Friday, July 17, 2009

FFF - "High Gate" Chapter 1

Here's the first of hopefully many. Remember, there is next to no editing for this. You've been warned.

Chapter 1

"So, Davind, tell me what happened."

"Well, sir, I was in the practice yard. I had just finished putting my sparring equipment away when I noticed Master Horvinnt's dog digging up some of Madame Orrison's flowers. I tried to stop him, but you know what Kumai's like. He growled at me and refused to leave. So I picked up a few clods of dirt and tossed them his direction. That's when Jonner here showed up and pulled his sword on me. I tried to explain what I was doing, but he wouldn't listen. He just attacked me."

Jonathun couldn't keep quiet any longer. "That's not true, sir!"

Master Gendall held up a callused hand. "You will wait your turn, cadet." He motioned for Davind to continue.

"Well, sir, I wasn't just going to let him skewer me. I dove for the weapon rack and swept up a sword. Just in time, too. I told him to stop, but he wouldn't listen. If you hadn't come along, one of us would have been hurt for sure."

"Sir! That's not what happened..."

Master Gendall turned his formidable gaze on Jonathun, stopping him mid-sentence. "Did you or did you not pull your weapon on Cadet Davind?"

"I did, sir, but..."

"And did you or did you not proceed to attack Cadet Davind?"

"I wouldn't call it attacking, sir..."

"And did I or did I not find you and Cadet Davind crossing swords when I arrived in the practice yard?"

"Yes, sir, but..."

"Then I have no choice but to acknowledge Cadet Davind's complaint."

"But, sir, that's not how it happened!"

Master Gendall's eyes bored into Jonathun. He wanted to continue, but he dared not. He felt like one of the insects pinned to the display boards in Master Hovinnt's office.

"The penalty for fighting with weapons is usually the lash, but in this case, I feel a more poignant lesson will apply. You are sentenced to five days of penance labor and banned from attending the Returning."

Jonathun felt his stomach lurch. Banned from the Returning? Somehow he found his tongue.

"But...but Master Gendall. This is the first Returning in almost twenty years. My brother is one of those in the party!"

Jonathun glanced aside at Davind. The other cadet stood at strict attention, but the smirk on his face was unmistakable. The slodding jerk had set him up. He just knew it.

"I'll do anything, Master. I'll take double the lashes. Please, just let me go to the Returning."

"I'm sorry, Jonathun, my decision is final." Master Gendall rose to his feet. "Tomorrow morning the two of you will report to the Sanctum. As Master Hovinnt will be leaving for the Returning with the rest of the school this afternoon, Master Lyden will be in charge of your labor assignments."

The five days of penance labor were nothing. Missing the Returning, however...Jonathun thought he would die. What would his father think? Despair threatened to overwhelm him and for the first time in years, Jonathun was on the edge of tears.

"Uh, Master? Both of us?"

Davind's voice pulled Jonathun back. It took a moment for him to understand what had been said.

"The penalty for fighting applies to both participants, Cadet Davind. You are in no way exempt."

"But it was his fault!"

"Both participants, Cadet Davind. If you disagree with my choice of punishment for you, I can add the lashes."

Davind swallowed audibly. "No, sir."

"Good. Now get out of my office, both of you, before either one of you says something else you might regret."

Jonathun slammed the door to his room so fiercely his roommate drew his sword.

"What the shards are you thinking?" Gregory protested. "I might have run you through." The shock fled from his face as he noticed Jonathun's expression.

"What happened?"

"Davind was tormenting Kumai and I drew on him. We crossed swords."

Gregory whistled. "That's not good. Did Grendall find out?"

"He caught us before we'd done more than a few passes. He banned me from the Returning."

"That's harsh."

Jonathun sat on his bunk. "I haven't seen my brother in five years, Greg. Five years. That's a long time to be out on Search. Mother had given up any hope of seeing him again."

"But he's back now, right? Those who have a successful returning are done with their service. Your brother's a hero now. Sure, you'll miss the party, but it's not like you won't ever see him again. Graduation is in two months. I'm sure he'll come for that."

"You're probably right."

Gregor put a hand on Jonathun's shoulder and grinned. "Aren't I always?"

As Gregor went back to packing his satchel, Jonathun frowned. The sour spot in his stomach took a turn for the worse. Gregor may be right most of the time, but not in this case. In this case, he was dead wrong.

Jonathun watched from the shade of the portcullis as the masters and his fellow students mounted up for the trip to West Gate. They were quite a sight; Masters Grendall, Horvinnt and Callisfield in their green Seekers uniforms and the students in the yellow overtunics of the High Gate Academy.

The entire staff of the school was heading to the Returning. Cooks, stablemen, smiths, groundskeepers, everyone was gathered together for the trip. All available carts, wagons and mounts had been conscripted into service. The procession was so large, the journey which would take a mounted man two days was scheduled for a full five. It was a grand adventure.

And he would be left behind.

The feelings of despair Jonathun had felt earlier had evaporated, burned away by the heat of his anger. His brother was part of the Returning and he was being left behind.

He hammered his fist into the gate, hardly noticing the pain of the impact. Shards take Davind and his constant scheming!

Jonathun spotted his rival across the marshaling yard, standing in the doorway of the main building. Davind wore a scowl the size of a spring melon. It was obvious that he was as angry as Jonathun over being left behind. Served the jerk right for setting him up. If Jonathun had to stay behind, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that Davind was as miserable as he was.

Jonathun corrected himself. "Not quite as miserable," he muttered. "He doesn't have a brother that's part of the Returning."

The sun chose that moment to emerge from behind the last remaining cloud in the sky, bathing the marshaling yard in glorious brightness. Armor and buckles sparkled as the restless horses stomped and shook their heads. The scene contrasted so greatly with Jonathun's mood he had to retreat farther into the shadows to keep from swearing out loud.

Master Grendall's voice rose above the general cacophony. "Cadet Leader, form up your squads."

Gregor, the black baldric sporting his Leader bars proudly displayed over his overtunic, swung his horse out of position and dressed the line.

"Form up, you bogguns," he called out. "Everyone in his place."

The murmurs that generally accompanied such an order were absent today. The other cadets, eager for the adventure that awaited, complied with the command with a sharpness and discipline which would make even Master Horvinnt proud.

Gregor guided his horse back into position behind the Masters. "Everyone accounted for and ready, Master Grendall."

"Excellent, Cadet Leader," Master Grendall replied. "Let's be off, then. Frederick."

The cadet seated next to Gregor put a horn to his lips and blew a short cadence. As one, the troop of Masters and students trotted from the marshaling yard to take their place at the head of the caravan waiting beyond the walls of the academy.

Jonathun couldn't bear to watch their departure. He was back inside before the masters even passed the gate.


Anonymous said...

That was riviting, is it part of something that you will continue?

Todd said...

Glad you liked it! I intend to continue this at least every Friday.