The Mystic’s Pendant
« Chapter 1 »
With a yelp of pain, Charity staggered backward. Grabbing her hand, she shook it. A red mark appeared and complaining, she grumbled, “Yet another bruise to add to all the others.”
Aspen raised a disapproving brow. “Be thankful we only use practice swords, otherwise your lack of concentration would have cost you your sword arm.”
Charity thought Aspen an overbearing oaf, but her father had chosen him to tutor her in the ways of the sword. Had she a choice, she would have picked a young monk called Miko; at least he had a sense of humour. Still, her father was no fool, he knew 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.
Blackstone Temple sat high on the cliffs near Galleria. Charity’s mother had inherited the temple from a long succession of ancestors. On her death, Charity’s father, Beaumont Tyr Elise had taken it over and one day it would become Charity’s.
Aspen was now the head monk at the Blackstone Temple. The previous monk, Soren, had died at the hands of a tyrant called Trey Delatoy. Aspen was a skilled fighter, and it was his job to teach Charity how to defend herself. To Charity’s annoyance, he did not go easy on her.
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 against her throat, Aspen growled, “You are now headless and 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 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 did not realise the world outside of these walls will wait until you are fully trained before attacking you, and that all crimes will cease until Charity Tyr Elise is ready for the challenge. You want time do you? 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.
Aspen’s eyes narrowed. “Pick it up.”
“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 you accepted the honour of being the next guardian, so you will live up to it or you will concede you were wrong and leave the job to someone worthier.”
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 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.”
“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 quipped.
“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 superior in both battle and mind.”
“That’s what an old brain like yours would say. If you need to rest it, I will concede the fight, age comes 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 unceremoniously thrown over a low wall and into a flowerbed.
When she gazed up, Aspen was staring down at her. Shaking his head, he scolded, “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 wonder 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 do. So best you remember that for tomorrow,” Aspen chided.
Charity placed her sword on a table outside. “I cannot train tomorrow morning; I have to head into Ta Ku Nan on business for my father.”
Aspen folded his arms across his broad chest. “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 are not here I will come looking for you. You are guardian of the Blue Moon 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 he was, 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 he was as stealthy as a cat and appeared without warning.
Charity frowned. “How long have you been there?”
Miko smiled. “Long enough.”
“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’s 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 Charity giggled, he scolded, “Some would say you are a sore loser Charity Tyr Elise.” Jumping over the wall, Miko stalked her across the fighting arena. “Are you aware you would try the patience of a saint with your quick temper?”
Charity backed away. “Yes, but I noticed you were not quick enough to stop me. Getting lazy, Miko? You’ll have Aspen training you harder if he thinks you are slacking, then who’ll be teacher’s pet?”
Closing the gap, Miko warned, “And you’ll have my boot up your backside if you keep taunting me, try it on Aspen and see how far you get.”
“Are monks supposed to make threats?”
Miko wagged a finger.
“You’re just jealous because I can best you in the arena,” Charity teased.
Standing with his hands fisted on his hips, Miko asked, “Is that a challenge Charity Tyr Elise?”
Charity wore a smug smile. “A challenge? No, it’s a 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.”
Exiting the temple, Charity called back, “We’ll see.” Crossing the courtyard, she swung up into her saddle and headed back to Galleria.
When Charity strolled into the mansion, 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 wants 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,” Charity whispered.
“Not if I say you are not, now greet our guest properly,” Beaumont ordered.
Toby, Charity’s six-year-old adopted brother, grimaced as Machala pinched his cheeks and screeched, “Why aren’t you just the cutest thing around.”
Charity pulled a face behind Machala’s back, which made Toby giggle.
“Charity,” Beaumont warned. He wasn’t so lackbrained he didn’t know what she was doing.
Turning, Machala 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, Machala gave her a bear hug that threatened to crack a rib. When she released her, Charity wheezed, “So, how long are you visiting?”
“I’m staying with your aunt in Ta Ku Nan for a week. Sadly, she’s not back from Coppa Gate until morning. Seeing as I arrived a little early, I thought I would pop in and see what you are 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.
Charity gave a fake smile. “Yes, well, I am rather busy these days so we must wait and see.”
“Nonsense,” Beaumont declared from behind Charity. “There’s nothing so pressing it cannot be put off for another day.”
Glaring at her father, Charity reminded, “You forget I have a meeting with Aspen tomorrow.”
Machala prodded Charity in the ribs, teasing, “Don’t tell me you’ve found yourself a young man Charity, we shall have to meet him and make sure he is right for you. We older ladies know a thing or two about men my dear, we’ll soon have his intentions worked out.”
Charity stared at her as if she’d gone mad. She was even more convinced when burst into hysterics declaring, “I seem to remember you were quite the ladies man in your day Beaumont.”
Beaumont’s eyes widened when Machala leaned closer to Charity, whispering, “Your father had a thing for me once you know, the poor man was heartbroken when I married Harold.”
Charity gave her father a knowing look. “Really?” Time for a little revenge. “Didn’t I hear Aunt Edith say Harold died a few years back?”
Wafting her face with a handkerchief and feigning tears, Machala replied, “Yes my 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. Don’t want to get bored and spoil your fun.”
Machala and Charity opened their mouths to protest, but Beaumont held his hand in the air. “No, I insist you 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 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 encouraged, “Didn’t you promised you would help Ricardo in the stables?”
Toby shook his head. “No.”
“See, no memory at all,” Beaumont jested. Laughing he encouraged, “Go on, off you go now.” And with that, Beaumont pushed him out of the room before he could object.
“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’m meeting Edith tomorrow morning so it would be pointless me travelling until then.”
Beaumont’s eyes flared.
Charity stifled a giggle.
Beaumont threw her a fulminating glare.
Charity’s giggle turned into an outright laugh, then a gurgle as she almost spat out the drink she’d just swallowed.
“Something wrong my dear?” Machala asked as she patted Charity on the back.
Through a cacophony of splutters and coughs, Charity replied, “No, I’m fine, thank you.”
Noticing a bruise on the back of Charity’s hand, Machala 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 caught it in a stable door.”
“I see you weren’t paying full attention again,” Beaumont observed with a knowing look.
“No, but in future I aim to.”
“Then it’s settled,” Machala said in 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 women do while shopping,” The sooner 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 Machala 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? You asked me to deliver a letter nothing more.”
“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 early that morning.
“Oh, and arrange for the cook to bring food for Machala, she’s tired and hungry from her trip,” Beaumont shouted behind her. Taking a deep breath, he turned and entered the main room. It would 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, Machala looks to be on the prowl.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Beaumont chided. Still, it wouldn’t hurt.
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