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 Fantasy The Settler Queen I - Under Southern Skies (Epicurean & Poldaran)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by Epicurean, Jul 20, 2018.

  1. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The last few utterances had clearly been a lead-up to a decision, and that decision would as always fall to Aonmar. He was not used to this kind of issue. The King had often asked what he would do, but that had been tests, ultimately idle talk. The thought of exposing Marlis to the battlefield was abhorrent. He looked at her, her feminine shapes, and thought of the times when in the bedchamber or in play, he had felt what strength she had. She was a woman – not a frail, dainty one for certain, but still a woman, the bones small, the frame not nearly as sturdy as that of an average man. She was not even as averse to physical activity as many ladies were, but the relentless training knights and soldiers went through wasn’t for nothing, it was done because it was necessary, and she had never had such training. It was doubtful that even with the harshest of training (which, given her position, was out of the question), she could be made into a fighter on par with a Vallan knight or an Ishon rider. There was also health to consider – would not manly pursuits lower her chance of conceiving? Already, Aonmar found himself praying for his seed to take hold each time he went to sleep after they had had their pleasure. To conceive was womanly, and if she strayed from that, would that not take away from her womanhood and potentially keep her from being fruitful? He desperately needed learned men, he needed to know so much more than he did, about anything…

    The only field in which Aonmar felt secure was – the field, the art of war. He had done reasonable to extremely well in anything he had tried in that regard and his judgment had not yet failed him. He tried to imagine his battles with the Ishon so far if Marlis had been there. He would have had victory each time, he would have not only driven them forth, but he would have gained the initiative each time and killed or captured many, many of their number. As an arrow in his quiver, as a weapon, Marlis’s value was enormous. There was no doubt about that from the standpoint of a captain of war. Yet that was not the issue, was it? The issue was whether it was legitimate to see Marlis as an arrow in his quiver, as a piece in the game he played against the Ishon with the well-being, maybe the existence of the Southern Royal Domains at stake. She was his wife and future Queen. It would detract from that position if he dragged her along in battles. Yet if he did, he might secure victories, save fighting men’s lives and thus, doing his duty better. It would be a stain on Marlis and himself, however – if he couldn’t protect her, if he needed her help to fulfil his duty to her and to everyone, the whole bond of allegiance between them was being disturbed. She might even look down on him for it, become unhappy with him. Duty, mores and honor seemed to each demand different things of him, but did not each of those depend on the others? Duty was a large part of honor and duty, honor was a large part of noble mores, and duty was in turn itself entwined with honor and morality. Aonmar had read the ancient sages and the new philosophers a little as a boy – now, for the first time, he wished he had listened better to Demold so that he would now be able to solve this puzzle.

    “Leave us, my lords,” he murmured so quietly he had to repeat the command, something which had never happened to him. “You shall have my decision on the morrow.” The Prince’s gaze lingered on Vodric; was it not dissolute of his old tutor to even make such a proposal? Was not even talking of putting a lady in armor a sign of lawless immorality? He remembered some writers who said that the calamity that had befallen the Old Realm had been caused by such things, by effeminate men and mannish women, disobedient wives, weak husbands, overly mild rulers and rebellious subjects…

    Soon, Marlis and he sat alone. There was silence between them for a while, then Aonmar forced himself to look her in the eye. “I would… have you speak your mind freely,” he began formally. “This is the innermost council, with no soul to hear you but myself. Say what you truly think of this place in which we find ourselves. It concerns your person gravely, and I would hear you without your words being restrained by the presence of others.”
     
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  2. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Aonmar was solemn, as the occasion warranted. The seriousness of the situation was plain in his manner. Marlis bit her lip as she considered how to respond.

    “I would like to say that the suggestion of myself in the field is preposterous. However…” She paused, meeting his blue eyes. “If I alone am able to find the Ishon and give warning, is there really a choice to be made? Do I not also have a duty as the future queen to see to the wellbeing of the people of our realm?”

    She sighed and looked down at her hands. “I do not like it, my lord husband. I do not feel it is my place, nor that I am well suited for such things.” Swallowing, the Princess continued, “I should be bearing your children, my lord. It worries me that I have yet to even carry. I sometimes wonder if it would not be better for you to take a mistress after all.”

    Marlis shifted and looked back up at him earnestly. “If I can’t bear your children, I should at least be useful to you in the matter of the Ishon.”
     
  3. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar pressed his breath through his teeth. Marlis had never been like this before, why did she have to start being difficult now? “Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped, “we have only been married a few months, and stressful ones at that. And what would I do with a bastard? My father has made a house law that only a child born of a royal mother can succeed to the New Realm’s throne. Not to mention the fact that I have no wish for a mistress, as you well know. You will bear children. Anything you do apart from that is not some sort of replacement duty, it is an additional one. That is the issue with which we are faced, by all spirits!” The Prince was close to lay into Marlis even more, but he saw the way she reacted to even this very muted outburst and hated every bit of it. “We should not even be considering this – but what else can we do?” he asked rhetorically, desperately trying to calm his tone but only partly succeeding. “I would have you consider the matter with me, not get side-tracked into other things, important as they may be.”
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
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  4. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Over the course of their admittedly short marriage, Marlis had found Aonmar to be a kind and understanding husband, reasonable in all ways, despite their rocky start and his short temper. When he snapped at her in response to what she had to say, she flinched and averted her gaze.

    How was she to know that a bastard couldn’t inherit? In the Midnight Realm, it was perfectly acceptable for a bastard to inherit when no direct descendants existed from marriage. It was satisfying to hear him state that he did not want a mistress outright, but his implication that she spoke from any perspective other than concern for what needed to be accomplished rankled; she did not want to share him. And how could he possibly know that she would, in fact, bear him the children they, and the very kingdom, desired?

    The way Aonmar spoke to her stirred something rebellious in Marlis. Usually timid in the face of his anger, muted though it was right now, she could not help but lash out at his harsh words to her. Her face flushed in anger as she snapped back at him. “You asked that I speak my mind freely, Your Highness; I was unaware that ‘freely’ meant only those words which you desired to hear.

    “If you think that for one moment I would relish the idea of your having a mistress, you are sorely mistaken. I thought only for the best interests of our joint duty to provide an heir. I was unaware that bastards could not inherit; it is yet another difference between the Midnight Realm and this. A simple correction would have sufficed. I will not suggest such a thing again, I assure you.

    “As to the apparent single matter you wish only to discuss, I have already stated that I do not see that we have much choice. I should not like to have to make this choice, either, but less would I like to have another Ishon catch you unawares. Already, it has been too close for anyone’s comfort. I…” Finally, she faltered, losing some of her anger. “I do not know what I would do if I lost you, my lord. I can only think that the best course of action is to make use of me as you will, as I am needed, and pray to the spirits that if I do conceive during all of this, that the child will not be affected. As all the world knows, such a child would be sickly at best, more likely chaotic and unstable. I should not like to raise such a child to lead the New Realm. It would not be for the good of the kingdom, nor look well upon us to produce such offspring.”
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  5. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar growled inarticulately, struggling to contain himself. Marlis was infuriating in her insistence to bring up the problems of what had to be done instead of just acquiescing to it. He wanted to berate her more, but what she said last was entirely disarming. The Prince made a throwing gesture. “So be it!” he hissed. “I hate doing this, Marlis,” he admitted, forcibly calming his voice. He ran his hand through his hair. Aonmar was annoyed with himself, he realized – his place in the world was to make decisions, and he had tried to shirk this one. That was a form of weakness that should have been beneath him. “We will fit you for armor; it is necessary for your protection in the field and so you are not so obvious a target. From afar, all men… all folk in armor look alike. You shall not fight – that is, I shan’t make you fight on purpose, even on the field. But you must be armed, and you must learn how.” He scratched his chin. “There is decorum to consider; I shall teach you myself, all else would be improper.” Aonmar sighed and looked at his wife. Vallan noblemen were given wooden knights as their first toys, wooden swords when they could walk, and were encouraged to fight with them. When training began, at six years old, their minds and bodies had already accustomed themselves to fighting. By the time they were fourteen, they were often hard to control, aggressive, cocky. That needed to be toned down over their years of squirehood. At Aonmar’s age, knights were fierce creatures, ideally tempered by honor and duty. Sickly boys who couldn’t start fighting early were at a disadvantage only few managed to fully recoup. “Nobody will expect you to be a knight. It would be improper and unjust. But you can learn how to move with the group and learn sword and pollaxe, learn some dagger, some wrestling, because everyone on the battlefield must be prepared to fight. You already ride very well, the combat turns should not be hard to grasp.” Aonmar shrugged and looked at Marlis. “You shall have to live with that. Everyone else as well.” Quietly, he added: “For our children, we must trust the heavens. We are doing what must be done. Moruanr will protect us.”
     
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  6. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Marlis looked at Aonmar skeptically at his mention of Moruanr, the Queen Goddess so recently rediscovered. But, she could not help nodding in agreement. Whether it be the Spirits or a new God of some sort, Marlis did not care, so long as their pleas did not fall upon deaf ears.

    "I do not see why I should need to learn weapons, but… I shall trust your judgment in this. You know such things better than I." She turned to him, sitting next to her, and reached for his hand. "Aonmar, I—"

    The door to the small solar banged open in that moment, startling her from what she was about to say. Rodric stood in the doorway, looking harried. “The Ishon you captured earlier is gone,” he said without preamble. “One of the guards went to bring him food, and the room was empty. I ordered a search, of course, but…” The knight’s eyes fell on Marlis, who’s heart felt like it had fallen to her feet. Nashû’s words from earlier came back to her. If he got away, the Ishon would know about her…

    A repeat of the castle search was done, to similar effect. Nashû was well and truly gone, escaped likely past guards who saw right through him. It was late when the two of them finally retired to bed, both frustrated with the results of the day.

    Dismissing Etta, Marlis pulled off the smock she had worn under her gowns for the day and went to the basin of water next to the door for a quick wash. “I’m sorry the day was so trying,” she said, looking over her shoulder at him as she drew a wet cloth over her front.
     
  7. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The shutters were closed, yet it did not matter. They were approaching the depths of Winter, the days were short and gloomy, the nights abysmally dark. Aonmar sat on the bed and took unusually long to reply. It felt like he had used up all his restraint for the day, all the discipline. Finally, he found the right words – he was desperate to be conciliatory. He remembered his days as a small boy, when the worst thing that could happen to him was to make his mother angry. These days, it was Marlis with whom he wanted to be on the best of terms. “It was trying not only for me, my love,” he said quietly. “I’ve sent for the armorer to come to the castle tomorrow at noon to take measurements. I’ve been told he knows his craft very well. He learned from Master Irshanot in Bannarth, who makes the armor for my father’s household. Irshanot is Trûsuna.” The Trûsuna were a peaceful, crafty people from the North, so much known for their skills that their name was a widely used expression for crafted goods of high quality. “I should like to start teaching you tomorrow, as well,” he added in a voice clearly indicating that it was best done as soon as possible.
     
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  8. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Finishing her wash, Marlis dried herself and put a clean chemise on, covering the goose bumps that prickled her skin in the chill air. Climbing into bed, she snuggled up next to Aonmar under the blankets. She wanted to complain, to tell him it was too soon, that things were moving too quickly. But with Nashû’s disappearance, she knew how important it was that they be ready as soon as she could be. In addition, she didn’t have the energy to have a second argument with him in the same day. He was doing what needed to be done, in addition to his best at trying to keep her safe. A Trûsuna-trained armorer was among the best to be had.

    Instead, she brought up a different worry she had. “Not… not in the courtyard for everyone to see? I’m afraid I should be especially terrible.”
     
  9. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar shook his head; he had never intended to do the training in public, fraught with problems as it was. He thought mainly of other things than the aptitude or lack thereof his wife might show. Her position was at risk – as his future Queen, as the lady of the Southern Domains, even as a noble lady from the other Vallan realm. “Dagger and wrestling we can do here; the room is large enough. Sword and pollaxe – perhaps the solar, we shall need the higher ceiling.” The Prince managed a prim smile. “I will do my best to protect you from the effects of what we must do. Such is my duty, and such is my wish.”

    He felt as if Nashû’s escape and the conclusions drawn from it had made it all clear; there was no escaping the pressions of the circumstances. The question was no longer whether to do it or not, but how best to do them, how to keep the damage small while fulfilling the purpose. Aonmar would have to discuss the politics of this war… Marshals could allow themselves the luxury of just conducting the war. Princes had to do more. But that was still far off, and he needed his father’s support for such things in any case.
     
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  10. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Marlis sighed, relieved that at least she would not be on display while learning the things Aonmar deemed necessary for her to know. Spirits willing, she would never have to use what he was to teach her.

    The Princess had other worries, of course, not the least of which was her reception when they finally had to return to Bannarth. If she had inspired such hatred against her while following all the necessary social conventions, she shuddered to think of what the reaction would be to what they were planning now. It was obvious that Aonmar had the same misgivings as she, so she let the matter drop. There would be plenty of times to discuss it later.

    He made love to her that night. Where sometimes he had been rough with her, this night he was exceedingly gentle. The soft sighs and moans he brought forth from her only seemed to contrast her soft femininity against what needed to begin the next day. He brought them both to climax but did not linger, instead wrapping his strong arm around her protectively and settling down to sleep. Marlis fell asleep quickly, but was fairly certain Aonmar was still awake even as her eyelids drooped shut.
     
  11. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    By now, Aonmar had learned that many feelings were part of a marriage, and that not a few of them could be expressed in the way one made love. Sometimes, he wanted to show Marlis how much he desired her; then he was rough with her and her glittering eyes told them she enjoyed that. Sometimes, he was awed by the gift the heavens had bestowed on them, their love. He was intense, almost solemn at those times. On that night, he felt the need to comfort Marlis, to show her how he cherished her soul rather than her body. He was exceedingly gentle, putting her lust far before his own, showering her with kisses and soft, loving words. The short time she took afterwards to find sleep told him he had been successful. He himself was far from sleep at first, searching every crevice of his soul if he was doing the right thing. Maybe there were others with powers such as Marlis had – but even if that was true, how to learn that it was true? How to find those people? He wondered how she had gotten by these powers. Was it just a random thing, like some were born with nimble fingers, others with sharp eyes? But those things went in families, did they not? But why had no ancestor of hers shown any aptitude of this kind?

    These and other questions were still roaming Aonmar’s mind when he finally fell asleep. They were back as soon as he woke, but others superseded them. How do you teach fighting to one who has never fought, who doesn’t know about the quick ruthlessness required for victory, the cold decisive action to divert a threat? He washed; then, he ordered two wooden practice daggers and arming doublets (his own and the smallest one in stock) brought to their chambers.

    After breakfast, they met again in the bedchamber. Indicating the arming doublets, he explained: “We will wear those; the daggers are wooden, but they can still hurt a m… a person at times, the padding helps with that.” It took time to put the doublets on; there were many strings to tie and the doublet needed to fit tight to ensure the wearer could still move as freely as possible. In the old days, knights had worn thick padded tunics, but with the ubiquity of plate armor, that was no longer necessary, and the arming doublets had become much lighter. When they were done, Aonmar waved his wife over to the free space between bed, door and wall. They had a good number of steps to the next obstacle in each direction. “Once a fight starts,” he explained, quoting almost verbatim from a fencing manual, “the one who acts first is at an advantage. The mind takes a minuscule while to comprehend what it sees and to react to it. The advantage is in that time. So we try to shorten the time between what we see and our reaction. The most important of them is posture – your stance. Your knees should never be straight but bent. It enables you to take a step much quicker, to jump, to bend without losing balance, and you are much harder to throw to the ground that way. In a fight without armor, it is good to bend the knees quite deeply; in armor, it is more difficult, but one should still not stand straight.” He demonstrated, shooting forward and back with bent knees in agile, powerful movements. “Mayhap the Ishon will send more assassins, and they may succeed in getting you alone. You will likely face them without armor and at best a dagger in your hand. Because of that and because it is a good start to learning the knightly arts, we will start with that situation. Take that dagger. Grab it so the blade points downward in your right hand, to the opposite of your thumb.” He took his own practice weapon and raised it to the side of his head, pointing forward. “Bending your elbow and using your shoulder, you can deliver a quick, hard thrust. Aim for the neck, above the collarbone; if you hit, you will kill your man or at least incapacitate him quite quickly. If you miss, he will still fear for his life, and that is what you want him to feel. Show me this thrust,” he bade her.
     
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  12. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    The Princess donned the doublet without complaint, tying the myriad strings with Aonmar's direction. She had taken off her outer gowns and wore only her chemise beneath, to give her more freedom of movement. She listened intently to him as he spoke. What he taught her may save her life, and she tried to take in all that she heard.

    Taking the wooden dagger in hand, she turned it around in her grip as instructed. The Prince's movements looked so smooth and natural as he demonstrated. Marlis, by comparison, moved stiffly, only bending her knees slightly. Self-consciously, she raised the dagger to the side of her head just as he had. Her mirroring thrust was weak and uncertain.

    After two attempts, her arms fell to her sides limply. "Aonmar, this is ludicrous. I cannot do this. It isn't right."
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
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  13. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar closed his eyes to contain his rage, as he had done so often when faced with the stupid obstinacy his wife could show. There was a tried and true method for fixing this, and he would apply it mercilessly. “You tell me you can’t even pretend to thrust with a dagger?” he snarled. “What are you going to do to the Ishon, whine them to death?” The Prince snorted, then gathered himself. “It’s only fun to the fortunate, Marlis.” Like myself, he thought. He had always reveled in the weapons training, looked forward to each stage of it like a real nobleman should. But Marlis was no nobleman, or a man at all – that was why his snarl made her recoil, not rise in anger. The usual method wouldn’t work. “Do it as if you were going to swat a fly.” He realized that his wife had probably never in her life struck anyone. The skill she had with the reins and legs, she’d probably never even struck a horse with the whip. “Bring it down, hard. Put your shoulder behind it. You must want to kill, you have no choice. Once the daggers are out, only one survives. Strike!” he snapped, but Marlis only shivered at this tone of his – which of course he had never even dreamed of using with her. No man who respected himself talked to his wife like this, and certainly not one who loved his lady. “Strike, curse you! There is only air in front of you, this hurts no one.” All the goads, all the taunts, the stern reminders used on reticent boys would have no effect. Aonmar thought at them all as he was berating her but uttered none of the first dozen or so, because none of them applied to a woman. “You have folk you hate – imagine striking them!” There were other things he meant to say, but those would open up the Prince to the most effective of retorts. If he asked her, mockingly, if she wanted the ‘settlers’ to think they had gone soft on the Isles, she could retort that they would think it if she did fight well, because then it would be obvious the New Realm consisted of weaklings who needed their fighting done by their wives. What truth there was in this shamed him to the bone. He hid it away as far as possible, but it was there, like a dragon lurking in the dungeons, known only by the smell one ignored as best one could.

    With a weakling boy just beginning weapons training, Aonmar would have pushed now, physically taunting him until his sense of honor made him retaliate. He hoped he wouldn’t have to do that with Marlis, for he neither knew if it would work or if their love would survive it. Everyone loved the knightly tutors of one’s later squirehood, he realized, the ones who taught you the finer points of swordcraft and riding. Everyone, too, hated the first teachers, the gruff old soldiers who smacked you around until you learned ‘to get that damn guard up’. He had not been spared such treatment, even if he had balked at it in the best, most acceptable way – by quickly becoming faster, stronger and harder. “Either you learn to attack – to make your heart jump that fence – or you are a danger to anyone we ride with, despite your powers,” Aonmar told Marlis, in a calm tone, yet with the finality of the facts plain in his voice, plainer even than Aonmar had thought it would be.
     
  14. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Marlis had often ridden with her brothers out on the hunt. Some of the ladies of the court of the Midnight Kingdom even participated in the hunts with great vivacity. The Princess, however, had always held back and stayed astride her mount, rather than brandishing a weapon at an animal. At worst, she had desired to strike someone with the flat of her hand, but never with a weapon. Not only did she feel foolish in practicing to use one just now, but the very idea of doing harm on someone else, even in self-defense, frightened her.

    Aonmar’s goads only served to frighten her the more, and his harsh tone only added to her disquiet. Only his last words penetrated that fright, owing to his mention of being a danger to others. She grit her teeth as she struggled with herself. Be a danger to an enemy, or to her own people, whom she was trying to help? The question, and ultimately the decision, wasn’t a question at all.

    “You’re right, of course…” her voice, soft, trailed off. She met Aonmar’s steady gaze for a pregnant moment before taking a deep breath and looking away. She readjusted her stance and grip on the wooden dagger. Still stiff, there was still more feeling to her movements as she brought the dagger up beside her head and attempted the thrust once more.

    “Is this better? Am I doing it correctly?” she asked uncertainly.
     
  15. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    “That is better, yes,” Aonmar nodded, his temper calmed by Marlis’s effort. It was a little better – like a ten year-old boy maybe. He decided it was best to keep his sharp phrasing. It wouldn’t do to coddle his wife, he owed it to her not to hide the realities of battle from her. “If you ever have to use the dagger, be vicious, be ruthless. The first or second blow will likely decide the fight – and the dagger is an equalizer. If you stick the dagger right in his body, your foe can be as big as my Marshal, you’ll be the winner, meaning you live. You must not hesitate. If you draw a weapon, you must be willing to kill. With armored foes, you sometimes don’t have to kill them – but if one of those assassins comes to you, only one of you will be alive twenty heartbeats later. I want that to be you, my love,” he added. It sounded like an afterthought, but that was the whole point of the exercise, wasn’t it?

    Aonmar threw his dagger on a table. “Sometimes, you don’t even have a dagger. If at all possible, run from such a fight. I would, everyone would. But it might be that you can’t. Like I couldn’t in that tent. Raise your dagger like you did before.” Thinking back to that moment, his mind trying to decipher why he had been successful then. He hadn’t run, had he? Even if he could have gotten away. Honor and love, he thought irrelevantly, bound a man firmer than fetters ever could, if there was any good in him. It was a pleasant thought that there was evidently good in him… “His first thrust was aimed short – something we’ll talk about later when we use swords. Distance is everything. The dangerous part, the deadly part is the dagger, but you can’t grab it – so you try to grab the weapon arm.” Aonmar ducked slightly and his left hand shot out, fingers closing softly around Marlis’s right wrist. “If that’s all you do, you’re still at a disadvantage. He has a dagger, you don’t, you need to change that, that advantage has to go. So you use your other hand too – ram it right into his face and grab something. Nose, ear, hair, doesn’t matter. Don’t wait until he thrusts, either, just go into him.” He drew back and repeated his motion, his left grasping her arm, his right palm planting itself on her forehead. He would not have to explain the next bit to a young squire who would have been fighting his friends for years, but Marlis didn’t know such things. “Folk hate to have a hand in their face, it disorients, it’s surprising and they can’t see. On instinct, they’ll try to see again before they do anything, and that time you can use. Take another step into him next.”

    They stood almost nose to nose now. It was odd to stand with Marlis like this, Aonmar had only ever done that to kiss or embrace her or to whisper intimately. “Ideally, make your right arm stiff and push his head back, that might shift his balance, that’s good. From that position, you can do more things.” He made Marlis try stepping into him a few times, adjusting details. “Understand so far?” he asked. He had never trained anyone, only showed individual favorite tricks to friends, equals in skill. Did any of this make sense to her?
     
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  16. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    When Aonmar’s hand rested on Marlis’s forehead she had to resist leaning into his touch. Then, as he stepped closer to her, leaving almost no space between them, her heart began to beat rapidly and her face flushed slightly as her body responded to the closeness of her husband. She could smell the slight musk that clung to him, reminding her of intimate nights together in their bedchamber. But he stayed calm and collected in the face of her reaction. Despite her body’s response, she did her best to follow his instructions dutifully.

    Hesitant at first, the Princess gained confidence under his approval, becoming bolder in her actions. When the Prince had her go through the exercise once more, she stepped firmly into him, took his “weapon” hand in her own, and put her opposite hand forward to his face to touch his forehead as he had hers, though her reach was extended farther than his, owing to their slight height difference. Her touches were light, without any strength behind them. When they withdrew from one another yet again, she considered his question.

    “I believe I understand, yes. What about my attacker’s opposite hand? Would he not use that hand against me while my side is exposed? And… how should I practice without hurting you?” Her tone was worried. She didn’t really think she could hurt him, not really. But she didn’t want to take a chance that as he taught her, she might learn how. That was the point of these lessons, after all; to teach Marlis to defend herself as well as be a danger to her foes.

    The young woman wasn’t eager to learn such things, but she now understood the need for it.
     
  17. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar frowned. “Don’t even start thinking that way! Let me take care of myself. You do everything as quickly and as viciously as you can. In wrestling, rely on my skill for my safety – I know how to fall, and if you hit my nose or blacken my eye, what of it? It happens a lot. With weapons, the padding will help and they will of course be blunt, only fools practice with sharp weapons,” he explained, quoting Vodric Heldyn verbatim on the last opinion. “Leave such things to me. Focus on the thing we’re doing now.”


    He took a breath and his expression changed. He himself had to re-focus. Young squires never asked such questions as Marlis’s last, but the first made sense. “The grabbing and stepping in is just the first part. It opens up various possibilities – I shall teach you just one for now. If you stopped there, indeed you would give away what advantage you have gained.” He handed her the wooden dagger once more and they went through the same motions of before. “You have your foe standing rather straight now, while yourself are not. Keep your hands where you are, place your right foot behind his right and simply keep going forward.” He showed her how; the foot gave him a lever to kill her balance. In this case, he held her so she wouldn’t really fall. “See? It’s easy; no need to be stronger than the foe, it’s a matter of acting before he can do anything. Hold on the dagger hand, add your second hand to it and twist the arm outside. If he doesn’t let go from the fall, that will make it certain.”
     
  18. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    Aonmar made a surprisingly good teacher. Marlis could tell that he struggled with his anger at having to teach her such basic skills. Though he snapped at her once in a while, he kept his temper in check and walked her through what he meant to teach her step by step. By noontime Marlis was weary of the exercises Aonmar was putting her through and they broke the training session when a knock at the door announced the arrival of the armorer. Aonmar helped her out of the arming doublet once more and stayed while the armorer came in to measure her, clad only in her chemise.

    The armorer was a brawny man and professional, a man of little words. If he was curious about measuring a woman for armor, he didn’t mention it, nor did his common face display any curiosity. He simply measured her with lengths of string, which he marked on in ink, asked a few questions of the Prince, and then left with a bow. Marlis was glad that the man seemed incurious and was so professional. His attitude made the whole affair much easier to bear.

    The young couple stood awkwardly in silence after the armorer left. The Princess went to the bed where her outer gowns lay across it and fidgeted with them a bit, but made no move to put them back on. She glanced at Aonmar before looking back at the gowns. She should have been cold in the room, only in her chemise, but their activities had put warmth into her muscles and kept the cold at bay.

    They should stop to eat. Marlis needed to keep her strength for this new training, and she suspected Aonmar would have her do yet more that afternoon. Yet, she didn’t want to dress and the idea of food didn’t interest her. Another glance at Aonmar showed him similarly loitering. What she wanted most in that moment was to rely upon his strength and be held in his arms. To have him make things right somehow, as only a woman’s husband could.

    Making up her mind, she quickly crossed the room and threw herself into him, wrapping her arms across his middle and burying her face into his chest. A deep breath full of his scent calmed her anxiety and made her stomach flutter. How did he always manage to affect her so? “Aonmar, hold me, please,” she voiced her need to him, her voice muffled in his tunic.
     
  19. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Aonmar held her as requested; he wasn’t sure why Marlis felt that need, but it was hardly too much to ask and he was always generous with his affection. They had made a first step on this path neither of them wanted to tread…

    The next weeks passed with lessons each morning and afternoon. Aonmar discovered that he was decent at explaining and showing the basic points of the knightly arts, owing to Vodric’s fine teachings – but he hated it. Maybe he just hated teaching Marlis, maybe he hated teaching, but it tried his temper like few things before and he dared not talk about his worries with anyone. Fortunately, Marlis showed some aptitude. She wasn’t strong, she wasn’t ruthless, but at least she was agile and had decent reflexes which, with her annoying questions, were soon supplemented by a good basic technique. Winter was upon them now. There was no snow on the plains yet, but the winds through the valleys and over the hills were icy and furious. In one way at least, Aonmar was glad: It would have been useless, even dangerous to have the army march home, so he made arrangements to keep them in town and castle. However, being garrisoned was ever bad for discipline and Aonmar had trouble keeping the army fit for battle. Exercising was out with the endless rain and guard duty could easily be done by one company.

    Only a few days before midwinter, Aonmar was in council, discussing just that problem. Rodric had requested to report to Aonmar and all other leaders, including the commoner captains. “My lords, masters captains – my patience is at an end!” snapped the marshal at the assembly. “Ten accursed brawls in the last two weeks! Tavern after tavern is refusing to serve the army. If – no, when – they all go along, we shall be in trouble! Do you want your men to cook in their pisspots? Get those scumbags in line! Have them whipped if need be before they get bored with drinking, whoring and brawling and start plundering the city. My lord pays them well – let them behave well!” Rodric was about to start the second part of his diatribe when the guards came into the room, chasing a wet, dirty man who had apparently run right past them. “The Ishon!” For several frantic moments, that was all the man could say. “They have banded together! They are marching straight here, no more plundering or raids! They may be here in ten days!” Aonmar rose, fighting hard to keep his composure. “The time is up, my friends. Gather supplies, mobilize the army. Rodric – send mounted scout parties. Perhaps this is the chance to end the Ishon threat!”
     
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  20. Poldaran

    Poldaran Book Dragon Community Helpers

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    The idle restlessness of the army meant that the forces were marshaled and ready to march in short order. The men were eager for action, even if that meant being out in the cold weather and rain. The first day away from the castle, the men were boisterous and full of energy, but after a night of sleeping in the bitterly cold weather, most of them were more subdued.

    Marlis wore her armor, just as the other men did. Over it, she wore a blue sash which Sibley had sewn a single holly leaf onto. Her hair had been plaited into a single long braid that fell down her back, owing to the possible need for her to wear her helmet, which would not accommodate her typical hair style. She was thankful for the armor and padding beneath. The combination did well to keep her warm in the chill wind that seemed to cut through all other clothing.

    The braies and woolen hose she now wore felt odd, as they clung to her legs in a way she wasn’t used to. She could almost forget as they rode, except when she had to move again, or moved in a way that she would have had to adjust her gowns, only to find the action unnecessary.

    Aonmar rode beside her whenever he was able. Regardless of his presence, Marlis was surrounded by the guard of knights the Prince had appointed, led once again by Sir Eanhere. If any of the men wondered why the Prince had brought the Princess and dressed her in armor, they knew better than to ask. Instead, they murmured to one another quietly. Murmurs that stilled as soon as anyone of rank passed by. Some of the men who had served as guards in the castle passed around rumors that she could break the spell of the Ishon’s witchcraft. None of the men wanted to chance breaking whatever ward the Princess might possess and gave her a respectful berth.

    The third day out from the castle dawned clear, with a thin coat of snow that covered the ground. By midday, the snow had melted away, leaving the ground wet and the air somehow feeling colder than it had the previous days. Their horses’ legs were spattered with mud, and they had to stop early as the temperatures began to fall again and the chill set into the horses’ and men’s legs alike. The night was miserably cold, and the army camped just off the main road in the wide expanse between two forests. The wind chose to blow hard through the large gap, being unable to blow through the trees of the forests. They lit great fires and the men all huddled around them in an attempt to soak up the warmth. Marlis huddled in a small tent near a tiny brazier until Aonmar joined her and added his body warmth to hers underneath heavy blankets and furs.

    There was no snow on the ground when the next day dawned, though scouts reported seeing smoke ahead from a great many fires; a sure sign that the Ishon forces were gathered just as they expected. Aonmar ordered more scouts with an obvious glance to his wife who sat her horse nearby, and the whole of the army marched forward once more.

    The forests to either side of the great road gave way to scrub brush of the open plains. There were occasional spots of wood still, but they were small and infrequent. Mostly, the landscape was dotted with gorse bushes. There was no sign of the Ishon, and nowhere for them to hide a large group of troops.

    Not long into the scrub lands, Marlis began to feel that growing sense of unease that came only when she felt Ishon near. She clutched the reins of her horse tightly, then turned to one of the knights riding beside her. “Fetch his Highness. Tell him to halt the line.”

    The army slowed to a stop as the order traveled down the line, and Aonmar galloped to the Princess’s side, his face sober and worried. Rodric followed behind his Prince, and when the two drew in beside her, Marlis spoke. “I can feel the Ishon ahead, but I’m not sure where they are yet. Only… I think we need to get off the road. To the right. A wide sweep.”
     

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