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In The Exercise Yard

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The sun had barely kissed the sky as Niko made his way through the halls. Clearwater was silent but for a few early-rising souls that he saw in his passage through the manse. Though he had started his workout near his room, the practice field beckoned- there was only so much that one could do with no resistance to fight against. But he was hesitant to make use of the facilities during the day. Most here had been welcoming- but he recognized the look of challenge in the eyes of some. And that he wanted to avoid. At least for now.

As he reached the grounds, he took off his sandals to feel the bare dirt beneath his toes, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. Though this part of the manse was open to air, even the circulating breeze could not take away the familiar stink of hard exertion that permeated this area; he reveled in the smell of battle He wore only a short white shift bound with cord- too light for sure for this northern clime, but it was all he had, coming from the warmer environment across the seas. With his previous exertion, however, it was more than enough, as shown by the sweat that still shone on his bare arms. Unsheathing his blades, he lay them in the centre of the arena, and set to placing a few of the practice dummies in various positions, setting up almost an obstacle course around the yard.

Going back to the center of the arena, he knelt, the blades on either side of him. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply, his chest rising as air filled his lungs. Then he breathed long out of his mouth, slowly- the air rushing from his body. In. Out. In. Out. Always in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Motionless. Time had no meaning for him as he meditated in that seated position in the yard.

Then, suddenly, he was standing, one foot in a straight-line towards one of the dummies, the other bent, his empty hands stretched out to either side. It was not an explosive movement- in fact, one watching would have been hard-pressed to say how he came to be standing as he was- he just flowed from seated to standing. And continued to flow, moving lightly over the ground, almost languid in his movements as he precisely touched the dummies with hand and foot, almost caressing them with barest touches of his hands. Speed was injected into his form in measured touches as he moved- again, one would have been fooled into thinking that he was still moving slowly, so gradually did it occur. But the movement of the dummies belied this as they rocked on their metal bases.

His movement became more active, as he flipped, tumbled, and cartwheeled through the obstacles with effortless grace, avoiding imagined attacks from his enemies. Moving amongst them, his actions almost seemed to bring them to life so concentrated and focussed was his technique- one looking on would note that his every movement was regulated as he kept his body under complete control. During an almost balletic maneuver through the center of the dummies, he somehow retrieved one of his blades, and began making more offensive motions, moving from his mostly circular forms to straight line attacks. Though they seemed as if they would be simple to turn aside or block, the speed at which he moved from one position to another put to lie that statement. He was moving as a whirlwind through his opponents and still gaining speed. But something was irregular about his movements- something that was so jarring that it would stun anyone that saw it. Though he was moving more and more rapidly, his breathing was still steady and measured. He was utilizing his energy in a smooth output of power so that it did not tire him, even as rapidly as he moved.

About this time Aerin and Merivel arrived at the entrance to the courtyard. Aerin stopped in her tracks, eyes wide as Niko performed his routine.

Parrying one imaginary overhead attack, he fell back under the assault, only to plant his rear foot, spinning past the dummy and diving past another. When he came up, he was finally moving at full speed, flowing so quickly from one attacker to the next, and performing his ripostes, parries, and attacks at such speed that his blades took on an elongated pattern in the air. The sun glinted off their silvery surface as his blurred outline became almost a force of nature. It was almost impossible to tell where he was from one second to the next as his shape moved in sure, swift patterns, cutting precise grooves in his opponents that even if they had weapons to oppose him could not have been avoided or denied. The blades seemed to appear almost like magic, moving from one position to the next with no break in the flow.

Suddenly he was done, ending in the center as he had started, re-sheathing the blades across his back in one smooth motion. As his focus expanded outward from his opponents, he noticed that time had indeed slipped away from him, for he had gathered an audience. A couple of them clapped in appreciation, though he saw that some showed signs of envy rather than admiration. He ignored them, even as the admirers approached.

"That was quite impressive," one of the men said, a tall, swarthy man with dark hair flowing to his shoulders, green eyes appraising Niko even as he talked. He was obviously quite skilled, Niko noticed, just by the way he carried himself, and quite strong too if his grip was any indication as they shook hands. "I'm Tyek, and this is Eron," he said motioning to the larger man that had come over. He would have been impressive to anyone, but to a young man of 16, he was huge. Niko was at least half-way successful in not showing his astonishment as his hand was engulfed by the larger man's. "Let's get these moved back into place- we need to get to our morning drills before Ser Tomas comes and thinks we're slacking," Tyek said, starting to reposition one of the dummies.

"Thanks," was all Niko could manage, moving to help the other two men.

Aerin started to move toward Niko and the other men, but hesitated, looking up at the Maester for his reaction to the imagined assault.

Merivel held up a hand at Aerin's gaze as if synthesizing what he had seen, with his knowledge of the arts of the blade, a few moments longer.

Aerin regarded the Maester curiously, interested in what he would say about the sellsword, waiting patiently until he finally turned to regard her.

"He's good, he's very good for someone of his age. His ability is unimpeachable." Aerin could tell from Merivel's point of view that he was going to qualify it, even before he continued to speak.

"However, Niko's style is something that might be difficult for you to emulate, Aerin. Its nothing like I've seen, its definitely not standard technique taught in the Seven Kingdoms. Whatsmore, its not technique that would not be useful in tournaments and the like."

Merivel paused. "Its a technique best used for killing opponents, or by a brigand, or people of that sort."

Aerin's expression dropped at that. This is clearly not what she was hoping to hear from the Maester.

"I don't want to kill people. I want to be a knight. Like my father," she said wistfully.

"Then you need a more knightly trainer for that, rather than someone who is merely good at killing." Merivel responded. "Still, he might get you started, anyway, in learning the way of the blade."

Aerin frowned at that, turning to look at Niko where he was. "But will I be any good for knight training if I learn with him?" she asked the Maester. "Or will I be good for naught but killing people? Just a sellsword?" she asked thoughtfully.

Even as they spoke, Tyek nudged Niko. "'Ware that one," he said nodding surreptitiously at a new entry into the yard. "Narl, is his name."

Niko looked towards the other entrance, missing Aerin and Merivel by the door. He could almost instantly see that Tyek was better- the new man's focus was off, his dark eyes missing little details that those skilled at fighting for their lives paid attention to. Entrances and exits, placement of friends and foes. No- his only attention was focussed on Niko- and that attention was definitely not welcome. The man was dressed in practice leathers, and would stand a good head over Niko, he estimated. His dirty blonde hair whipped in his face as he turned at a word from one of the others in the yard.

"He's a bad one- been wishing his Lordship would get rid of him for a while," Tyek continued. "He likes to hurt people, that one does. He's fairly good, but not worth the trouble he causes in my opinion. But Ser Tomas says we need all the men we can get now. He tries new people- he'll be here soon enough."

Sure enough, the man looked back in Niko's direction. There was definitely something dark about the man- a wildness in the eyes, perhaps. "Niko stood his ground as the man approached, flanked by a couple of others.

"Good morrow, Tyek," Narl said, looking pointedly over Niko's head at the man.

"Mornin' Narl," Tyek returned, guardedly. Niko could feel Tyek's tenseness, even without looking at him. "Jalkes. Nob," Tyek continued, nodding at the other two.

"New fish, I see," Narl continued, still ignoring Niko.

"Thanks, Tyek," Niko interrupted, and turned to leave.

"Hold on a moment, fish," Narl said suddenly, moving put a hand on Niko's shoulder.

"That," Niko said, his voice much older than his years and colder than he had shown, "would be a bad idea." He turned to look at Narl, arresting the man's hand with only his gaze.

"Is that a threat?" Narl said, all amiability gone from his voice.

"I don't make threats," Niko responded, his voice still flat. "This one states truths. Some more obvious than others."

A chuckle went through the yard, and Narl's face coloured. Before he could think of a suitable response, Niko turned fully to face him. "Are we to have a problem? Or will you be speaking to this one with a bit more respect?"

Narl coloured more as they faced off across the yard. Aerin knew this one from her father's talk, and knew even as he backed down, this would not be the end of this encounter.

"That Narl is dangerous." Merivel said quietly to Aerin.

Aerin watched the encounter between Niko and Narl with some concern. "He's going to have to kill Narl," she said with a thoughtful conviction.

"That's a rather bloodthirsty way to put it. There are solutions short of mortal violence." Merivel responded.

"No... I don't think Narl will allow the sellsword to stay here if he can help it," Aerin answered. "It's not that the sellsword wants to kill him. It's just Narl won't give him a choice."

Even as Aerin talked, it seemed that her prediction was coming true. Niko turned to thank Tyek and Eron, pausing for a brief word with them. As he did, it was plainly obvious from behind his back that if looks could kill, he would be dead from Narl's intense gaze. Though Niko couldn't see it, Tyek and/or Eron should have... there was no way they could have missed the deadly intent in Narl's eyes. It seemed that the man would burst, especially as Niko, Tyek, and Eron shared a laugh. But it seemed that the pair were oblivious, and Niko wasn't paying attention. For as he looked up toward Aerin and Merivel and started toward them, Narl pulled his sword coming for Niko's back. Though the sword was a blunted practice sword, it could still do very real damage to an opponent caught unawares.

With a smooth motion Aerin pulled her knife from her belt sheath, then tossed the knife toward Niko in a smooth arc, easy to catch. Her eyes moved to over Niko's shoulder, lifting her chin with a nodding gesture, obviously indicating something behind the sellsword.

Merivel nodded, confirming Aerin's non verbal warning, his eyes then flickering to the approaching Narl.

As Niko easily caught the thrown knife, Aerin could see that he was more surprised by her action than Narl's. He smoothly dropped to the ground, his size an advantage as Narl was unable to adjust, tripping over his outstretched leg. Quickly, before the large man could recover Niko was on him, turning him over, placing his knee in his adversaries solar plexus, effectively pinning him to the ground.

Leaning over the man, Niko brought Aerin's knife to Narl's throat, digging ever so slightly into his neck. "You made a choice, and now have forced this one to choose," Niko said.

"I could kill you, and think that none would begrudge me that. It's probably easiest... Well, for everyone but you," he finished as the man's eyes widened. "Or, I could hurt you."

He sighed. "Or, I could do nothing. And trust that this was merely an ... unwise choice. Or, more charitably, a test?"

"That would be what a good man would do. Or a knight? The very principles of chivalry made flesh." He stood, seemingly waiting to see what Narl would do.

A note of defiance touched the man's eyes as Niko stood over him, but in the end, he started to rise ...

... Only to be kicked violently in the face by the younger man. Niko put his foot on the man's neck, and applied pressure. "Make no mistake. I'm not a good or nice man. I'm no knight. And the next time you come at me, you'd best be prepared to die. Understand?"

Narl said nothing, struggling for air as he tried to grab Niko's leg. Niko put more pressure on him, almost standing fully on his neck. "Understand?!?"

Narl's eyes bulged as he finally nodded as well as he could, holding up his hands in submission. Taking his foot off the man's throat, Niko quickly kicked him again for good measure, then moved away, looking at the others as he did. There were varying expressions on the faces of those assembled as he did, but he only nodded, turning his back pointedly on Narl and walking towards Merivel and Aerin.

He held out her knife to her, hilt first. "My thanks," he said, nodding to her. "And to you, Maester."

"You're welcome," Aerin said, a touch formal, a touch self conscious. She took the knife and slipped it back into her belt sheath without looking.

"All right, men. Let's get to work before Ser Tomas comes and beats all of us for slacking," he heard Tyek's voice ring out behind him, as the familiar sounds of the courtyard came to life.

Niko shrugged almost apologetically, the mein he had summoned to deal with Narl fully gone. "I find that if you pick the time of confrontation, you leave your options open," he offered in way of explaination. "But you didn't come here for this... What can this one do for you this morn?"

Aerin's eyes on Niko grew more intense. "I... want to train with you," she said carefully. "But I want to become a knight, too. So I may have to leave to train with others someday. If you train me, is.. is it something I have to do for a long time? I mean.." Aerin interrupted herself, sounding flustered.

"I mean... would it be permitted for me to train elsewhere if that's what I needed to do?" she managed to said, carefully choosing her words.

She watched Niko carefully for his response, as if this was very important to her.

"What has your father told you? About being a knight, that is."

Aerin pursed her lips. "He's told me about how he became a knight," she said with a touch of defiance.

Niko sighed. Then after a long moment, he replied, "You can learn to fight- from anyone you choose. You may even learn from a knight. That makes no difference, though the strictures they place on themselves are very limiting, and in a fight to the death, can kill you."

His expression turned wistful, as he continued, "But a woman will never be accepted as a knight- will never be allowed to take the vows, any more than..." He stopped himself for a moment, his eyes if not his words revealing ... something.

"Any more than someone 'not of the right birth' would be," he finished. "It is just not done, and that is the hard, honest truth."

Aerin blinked. That last should probably mean something. But she didn't understand what. She was too distracted by Niko's claim that she'd not become a knight.

But she had no choice. She was going to become a knight. Otherwise she was nothing more than someone to be given away so she could be a mother.

Like her mother who'd died giving birth to her brother.

"This one will place no strictures on you, other than you do nothing with the training that would shame him," he said. "That you place weight on the steel in your hand, realizing that it is another's life you hold, not his death," he continued the bells in his hair tinkling as he shook his head. "Valar Morghulis," he said, softly. "Valar Dohaeris."

"I won't shame my father," Aerin answered, drawing herself up. She took a deep breath, then slowly released it. "I will live. I.. accept your offer to learn the way of the sword," she said formally.

Niko inclined his head to her in way of acceptance. "And let us hope that we can both learn from our time in training," he replied.

"The offer and its acceptance is so witnessed." Merivel put in solemnly, formally, nodding his head.

Straightening, he looked at Merivel. "Is this all that brings you here, maester," he asked. "Or is there something else?"

"I came here, at my own volition, to help Aerin in the matter of determining if you might be a suitable teacher for her." Merivel explained. "I have a small amount of skill with a blade; we Belmores all learn the basics, even those who find talents in other fields."

Nodding in understanding, Niko said, "Just so." He looked to Aerin. "And it was good that you brought him, I would say."

"So," he finished, "tomorrow we begin your training."

Categories: WinterChillsGameLogs, Clearwater

Page last modified on February 25, 2006, at 02:18 PM