“Ah– good showing, my fellow swords! Sword Windol, an excellent welcome to Sword Sarta. Come now, and let’s not press ourselves too harshly today.” Gerrat stepped toward the fighters, hoping his movement would catch their attention and break them apart.
It worked; Sarta shrugged Windol’s blade out of her bind with an ease that Windol, naturally, found insulting. He struggled to compose himself in the wake of the woman’s humiliating treatment and the feint he’d thoroughly fallen for. He held his calm, and Gerrat knew it wouldn’t take much to set him off again.
“If I might ask, Sword Sarta, about your blades? It’s not often we see Azzagafin kilji above those grassy plains.”
Many of the men started at his announcement. Most of them had never seen kilji before, but all of them had heard the term. They focused on the woman with renewed interest that ranged from simple curiosity to slight fear to near hatred. Aleas looked sharply at Gerrat, noting his use of the honorific for the woman. If what Gerrat suspected were true, they would all be using it in very short order.
“I had noticed they were uncommon,” Sarta replied with unfeigned calm, turning her shoulder to Windol, who seethed. She sheathed her left sword and reversed her grip on the right. Lifting the tip, Sarta placed it on her left wrist and presented it for Gerrat’s inspection, edge facing him. She knew she held the upper hand.
Gerrat stepped up to examine the sword with practiced calm. Let the men see that he was not threatened by this new comer! At less than a cubit long, the blade was still the full length of a man’s arm. The edge curved gently, winking in the sunlight, and proudly bore its past battles along the flat. The numerous nicks, scratches, and scuffs were all turnings old, darkened by time. The simple, elegant etching along the back of the blade had been darkened by the maker, whose mark Gerrat could now see stamped just above the guard. Another lump tried to form in the pit of his gut.
“Exquisite, Sword Sarta. I once had the fortune to see a kilj in the hands of an Azzagafin master when I was but a lad. His was not made by Hersil, as yours is. I had thought that great craftsman forged his last blade some seventy turnings past, yet this cannot be older than any man here.” Gerrat turned a friendly smile up to the woman, who stood half a head higher than him at this close range.
“You are well learned, Sword Gerrat. In truth, Hersil forged these blades some forty-five turnings past, and they were indeed his last work. He had, as you know, resigned some twenty-five turnings previous, but he consented to craft these as a favor to my master.”
“Then you are a Plainswoman?” Gerrat fiendishly hoped she would reply positively. He’d only just seen the piercings in her ears; while the Azzagafin did ornament their bodies with piercings, they scorned bone studs. Three small hoops of metal hung from the woman’s right ear, and two of bone hung from her left, which made Gerrat nervous. A serious fight among Calchion’s Companions would not do anyone any good.
“Informally, I may make such a claim. My master often likened me to a daughter and taught not only the Plains’ combat but also its culture to me. His careful tutelage earned me the favor of his people when I went to claim these blades from Hersil’s son, the great man having flown his breath up to the stars by that late date. They received me well and gladly and count me a kind of kinswoman.” But for the tiny curve at the corner of her mouth, Sarta might well have been reciting for a reading tutor. That hint of expression, however, was enough to add warmth to her bland tone, though only Gerrat seemed to notice it.
“I confess to being curious whom Hersil would forsake his resignation to craft for,” Gerrat stated, hoping that Windol would not press the woman to discuss her birth. The closer Gerrat looked at Sarta, the more certain he was of her origin, and he did not want Windol to have that certainty. At least the Whelp was due to leave in a few days and would take his sword with him.
Sarta’s lips turned upward as a wry chuckle escaped from her throat. “He was an old man when I met him, and never did he offer a name of his own. We simply called him ‘Blackface’ for his dark skin, and he was content with that.”
“So you never knew who he was?” Aleas interjected. “You apprenticed to a nameless master?” His scorn earned a few laughs from the men.
“I never said he was nameless,” Sarta returned calmly, “only that he never gave it to us. I apprenticed to him because he felt no grief at taking on a girl child for a student. Surely you know how rare a thing that is?”
“This is true,” Gerrat replied, giving a Aleas a subtle cue to stay quiet. He’d come to a decision: this woman was dangerous, too dangerous to handle lightly. Not for her fighting ability (which appeared impressive) but for the trouble she could cause in the well-ordered life of the Tower of the Heavens. For the first time, Gerrat wished that the Masters had not been so thorough in cutting Melkeen off from taking a respectable sword. A Guild sword would have known his place and kept it without complaint. This woman did not know her place and did not care that she had one. The men of Calchion’s Compliment needed careful structure and discipline, which Gerrat had worked hard to establish in the eight turnings he’d been Timmop’s first sword. Allowing this gutter-blade to upset the balance was unforgivable.
To maintain the balance, however, Gerrat needed Aleas to keep his mouth shut.
“And did Hersil’s son ever tell you why the great blade-maker chose this design for these swords? If I recall history, this is the marking of a dead clan.” Gerrat traced his finger over the etchings, feeling the carved pattern under his calluses. Did Sarta’s gaze sharpen slightly?
“You are very well-learned, Sword Gerrat. This is, indeed, the mark of Clan Mizak, dead these fifty turnings. Hersil used their mark because Mizak Clansman Hyas specifically requested he do so when he commissioned these blades.”