Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wind And Water For A Single Blade

It was the blade that did it.

Cat was standing in North Hall, awaiting Master Carn's attention, when Yarl arrived. He had been there for some time, while around him the new students were welcomed and congratulated on their choice; he waited, with no sign of nervousness or impatience.

Yarl greeted him by name, and Cat ignored him. He'd asked to be accepted as Cat; he was listed in the roster as Cat; what writings he put in the library were added by Cat. His true name had no place here; it had no place with him.

Yarl stopped beside him in the center of North Hall, in the open training area, away from the other juniors who had chosen to study Wind and Water: the one who were being welcomed in even now. The Headmaster was an imposing presence, heavyset but graceful, even in the indecorous one-piece singlesuit that was the staple of clothing in the Westvalley school. He was larger than Cat, heavier, better trained and more experienced. Older, of course, but not old enough for it to matter.

Cat remained waiting. His attention moved absently around the room, observing: Master Carn in conversation with another new student; other juniors being welcomed by median and senior students; the racks of weapons available to the Wind and Water style of fighting; the rough granite ceiling, empowered to give light to the training area. He wore a student's dark green singlesuit, with calf-high black boots. He hadn't bothered with anything else, not even a belt.

"Three quarters of our students decide to stay with the style that they sampled last," said Yarl, his tone measured. "We divide the students into four groups, and each group rotates through each of the four styles. The idea is to give you a taste of each style, and let you make an informed choice about which one you will study. For some of them, it matters. But for most, it comes down to what is most familiar - and that is whatever they studied last."

Cat glanced at him, then looked away again. One of the girls had come forward; she was talking to Master Carn.

"I'm not surprised you didn't choose Noble Birds," said Yarl, naming the style that Cat had studied last. "I thought you'd take up Wolf Style, where you could learn the court sword and develop your skills as a Naissen, or possibly Eight Directions."

Cat continued waiting. He wasn't sure why Yarl was telling him this, and didn't see why it should make any difference.

"So," said the Headmaster, "What brought you to North Hall?"

Cat turned his head, and found Yarl studying him closely. He stopped his own examination a hair's breadth before their eyes would have met, and pointed to the weapon racks instead.

"What am I looking at?" asked Yarl.

"Navic," answered Cat. "I want to learn navic."

Yarl focused on the weapon, which consisted of a slightly curved blade about the length of a standard saber blade, but mounted on a handle that was roughly the same length as the blade. It was an odd choice, not quite a sword but not exactly a polearm either; one of those strange intermediate experiments that were still taught, but had mostly drifted into obscurity. It was also unique to the Wind and Water style, though Eight Directions taught something similar.

"We haven't had a navic specialist in years," said Headmaster Yarl. Young, he thought. They all are. He remembered being that age, fourteen or fifteen, and being annoyed when his decisions weren't taken seriously, but still: in the long run, Wolf Style would probably serve Cat better. It worried him that Cat might not realize that, but the choice had to be his. Even a Headmaster couldn't force a student to devote himself to something he didn't like. "You're sure this is what you want?"

Cat just nodded.

Yarl lifted his head and waited until Master Carn looked his way. Then he nodded, once.

Immediately, Master Carn broke off his conversation with a dark-haired new student. He was a heavy man, but his movements were slow and graceful. He approached them quickly, turning his attention to Cat as the student rose to his feet: "Cat. I bid you welcome to North Hall. The Wind and Water style is pleased to have you as a student."

Cat bowed in return. He was young, and still short his full growth; but he bowed in the Westvalley manner, not lowering his eyes. "I am pleased to study here."

Yarl bowed to them both. "I must check the other halls as well," he said, and Master Carn nodded as if he understood perfectly. Cat remained puzzled, since the choice of halls was resolved between the students and the masters; there was no reason at all for the Headmaster to check in.

"Come," said Master Carn, as the Headmaster departed. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. Your situation is more complicated than most... but I'm glad to have you, and I'm sure you'll fit in well here. Take your time, and focus on the basics - everything else will follow from that."

Cat bowed again; the advice seemed to warrant a more formal acknowledgement than just a nod.

Master Carn quirked his lips, then smiled. "...And if it's the navic you're after, we'll teach you that."

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