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Authors: Kel Kade

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“Palis, your humility is admirable. I did not mean to put
your talents on display. I merely ask out of a…professional curiosity,” Rezkin
said, smiling pleasantly.

“No, it is not that at all,” Palis reassured. “I would be
happy to demonstrate. I just had not realized my meager accomplishment had been
the subject of gossip.” He frowned at his brother and Brandt, again, and they
both shook their heads emphatically. Of course, the young men had not mentioned
anything to Rezkin. He had seen the young man practicing his forms when he was
spying on the Jebais.

Tieran’s curiosity overcame his ego for a moment, and he
asked, “What is the Bo’duen Parté?”

Rezkin glanced at Palis who did not seem eager to answer
before offering an explanation of his own. “It is an archaic sword form
consisting of a complicated series of challenging transitions. It lost
popularity at least a hundred years ago due to its difficulty. You see, unless
performed correctly, it is wholly inefficient. When performed by a master,
however, it is extremely effective against opponents who are unfamiliar with
the technique and even many who are.”

Tieran’s brows rose as he looked at Palis. “And you have
mastered this technique?”

Palis flushed and ducked his head. “My performance is
acceptable,” he said humbly. Rezkin grinned, and it felt more genuine than
contrived. Perhaps Palis would be a good candidate for the
Rules.
Palis
turned the attention back on Rezkin when he said, “Your knowledge of the
subject is impressive, Rez. I have not met many others who have even heard of
the form.”

Rezkin laughed and said, “Well,
that
was simply
historical knowledge.”

Malcius grinned, “You do seem to be quite the historian,
Rezkin. Are you a master of the technique, as well? I have been wondering where
you hope to stand in the tournament.”

Hedging, Rezkin spread his hands and said, “I cannot say how
I will do in the tournament. Dueling has never been my preference. I seem to
have difficulty staying within
bounds
, so to speak.”

Captain Jimson eyed Rezkin sideways. He knew Rezkin was a
Dual-Blade Swordmaster and Sword Bearer besides. If Rezkin knew of the
technique, then he was probably a master of it, as well. Jimson also noted that
Rezkin had not actually
lied
, either. In fact, pretty much everything
the nobles believed about Rezkin was a result of assumptions and misdirection.
Jimson frowned in thought. Rezkin had never even actually come out and told the
lordlings that he was a noble. He had always spoken of nobles and commoners,
alike, as third party entities. Rezkin was surprisingly honest in his
deceptions, and Jimson started to wonder how much of what he knew of Rezkin was
based on assumptions.

Malcius laughed, “Are you saying that
you
,
of
all people, have problems with following the rules?”

Rezkin smirked, an expression that looked odd on the
warrior’s face, as far as Jimson was concerned. “I am just saying that there
are many other
Skills
and techniques and hobbies that are worthy of my
attention. I cannot seem to pursue just one.”

Now that Jimson was looking for it, he noticed that Rezkin’s
answer had nothing to do with the question, but Malcius took his response as
confirmation of his assumptions, regardless.

“So, you have a short attention span,” Malcius teased.

“It makes one wonder how long your attention will linger on
our dear cousin,” Shiela remarked as she sidled up to the group. Frisha was not
far behind, and she looked upset. Rezkin wondered what Shiela had been saying
to his
Girl Friend
. The young warrior caught Frisha’s eye, and she
raised her chin proudly. Rezkin’s lips turned up into a smirk. Whatever had
gone down between them, it seemed Frisha had gotten the upper hand.

Rezkin ignored Shiela’s comment as being unworthy of his
attention and turned back to Palis. “Then you are willing to demonstrate the
technique for us?” Shiela flushed at the blatant dismissal. Palis also flushed,
but only because of the combined attention of the group.

“Yes, I suppose a
professional
demonstration is in
order,” Palis answered and then glanced around uncertainly.

Rezkin smiled and said, “The captain has given us leave to
practice on the quarterdeck.”

“Right,” Palis said as he stepped through the group to lead
the way.

The young Jebai demonstrated his skills with the Bo’duen
Parté, which were quite good, and then everyone else seemed to want to
demonstrate their own favorite techniques. After about an hour, Malcius
realized that Rezkin had not had a turn at demonstration.

“Rezkin, come now. You started this. Do you not have some
favored form to demonstrate?” Malcius pressed amicably.

Tieran, who had begun to wonder if he had overestimated the
mysterious lord’s skills, was less affable as he commented, “Yes, Rezkin. You
carry those
two
swords around all the time.” Disdainfully, he said,
“Surely you have some ancient dual sword form in your repertoire.” With
Tieran’s mocking tone, Rezkin realized it was time to reassert the threat of
danger to the duke’s heir. As it happened, a demonstration of the dual sword
form was ideally suited for such validation.

Rezkin intended to hide his identity at the tournament, and
he did not want others guessing his identity in recognition of his technique
and style. He would not be risking discovery by demonstrating a dual form,
though, since tournament rules demanded the competitors fight with a single
blade. It was unlikely any of these self-absorbed nobles would actually search
out his name in the registry, and if he feigned getting knocked out of the
competition early on when they were having their own matches, then they would
have no reason to come and watch him.

Rezkin nodded and replied, “Of course. It is only fair, after
all.”

Tieran eyed him suspiciously, and Rezkin knew the young lord
had been waiting for this moment, hoping to find that Rezkin was all bravado.
To everyone’s confusion, Rezkin unbuckled his sword belt and dropped it in
Captain Jimson’s hands. The captain’s face paled as Rezkin grinned with a glint
in his eyes. Jimson was the only one besides Rezkin who knew the significance
of these blades. The captain could be killed just for holding the Sheyalins if
anyone found out, and both of them knew it. It was a sentence that was unlikely
to be enforced, even if someone
did
find out, since it was Rezkin who
handed the swords to him in the first place; but still, it was a genuine fear.
Jimson, being the officer in command, was unlikely to draw attention to
himself
for having them, though.

Rezkin bowed slightly to Lieutenant Drascon and Sergeant
Millins and said, “Lieutenant, Sergeant, I respectfully request the honor of
using your blades for this demonstration.” Both soldiers looked to their captain
with surprise and confusion. Jimson nodded once, and the soldiers immediately
drew their swords and handed them over to Rezkin.

Tieran and the others frowned. “You do not intend to use
your own blades?” the duke’s heir asked, motioning to the weapons hanging in
Captain Jimson’s grasp.

Rezkin waved away Tieran’s concern as unimportant. “No, no,
they are unsuitable for such a demonstration. Besides, you wanted to see an
ancient
dual sword form, and this one requires identical blades. The soldiers’ blades
are the closest we have, I believe.” In truth, it was the same technique he
usually used when fighting with his Sheyalins, but what he said was true, and
he did not want to reveal the extraordinary blades.
            Jimson
furrowed his brow. Rezkin’s comment about his swords being unsuitable would
have made no sense to anyone who was really listening, but when he spoke with
such conviction, everyone just seemed to accept it as truth. The army captain
found himself smirking. He had been wondering how Rezkin would get away with
not exposing his Sheyalins.

“But, those are unfamiliar swords,” Tieran protested. “They
are close enough in length, but I am sure they are not even the same weight.
You cannot just pick up random blades and expect to perform a dangerous dual
sword form.”

Rezkin shrugged. “That is not the only problem,” he said.
“This particular form is an introductory one of the ancient Goka warriors of
the Jahartan Empire. They were the elite guard of the Emperor, and many were
members of the Sen priesthood of necromancers, as well. The Goka were renowned
for their acrobatics and dual sword wielding. The required swords, though, were
very unlike these. Each sword was thinner with a single edge that curved
slightly toward the tip. Their blades were also a bit shorter and much lighter
than these. And, of course, we
are
on a moving vessel. But, we will see,
will we not? It is what
you
asked for, after all.” Rezkin stated with
casual indifference, as though it did not really concern him.

“Wait!” Frisha shouted. “What do you mean, it’s dangerous?
You mean he could get hurt just performing it?”

Tieran nodded his head as he argued, “Dual sword wielding is
always dangerous and extremely difficult. That is why no one does it but
Masters and idiots.”

Frisha narrowed her eyes at Tieran and retorted, “And, you
are trying to figure out which one Rezkin is.”

Tieran started to reply, but Rezkin cut him off. “Do not
worry, love, I am sure I will be fine,” but Rezkin’s grin spoke of
overconfidence. Frisha flushed at the endearment, and lost her line of thought.

Realizing that Rezkin could actually get hurt under the less
than ideal circumstances, Tieran began to backpedal. “You do not have to do
this just to satisfy
me
. I am sure you know plenty of other interesting
techniques.” Now, he was almost sure that Rezkin was full of bluster. No sane
swordsman would attempt what he was proposing. It sounded like Rezkin was
emphasizing the difficulty of the technique so that someone would attempt to
talk him out of it, and he could save face. Tieran actually felt bad for
pushing the young man to do something so stupid.

“Nonsense,” Rezkin replied. “We are all curious, now.” At
that Rezkin removed the doublet he wore over a stark white shirt and handed it
to Frisha with a bow. He took up position in the middle of the quarterdeck. The
ship rocked slightly, but his feet were sure. The warrior took a few sloppy
practice swings and fumbled a bit with the swords. When the boat rocked again,
he stumbled slightly and made it look like he was trying to pretend he did it
on purpose.

Malcius pleaded, “Come on, Rez. Just show us something
else.”

“Yes, I mean, I was only giving you a hard time, Rezkin,”
Tieran said. “No harm done.”

Rezkin ceased his fumbling and straightened to his full
height. A warrior’s gaze landed on the two young lords. He looked at Tieran
with icy fire in his eyes. “Are you ready?” he asked.

In the next breath, Rezkin slipped into an elegant dance so
smooth and graceful it could have been mistaken for a performance at a grand
ball, if not for the deadly steel that was his partner. The glistening silver
swords whirled in and out, spinning around Rezkin’s body. His motions were
fluid and unrestrained as he twisted like autumn leaves in the wind. The forms
were not actually that complex, at least not to Rezkin. The young warrior did
not want to appear
too
impressive, so he selected a simple series;
although, any dual sword form would be considered extremely difficult. These
were the basic training techniques taught at the introductory to mid-level for
a Goka, and the young nobles who were trained in swordsmanship should be able
to recognize them as such.

It was not the difficulty of the forms with which Rezkin was
aiming to impress, but with his masterful and seemingly effortless execution.
His timing was with such precision that the swords sang a harmonic chorus in
steady tempo, and not once did they clink together or strike the deck. He
appeared as a man consumed with appearances. He held two deadly weapons, but the
manner in which he comported himself suggested that he was most concerned with
maintaining his presence and dignity by providing a perfect performance. This
performance said that Rezkin was more of an artist than a fighter – a
gentleman
swordsman
. His pride demanded he perfect the simplistic, rather than reach
for more complicated mastery. When Rezkin completed the stunning series of
forms, all motioned came to an abrupt stop, and only the lapping of the waters,
creaking of boards, and slapping of sails intruded on the seemingly unnatural
silence.

His breathing was calm and without exertion as the warrior
stood staring down at the swords in his hands. He shook his head and looked up
at the two lords, coolly remarking, “You are correct, Tieran. I would not
suggest doing that series of forms with these swords.” Without meeting anyone
else’s eyes, he strode over to the impressed soldiers and handed back their
blades with proper thanks. He retrieved his sword belt and doublet and then
looked around casually.

Rezkin’s audience had been mesmerized. Frisha was smiling
with delight, and Captain Jimson wore a pleased grin. Knowing Rezkin was a
Sword Bearer, Jimson had expected Rezkin to be amazing, but even he was
surprised by the graceful display. The warrior avoided Shiela’s almost
disturbing sultry expression as his eyes landed on Tam and Reaylin who were
both bouncing excitedly. Rezkin had also managed to gain the attention of a
number of crewmembers that had stopped in their work to watch.

Malcius recovered his voice first as he said, “By all that
is Holy, Rezkin, that was amazing. I doubt I could ever move that gracefully.”

Tieran muttered, “Looked more like a dancer than a
swordsman.”

Even though it appeared simple, the demonstration had been
impressive in the eyes of his audience. The young warrior was still
uncomfortable with the praise, though. It was a violation of
Rule 14
for
him to revel in success. The warrior had to remind himself that the showboating
was for the benefit of the character he was playing. He would never have
considered such a display if it had not been necessary for his plans. He needed
to maintain the upper hand over the nobles, particularly with the duke’s son
who had begun to question Rezkin’s abilities. The best way to maintain Tieran’s
respect and compliance was through fear. Looking at the young man now, he knew
he had succeeded, despite the lord’s bravado.

BOOK: Reign of Madness (Revised Edition)
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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