By Christopher Leeson
FROM DYAN'S JOURNAL
Triumphs pass, songs fade, good friends go their separate ways.
It was with heavy heart that I parted from my family on the wharf of Nawcant in the kingdom of Sulidir. Ceann, Gannon, and I had already agreed to journey inland, to a villa within a ride of three hours from the city of Tyary Graig and rejoined Lady Elekta. Ceann had previously let me know of her desire to leave the Fyana; I supposed that this was her first half-step in that direction.
Of the months since then there is little to tell.
Late spring yields to summer, and summer ultimately assumes the golden crown of autumn. Cefen M'Glywess, the Lady's husband, had established his family at a comfortable country house. Here his wife Elekta has been busy for months creating a household out of an empty hall. Understandably, she has not afforded me a great deal of time for the teaching of magic. I have books, but their turgid discourses have left me stultified and uninformed. I have more time in idleness than in study. And idleness, alas, allows one to contemplate the depth and breadth of his regrets.
When I think about Harouck, I seethe. Is he the disease, or is he only the outward sign of a much deeper affliction? Cawdour had been frank in his observation that the landed lords have been dwindling in both wealth and influence since well before the rise of the usurper. Likewise, the patriotic yeoman have lost their own status and become debt-ridden, dispossessed, and -- in many cases -- shiftless.
It is to the energetic merchants and the burgers that a ruler looks to for support in these decadent days. At the heart of the old warrior class is tradition, but among these new men tradition is oftentimes a very bad fit. The old social order relegated them to the rear of the room, and they, perhaps, do not remember their former status kindly.
Those whom Cawdour called “new men” are not all bad, of course. The M'Glywesses and the Oc'Raighnes, in fact, number among them. Had I been brought up in the old days I never could have won my knightly spurs. But where the old aristocracy was dedicated to the commonweal with an intensity that was akin to religion, these new-made men too often look at government as means to a personal end. They flatter and bribe to win support for their, oftentimes, selfish aims, and those in power do their best to please them.
The world is in a flux of change, some say, but change has assailed the warrior class like a brutal giant. There was a time when the soldier quested far and made new discoveries; today it is the merchant, the trader, the sea captain. The old aristocracy, though they bear the same titles, are not like their ancestors. What has the scions of old nobility done lately to give credit to their progenitors? I think of our king, Cathmor, and recognize how far the demoralization has spread.
I, too, have passed my first summer of my new life in slothful melancholy. If Chancellor Harouck typifies our future, I will live and I will die in opposition to such man and such a future. Is there hope? Sometimes a bush that is sheared off by the axe can return from its deep roots. Can it be that way, too, with the stout oak which is men's traditions? If men of worthy motives return to the fight, the battle, ultimately, may still be lost, but is not the worth of a man found in what he attempts, not in what Fate allows him to accomplish? Failure is the most usual result of all endeavors. It is easy to do evil; to attain a worthy cause and win immortal fame is difficult.
These thoughts are not light to bear and they wear me down. I will speak of other matters.
Gannon makes frequent trips back to the march-lands, thereby keeping me appraised of the latest deeds of the Fyana. He has just returned with news of how Arannan has been singing of our triumph at Bannog Tower. He reports that new blood seeks out of knights of the wood and the band's numbers grown larger than they were before the losses at Cymydog Road.
As for Harouck, his plans were undoubtedly set back. He put his prisoners to death, but did it at the hands of ordinary executioners. Hopefully, the dark gods were left to famish. Because of our foray, I believe that hundreds are alive today who otherwise would have perished had his scheme been able to take its plotted course. But new blows must be struck, and soon, or else the death of innocents will only be delayed, not prevented. Life can tax us hard, but we must treasure life. While the life essence endures, there is at least hope.
As for my own circumstances, Gannon and Ceann have stayed by my side thus far. Lady Electa has encouraged them to do so, saying that they remind me of my past, and that it is plain that I draw strength and purpose from my past. But it is not like Gannon to live for long off another's largess. He has taken taken work in service of our host, mainly as chief of the guards who protect the holdings of the M'Glywess family. As for Ceann, she is called my “maid,” in front of visitors, at least. She seems amused while carrying on the imposture, because that is so far from what she truly is to me. But I expect that my former mistress shall one day take her leave of this lazy country existence. The seed must break the earth or die beneath it. And each seed of life is too precious to lose.
The three of us have grasped what we should do here in our pastoral retreat. We have gone unfocused from day to day and that brings tension. I think they cleave to me in memory of the person whom I was, and do not fully appreciate that I am not that person any longer. What is there to bind them to me now, as I am now. It must be especially hard for Ceann.
Our enemy, again, is that devil Change. What Ceann and I once shared has tumbled away from us, like the autumn leaves before the wind. We can continue on as friends, perhaps, but can either of us can forget that we were once much more than that? Will she soon depart? It may not be easy for a bandit girl in a foreign land to make a new life for herself, but a lifetime is a book of many pages, and every page will turn, even if it is only the ungoverned breeze that turns it.
Until it dawned on me that I cannot go back, I was unable to see the way forward. I am taking stock of what I have and am now seeking to make this body strong, as strong as the will that animates it. I ride and swim often, and Gannon has joined me in my athletic rigors. His good-natured camaraderie has provided a tonic for my ailing spirit. It lifts my heart when it crosses into deep shadow -- which, I confess, it often does.
I need to relearn the use of arms, and my comrade helps me to drill. How my wrist ached that first week after introducing Ava's slender arm to the art of fencing with the light foil! But I have persisted and my grip grows stronger each day. Likewise, archery allows me to shoot small game with increasing ease, and I thereby provide a little something for the table of the generous family that has taken me in.
I have found that the quarterstaff is a fair weapon as long as I prevent a larger opponent from bearing me down under his greater weight. The sling, that deadly device of small boys, also seems to hold promise. Finally, Gannon and I regularly practice dueling with fighting knives. This latter exercise is not new to me, but I had never much liked knifeplay. Small blades carry a stigma. They are the weapons of a brigand, and I am -- I was -- a knight. Sadly, these days I must make use of much that was formerly beneath me.
Despite my progress in retraining, I must unlearn the hand-to-hand style of the committed military man. When I think of all that I must cast aside, it makes me sad.
I can scarcely offer Gannon a true challenge, not in my present condition. How silly the old stories sound, those about warrior-women who performed fanciful feats of arms. Real women are not like that. Even so, my friend never complains that I am unworthy of his attention and, in fact, oftentimes encourages me to go sporting with him. I look forward to these outings, since my life is otherwise so utterly empty. I refuse to believe that he is acting out of mere pity. If he is, I do not wish to know it.
But the more Gannon proves his friendship, the more his manner changes in regards to me. I could well do without the glance of sympathy than sometimes comes into his blue-gray eyes. Worse, my comrade does not treat me the same way that he did when we rode as brothers through the back trails of Arannan. I dislike most of all his protectiveness. There was a time when I needed no special consideration, nor any protection other than that afforded by the sword in my hand.
Other than Gannon and Ceann, I am close to few human souls. Elekta's husband only occasionally resides with his family. This has always been so, I am informed. Master M'Glywess travels widely on business. He is perhaps even more urgent to accomplish much than before, seeing as how the summer of his life has already slipped away and he has to build up a new family livelihood very quickly. Despite all, Cefen remains hospitable, to me no less than to others.
If Elekta regards such a man well, I respect her for it. When he is by her side, she seems much less introspective, much more a conventional lady of the house and not the witch and priestess. Sometimes my host and I speak, and sometimes it is about politics. I ever wish to be polite, but find myself unable to agree with very much of what he asserts to be common sense. As I have said, he is a new man, and he thinks like a new man. It sometimes seems as though I am taking the role of a sage of olden times while he declaims the part of a youth animated by new ideas. He participates in life; I study books. Who holds true wisdom?
Not counting Ceann, two servant girls have been provided me. They have been told that I am Ava M'Glywess. Neither knew Ava before, but they must think that the Ava they serve is a very strange girl. Alas, if they knew the truth it would not bring them closer to me, but only make them even less at ease in my presence.
As for the young sons and daughter of Lady Elekta, they do not know of my history, but they can see that their sister speaks and acts differently from the way she did before. They keep their distance and this I regret, since, one day, I might willingly come to think of them as my own brothers and sister. It comforts the heart to feel that one is part of a strongly-bonded family.
It is my loneliness, I think, which forces me to so often take refuge within the leaves of my journal. Here I jot down all those disturbing thoughts that must not be shared, scarcely even with Ceann. I worry that she could read my thoughts she would think that I have become unsure and weak.
Strange impressions are ever with me. I feel grieved when I watch the young horsemen go by. I see them pause at the well sometimes, long enough to flirt with our maid servants, and even with Ceann. She allows this, though she never did the like when were we still lovers. Gazing through my window, I am able to make out these youths' confident faces -- and by those faces I know each of them on sight. I make up names for them, for I have never inquired as to what their real names may be. What I would not give to go riding with them tomorrow, not as a maid upon a pillion, nor as a sporting woman looking unseemly on a saddle in a split riding skirt, but as another horseman among equals.
But that cannot be. I look ahead to dangerous plots and risky actions, and I am safer as long as people believe that I am naught but a very ordinary merchant's daughter.
Why do I feels such resentment at these youth's carefree carriage through life? None of these gallants have ever done me wrong. I am sure that they would speak to me in a polite and courtly way, should I ever allow it. But I maintain my distance. I am here to learn magic, and then I must go elsewhere. Maybe the cause of my unease when I gaze at them from my window come from the fact that they seem so perfectly whole, while I feel shattered, inside and out.
The irony of it! Should a man lose his legs in battle, he is a hero. I have lost more than a man should lose, but who would hold me to be a hero for it? A tale of tragic loss often brings tears to the hearer. Not this one. Would not my strange tale bring only laughter?
As I sit at my table and write this, I feel a wave of melancholy coming on. I wish there were more ways to distract myself. I crave action, but find myself at a loss for what actions to take. I try to gaze ahead, but it is an empty field. What will be my experiences in the days yet to unfold?
If I am to be a useful actor in future events, it depends very much upon the Lady Elekta. I may truthfully say that my hostess has not seemed ill-disposed. Only yesterday the Lady promised that my apprenticeship shall soon begin in earnest, and when she speaks thusly, as if from the heart, I believe her. I impose on her, and I regret it. I think about the pain she must feel every time she gazes at my face, and wonder whether she would not be relieved if I failed under her matriculation and withdrew in discouragement. But she is not a subtle person; if she wanted to me out of her home, she would state her wishes straightforwardly and I would have no choice but to go.
I still think very often of Cawdour. He has left me a giant's shoes to fill. The threat of the power wielded by the spellcaster kept Harouck in check for several years, and Elekta assures me that I may become even more formidable than even Cawdour. It is in the richness of my blood, she avers. Ava's blood.
But who was Cawdour? I knew only part of the man, the mask he wore for my benefit. There was much more to the man than I formerly knew, a side that was much darker than I anticipated. The magician saw a wizard sleeping inside me and chose me for his disciple. When my life was lost, gave me a new life at the cost of his own. What was in his heart when he did what he did? Was he giving me bitter medicine for my own good, or was he acting from baser motives still unclear to me?
Thinking about my mentor reminded me that I had not recovered his mandala as yet. When I next return to Arannan, his grave is one of the first places that I must go. The artifact was supposed to focus of a wizard's power, and there are many things that I might usefully do with magic.
Like, I remain hopeful that I may discover the art of transmigration, the art that Cawdour knew, and which Electa perhaps knows also. I can never trust my sanity as long as I live in a life that is so wrong for me. But for me to benefit from such a spell, a wizard of incomparable power has to agree to die for me. The idea seems hopeless. I see myself going on as I am, growing older, but never becoming a true part of the world that I wish to save. With what can I fill this existence, so that it will not feel like a half empty cup?
Would that I could forget that I ever was a man! Women are happy as they are -- fully as happy as men, for all I can see. What is it that gladdens their hearts? What makes their lives good and satisfying? Without a woman's heart beating in my breast, how can I ever know what a woman knows, feel what a woman feels? I know what a man strives for, but that is something that I may not have.
Elekta has told me, “You shall never cease to be yourself, my dear young friend. Probably you shall remain very like the warrior that you have been, because you have the heart of a warrior. A warrior is what you shall continue to be, at the core.”
“That may be,” I had replied, “but still I am left with a life that has only one purpose, to kill my country's enemy. The only hope that I carry inside me is the bitter wish for victorious bloodshed.”
"What you name is only your goal,” she answered. "You have forgotten that every day offers its own surprises. Each traveler finds new items to admire along the road, learns new lessons from the unexpected. I believe that you were a good man, and no man is good unless he is forged from sound iron.”
“I don't grasp your meaning,” I told her.
“What is upright in one sex can hardly fail to be so in the other,” the Lady explained. " I will not broach this subject again, precious Dyan, since it distresses you, but be assured that change is in the natural order of things and change comes its own good time. Nature is full of marvels, some terrible, some that hold such beauty that they make the heart ache. Change is the stuff of destiny, really, and destiny is as destiny shall be."
Change again. But change was my enemy.
Electa is wrong. Change will not be my destiny. I am Rodin, man and warrior. I am the son of Nyul of the house of Oc'Raighne. I shall do the battle that I was reared to do. I will fight and then I will perish. Every warrior ends his fight in defeat, and most die young. My vanquishing came at a very young age and I now realize that I was fated to do not very much before I died forgotten.
But Cawdour would not let me die when my time had come. Did he act selfishly, or act for the gods? Regardless of the answer, I received only a reprieve. I am to get another run, apparently, but with a sorrowful handicap and with weapons that I can barely understand. When my race is done, there will be another defeat for me, and then I must depart for a second and final time. That is what I know. That is all that any warrior can ever know.
I sometimes imagine that there are crows gathering, that I am only a kernel on a post. This feeling warns me that a new test is coming. Llassar, whom I believe was a messenger from the gods, has warned me of this, practically in so many words. Does he still look over me? If he does, why? Why am I so important, either to him or his masters?
I have just lately stood before a mirror. I am small, slim, and light of body. A woman has every excuse to be weak, but so many of the sex refuse to be weak. They have ways of standing up before the blasts of winter, despite what the mirror reveals. I can learn from such. I am on guard against weakness. I have not shed so much as a tear since I was a man. So far, I have risen above feeble emotion. Knowing that I have endured so much already and have not wept encourages me.
I am determined that I shall never weep.
Not until I am a man again--
Either in this world or the next.