Day Twenty-seven

“The goal,” Tree said as he brought his blade up in a salute, “is to see your sword not as a separate entity, but as an extension of yourself. You do not strike with steel, but with the flesh of your body.”

“Okay,” Gerald said, hoping the wind would steal the skepticism from his voice.

“Do not think that you are moving your sword, know that you are shifting a part of your body. Your blade is just an extension of your arms. That is the path to fluidity, and fluidity is the path to victory. Watch closely.”

Gerald did as he was told as Tree began to move. There were no stops and starts, just continuous, deadly motion. It was like watching a dancer - whose partner just happened to be a very large, very sharp sword.

“I will do that again,” Tree said, returning to his saluting position, “but more slowly. Copy me as best you can, but pay attention to how you feel. It will feel awkward at first, but I expect you will find it becomes more and more natural as you go on.”

Gerald nodded once and took up the same pose as his teacher, though his expression was full of intensity whereas Tree looked fully at ease. They moved slowly, flowing from one swing to another, transitioning from thrusting attacks to defensive postures. At first he only noticed his aching muscles and the uncomfortable weight of the sword in his hands. But as they began to go through the motions a second time something deep inside him stirred and his mind grew quieter.

“How did that feel?” Tree asked after several more repetitions.

“Like… oof!” Gerald’s blade slipped from his fingers and thudded into the ground, its weight suddenly too much for him to bear. He stood staring down at it for a moment before continuing. “That was strange. It was light as a feather one moment and then as heavy as a sack of bricks the next.”

“Then you are a very quick learner,” Tree said with a smile before stooping to collect the weapon with one hand. “Get some sleep; your lessons shall continue tomorrow.”

Gerald followed him back to the others by the fire as he struggled to understand what had just happened. Now that he could once more feel how tired his arms, shoulders, and back were, he couldn’t believe he had lasted as long as he had. But Tree was already speaking with his wife as they prepared for bed and he barely had the energy to fall into his own bed roll, so any questions would have to wait for the next day.

He sank into a dreamless sleep so deep that he had to be shaken awake the following morning by Moss. He ate his breakfast in a groggy haze and before he realized what was happening, he found himself riding alone in the back of Lake’s wagon. Looking out the back as they took to the road once more, he watched as Moss and Meadow fell into line behind them with a friendly wave.

“You look like you could sleep for a week,” Moss called out to him.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Gerald replied, wondering if he had pushed himself too hard too soon.

“Practice your drumming then,” Meadow said. “I always find music invigorating. It can’t hurt any, can it?”

Gerald shrugged and began rooting around the wagon for the hand drum he had used their first night together. He found it hiding beneath a red and black blanket and brought it to the rear of the cart. Resting his back against the side wall, he closed his eyes and started tapping it in time with the horses hooves meeting the ground.

He maintained the rhythm for a long time, letting his mind wander wherever it liked - which was mostly Estelle, but more than once it returned to his experience the night before. He wondered if perhaps there was something in his blood, passed down from his father, that would explain what appeared to be a natural affinity for the sword. He was fairly certain the idea was nonsense, but he could offer up no other plausible explanation.

They stopped briefly for a cold lunch at the top of a hill during a lull in the northern wind. The sun was struggling to break through the grey clouds overhead and only a handful of birds could be heard chatting with each other. Gerald had planned to use the opportunity to speak with Tree but the man was in what appeared to be a very serious discussion with his wife, Wind, and Rain, and he didn’t want to interrupt. It occurred to Gerald that they might be deciding how much further they would take him and the possibility that it would not be far twisted his stomach into knots.

If it came to it he knew he would continue on by foot, carrying what he could. But he would truly be completely on his own for the first time and suddenly the world seemed like a very dangerous place - with or without dragons. What if he was robbed by a group of ruffians and left with only the clothes on his back?

“Freeze to death before the first night was through, that’s what would happen,” he muttered to himself. “Face it, if it weren’t for their kindness I would never have made it this far - and I’m not even halfway to my destination.”

It was in this state of mind he spent the hours between lunch and dinner, growing more and more certain that the Gypsies were going to leave him to his own wits. He put the drum away and curled up into a ball, begging for sleep to grant him escape from reality but sleep, rather rudely, refused to do anything of the sort.

By the time dinner was served around a struggling campfire a few miles outside of the village of Struchon, Gerald’s dark mood was so noticeable that Moss came over to sit beside him with a concerned expression on his face.

“What’s the matter, Jerry? You look like your favorite aunt just passed away.”

“Sorry, Moss. I’m just… well, I was thinking about what I would do if you guys decided not to take me all the way to the dragon and how terribly I would fare on my own.”

“Don’t worry about that - there’s not a doubt in my mind that we’ll see this through with you to the end,” Moss said, slapping him on the back. “Besides, if they lose their heads and make that decision, I’d go with you anyway.”

The End

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