The clanging of sword on sword or shield greeted the dawn light. This was nothing new in the Kaer. However, more often of late, mornings came when cries of despair and loss did not co-mingle with exclamations of triumph. This was one of those mornings, and usually that alone was enough to bring a smile to Volgra's face...even if brief. Not today though. Not since his friend had brought that...abomination...within the thick walls.
“For Passion’s sake, Veldra! Keep your guard up! I know your shield arm suffered a blow, but do you think a jehuthra will oblige you and stay to your right?” he called down to one of his students. “Samira! Good work with the spear. I think you’ve nearly mastered that one. There’s always more to learn, but I believe we shall put you to the test with an axe.”
The student nodded, and walked to the weapons racks, and pulled out a single edged axe with a wicked barb balancing the rear end, suitable to pierce thick armor. She swung it in a circle to test heft, then stood at the ready for her partner to nod readiness. Volgra gave a tight smile of approval, and turned to oversee the rest of his students. It was then he noted the arrival of a familiar face, though it hovered unnoticed in the shadows of the Hall of Heroes. This was not unusual, as most of the councillors preferred to remain unnoticed when watching class, lest they distract the students with their presence. Vamir was no exception, save that he explained his reluctance. Vamir had told Volgra that a slip of the blade in training could occur if the council Elder was spotted, but more than that, the urge to watch the young men train was often the sign of a worried mind. Most Elders, Vamir surmised, preferred that the illusion of utmost faith in the troops and their commander be preserved at all costs. Volgra could not fault the logic. A father or instructor who hovered over a student/child was likely to create the mistakes he was trying to deter.
It was not Vamir in the shadows today, so Volgra did not acknowledge the mild intrusion overtly, but did rub his thumb over the Seal of Anvalla amulet he wore, symbol of his responsibility as Presbyter of the Academy. The councillors knew this as a symbol that they had been noticed, due to a protocol designed by Vamir, and if they had need to pass a message in private, knew to do the same. And indeed the hidden watcher flashed his silver. Twice. That meant it was both urgent, and secret. Volgra leaned over and whispered into Davil, his Secundus’, ear to take over for him. Davil nodded, and clapped his hands, the troops immediately stopped their actions and stood at attention.
“Pike Drill!” shouted Davil. “ Retrieve Weapons!”
All the soldiers rushed to the racks, and in a well organized line, pikes were passed from person to person, till all were armed, and with a circular flourish executed in perfect synchronicity, all were ready in a matter of seconds. None noted Volgra’s departure, standing ready for the Second. Volgra knew that the discipline instilled in each of his students would override any questions about his absence.
“Advance, Strike! Flank, Defend! Cavalry Brace!” came the cries of his second from the distance. No shouts of anger from Davil assured Volgra that the drill was proceeding as planned. Volgra slipped between the great pillars of the Hall, and sought out the Elder Rovaris. Volgra did not like the man, though he respected the Elder greatly. Vamir’s low opinion of Rovaris had forced Volgra to admit that some of the man’s flaws did indeed overshadow some of his accomplishments, but there was no questioning the improved results since Rovaris had begun advising the council on wall defences and tactics, as well as ensuring a proactive approach, strengthening walls greatly before attacks, rather than shoring up those already breached. Indeed, the perimeter wall was now almost to where the Kaer Seal had been so many years ago. Rovaris was a large part of this resurgence of defensive power, and deserved more respect than Volgra’s friend and mentor gave. Volgra ducked his head low, and made the sign of the blade on his forehead in greeting.
“Volgra. I am proud to see our young are proving themselves worthy of the task we set before them. Woe to any who breach these trusty walls, I say.” Rovaris smiled. The smile, as always, never reached his eyes, but Volgra had not expected it to. The Council Elder no doubt had far too much on his plate to exchange pleasantries.
“Thank you, Elder. What brings you to watch today, and what urged you to call my attention away from my deserving students?”
“A vexing problem, my friend. Your friend Vamir...I have heard disturbing reports...and so I came to the one who knows him best to hear the truth of them, as I do not wish to lend credence to rumour and scandal.”
Volgra swore silently to himself. He could not help but picture the diminutive newcomer (he refused to call it a dwarf, or even a man) in his mind, and it took all his willpower to keep his distrust from showing on his face. “I’m afraid I cannot discuss my friend’s love affairs. It would be unseemly, Elder. But I assure you, any such connections made are and have been consensual, and none likely to cause any sort of political upheaval.”
“Bah...that is not my concern. I worry that he has been fed ideas from somewhere, ideas that could lead him astray. And...rumours say that this source might be from... dare I say it, outside the Kaer? He has been more belligerent of late, and less ...polite...than usual, in council chambers. Such changes are disturbing, to say the least. Why...today he all but told the Council that we could not defend our city, and urged another path, but would not tell us what that path was. Do you have any idea what could make him act so strangely? There’s no chance he could be...”
Volgra’s eyes flashed, and he met Rovaris’s eyes immediately. “No.”, he said flatly. “He could not be, and is not tainted.” His instant defense of his friend surprised him, considering what he knew. The man-like creature in the bed was surely working on his friend, even as they spoke, filling his head with lies of the upper world, and freedom from monsters in the deep. But he knew his friend, and knew that while Vamir was entirely too optimistic and trusting, it was this very trait that assured him that Vamir was not tainted.
“Ah...good to hear then. Then there is no chance of...outside influence? If there is a threat in our midst, then the Council must hear of it. We cannot be left in the dark. Even if our friend Vamir is but waiting for a chance to offer the council a dramatic surprise, we run the risk of giving evil in whatever form a chance to work it’s misdeeds...”
“I know of nothing he plans for the council, Rovaris. Such discussions are not shared with me...and even if they were, they are privileged by our friendship. I thank you for your concern and...”
Alarms and cries erupted suddenly from Nightingale Row, and Volgra’s head turned with whip-like alacrity to seek the source. His sword leapt from it’s sheath and he rushed towards the commotion, without a word. He was surprised a moment later to see the Councillor huffing alongside. The grim look on Rovaris’ face told Volgra that the old man had some fight left in him, and Volgra felt a surge of pride flow through him at the realization that young and old, commitment to their people could be found in all of them.
Rovaris gave Volgra a smile. “What....” he panted. “An old man...can’t teach... a young pup...a thing or two about....dispatching one’s enemies?”