“This place is my place. The only will is my will. I am the one in control.”
Jessie stood in the clearing, and thought on what Gavin had said, and what it meant for her here.
“Aye, this clearing is only in my mind, and my will is the will that drives it. Mine and no one elses. What is it that would make me choose this open clearing for a fight, instead of my home in the keep, where I always felt defended?”
She looked around the clearing, the blade of the sword she held, unsheathed and at the ready, gleaming in the sourceless light.
“Ah, Fergus, I swear I wonder more every day if I’m still sane at all. Here I am, and it’s all become such a relentless joke, hasn’t it just? You always told me I should be more open to the world around me, and to have the learning of it, but did I listen? No, never. Knew it all, I did, and where did that land me? All I ever wanted was the feel of a blade in my hand, and the respect that would come with it, and I haven’t yet found a problem I could cut my damn way out of.”
Jessie felt a peaceful presence approach from behind her, a warm, comforting presence she knew so well. The scent of spiced ale and horse, the light half step of his curious mincing walk, the sound of his breath catching, rasping in his deep chest, always so loud when he wasn’t mindful of being silent.
Jessie looked over her shoulder, and gazed back into Fergus’ cold blue eyes.
He looked just as she liked to think of him, before he took ill, before he wasted away in a crude hut hidden deep in the woods. He looked strong and confident and clear eyed, his gray beard stained brown with tobacco and his skin darkened by endless days riding in rough weather.
He placed his hand heavily on her shoulder, and squeezed it gently in greeting, shaking her a little as he always did, meeting her as master to trusted student instead of guard to the lord’s daughter.
“Jessie, you know in your heart why you think this place as safe. When the time comes, when you’re ready, you’ll deal with it right enough.”
Jessie gazed back at him over her shoulder, and felt the calm his presence always brought her. “So now when I talk to myself, I’m after answering as well, is that it? Well, it’s all of a piece, but I’m still glad to see you here.”
He smiled at her, as he always did when he was going over the days lessons before a fight, for if there was one thing Fergus had always loved, it was teaching a willing student that paid close attention.
“Jessie, just hold on tight to what I taught you, and keep your wits about you. Remember your speed.”
“Orcs as a rule are stronger, tougher, they’ll always be after having the reach on you. Aye, they’re bigger and stronger, always have been, always will be. So when you’ve got to fight one face to face, without your mates beside you, use your size to your advantage, use your quickness, your speed. Don’t block up front, deflect to the side. Don’t stand toe to toe, direct around and away.”
“They’ve got power like a wild raging horse, all sudden explosions of motion and fury, but you don’t fight a power like that direct, you use it, you move it, and you send it where you want it to go. A wall of brick might not stop a charging horse, but a gentle push from the side can guide one around that wall… and into the pits beyond.”
“They think and fight and act like crazy brave heroes, looking to carve a name for themselves, to be remembered and sung in their sagas. They will give themselves willingly to their rage, the primal fire of bloodlust, losing planning and reason. They are terrible, fearsome foes when the berserker takes them.”
“And time and again a calm head, a fast blade, and a wise eye will be the victor. You have to stay calm, centered, keep your head, use your speed and flow from act to act.”
“When you fight the Orc, it’s your speed against their power. For most men, it’s a hard thing to beat into their heads. Most want to go into a fight smashing their way to victory, proving they’re man enough to overpower an orc.”
“But you, Jess, remember on what I’ve told you. You’re the quickest I’ve ever seen, a true daughter to the MacQuarrie with the blood of the Imperial Scout running free and true within you. You’ve got the balance, and you’re nimble like none I’ve seen or taught before.”
“Use it. Use your speed. Ride the lightning into his guts, and don’t give ‘em a chance to blink.”
Jessie turned to face forward once more, somehow knowing the direction her enemy would soon come. She placed her hand briefly over the memory of Fergus’ hand, and squeezed it back, gently.
“I miss you, too, old man” she whispered, feeling cold and suddenly alone.
She waited patiently, calm, repeating to herself as if a prayer, “Ride the lightning, Jessie. Ride the lightning.”
The false sky overhead darkened suddenly, the clearing lit only from within, each blade of grass and stand of tree glowing with an inner luminescence, as though she stood alone in a clearing that floated within a void.
With a startling rush, the sky erupted with light, a burning rainbow of blazing colors like chaotic fire streaming across the false heavens.
The violent madness of lights was accompanied by no sound at all, the scene in the clearing dancing with crazed fire in an eerie, unsettling silence.
Without pause, the lights in the sky blinked out in tune with a sudden feeling of power, foreign, unnatural, other. A power that had nothing to do with anything of Jessie. An intruder.
An awful sense of foreboding washed over her, that something was wrong, that what she felt was too much power, too soon. She thought she felt a sense of Gavin’s presence briefly around her, worried, no, terrified, and then that too was washed away in the looming presence that stepped from the treeline before her.
Snatches of thought ripped through her head as she looked at the gray skinned Orc that advanced upon her.
She felt herself, as though from far away, grow still within. The swirl of thoughts drained down and out of her, leaving her empty, cleansed.
All that was left to her was the voice of Fergus, as if from far away, saying, “Move fast, fast as lightning. Ride it in, and never stop” and then a last sigh from Gavin, whispering to her from far too far away, “You’re fast as fast can be, here. This is your place to rule, Jessie.”
Jessie had seen Raktar Single-Blow in the darkness of night, after death had taken him, but even as she cut his life from him she had never truly seen him face to face.
Somehow, she knew that never in life did Raktar look as he did now. He stood massive, much bigger than life, twice her height and more, his hair braided in pleats of jet down to his waist, knotted with victory ties of blood scarlet to their full length.
He held the axe itself, that axe she hated so much, and what was for her a clumsy weapon for both hands swung easily for him in his right alone, as though it were nothing more than a child’s toy.
The head of the axe was hard to make out clearly, seeming surrounded in and covered by shadows or darkness, no matter that the light of the clearing had no discernable source and showed all other features as clearly as day from all angles. Somehow, this felt to Jessie only right, that even the shadow of a weapon so foul should be hard to look on.
Raktar continued across the clearing towards her at a measured pace, his armor of brown leather creaking as he moved, every detail of his gray leathery skin clearly visible as the scarred flesh danced over his corded muscle.
In the emptiness of her waiting, the thought touched Jessie, briefly, that even in death Raktar thought of himself as scarred.
The huge warrior stopped, just out of reach of axe or sword, and stood there, looking her over with care.
This close, Jessie could feel the heat of him pounding against her. Somehow, she knew that it was wrong, unnatural, that he felt too powerful, too unrestrained. Even Gavin and the Katarese, beings that radiated strength and power, didn’t beat on her just by standing there.
She felt as though her skin were softening, weakening, as she sometimes did when standing too near an open furnace for a long time helping with the roasting, when her skin grew pink and sore.
Raktar just stood still in front of her, eyes narrowed, studying her closely from head to toe as if he had never seen a human close up before.
Or as if he wanted to study the human whose sword had finally killed him.
Whatever Raktar had been waiting for, the perfect moment to strike, for her will to crack before him, for any of a thousand things, it didn’t matter anymore, because deep within Jessie, in the silence at the heart of her, she felt the moment when it came.
The moment when waiting became acting.
The moment to go for a ride.