Crescent Moon: The Lazarus Staff
Section One: The Guard's Journey
"What do you mean, sir? You are the Head Guard. I was under the impression that you are experienced with all weapons."
"And I am, young man. All weapons common to here." The Head Guard spread his hands helplessly, looking at one of his newest recruits. The young man was respectful, quiet most of the time. The second eldest son of a local roving trader, as far as the Head Guard knew, by the name of Julian Reeves. His father, Steven Reeves, was well known for disappearing for months at a time, then arriving back with things from far away lands—fine oriental silk, ivory, even jewels. Julian had decided against becoming a trader, instead joining the local guard. He was a smart young man, and had brought with him something he had picked up during his travels with his father.
An oriental Katana.
The Head Guard served as a trainer for the new soldiers, and was versed in a multitude of weapons—bows, crossbows, various forms of straight swords, staffs. He even knew some basic battle-magic, even though it was mostly knights who became Battle Mages. But he knew nothing of the fighting styles of the orient, but perhaps a few of the names for particular styles, could name a few weapons. That had always been a bit beyond him, to be honest. No, he was quite common, besides his rank, and had a little pride in that fact.
Julian blinked once again. "But, Jozan, sir… if you cannot train me… who can? I know only a very few basic moves. The man that gave this to me showed me, a few years ago. I would very much hate to give up the style completely."
"I understand, young man." Head Guard Jozan sighed, turning on heel and walking toward the guards' armory, shaking his head. "But to tell the truth, even among Knights, those swords are rare. It takes months, years of training to learn to use one correctly. Not to mention those that use them use it in pairing with a form of hand to hand combat."
"Karate?" Julian trailed after him.
"That would be one of them." He sighed again. "In fact I only know of one knight that ever mastered it." He sat down on a wooden bench, rubbing the back of his neck.
"You don't have to trouble yourself, sir, I…"
He held up a hand. "No. You wish to learn to use that sword. If you think you have the discipline and patience, I will find someone to teach you. Fair enough?"
"Good then. Now, give me a moment to think…" He rubbed his eyes. Not long before the war got extremely serious, he had seen another one of those swords, though it had been sheathed… Where had he…
He snapped his fingers, sitting up. "McCloud."
"Sir McCloud." He stood. "I suppose your family was gone during the war were they not?"
"But you know of it."
"Yes sir. Much of it. I take an ale every now and then at the tavern. I listen."
"Good. Sir McCloud is the paladin who fought against and destroyed Andross. He was knighted soon after his return. His favored weapon…" He turned, grinning, to face Julian. "Is the Katana."
The young guard had the spirit to smile back. "Would he be willing to train me, sir?"
"Well, ah… That is where the problem comes in. I'm not sure if anyone knows where he lives. And he is perhaps two years older then you, if that." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"That is quite young for a knight."
"Yes. Youngest knight in the history of our country. He's also a Battle Mage. He also lives nowhere near the city." He strode past Julian, leaving the armory. "Come, young man. We must consult the King."
"The… the KING?"
"An interesting request, Head Guard Jozan." The King sat back, pressing his fingertips together. "Very interesting. Now this young guard…"
"Reeves, My Lord."
"Young Reeves. Is he worthy of training?"
"I believe so. Would you think that McCloud would be willing to train him?"
"That I do not know." The King sighed. "I have not seen my young knight for two months. He arrives, perhaps every month, but has not recently. I do not even know where he lives. I've been under the impression he is training."
"Training? For what, My Lord?"
"I'm not precisely sure." The King smiled. "Ah, only in the matters of this knight am I completely left unknowing… Lombardi has said that McCloud is learning draconic."
"Isn't draconic based on the Elven alphabet?"
"Yes, true. But apparently, he's learning it from a dragon." He sighed. "Trust McCloud to be literal on most accounts. My daughter has also said that he has been talking to his Elven relatives, apparently enhancing his ranger skills."
There was silence for a long moment.
"But would McCloud be willing to train Reeves, My Lord?"
"Anything is possible with McCloud. Have Reeves speak to Peppy Hare. I believe you know where Sir Hare lives."
"Yes I do."
"Good then. Send Reeves to him. Hare has good instincts. If your young Guard truly is worthy, he'll be sent on his way with directions on how to find McCloud."
"Thank you, My Lord." Jozan bowed and left the throne room.
"I've heard of Sir Hare. Heard many tales." Julian said as Jozan led him through town. "Was he not a crusader?"
"Yes. One of James McCloud's close friends and companions. I assume you know of James McCloud?"
"Hard not to, sir."
"Well, if all goes well, you'll be trained by his son." Jozan navigated town square, strode to the door, and lifted his hand.
The door opened. "Evening, Guard Jozan. May I help you?" Peppy smiled at the younger man's startled face, leaning slightly on the doorframe, loosely holding a pair of arrows he had been whittling when he had seen the two approach.
"Actually I'm here on behalf of one of my trainees. Sir Hare, this is Julian Reeves. He's training for the local guard."
"A pleasure." Peppy said easily.
"The pleasure's mine." Julian said without stammering.
"Julian, this is Sir Peppy Hare, one of the King's own Knights, as you know…"
"Retired." Peppy said, stepping aside. "Do come in. I can see you're here on business…"
"Well, yes." Jozan gestured for Julian to follow. "But it is Julian that has business with you. Regretfully, there are things I must take care of at the castle…"
"God ye good eve, then." Peppy nodded to him and closed the door, studying Julian. "Well, then, young Reeves." He said, leading the nervous guard into his study. "What may I help you with?"
Julian fidgeted, looking around the well-furnished study. "Well, sir, I've only been with the Guard a short time, and recently I consulted Jozan about continuing training on the sword I brought with me to the guard. He said he knew little of the style, then told me the only person he knew of that performed the style I wish to learn is Sir McCloud."
Peppy paused, setting the arrows down and turning to face Julian.
"Jozan consulted the King, who said I should speak to you, sir. His Majesty said that you could direct me to Sir McCloud, if you so desired."
"More then true." Said Peppy briefly. "I myself have not seen McCloud for five or six weeks now, though we do exchange letters weekly." He sat down and wove Julian to do the same. "Now, this 'style'… What is it you wish to learn?"
Julian detached the Katana from his belt and held it out to Peppy on open palms. "I received this during my travels sir. I know only a few basic moves to defend myself. I would like to become proficient in it."
Peppy took the sword, weighing it, then stood and drew it from the sheath, looking at the sword. It was a very basic Katana, possibly that of an infantry swordsman, but the balance was right, the blade sharp, the make good. The handle was simple wood, wrapped in cloth to prevent rotting. "Mm. Yes. McCloud is very much the expert with these; though he has said many times he is yet the student." He sheathed the sword and handed it back to Julian. "But training with a Katana requires a different style of thinking then training with a broadsword. I have watched friends train. It is difficult, and takes a very long time."
"I am willing to learn sir."
"And it would not bother you that your teacher would be a scant two years your elder? That he lives in the woods, in a cabin?"
"No sir. It is the quality of training that matters, sir."
"Mm." He smiled and sat back, tapping his fingers together. "Indeed. Perhaps I can help you, young Reeves…"
Fara sighed, walking the corridors of the castle, eyes on the book she held. Life before the war and after was very much alike, but more tolerable now. Her father had agreed to allow her to continue her sword lessons, after Sir McCloud had taken him aside and quietly explained that it was as much her sword skills as his that had saved her. Also, McCloud's mage friend Slippy Toad was helping her hone her magic skills, often with the assistance of Katt Monroe; another comrade of McCloud's who currently was assisting in running the local Thieves' Guild. But still, her parents persisted in searching the courts for an appropriate prince to arrange her with, and her heart already belonged to someone else.
She stepped into the courtyard, walking to a certain stone bench and sitting, setting her book aside and closing her eyes. Her powers, her visionary powers, awoke in her, and she remembered.
This was a consolation. Her powers, as random as they were, did do this for her. They let her remember being held by her love. So she loved one of her father's Knights. He had saved her life. She had saved his. Fate had decided for them, and she couldn't have been happier with that decision.
She sighed and stood, lifting her eyes to the skies, smiling when she saw the circling form of a hawk. She lifted her arm, closing her hand into a fist, and the hawk dove easily, drawing up and landing on her arm. A long, thin wooden tube had been tied to one of its legs, and a single rose was held in its beak, which was shortly deposited in her waiting hand. It sat patiently as she untied the message tube, and then moved to her shoulder, fluffing its feathers and settling down as she sat again, unrolling the parchment.
The paper was Elven made, and the writing masculine. She automatically noticed these things, eyes scanning over the letter, and allowed herself a smile. When he wanted to be, Fox McCloud was a romantic and a poet, and his letters were the current light in her rather boring life.
" … Perhaps some of my father's diplomacy skills have been passed on to myself. As I have said, I have negotiated with a local green dragon for language lessons. She has been amiable about it, but in return demanded that I speak to a local Elven tribe about the fact that they are hunting in her grounds. We reached a peaceful settlement, by some grace of God (though which God, I'm not sure).
It's so peaceful here, Fara. Falco often wonders why I have come to abandon the city, but it is only natural for me. My only regret is that in my solitude, I have become lonely. This had made meditation rather a difficulty; how am I supposed to enlighten myself when I keep wishing that you were here? Impossible, I know, but is not the company of angels the hardest to reach? …"
She smiled softly, continuing to read through the letter, rolling it when she was done. "Are you willing to wait for a reply?" She asked the hawk.
The hawk blinked once. This particular bird wasn't the sort that commonly frequented this country, no; this was an Egyptian hawk by the name of Osiris. Fox's familiar, though how he had come to have an Egyptian hawk as his familiar was still a mystery to her.
"All right then." She stood, leaving the courtyard and returning to her room, already considering what she was going to write back.
"Perhaps I am lost?"
Julian wondered, leading his gelding on foot down the road. It was late in the day, and he had spent most of the evening before gathering some light supplies and possessions, going through Hare's directions over and over in his head. Not that they were very specific; but then, it seemed that Sir McCloud's cabin didn't actually have a cleared path to it.
The forest the road bordered was peaceful, but obviously brimming with life. Once, he even thought he had seen a unicorn watching him, and then the beautiful beast had been gone. He had tried to tell himself it had been a hallucination, but he hadn't been able to convince himself yet.
His gelding nickered softly, and he paused, peering through the woods. After many moments, he was able to make out a little-used trail, and there, in a small clearing, was a wood cabin.
He led his gelding down the trail, tail waving absently, pausing when he reached the center of the small clearing. The cabin's door was closed, no horse was tied to the post, and no smoke rose from the stone chimney. He was about to leave when a voice suddenly reached him.
"Who are you looking for?"
He spun around, trying to orient on the voice and failing. "I'm looking for Fox McCloud, one of the King's knights."
"Oh, really?" The voice, now coming from a completely different direction, seemed amused. "And who is it that searches for me?"
"Yes. You are a guard from the city? What brings you to my cabin?"
"Training, sir. My name is Julian Reeves. The Head Guard said I should speak to you sir."
"Indeed." Seemingly materializing from the woods around him, a simply dressed young fox strode into the clearing. Wearing deep green pants and a tied tunic, he seemed very much a man of common blood, but hanging from his belt were two swords, one of which was a Knight's broadsword, the other of which was clearly a Katana. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance." He bowed easily, with grace that seemed at odds with his appearance.
"Yes. That is my formal title. I would much rather you call me Fox, though." Fox smiled just a bit, then grew completely serious, snapping over to his soldier side. "Now, you said you needed training?"
"Yes sir… I mean, Fox. I wish to learn to use a Katana, sir. I do know some very basic maneuvers. The Head Guard was unable to train me."
"I see your difficulty. And Jozan thought that I should train you?"
"Yes. He had me speak to Sir Hare, who directed me here."
"Indeed." Fox sighed loosely. "Julian, if I may address you by your first name… training with a katana requires discipline not many people have. It is a completely different fighting style, completely different way of thinking then a broadsword requires…"
"I am willing to learn, Fox. I know it requires much training, and that you are not much older then I, but I am willing to learn."
Fox took one long, last look at the guard in front of him. He was of a canine descent, with some feline perhaps, producing a rather lanky if muscular young man. His posture was quiet, dignified, expression honest. "There is a saying. 'If the student is ready, the teacher will appear.' If you are ready to train, and train hard, I will teach you. But I warn you, this will not just be sword fighting that you will be learning."
"Then show me what you can do."
Julian raised his eyebrows, stunned. "Perhaps you should sir. You are the teacher."
"And you are the student." Fox smiled a bit. "You first."
Julian stepped back, bowing in something not far from Oriental style, hands pressed together, then straightened, drawing his sword and going into basic maneuvers, mostly defensive actions, rather slowly, but it had a bit of rough grace. Fox's gaze was calculating, watching every angle and muscle movement.
It wasn't long before Julian stopped and sheathed his sword, having long ago noticed Fox's gaze, and bowed again, eyes up. "Well, sir?"
"It's obviously been a while since you were taught the moves, but you've held the knowledge well. You have promise. But," he held up a finger. "Promise is only a small part of the whole. Determination. Honor. Respect. There are many things that go into the transition from student to master."
Julian nodded slowly. "I showed you what I can do sir."
Fox actually laughed, a rare occurrence, because he rarely let himself show so much emotion. "I need a partner to really perform, Julian…"
"You got one." Said a rough voice from the direction of the road.
Both turned, and the reactions were greatly different. Julian gawked, Fox grinned.
Falco bowed from his saddle, Guild cape swept back, showing the sword at his side. "Your familiar dropped me a letter, Fox, and I took it upon myself to visit. I'm rather lucky I found the place." Falco dismounted easily and walked the rest of the way to his friend, exchanging a brisk handshake and a grin. "Who is your young friend?"
"This is Julian Reeves. I do believe he just became my student."
"Ah a pleasure." Falco turned to Julian, saw the look, and smiled crookedly. "Yes. I am a Guild thief. In fact, I'm supported by the King of Thieves himself. I run the local Guild."
"You're Falco Lombardi?"
"I can see you've heard of me." Falco turned to Fox. "You need a partner?"
"Though the best moves are performed alone, many have trouble seeing them. I would be obliged if you would spar with me."
"An honor." He replied grandly, swirling his cape off and draping it over his horse's saddle, revealing simple, dignified clothing, and stepped back from Fox, bowing.
Fox returned the bow, waving Julian back, and they drew their swords at the same time, Fox's flashing blue, Falco's flashing with fire. They began to circle slowly, gazes sharp, then nodded to each other and attacked at the same time.
The clashing glows reflected around the clearing and across trees as the swords sparked and ground against each other, each slight motion part of the dance. The styles were similar, but not perfectly alike, using each variation to build a new one, a thousand passes of the blades. The sound of the blades could be heard for miles through the forest, but traveling with it was laughter, good natured feelings that made those that heard it realize that this was not a fight, but a friendly duel, a mere contest.
It was all in play of course, and in the end, Fox disarmed Falco with two simple flips of his sword. Falco's sword flew across the clearing and planted into the ground.
"You could have done that five seconds into the match, of course." Falco grunted, retrieving his weapon, wiping the dirt off the blade, and sheathing it.
"Quite probably. You've greatly improved though."
"I'm only a beginner without the sword." He rattled his fingers on the hilt of the sword and smiled a bit.
"Such is the way with magic." Fox turned and looked at Julian, now standing at the edge of the clearing, having watched this whole performance with a feeling of minor awe. It was like watching two masters of a craft collaborate on a great project, and this had just been for fun. "Are you satisfied that I know what I am going to teach?" He easily manipulated the sword through his fingers, blade purring and buzzing, absorbing stray beams of sunlight and glowing.
"What is the make of that blade?" Julian whispered, watching it.
"Elven. Mithral to be exact, enchanted to slay evil, bound by rite and blood to my family line." Fox sheathed it.
"I am more then satisfied that you are as legends tell." The younger man shook off a bit. "I am honored to be your student." He pressed his hands together and bowed low.
"Well, what do you call that?" Falco looked at Fox.
Fox looked back and smiled a wise smile. "Considering what he has to learn, I would call it a good start."