herself down a bit, trying to be as sneaky as possible and truly believed that in this moment she was undetectable. She ran around the back of the house rather than going straight for the front door and came to the window that would go to her room. The windowsill being built into the wall quite a bit taller than she. Even so, she did her best attempt at a pull-up
“Try a running start next time.”
Tali squeaked and fell back down to the earth when she heard the familiar voice. Her mother was leaning against the front railing of the house, arms crossed, a hint of amusement shone on her face while she watched her daughter struggle to sneak through the window.
Tali immediately stood back up and brushed herself off. “I didn’t need to. I was doing fine. How long were you there?” Her tone had quite a lot of confidence for someone who just squeaked like a cat.
“Oh not long. Just long enough to see you run around the back of the house.” Her face took on more of a serious expression. “You are late, by the way. Is this a conscious decision you make or are you just that forgetful?”
Tali put her hands on her hips and spoke quickly to defend herself, “I went and said goodbye to Roy. He won’t be back for two whole summers.”
Nailla nodded while listening to her. “Hm, and do you know where else he will be? Service, tonight. And he will be in town for a couple days more.”
She tried to hide it, but Tali couldn’t keep the sly smile at bay. “Oh…well, I got to see him this morning though.”
Her mother shook her head and pushed herself off the railing she was propped against and walked out to the open space of land in front of the house, moving straight to the rickety weapons rack, filled with blunted steel swords and a few wooden ones as well. She removed the sheath that housed her own curved blade and hung it on one of the corners of the rack, picking one of the broadswords for herself and stepped a few feet away from it. Staring at her daughter expectantly. “Hurry up now. Pick up your weapon.” Her head canted at the wooden sword resting at the end of the rack.
Talithey rolled her eyes, looking incredibly exasperated. Several of these practice drills she had her do were tougher than usual. Typically ended with her running laps around the riverbend.
She brooded over to the rack, reaching out for the wooden sword before retreating her hand back. “Can’t I use a real one now?”
“It is real.”
“No it’s not. It’s wood.”
“It is still a real weapon. If you can’t respect that, why should I hand you steel?”
She huffed and relented, grabbing the wooden sword off the rack. And moved to stand the same distance across from her mother. The grass in this particular area had all but worn away. Making almost a perfect circular sparring ring. “Because you’re holding steel? Why won’t you use wood?”
“Because I have earned it. Now you keep back-talking me and you will be pounded into the dirt where no one will find you.” She added that last bit with a wink.
Talithey just shrugged, looking less than impressed. “That’s child abuse. I’ll tell the guards”
“The guards won’t listen to you, dear. And you conveniently forgot the part of the scenario where you are embedded in dirt.”
“You’re just being mean now.”
“And you are not focusing.”
“What is there to focus on!? This stuff is easy.”
Nailla did a quick swipe of her sword and knocked the wooden one out of Tali’s hand.
Pure annoyance bloomed over Talithey’s face and her voice went up an octave, “What was that for? I wasn’t even ready yet!”
“Well, just in case the concept has escaped you, in an actual fight whether you are ready or not, it is you or them. End your brooding and show me your stance. We will be behind schedule if we do not start now.”
She just sighed. Every Wednesday and Sunday evening when all tasks were concluded for the day, they would attend the services held at the temple of Lathandar. It was always just Tali and mother that would go. Her father never once went. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it there, he just didn’t want to appear disrespectful for not participating in worship. Tali didn’t mind it much there. Her time would mainly be spent playing hide-and-seek with a couple of the other children while the adults talked about whatever boring things they talked about. One time she and four other children got themselves locked in the cellar and rearranged all the shelving and broke any wine bottles that didn’t look pretty. She got an earful for participating in that.
“Okay! See? It’s not that hard.” Her defensive posture looked like it might defend against an aggressively thrown leaf in the breeze. She stood straight as a board, both hands gripped tight the hilt of the wooden sword, held out in front of her, elbows locked.
“Why do I have to do this anyway? I have magic, you know.”
“I do know.” Her eyes darted around her stance, silently critiquing the imperfections, but noting the improvements as well. She walked over to her, placing a hand on Tali’s shoulder, pushing her down a bit. “Lower to the ground. Keep you stable. Smaller target to hit. Don’t lock out your arms.” Stepping back to assess her stance again before getting into her own defensive posture, only one hand grasping the blade. “Yes, magic is powerful. But I’ve seen plenty of young ladies lose their heads because they could not release their spell fast enough. You will not be that lady.”
Tali rose her hand up to touch the front of her neck, almost trying to imagine that. Can someone really just lose that head like that? She grimaced a bit and returned her hand to rest at the hilt. “I’m fast.” She muttered under her breath.
“You are. But you will be faster. Come now, like we practiced. Try and strike me. Maintain your form.”
For all the trouble she gave her mother, just did like training. And she hasn’t actually said this to her but she secretly does want her own sword. Not wooden of course. And even more secretly, she really wanted to use her mom’s sword, or at least one like it. It was pretty. Lately though, her training and studies have been…hard. Even her magical practices with her father were harder. She didn’t understand why. For as long as she could remember, her learning was always at an even pace, not too hard, not too easy either. But now she felt like she was getting frustrated at every occasion.
“Part of fighting is adapting to your opponent and anticipating how they move. Not swinging in patterns hoping something will land. Same with defending, switch!”
She was good at offensive maneuvers and physically dodging out of the way, but not the best at deflecting blows. So whenever they would do a reversal of practice roles it made her more nervous. Her mother had never accidentally hurt her during one of their sessions, but it still felt intimidating. Even more so the harder these lessons got. She always flinched or closed her eyes, or even moved herself away before the two weapons could connect.
By the fourth time she did this, her mother held up her hand, signalling for her to stop. She placed the broad sword on the ground and moved a bit closer to her daughter.
There was no hint of annoyance in her voice, she spoke in a low and even tone, “Talithey, I understand it is difficult. But just because something is intimidating does not mean we don’t at least try.”
Her growing frustration started bleeding into her voice and face. “I am trying! It’s not working!”
“You’re not. You’re focusing on fear, you’re not focusing on what’s in front of you.”
“I don’t g-” Her words got caught in her mouth and let the wooden weapon fall on unceremoniously at her side.
“What’s going on, mom?”
She slightly tilted her head to the side, “Nothing is going on.”
“You and father have been acting weird for weeks! Since the last time Nyx came over actually. Did you guys have a fight or something?”
There was a quick change in her expression at the question that she quickly brushed off. Refocusing her attention on her daughter. “No, Nyx and us are alright, Talithey.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, well. No more than what’s typical for you.”
“Then why are these lessons so hard right now?!”
There was a curious expression on her mother’s face. She looked deep in thought but there was…something else there. Something Tali wouldn’t quite understand yet, but she seemed conflicted. She went over and knelled down in front of her daughter, bringing them to eye level.
“It is hard now, but it will get easier as time goes on. You see, it is difficult now because one day when I am no longer around, I want to be comforted knowing that you can handle yourself. To know that no matter what makes you fall, you will grit your teeth and stand up again.”
Talithey sighed and crossed her arms. Did all adults enjoy being this wordy any time someone asked them a question? “Why are you trying to be all…deep? You’re literally always here. I can’t escape you.”
A small smile played on the corners of her mouth. She knew her daughter wouldn’t understand yet, but despite that, some things should still be said regardless. “That’s right you can’t. I would think you’d be pleased. Of all the people I’ve trained, it is you that is my biggest challenge.”
Tali tried very stubbornly to suppress a smile to no avail. This did indeed please her but she still felt discouraged. “Okay but can’t this just easier now?”
“No, because this how you will earn your…’real’ weapon.” She winked and placed a kiss on Talithey’s forehead.
“Ew.” Tali giggled.
Her mother stood up again and pointed down the hill. “Now, go do your run around the river and you can be done for the day.”
Her mother held up her hand to silence her, “Don’t. Just do it.”
“Fine, I’m the fastest anyway.” Talithey turned on her heel and rushed away from her mother before she could say anything. Sprinting down the hill toward the river. Nailla stayed in the same place for a long moment, expression on her face that every mother would want to hide from their child. She placed her hand on her chest and stared up at the sky, mouthing a silent prayer. Praying for the moments where if she or her father could not watch over their daughter, that Lathandar’s graces could light her way. She even uttered a quick prayer to Leira asking the same. She’ll never to her husband she did that. She wouldn’t here the end of it.
She should be asleep, or in a bath. But right now she took refuge out behind the little bed and breakfast. She sat crossed-legged, back leaning against the wall of the building. A cloth and a grind stone in either shaking hand, and her sword free of its sheath resting on the ground. Blood still covered every inch of it, it was on her hands, and armor too. It left her feeling nauseated. She was used to the sight of blood, it wasn’t new. But this time…it just felt too much. The whole day, this whole wretched day made the smallest thing too much. Her vision started to blur and she closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. She let her mind wander, to find a simpler time, give her mind a break. She thought of home. The memories of when her father would teach her magic and her mother teaching her melee were her fondest, even on the tougher days. Her eyes opened to stare at the curved blade. She wondered if she gave this weapon the propper respect it called for. Its home was once the hands of a talented solder, but in hers…She sometimes still felt like a little girl holding it. But then she remembered something. Something that made her remember the powerful woman she is.
“I gritted my teeth and stood up again, and I will keep doing it. I’ll help my pack keep doing it too.”