Location: Mid-November 3550; Stormholm Caer, Harkania March
Stormholm Caer was a place of meandering passages, countless courtyards, and rugged beauty. Renestrae wondered whether she might ever explore it fully; there were places aplenty to escape the eyes of its regular inhabitants. Under the sharp azure of a November morning, the hue tinged just barely by the last few golden fingers of sunrise, the bard had found one such place. The courtyard was one of many exterior courtyards to be found in the mountain hold. The stone of the keep proper surrounded it on all sides, there being a lower walkway exposed by graceful arches supporting the stone above, running all the way along its length with doors to various wings at both ends. To the other side, there was a set of carved stairs that ran to another set of double doors. Far above, the battlements, accessible by doors within the keep, there being a tower at the corner. Periodically at each pillar, there were elegant sconces that held moonglobes to provide illumination during darker hours. Someone had thoughtfully ensured that there were stone benches for those who wished to rest, reflect, or sneak a quiet nap.
Her reasons for seeking out such privacy were not necessarily rooted in an aversion to people, although she certainly enjoyed her time alone; no, this was a matter of pride.
Namely, she did not want her fellow kith and kin to witness her making a damned fool of herself.
In her callused right hand, there was a long dagger, fashioned simply, its hilt narrow enough to accommodate her slender fingers. In her left, there was a short dagger, held in a reversed manner. It was the style in which she had learned to fight, but perhaps “fight” was a stretch; the newest member of House Stormdanovich had not exactly undergone combat in her twenty-six years of life. Mostly it had been warding off the occasional brigand, and being just fierce enough to escape or fend them off.
Before her was arrayed various combat dummies, rotating practice apparatus, and other targets for her fancy. It was an area that was used for honing one’s muscle memory in weaponry, but was far less often occupied than other areas. Her bow was propped against a pillar, set down after she had loosed arrows against targets that moved and jiggled by some clever mechanism. She was far more comfortable with her bow, having been much-used to hunting, but she was no warrior. Not yet, anyhow.
She was typically dressed as was her custom: a coupling of wool and leathers, with touches of nature-inspired design, comprising of her cuirass, vambraces, pauldrons, cuisses, greaves, fingerless leather gloves, and hardy boots, worn over a violet tunic and grey leggings. Her hair was bundled into a braid, which she’d coiled into a bun at the nape of her neck. She had resolved that if she was to practice, then she would do so in her full array of accoutrements, so as not to grow complacent. Her trappings had taken on a more uniform look, in that they seemed more tailored; the Keep’s tailors had been generous and skilled in their craftsmanship.
She rotated the dagger experimentally, surveying the dummy before her. It was comprised of stacked, short pillars that rotated separately when struck, and appeared very much as though it had suffered an unfortunate accident with a tree, and so had all sorts of wooden arms that just out at various angles. A hapless trainee, if they didn’t remember to duck, would no doubt be struck by one of the other arms as they tried their skill. While not nearly as effective as sparring with a partner, it was at least far more useful than a stationary target.
She self-conscientiously had made a furious attempt, only to be thwacked thoroughly in the shoulder. For an individual who was fairly nimble and acrobatic, it wounded Ren’s pride more than her actual flesh. She cursed and growled to herself, temper flaring, before the sprang away to collect herself. Fie and fury! She would do better. She had embraced the Stormdanovich name, and she would do her damned best to truly earn its keep.
Thwack! Thud! She danced forth, jabbing out with the right, then the left; she dodged the first pivoting arm, and then the second, and managed to shuffle her feet around the lower one, but was caught off-guard by the fourth. She huffed with indignation, putting some distance rapidly between herself and the offensive apparatus, and made every effort to piece her fractured dignity back together.
This morning Aramil had decided to explore the grounds a bit. The previous day had been taken up by his arrival with the Gyfrin, Song, and their meeting with the High Lord. Then a bit of orientation as Stormholm Caer was to be their long term residence. He had taken a circuitous route, deliberately getting himself lost in the maze of corridors and caverns. It was a good way to familiarize himself with a place - get lost and find his way back. He won't forget it next time!
He had changed out of his travelling clothes from yesterday - per the High Lord's instruction, he was garbed similar to the Morrighan. They were mostly black, in contrast with his usual preference of earthy browns and greens. Two belts crossed his hips, one holding his trousers and pouches, the other exclusively for his sword scabbard, the weapon peace-tied while he was within the confines of the fortress.
He was walking nearby one of the various courtyards when he heard unexpected sounds emanating from it. Metal striking wood, softer thuds, then a woman's voice cursing. His curiosity piqued, he veered his path towards it. He leaned against a pillar with his arms crossed, simply watching Ren practice for some time on the combat dummy. Her form was all wrong and her strikes imprecise and rough. A beginner to be sure. Each time she swore, his grin widened, until he let out an audible laugh.
There was suddenly a stiffness to her shoulders. Renestrae’s head turned, taking her unexpected audience into her periphery. The rest of her body followed, and a furious crease drew her eyebrows closer, her lips pressing into an offended line. Remembering herself, the lines smoothed away, and she tipped her chin upward in peeved defiance.
“Enjoying the performance, are you?” She demanded, as she sharply sheathed both daggers at her hips. She assumed a rebellious pose; her fingers closed about the hilts, elbows pointed slightly back and out to the sides, one hip at an angle, one knee gently bent, causing the rest of body to follow a skewed curve. “I’m glad that I could offer your lordship some modest entertainment this morn.”
Aramil extended his hands out to the sides in supplication. "No offense meant, my lady, I just did not expect such… colorful language from one such as you." He lazily pushed himself off the pillar with a shoulder and casually approached her, a hand resting on the pommel of his own peace-tied longsword. "I am hardly a 'lordship'. I am but a lowly servant of the High Lord. Aramil Moonshadow," he introduced himself with a practiced, precise bow.
Her expression took on a subdued cast, but she still seemed wary. Her shoulders sank fractionally, an indication that her guard had lowered, but was not entirely reduced. Many folk served House Stormdanovich, but it was the High Lord he had explicitly mentioned. She reflected his bow with one of her own, extending one leg gracefully.
“I go by Ren,” she told him, her name softened by her mountain burr. There was the barest hint of a smile as she added, “A lowly bard, and servant to the Caer.” She gave him a long, measuring look, canting her head marginally to the side like a curious bird. “What is it you do for the High Lord, Syr Aramil Moonshadow, beyond laughing at folk making rightly fools of themselves?” She sounded out his name with a gently mocking, almost challenging edge.
"Please, simply Aramil will suffice," he intoned at her use of his full name. He eyed her for just a moment, as if to gauge her demeanor. He decided that she wasn't a y'Carthu spy; certainly the High Lord would know otherwise. "I am a Sentinel. A guardian for the Gyfrin." He shook his head and explained his earlier reaction, "I would not think to laugh at someone learning. I was once as… inexpert as you. My laughter was merely due to your cursing. My sincere apologies if it appeared otherwise."
“If you are a Sentinel, Syr Aramil, then I trust you have attained mastery since?” The use of syr was deliberate, now playful. She was taking him in differently now, studying the angles of his face, the hue of his eyes. More than that, he seemed...leaner than was typical of the Cymrie. Fair where she was dark. Was her mind deceived, or was there a soft tapering to his ears? She had never known one of the Sidhe, but she knew of them, and her knowledge was not altogether much. The Mar’kathi people had not been flattering of them, being so very far from, but her perceptions had drastically changed since coming to Stormholm. She had a great deal to learn, but by the stars, she would see that she did.
He inclined his head in the affirmative, "Indeed, I have spent many a year mastering the blade. Between service in the Cymeria Guard and Sentinel training, I have become quite proficient." At least, in theory. He was a near-master on the training field. Out in actual combat, he had yet to be truly tested. His eyes took her in as well, now that their conversation had become friendlier. She was exotic and… difficult for him to place. He had studied most races in the Theurgy as an academic exercise, but specifics of regionality were beyond his knowledge. He was, well, intrigued.
“Does the High Lord encourage seriousness, as well? The Sentinels are a solemn lot, but then, I’ve only met a few of you.” She asked, her lips having tugged into a wry smile. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Except, of course, those moments they find themselves unable to help but laugh at one’s foolish antics.” Her eyes glittered mischievously, the feeling of shredded dignity momentarily forgotten.
"Sentinels are expected to maintain a certain level of formality in all things. And, by extension, yes, seriousness." He suddenly cracked a wide grin, "But we do occasionally break our very serious etiquette when a silly creature amuses us."
She scoffed, her eyes briefly narrowing, she for all the world drawing herself up like a cat caught in a moment of ruffled pride. She was no silly creature of his! It was one thing to call herself silly, but to call her a creature as though she were some kitten stumbling over her own paws? He knew not her capabilities!
“If it pleases his Sentinelship, I’ll return to my labours if no helpful advice is offered,” she sniffed, her attempt at seeming unaffected looking more like a pout.
His grin faltered and his brow furrowed in concern. Their witty banter took a rapid turn. Did he misread her? Entirely possible, given his relative naivete outside the Theurgy. "If advice is what you sought, all you need is ask."
So it was that Renestrae was faced with a dilemma. He seemed genuinely mortified at having upset her, and she had certainly been so, but he surely had meant no harm by his commentary. And truly, she did not ask. But she was not the sort to ask for help. Equally, she knew that she needed guidance. Stubbornly, she was the sort who desired to learn for herself, for she had been raised to learn quickly, or the entire village suffered. One simply did or did not. That said, she had no experience in combat, nor weapons training. She had been schooled in how to wield weapons, and had once in a long while fended off some brigand, but those were hardly fights. Her pride hampered her ability to call upon the Sentinel’s mastery for guidance, but conflicted with her desire to better herself, to be useful to her family name.
An internal struggle ensued. Wars were fought, the grand scale of which was carefully contained in the confines of the bard’s mind and heart.
“Only if you were so inclined to,” she said eventually, her gaze flickering to his feet, and back up to his face. Her attempt at nonchalance fell woefully short; it was evident that she was loathe to ask, but she needed his help.
Aramil's smile returned, not playful this time, but genuine. He bowed formally, "I am at your service, milady." Then he took on a decidedly less formal air. He shook out his arms and untied his sword. It remained in its scabbard, however. "Do you only fight with daggers, or are you familiar with a sword?" Knowing where she stood would give him a starting point.
“Daggers,” she said, moving her hands off the hilts, the heel of her palm still resting there. “One longer. Anything larger is difficult to wield. The shorter one in the left, but I mostly use it for blocking.” At least, that’s what naturally had come to her. Block with the left, lash out with the right, and hope that it sent her assailant running.
Aramil stepped back a step and drew his sword, twirling it in his hand. "Once you get used to it it's not that difficult," he commented. Really, he wasn't all that more muscular than she, though he did have a small leverage advantage with his longer frame. The weapon itself was rather simple and utilitarian. It was one he acquired long ago, and showed the wear of regular use, if only for training. He took a couple demonstrative swings in the air to the side before sliding it back home into its scabbard. "If you like, I can provide guidance on how to wield a full size sword. Or we can continue with the smaller blades. Your preference."
Uncertainty crossed her features, but she drew both daggers all the same. Each blade had been at the corresponding hip to her hand; she held the left with the point downward, and the right, she rotated deftly against her palm, as though it were a much-practised movement. They were as much simple as his, with just a touch of elegance to the design. She glanced at the dagger in her right hand, and then at him.
“Perhaps in time, the sword,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation. “Daggers first.” His sword seemed an extension of himself; how easily he moved with it! Like all things, she knew well enough that it took practice and hard work, even for those who had a natural inclination.
He nodded once and critically eyed her stance. It was not an unusable one, but one he had not been trained in. The Guard, and indeed the Theurgy, preferred to teach simpler, direct methods. Still, he could work with this. A few techniques added to her repertoire would improve matters greatly all on its own.
Aramil extended his hand, palm upward. "May I? He asked, indicating one of her daggers.
She mmph’d an affirmation, and with a flick of her wrist, the blade was flat against her palm, thumb pressing against the other side. She held it out to him hilt-first.
His hand rose to meet the hilt and gently took hold of it. As soon as her pressure released, he tested the weight and balance of it in his hand with a few up and down motions. A workable weapon, not dissimilar to ones he had trained with before. He looked to her briefly before approaching the dummy. "With a dagger, one of the most important skills is smooth swings and jabs. Holding it like this," he demonstrated it forward out of his fist, "you're going to want to stab." In the same hand he flipped it so the blade extended back as she was holding it before. "This way, you're going to be slicing. Follow through is important here."
He demonstrated a few hits on the dummy. First, jabs with the point, dodging the subsequent swinging arms. Then, once he switched to the backwards blade, he sliced the dummy by what appeared to be punches that missed. Again, he deftly dodged the swinging arms. He then stepped back to her and flipped the blade to present it back to her hilt-first. "Of course, you have to always have situational awareness. Know where your enemy is and going to be."
Faced with the prospect of looking foolish once more, Renestrae again took pause. Then again, the man was not unfamiliar with trainees, and had demonstrated patience. She stepped up to the dummy, took in an even breath, and struck out with the right hand. The upper arm came whistling around, and as she ducked, she darted out the left dagger to block. The arm bounced away, and an arm on the lower tier came swinging about. She sidestepped away, hopping to avoid a lower branch, and haphazardly blocked another coming blow. As she did, she managed to stop a centre arm from striking her back hard, but it connected all the same. She sighed irritably, but there was no cursing.
“Even knowing how the arms move on this, it catches me,” she complained. “I must be better.” She added, in a more subdued tone: “I haven’t much instruction, nor much experience. Just a bandit or two once in a way, and I always saw to it the fight was not prolonged. I either ran, or did enough that I was not an easy target.”
Aramil was only mildly disappointed she didn't curse when she was struck. Still, he didn't laugh, nor even grin at her plight. "Indeed, that tactic will work for individual targets. In a prolonged or larger battle, you'll have to withstand a longer assault. That is where the dummy comes in.”
He stepped up to it and swung the top section, sending the dummy into action. "There is an easy solution you haven't considered." He glanced back with a small grin, "Don't block. Dodge. Hit once, get away. Wait for your opening, hit again, get away. Let the dummy swing at empty air." He stepped back again to give her room. "You said you are a bard?" He queried, "A performer? Use it. Dance with your opponent. Keep moving and stay on your toes. Use your size and skill against them."
She felt an inward prickle, instinctively defensive. She knew those things! Or...she knew them instinctively, when faced with an opponent. She quieted the inner, rebellious voice, and forced herself to nod. Take heed. Listen. It seemed a blatant tactic, rife with common sense, but she was not thinking. She held her tongue, and forced a nod.
She demonstrated, and schooled tension out of her limbs. She struck, and instead of attempting to anticipate where to block, she pivoted instead. The space allowed her to see the next coming wooden arm, and she jabbed with her right hand. Jab, dodge, jab, dodge. Instead of blocking with the left, she struck.
“‘Tis different with a living opponent though, no?” She asked, catching her breath, allowing the rotating dummy to come to a slow, spinning halt on its own. “An opponent will follow me. This does not. If I expose my back, surely they will strike me?” She regarded him with all seriousness, driving down her pride, listening for his instructions.
He couldn't help but smile as she completed a routine just then, without once getting hit. "Indeed, it is," he confirmed with a nod. "A living opponent will follow and anticipate your moves. This," he waved at the dummy, "is simply for practice hitting the right spots when they are trying to block you."
He twisted his neck looking around the training arena, finally spotting what he was looking for. He left her side for just a moment, walking over to a rack of what, at first glance, appeared to be wooden poles of various length. He selected two; one about a meter long, and another half that. As he walked back over to her he said, "Did you notice you didn't get hit that time?" Then he held out the smaller pole to her in one hand, now clearly a wooden practice weapon.
“It could hardly follow me,” she retorted, with a telltale twinkle in her stormy blue eyes. She took the pole with some uncertainty, hefting it gingerly. She flashed him an apprehensive look. Well, if he were not willing to teach her, he would not have offered her the opportunity to learn.
Aramil smiled supportively and swung his own weapon in the air next to him as if it was his sword. He stepped to before her and held his practice weapon at his hip to simulate a sheathed sword. He offered a short bow before drawing it and assuming a ready stance; his legs held apart and his knees bent for mobility. His weapon held before him and his free hand held back. "Attack."
She did not lunge at him foolishly, nor flail at him as she had seen some do, charging with little or no finesse. She adjusted her stance, as she had seen done, so that she was exposing as little of herself as possible, angling her body away. She eased slightly into her knees and, although very much lacking the skill, did swing at him with the natural dancer’s grace she possessed.
Aramil used his own experience to dodge deftly to the left, knocking her weapon aside with his own, an audible thock reporting. "Again, keep going," he insisted. He fell into a dance of his own, though not as graceful as hers. His was born of combat training whereas hers was born of performance.
Thock, thock, thock.
Aramil's breathing increased with the exertion, just keeping up with her was a task in itself! But he was more experienced in one-on-one fighting, and could keep her strikes away. The dance was only part of it, one had to predict where the hits would come, and as he was purely defensive at the moment, it was manageable. She was presenting multiple openings he could take advantage of, but he chose not to. She needed confidence first, then they could work on the details. At last, he spun at one of these openings and struck behind him with the wooden sword to catch her on the backside.
There blossomed a fiery string of syllables, words in Cymrie and what remnants of her ancestral tongue she’d grown up with. Renestrae stumbled away, one hand instinctively flinging itself to where the insulting blow had landed, the other white-knuckled as her temper flared. About her, there was a sudden gust, far too direct to be anything but deliberate, fuelled by raw emotion alone.
She set her jaw in annoyance, seeking the mockery in his face. Did he land a blow to her rump to be uncouth? Or was he simply striking her where it would send the clearest message?
The wind buffeted Aramil, forcing him to extend a stabilizing leg back. His sleeves billowed and plaited hair danced behind him. He recognized the power for what it was - he was attuned enough to nature to know it was no typical zephyr.
There was no mocking in his face. When his arm dropped from protecting it from the wind, his expression was colored with apology, with the smallest traces of a smile. He even had resisted the urge to chuckle at her choice of colorful verbiage. He unclipped the canteen on his hip and took a swig of water.
"You are doing well," he said as he offered the canteen to her, "but you are leaving yourself open. We can continue with the same, advance to defensive tactics, or stop for the day. I am at your pleasure, coli Renestrae." The last was said genuinely and respectfully, accompanied with a small bow not dissimilar to when they began the spar. It was, effectively, giving her control over their encounter this day.
“I ask forgiveness,” she said instead, dipping her head in kind. “I must be mindful of my temperament. I have only recently undertaken lessons for my...other abilities.” In spite of magic’s commonality in the Cymrie, she still spoke around it as though it were a thing not to be announced directly. It was a strange sentiment, for Sentinels were surely familiar, in some regard, with such abilities. One would have to be, to serve the House. She was not among y Carthu sympathisers, and yet, there was a continued adjustment, a breaking of habits that had been forged over twenty-six years.
“You no doubt are familiar with such things,” she added, accepting the canteen gratefully.
"No forgiveness required," he said kindly, his eyes straying downward as he angled the practice sword to parallel the ground, his free hand sliding along it. "I admit the strike was… unconventional, so your response wasn't unexpected nor out of line."
He nodded to her other admission. It took many years of practice to control his own abilities. "I am indeed familiar. If you wish, I can assist you in that regard as well." As if as an afterthought, his off hand felt the well-worn dry wood that made up the practice weapon. He concentrated and the wood began extending and curling in on itself, finally tying into a sort of wooden knot.
Her breath caught as she watched. She never imagined that anything as solid as that could warp and twist so! It was as though it had a life of its own.
“I-- yes. ‘Tis would be of great use to me,” she said in faltering tones, as she watched. “I have never seen such a thing. Can all of those who use those-- those abilities, are they able to do what you do?” She continued, “I do not know the breadth of my powers, but I shall speak to my mentor about lessons with you as well.” She grinned at him. “If you are done fashioning an unfairly advantaged weapon, syr, shall we cross again? I may yet land a blow on you this day, ‘less you see it fit to cheat.”
Aramil chuckled and slid his hand down the weapon,concentrating. It was as if he straightened it again with the action. "No, every individual has differing skill. Part of training was discovering what skill one possesses, and pressing those limits," he explained. "One of my peers could wrought cold iron as I do wood. Another could make fires dance without a breath of wind."
He smiled genuinely and assumed another combat stance, side to her, weapon leading. "Strike me then, milady, if you can."
“I can, and I shall,” she laughed, and sprang forth.