The Mystic’s Pendant
« Chapter 1 »
With a yelp of pain, Charity staggered backward. Grabbing her hand she cursed then shook it. A red mark quickly appeared and complaining, she grumbled, “Yet another bruise to add to all my others.”
Aspen raised a disapproving brow. “Be thankful that we only use practice swords, otherwise your lack of concentration would have cost you your sword arm.”
Charity thought Aspen an overbearing oaf, but he had been chosen by her father to tutor her in the ways of the sword. Had she a choice, she would have chosen a young monk called Miko, at least he had a sense of humour. Still, her father was no fool, he knew that if Charity was to take the place of her mother as guardian to the Blue Moon Dragon, then she needed to learn her craft and learn it well.
Aspen was now the head monk at the Blackstone Temple. He’d taken over the position when Soren, the previous head monk had been killed by Trey Delatoy. Blackstone Temple sat high up on the cliffs near Galleria. It was originally owned by Charity’s mother. On her death, her father, Beaumont Tyr Elise had taken it over and one day it would become Charity’s.
Charity shook her bruised hand again. “We’re only practising, couldn’t you make an exception?”
“Do you think your adversary’s will grant you the courtesy of an exception?” Aspen said as he rounded on Charity with another hail of blows that came hard and fast.
Raising her sword, Charity blocked as he rained down four or five strikes one after the other, and as he gave no quarter, she tripped over a stool and fell flat on her back.
With the point of his sword pressed firmly against her throat, Aspen growled, “You are now headless as well as missing a hand. How fair you in a fight now?”
Charity tried to kick Aspen’s legs from under him, but as he grabbed her ankle and spun her over, she conceded, “Okay, I would not, I would not fare well in a fight.”
“Not good enough,” Aspen snapped.
Charity scrambled to her feet. “What the hell do you want from me, blood!”
“I want your complete attention not some half-baked notion that you can muddle your way through a fight when challenged. You will learn even if I have to break a few bones to do it.”
“I can fight, I just need more time.”
Aspen’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that the world outside these walls will wait until you are fully trained, and that all crimes will be put on hold until Charity Tyr Elise is ready for the challenge. Time you want is it? Well, you’ve had time, three months to be exact, so from this day forward we will practise with real weapons. Let us see how your concentration fares then. One wrong move and I swear I will take a limb.”
Charity threw her practice sword on the ground at Aspen’s feet.
“Pick it up,” Aspen ordered his eyes narrowing to mere slits.
“What’s the point, you think I’m no good so why bother?”
“Pick it up, now!” Aspen bellowed with little or no sympathy.
Charity dug her heels in. “I’ve had enough for one day.”
“I say when you’ve had enough, now pick up your sword,” Aspen ordered.
“We’ve been fighting for two hours, I need a rest.”
Aspen closed the gap between them. “Do not forget that you chose to accept the honour of being the next guardian, so you will live up to it or you will concede that you were wrong and leave the job to someone more worthy.”
Angry, Charity swung her hand out to slap Aspen but grabbing her wrist, he spun it up her back, warning, “Big mistake.” Shoving her toward her fallen sword, he whacked his across her rear.
Charity yelped as she retrieved her practice sword. Whirling around, she cautioned, “Do not do that again.”
Circling her like a wolf circling its prey, Aspen warned, “I will keep doing it until the day arrives when you can stop me.”
“Then I will have to prove that I can best you,” Charity bragged.
“The day you can best me Charity Tyr Elise is the day I don an apron and work in the kitchens,” Aspen deliberately mocked.
“Why, do they make aprons in big oaf size,” Charity insulted.
Danger flickered in Aspen’s eyes. “Oh you shall pay for that remark tenfold.”
“You think?” Charity said cockily.
“Oh I know so, you see your tongue has more skill than your sword arm, and until it catches up you’ll learn to curb that wayward tongue of yours and concede to one who is thus far superior in both battle and mind.”
“That’s exactly what an old brain like yours would say. By the way, if you need to rest it, I will gladly concede the fight, age coming before beauty as they say,” Charity mocked. Well, Aspen was right about one thing, her mouth often ran away with her, it got her into more trouble than she cared to remember.
“Oh you’ll soon learn that experience counts for more than youthful bluster,” and with that, Aspen rained down so many blows that not only was her sword knocked from her hand, but she was thrown unceremoniously over a low wall and into a flowerbed.
When she gazed up, Aspen was staring down at her. Shaking his head, he remarked, “If you think your lessons are solely for your amusement then you are wrong. Tomorrow you will bring your mother’s sword; it’s time you took your studies more seriously.”
Reaching down, Aspen grabbed Charity’s hand. Hauling her to her feet, he added, “You had best return home, your father will be wondering what’s keeping you.”
Dusting herself down, Charity frowned, “I will be as good if not better than my father’s monks, you’ll see.”
“Bold claims and a loose tongue do nothing to impress me, actions on the other hand do. So best you remember that for tomorrow,” Aspen chided.
Charity placed her sword on a table outside. “In the morning I have to head into Ta Ku Nan on business for my father, so I cannot come.”
Folding his arms across his broad chest, Aspen replied, “Then you will train tomorrow evening and do not forget your sword.”
Bowing to Aspen, Charity conceded, “Then evening it is.”
When Aspen walked away, he informed, “If you do not I will come looking for you. You are guardian to the dragon. You will not shirk your duties.”
Charity had a mind to pick up the small potted plant she’d knocked off the wall and throw it at the back of Aspen’s head. There was never a more annoying man than Aspen, well, maybe she knew two others who were more arrogant and overbearing, but they were in Caddoan, the capital of Oberon where they served Nengar, the leader of the Calliston army.
When Charity heard a chuckle, she spun around to find Miko sat on the wall grinning at her. She noted that he was as stealthy as a cat, he just appeared without warning or sound.
Approaching him with a dark scowl, Charity demanded, “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough,” Miko said in his usual calm manner.
“So you think it’s amusing to watch Aspen lecture me about my lack of fighting skills?”
“No, well, yes, but I think you misunderstand him, if he trains you so hard it is for your own good.”
“That’s easy coming from someone who took to fighting like a duck takes to water.”
To her annoyance, he agreed. “It’s true, I am very gifted.”
With a low growl of frustration, Charity shoved Miko in the chest and as his legs went flying over his head, he fell into the flowerbed behind the wall.
When Miko heard Charity giggling, he scolded, “Some would say that you are a sore loser Charity Tyr Elise.” Jumping swiftly over the wall, Miko stalked her across the fighting arena. “Are you aware that you would try the patience of a saint with your quick temper?”
“It’s been said, but I noted that you weren’t quick enough to stop me, getting lazy? You’ll have Aspen training you harder if he thinks you are slacking, then who’ll be teacher’s pet?” Charity teased as she backed away.
Continuing, Miko warned, “And you’ll have my boot up your backside if you keep taunting me as you do, try it on Aspen and see how far you get.”
“You’re just jealous because I might be able to best you in the arena.”
Standing with his hands on his hips, Miko asked, “Is that a challenge Charity Tyr Elise?”
With a smug smile, Charity bluffed, “A challenge? No, take it as a future promise.”
“We’ll see how cocky you are tomorrow when Aspen makes you fight with a real sword. Maybe some of that bluster will blow away in the breeze along with all that hot air you talk.”
“We’ll see,” Charity said as she headed back into the temple to head home.
When Charity strolled into the mansion that she shared with her father and young adopted brother, she froze. Dear God, was that who she thought it was cackling like a witch in the main room.
Tiptoeing down the corridor, Charity tried to sneak past the open doorway, but her father shouted, “Ah, Charity, come and greet your Aunt Edith’s oldest friend. She’s visiting your aunt from the town of Copan and wanted to see you.”
Charity had only met her once before, it was years ago, but she had not forgotten the grating sound of the woman’s shrill voice. God, it cut through her like fingernails down a pane of glass.
When Charity entered, her father whispered, “Amuse the infernal woman, if I have to put up with her then so do you.”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Charity whispered.
“Not if I say you are not, now go over and greet our guest properly,” Beaumont ordered.
Toby, Charity’s six year old adopted brother, grimaced as Rebecca pinched his cheeks and screeched, “Why, aren’t you just the cutest thing around.”
Charity pulled a face behind Rebecca’s back, which made Toby giggle.
“Charity,” Beaumont warned. He wasn’t so lackbrained that he didn’t know what she was doing.
Turning, Rebecca flung her arms open wide, squealing, “Charity darling, I haven’t seen you since, well, since you were knee-high to a warthog.”
Before Charity could utter a greeting, Rebecca gave her a bear hug that threatened to crack a rib. When she finally released her, Charity wheezed, “So, how long are you here for?”
“I’m staying with your aunt in Ta Ku Nan for a week; unfortunately she’s not back from Coppa Gate until morning. So, seeing as I was early I thought I pop in and see what you were all getting up to these days. Oh, I’ve just thought, maybe we could all enjoy a day out together.”
Charity went pale at the thought, in the name of all the kingdoms she would have to come down with some strange contagious illness before the infernal woman insisted on it.
Forcing a smile, Charity replied, “Yes, well, I am rather busy these days so we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Nonsense,” Beaumont declared from behind Charity. “There’s nothing so pressing that it cannot be put off for another day.”
Glaring at her father, Charity reminded, “You forget I have a meeting with Aspen tomorrow.”
“Don’t tell me that you’ve gone and found yourself a young man Charity, we shall have to meet him, make sure that he is right for you. Prodding Charity, Rebecca added, “We older ladies know a thing or two about men my dear, we’ll have him worked out in no time.”
Charity stared at her as if she’d gone mad. She was even more convinced when Rebecca burst into hysterics. “I seem to remember you were quite the ladies man in your day Beaumont.”
Beaumont’s eyes flared when Rebecca leaned closer to Charity, whispering, “Your father had a thing for me once you know, the poor man was heartbroken when I married Harold.”
“Really,” Charity said as she gave her father a knowing look. Time for a little revenge. “Didn’t I hear Aunt Edith say that Harold died a few years back?”
Wafting her face with a handkerchief and feigning tears, Rebecca replied, “Yes dear he did, bless his soul he was a good man.”
You mean a henpecked man, Beaumont mused to no one but himself.
“Well father has been rather lonely since mother died, maybe you should go out one day, cheer yourselves up. I know! He could take my place on the shopping trip, how wonderful would that be?”
Toby giggled behind Beaumont, but when he threw him a disapproving look, he straightened in his seat and bit down on a piece of cake.
“I won’t hear of it,” Beaumont declared. “I would never come between a woman and her need for shopping. I would hate to get bored and spoil your fun.”
Rebecca and Charity opened their mouths to argue, but Beaumont held his hand in the air. “No, I insist you all go out and have fun. Toby and I have our own little trip planned for tomorrow, don’t we Toby?”
With no recollection of any such arrangement, Toby truthfully replied, “Not that I can remember father, no.”
Laughing, Beaumont yanked Toby to his feet. “I swear I’ve never met a boy with such a bad memory. “Ruffling his hair up, he ordered, “Anyway, you promised you would help Ricardo in the stables so off you go now.” And with that, Beaumont pushed him out of the room before he said anything else that would incriminate him.
“So, where will you be staying until Aunt Edith arrives home?” Charity asked.
“Well, if your father is willing I thought I could stop here for the night. I’ve arranged to meet Edith tomorrow morning so it would be pointless me travelling until then.”
Beaumont’s eyes flared at the thought.
Charity stifled a giggle.
Beaumont threw her a fulminating glare.
Charity’s giggle turned into an outright laugh, then a gurgle as she nearly spat out the drink she had just swallowed.
“Something wrong, my dear?” Rebecca asked as she patted Charity on the back.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” Charity said through a cacophony of splutters and coughs.
Noticing the long bruise on the back of Charity’s hand, Rebecca exclaimed, “Why, whatever happened to your hand my dear?”
Glancing down at the bruise Aspen had caused when she mistimed a blow from his sword, Charity fibbed, “Oh, that, I accidently caught it in a stable door.”
“I see you weren’t paying full attention again,” Beaumont observed with a knowing look.
“No, but I aim to in future.”
“Then it’s settled,” Rebecca exclaimed with excitement. “I shall stay here till morning.”
“Perfect,” Beaumont said. “Oh, and Charity will escort you into Ta Ku Nan, she’s already going there on business for me. Once there you can meet with Edith and spend the rest of the day doing whatever it is that women do while shopping,” The quicker he got rid of the infernal woman the better. He’d have words with his sister later for landing him with an unexpected guest. The woman was more annoying than an angry wasp and louder than a screech owl.
When Beaumont called for servants, Charity whispered, “I can’t stay long in Ta Ku Nan, Aspen has organised another training session for me at the temple.”
Smiling at Rebecca from the corridor, Beaumont replied, “I don’t care what he’s arranged, just get the harpy out of my house.”
“Why should I get lumbered with her, I was only supposed to be dropping a letter off for you.”
“Charity my dear, if it’s the difference between you or me enduring the infernal woman, you will lose every time.”
Shaking her head, Charity stalked off to the kitchens to find something to eat, it was late evening and she hadn’t eaten since earlier that morning.
“Oh, and arrange for the cook to bring some food for Rebecca, she’s tired and hungry from her trip,” Beaumont shouted behind her. Taking a deep breath, he turned and entered the main room. It was going to be the longest night of his life.
When they all retired for the night, Charity whispered, “I’d lock your room if I were you father, Rebecca looks to be on the prowl.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Beaumont chided. Still, it wouldn’t hurt.
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