Terrouge E-zine Archives
Ulaid: Chapter II
Freja Kusanagi was an odd case. She had come to Salamandastron with a single request - that in exchange for her work and services, she was given food, board and training in the traditional weapons of the Long Patrol. When asked where she had come from, she mentioned a name the Badger Lord had heard only twice before - Claiomh. To the surprise of the hares of the mountain, this alone was enough to bring her under the instruction of Balmung, the Captain of the Day Patrol, with no further questions asked of her.
Two seasons later, she was taking lessons from the Badger Lord himself. Any member of the Patrol who could not master a certain movement would come to her and she would teach them to think of their body a different way, to dance between offensive and defensive stances with such speed and grace no enemy would realise the aim until the end.
She was teaching Gram Nagha, a young lieutenant in the Nightmassan, when it happened.
"I must congratulate you. You have a genius for finding eyries." A small plateau on the Mountain, hidden away on the southern face and at the other end of a long-disused tunnel.
"I hoped you'd like it." Gram stood back and breathed in the cool air. Azure suffused the world, the light of the morning picking out every stark, beautiful feature of the mountain. Perhaps this would be a good time. "Something else I thought you might like..." His paw sneaked behind a boulder and returned with a peculiar weapon. With her love for the martial, this would make a good present. The hilt was almost as long as the curved, single-edged blade which in itself was a little longer than a hare's forearm. As her eyes widened, he grinned. "I have no idea what it's called, but I knew you'd appreciate it. Absolute piece of art, I think. Very clever design, and I found something that I think goes with it."
They examined the small sword and the pole which had come with it several times. Freja was more interested in hefting the sword and trying it out in a duel - they had three before her curiosity was sated, and Gram almost won the first one. It was always near impossible to get the better of Freja in a fight, so to know that her handicap had brought her almost down to his level was reasuring. She tossed it in the air to catch it many times, and after she'd pinged the blade and found the balance, they set to examining the pole as well. Ten minutes of hard thought followed, until Gram leant in over her shoulder and tapped the sword's hilt carefully, punching a small rod of wood partway out of the hilt with his claw. He pulled the peg the rest of the way out and took the sword from her paws, sliding the blade and its tang out of the wooden sheath which had made up its hilt. A moment's work with the wooden pole he'd found before and suddenly the short sword had become a polearm.
"This is..." Freja was speechless. It was a beautiful concept - one blade which could be used on multiple hilts to make a spear, a sword... no doubt it could even be used double-ended, if one could find another blade and make a rod with a dock in each end. A bugle call interrupted this musing - she and Gram were about to miss the lunchtime call! As she sat up quickly, something caught her attention like a thorn catches clothing - something that would only harm if she fought her way free.
"Wait..." Gram's voice, plaintive and frightened. Freja turned in something of a state of surprise. He had never sounded frightened before, nor angry, nor of any countenance which did not beget as even-tempered a beast as he. She looked at him - he was fidgety all of a sudden, worried, drawn in on himself. "Before you go... I've something I think I have to say. Because I know you're leaving soon, and... I might not get another chance at it."
Inside, Freja already knew what was about to be said. She dreaded it.
"You came to us in the spring with nothing but a sword and the name of your tutor... now look at you. You've accomplished so much in such a short time. You are a true genius, not one who sees fighting as a method of killing, but an art in itself. An idealist, almost... you've made such an impression. The Lord himself teaches you, you have already passed Balmung, you have taught us all and made so many of us into your friends and students, and even the way I'm looking at you now, you're so beautiful I could cry!" His voice broke for a moment and a chill of sweat raced up Freja's back. "And so, before you leave, I just want you to know... that I love you, Freja Kusanagi, and it has been nothing short of wonderful to have you in my life. And I know many of the Patrol feel similar."
Freja was surprised. She had expected one of the typically chauvinistic attitudes to come through, but he had acknowledged that she would be leaving and he had not committed the very male sin of begging her to stay. A moment of emotion came over her - she admired him all of a sudden, respected him, maybe even loved him for making that confession in such good grace. She stepped up to Gram and took him in a solid embrace for just a moment before stepping back and starting down the musty old tunnel back into the heart of the Fire Mountain. "Come on, Lieutenant Nagha. We'll miss the mid-day meal."
But she couldn't quite keep the caring tone from her voice.
It was one week later that she broke the news to the trainee brigades. They were sitting in the mess hall, bantering and eating happily when she stood and the Badger Lord rapped his plate for silence. Every head turned to him; with a gesture, he redirected their gazes to the standing doe. She coughed and a cloud of nervous worry crept across her features. A second later and it was gone, and she spoke clearly to the corps.
"The last few seasons have been some of the most fulfilling of my life. I have met so many new beasts and all of them have their own stories, and with each story I hear I grow wiser and happier. You are all rich and deep and perilous beasts, and I would gladly die fighting for you. But I have a different mission. I leave in the morning to conduct a pilgrimage to Redwall Abbey, to gaze upon the mausoleum of the Warrior and meditate before his meteor sword. I apologise for not telling you all this before; I was afraid that if I spoke of this too soon, I would find too many reasons to stay. I will see you all some time soon. I cannot tell when or where, but I know our paths will cross again. Goodbye, Long Patrol!"
She smiled and she turned and left the hall, and after a hundred paces she could no longer resist the tears which had been welling up since she stood. They flowed freely and without impedance or regret as she moved on from the life which had so consumed and fulfilled her for the last three seasons and into the unknown. The vast expanse of Mossflower called, Redwall Abbey's holy sword waiting for her, brigands to fight and uncertainty to challenge... an adventure was coming.