A Dark Horse: Chapter Twelve

World and characters belong to Brandon Sanderson

Mare's dreams were indistinct, a swirling maelstrom of color and emotion. The first thing to present itself coherently to her was a savory blend of herbs and fresh baked bread; the second was a slight throbbing in her head. She opened her eyes, then shut them to what light was streaming through the windows. "What time is it?" she asked.

"Kelsier's already left," a familiar voice answered. Vent. Mare brought herself to open her eyes again, winced a bit, and sat up on her cot. The Thug was standing in the kitchen area, cutting up a loaf of bread into slices. "I decided that you could use some extra sleep, seeing as how we were all up so late. Bread?"

Mare blinked a few times. "Uh, yes." Vent took a plate from one of the cupboards above his head, and placed a few slices on it. He turned around, a small smile on his dark face. Mare watched him carefully, and accepted the dish without taking her gaze off the awkward expression on his face. "You seem in a good mood," she said, careful with her wording. "Compared to yesterday..."

"Well, I... I had a good night's sleep," he said, stuttering a bit. "New day, and all."

Mare nodded, and sank her teeth into one of the warm slices on her plate. Her eyes widened, prompting Vent's smile to inch a little wider. She swallowed quickly. "This is the best thing I've ever eaten."

"Thank you." Vent sat, quiet as Mare tore into her breakfast, that same curious smile on his face the entire time. As Mare ate, she wondered at the sudden change in Vent's behavior. It wasn't visible just in his actions, but even present in the way he held himself, in his voice; there was an odd optimism in him. It wasn't the brash confidence Kelsier displayed, but something quieter. "I'll take your plate," he said once Mare finished.

She handed it to him in the same cautious manner she accepted it. "You seem really different from last night. More... reassured, I guess. You just had a good night's sleep? That's all?"

Vent set her plate on the crude kitchen counter. "Well, I had a good dream." For a second, Mare thought he was going to tell her about the dream, but then he glanced up at her with his quiet smile. "Get ready quickly; I can't excuse you from your lessons just because of a sprained ankle. We've got to get you defending yourself before Keep Elariel sets their Hazekillers on you."

"Is it a good idea to train me at Keep Hastings? Or is there some sort of precedence for preparing to rob one noble family in the home of another?" Mare asked, looking around the room Vent called 'home'. The entire kitchen was bathed in warm, if insubstantial, light; it was impossible to tell if it was red marble tiling composing the kitchen floor, or brown tiling altered by the lack of good light. Her leg still wrapped in yellowing gauze, she sat on a much too small and much abused wooden stool in the middle of the room.

Vent stood in the very center, away from the counters and ovens, with a dueling cane in each hand. "Well, it's better than in broad daylight where any number of informants can see. Besides, I got all the servants here to clear out for a few hours or so – it'd be rude if I didn't make use of that. You don't want to know how I'm going to make up for that later. So, here." He gave one of the canes a light toss, and by some miracle it ended up in Mare's hand. "Have you ever used a cane before?"

"Ah, no."

Vent gripped his weapon with both hands. "Well, holding it correctly is the first thing. Maneuvering it is the second. Then..." Mare stared at the lanky man, pursing her lips in a quizzical expression. "I'm sorry, am I doing something wrong?"

"You just seem so... relaxed. And certain of yourself. It's eerie." Vent stared back at Mare, his lips barely parted. "Well, that and when Kelsier tried teaching me, he kind of shoved me right into it. And convinced me into jumping off a building. But this... I like this. Less bruising, I would think."

Mare jumped at one of the oddest sounds she had ever heard: Vent's snort of laughter. "Oh, yes. I'm sorry to tell you this, but Kelsier's first lesson with you was one of these easiest you'll have to endure." He glanced at Mare's stance. "Yes, that's right. Now, we're going to start with defense maneuvers. I'll swing, and you block. It sounds easy, I know, but you've got to keep a proper form while defending yourself; it's much easier to move quickly keeping your weapon close to your body. As for that ankle," he said, tapping the bandaging with his cane, "once it's healed up, we'll start on footwork."

"I thought you said you never taught anyone before?"

Vent paused. "You have to understand, today's a rather odd day for me." He brought the cane up in an arc over his head, straight down onto Mare's cane, extended over her head. "Good, your reflexes seem to be fine. Of course, only an idiot would try to attack you swinging a cane over his head, unless he had something else up his sleeve. Gives you too much time to react. Let's see what else you can defend yourself against."

By the time Vent was satisfied with Mare's first lesson, her arms felt gelatinous. Bruises blossomed on her shoulders, her back groaned with fatigue, and her head felt like it had been used as a bell clapper. Kelsier spraining her ankle was now a blessing; her legs were spared from the pain. "I warned you," Vent said, picking up the cane she had dropped moments earlier on the tile floor, placing it back behind the stove. "Just imagine if I had been burning pewter; you'd be unconscious by now."

Rubbing at the base of her neck, Mare gave a scowl. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but... well..."

"Kelsier may have sprained your ankle, but I broke your entire body?"

"Feels like it, anyway."

Vent smiled. "Great. Sometimes you have to break in order to get stronger. I guarantee you, we keep at your training, you'll be able to endure more damage. Hopefully you'll learn how to avoid some of that damage, but sometimes the best way to defend yourself is to take the pain."

"That sounds like a terrible way to defend oneself."

"It's worked well enough for me."

"You're a Pewterarm."

"Well, I'm also deathly afraid of pain, so I would say we're even." He twirled his cane in the air; Mare instinctively flinched. "You'll find out that a little fear is a good thing to have in a fight."

Even as he spoke about fear, his voice was strangely nonchalant. Perhaps it was the location, Mare thought to herself. But no – he had been smiling this morning, and yet last night he had been trembling at any sound. Now that she thought about it, last night he had also been oh so careful with the glasses, as if he might break them, yet he had shown no hesitation with Mare in the last half hour. "Vent?"

He dropped his cane. Apparently he had slipped into his thoughts while Mare pondered his attitude. "Yes?" he asked, retrieving his weapon off the floor.

"You seem... do you have a lot of these mood changes?"

He paused. "I... well, I... no. Not really. This is just...something new." Before Mare could ask him to elaborate further, he walked over to the stool she sat on, and extended an arm. "Our hour is up, and the staff should start filing in at any moment. Let's get out of here before a servant boy sees you and takes a liking to you."

As Mare took his arm, she came across a realization. Yes, Vent seemed more relaxed, more confident – but he only smiled while looking at her. But what was most eerie to her; she didn't mind it at all.