Despite the early hour, it is already a beautiful spring morning, promising even better to come during the day. So far, however, few have ventured into the grove. In fact, it appears to be mostly empty, save for the coppery-coated horse grazing in the shadow of a large, ancient-looking tree, seemingly untethered. As you come closer, a grey-clad figure appears from deeper in among the trees, a low whistle getting the horse’s attention. The Saldaean—the long, dark hair and the sword at her side are more than enough to identify the woman—then slips a simple halter over its head, and ties the end of a long rope loosely to the trunk of a smaller tree.
Having lead his horse forward so far, searching for his appointed sparring partner, Valtrin grins with a vaguely forced edge as he follows your motion to tie his own horse to a tree. “Punctual, I see. That’s good, although you really shouldn’t bother—I’m late more often than not, to just about any appointed meeting. A flaw of upbringing,” he says, voice light enough. He glances at your sword again before removing his coat with easy grace, folding it neatly and laying it on a large rock. “Shall we begin? How long do you have, my lady?”
“I’ve found it a flaw in more than one southerner,” Shirin dryly replies, although there’s a gleam of amusement in those tilted eyes, and then she too unbuttons and removes her coat. She, however, merely tosses it aside, quite casually, on top of the saddle which already sits carefully leaned against the large tree. That does a lot to set her priorities straight. “As for how long I have,” she continues, turning to you again, “it depends entirely on how long it takes.” A wry grin curves her lips, just a hint of ferocity lurking in her expression.
“Well then,” replies Valtrin, a faint smirk appearing as he unsheathes his longer, slender blade, “best not keep you waiting any longer.” He sights down the length of the blade, a finger briefly running along the edge with critical attention. And happy with that, he moves further into the clearing, turning to face you and making an elegant if brief salute. “I should note, I don’t use the usual style. Have you ever encountered an Altaran? Rather like the style the nobility has used for warfare. Adapted from their duelling style, of course.”
Unsheathing her own sword, the style of it the expected save for that the blade is slightly serpentine in the way many Saldaeans prefer, Shirin returns the salute. That grin lingers on her lips, even if her eyes reveal none of that amusement any longer, a look of concentration instead to be found there. “No,” she replies, watching you closely, “but no doubt it will be an interesting experience. Although I would not have taken you for an Altaran.” The last is more comment than question, but briefly her expression grows curious, if not so much as to interfere with her obvious focus on you.
“I’m not. Mayener. But something of a family tradition,” replies Valtrin as he enters a guard position, blade extended with its tip weaving slightly, controlled by the finest motions of fingers and wrist—and then he starts, first probing, and the fashion of it is quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. The cuts and the motions are all tightly controlled, his feet moving him forward and to the sides in short steps, his right leg always forward. The blade stays extended as he thrusts it towards you, body leaning into it, and then he’s withdrawing. A very quick style, apparently.
“That explains a lot,” comes the dry reply from Shirin, lips quirking into a grin that is little but fierce as she begins to slowly move back and forth on a half-circle around you, allowing you to test the waters almost entirely unchallenged for a little while. That doesn’t mean, however, that she doesn’t keep a close eye on your every movement, her own sword held two-handed and a touch low. The first thrust is simply side-stepped, and not until after the second—once she’s seen just how quick that style of yours is—does she move in for a low but upwards sweeping cut along a diagonal line, seemingly intended to knock your more slender blade aside.
Metal touches on metal, a light scraping sound, and that slender blade disengages with a flick of the wrists. Quickly brought back to line, he presses forward, now using his own slashing cuts, sword sweeping one way to meet yours, to disengage and sweep in a backhanded cut that angles down to the outside of a thigh. In the midst of it he manages, grin tight, “What does that mean?”
Attempting to avoid movement along the back-forward line and instead continuing to favour that half-circle around you, Shirin narrowly escapes the cut aimed for her thigh, reversing her direction just in time to step left rather than right and into the cut. “I’ve heard a thing or two,” she manages to reply as she she presses forward, an almost straight thrust turning into a downwards-angled cut that attempts to force your right leg back, “from rather reliable sources.”
“Ahh,” replies Valtrin, too busy to add more as he quickly steps back away from the line of your attack. The slender blade dips and the strength of his wrist is revealed as he pushed your sword out of line before coming in again. The attack is quick, the point moving up—and then dipping hard into a shallow slash that would leave a narrow wound if he extended enough to truly threaten your flesh.
A little unexpected, perhaps, that you’d be able to so easily push her blade aside. But not much more so than to produce a fierce grin on her lips and a look of hardened concentration in her eyes as she fluidly moves to your right, attempting a sideways cut angled slightly up that ends in a thrust straight forward. Again an attack that appears intended to disturb your position more than anything.
It works, that motion, and instead of moving only a little way to make another attack, Valtrin steps far enough away to disengage entirely. His sword slashes through the air, the wind of it making a sound, and he moves to circle with you from a distance as he smirks and studies you. “You’re very good,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Not that I had expected anything less . . . but still. It’s been a long time for me. When’s the last time you’ve had another heron to fight against, or practice . . . ?”
A slight arching of dark brows, and those emerald-hued eyes watch you closely, a hint of appraisal—and approval—now mingling with the lingering concentration. “As are you,” Shirin replies, her sword held low in a more relaxed fashion as she continues to move, feet sliding easily across the slightly wet grass. “That style ... interesting, I have to admit. Not easy to counter.” And then a wry, easy smile, something clearly amusing her. “Yesterday. My husband insists I keep in shape.”
“Ahh,” replies Valtrin, at first not quite seeming to understand the implications of that. And then he stops, and frowns. His dark eyes look at you quizzically before he asks suddenly, “Husband? You mean ... another blademaster?” He chuckles, though it’s a little strained, and the hand that grips his sword loosens and re-arranges its grip before tightening again. “Do you really think its wise,” he asks, “to be ... well, practicing alone then? I’ve heard stories of Saldaean husbands and their ... ah ... temperaments . . .” Not exactly frightened, but its plain he doesn’t want to look for trouble at this juncture.
A glimmer of laughter brightens those sharply tilted eyes, softening that fierce edge to her expression somewhat, and even her voice betrays a certain amusement. “Oh? I fear I wouldn’t know,” Shirin easily replies, that emeraldine gaze raking over you in a rather frank fashion, “although I can assure you that all they say—and more—about Saldaean fathers is quite true.” She grins then, just a touch fiercely. “Not to mention the stories about Saldaean wives. My husband—he was raised in Ghealdan—can confirm both.”
A moment’s pause, and then Valtrin grins briefly. “Well, I shouldn’t think there’s any problem then—the Ghealdanins have no tempers, as far as I know, and as for Saldaean fathers . . . it’s a long way from Saldaea. And given the repute of Saldaean wives, I shouldn’t think a Saldaean father would take it amiss if his daughter were practicing her swordsmanship.” He seems to consider something and then moves towards closing with you again, sword loosely extended. He begins, “Is it true that—” And then he thinks better of it, shrugging with a smile.
A chuckle then, but it is somewhat ... peculiar, and just a hint of what might have been a blush touches her cheeks. Something about your assumption about Ghealdanins, perhaps? “My father,” Shirin then replies, again smiling wryly, “would take it amiss if I were to do otherwise. Who do you think trained me?” It is, quite obvious, a rhetorical question. And then—with dark brows faintly arched in a curious fashion, that unasked question of yours apparently having awakened a certain interest—she adjust the grip of her sword slightly, extending the blade just a touch further as you approach. “Yes?”
“Nothing,” Valtrin replies a little quickly. “A stray thought, nothing more. On your guard.” And with that warning, he comes to the attack, the motions more like what you might be used to, but the length of his straight and slender blade lets him keep more distance than is usual for his cuts. And when it’s opportune, he manipulates the tip with fluid grace, using it to try to nick and touch.
Dancing aside with easy, fluid movements, Shirin allows you to keep the initiative for a few moves. Then she attacks, a certain ferocity to the way that she suddenly charges, the sweeping cuts and hard thrusts forceful but controlled, and growing more so whenever you press her. “I bet,” she says between both her teeth and a thrust and a parry, moving sideways and out of your range, “that you were about to say,” she continues, narrowly side-stepping one of those quick, easy lunges from you, “something about farmgirls and harvest-time.”
Perhaps he colors faintly, and that’d be the first time you’ve seen the Mayener do that. Or it might just be the exertions. He does reply, however, after he has time to bother with it—you’re pressing him well, despite the unfamiliarity of his style. “Not ... precisely,” he says, but that’s more than enough admition as he moves, blade dipping briefly as if trying to lure you into an attack—and instead springing up again as he presses forward again, slender blade a slash of steel through the air and then a sharp needle that thrust through it at you.
Briefly taken in by the feint, it is narrowly indeed—and with less elegance than haste—that Shirin avoids that thrust, spinning backwards with her weight on her left leg, then quickly shifting to her right to step further out of reach. “Not ... precisely?” she asks, briefly a little short of breath, and closes with you again, this time testing your left side for weaknesses. “You shouldn’t make me curious,” she continues, a thin and wry grin on her lips as she shifts her weight a little to her left again, then suddenly moves in the opposite direction, coming at you from your left.
It’s now Valtrin’s turn to far back, blade whipping along the line of your first attack to manage to deflect it, then lifting up and forcing the next thrust down as he dodges desperately. You push him nearly to the edge of clearing before he manages a sudden thrust towards your face, enough to give you a moment’s pause—and him a moment’s breath before he pushes forward, each inch of ground hard-fought. He doesn’t get a chance to reply for a fair while, until he manages to disengage again, breath speeded up. “You know ... what they say about the cat.”
“I do,” Shirin replies with a thin smile, now finding herself slowly pressed backwards as your quick, darting attacks leave her little time for anything else than parrying and ducking. “But I thought,” she continues, teeth gritted together as she follows a lucky parry with a couple of quick, sweeping cuts aimed at your forward leg, “that we were talking of Saldaeans, not cats. And when they are curious ...” She leaves that unfinished, smiling in a predatory fashion. Judging by her quickened breath, however, it wasn’t merely an artful pause.
Quite close to him in those blows, his sword is hard pressed to deflect them now, his motions for the moment lacking the elegant grace he’s so far displayed in their haste to be made. He disengages again, now keeping a distance, letting breath’s be caught and consideration taken as to whether this was enough for the day or not . . . But he does reply to what you say, at least, smile just a little wary. “... they what? I suppose something violent, hrm?”
“It depends,” Shirin answers, smiling entirely too brightly for comfort, even though she’s still catching her breath as well. Taking one hand off the hilt of her sword, she then pushes a few disheveled locks of hair out of her eyes, seemingly sharing your thoughts about this having been just about enough for the day. “On your definition of violent, that is.”
“Ahh, well. That’s a long discussion,” replies Valtrin, shifting his stance a little and then lowering his sword. “Perhaps we should go have it? At the inn? I do think we’ve had enough for the day—I must admit that I haven’t had this ... extensive a testing in a long while. Well over a year.”
Throwing her coat over the back of a chair, Shirin seats herself at a small table not too far from the fireplace—still used to keep a small fire lit for chilly spring days—where Valtrin already sits. “As far as inns go, this one isn’t too bad. At least compared to the ones we stayed at in Andor,” she wryly comments, gesturing for a serving girl to come over and take their orders. “Those tend to be rather full of Andorans, after all.”
“Ahh, you’ve similar feelings, I see,” replies Valtrin, keeping his coat on—though unbuttoned in a rakish sort of way—as he settles into his seat. “It’s a good enough inn, as such things go, but there are always better accommodations if one goes through the trouble of looking . . . Of course, I haven’t had the opportunity. Yet.” A flicker of a frown crosses his face, and he glances around with practiced assessment of the surroundings before giving his order to the plain serving woman who comes to their table.
Sparing a brief, dismissive glance for a fellow who seemed to take her comment about Andorans amiss, Shirin turns back to Valtrin, chuckling wryly. “I suppose it is a somewhat ... sweeping statement, but I came across an annoyance or two during our stay there.” A brief pause then, as she too orders, the serving woman then curtseying and making her way towards the kitchens. “As for better accommodations ... yes, I suppose we could find that too, if we didn’t mind putting up with a relative or two too many,” she then continues, rather dryly.
A brief glance of his own follows Shirin’s, and his study of the stranger is just as brief. He’s more interested in the conversation, and so does not let himself be distracted long. “Relatives? Ahh, there a Saldaean embassy, isn’t there? Some lord—I heard the rumors, that he fought on the wrong side . . .” A few moments pass, and he frowns briefly before he asks, “And you? Did you take a part in the fighting, with your husband?”
“Lord Adram Zadnere, yes. He’s my second cousin,” Shirin replies, a frown settling on her face as she then shakes her head. “We did not. Queen Beah choose to support to the Tower—I’ve heard a whisper or two about why—and Lord Adram must have thought it unwise as he went against her decision. I think she might be less than pleased with her nephew and royal ambassador right now.” By the sound of her voice, she shares these feelings, at least to some degree. “I suppose there was always a chance that he might have been the true Dragon, but ...” Letting her voice trail off as the serving girl approaches, she shrugs her shoulders.
Nodding his head faintly, Valtrin stays silent as he gets his own glass—filled to the brim with dark red wine—and takes a first sip of it. It seems ... adequate. And he says so. “Adequate. That’s the usual fare here. Why I’m intent on finding some finer accommodations in the future, you see . . . ” A few moments pass while he takes another sip before he continues to speak. “Whispers, eh? I’ve heard them too. She’s rather old, isn’t she? And vain, or so the stories go. Not that that’s to be commented on—Saldaean women, after all.”
Taking a swallow or two from her own glass—filled with cider, not wine—Shirin gives you a faintly curious glance, then shrugs her shoulders again. “Its good enough for me, but not a place I’d like to call home.” A moment’s consideration, and she nods to your question. “Rumour has it she’s asked the Tower for help. But you’d have to believe the stories about them Healing the dead to think that possible.” Judging by the snort that follows, she doesn’t. And then, after a pleased grin at your comment about Saldaean women, she asks, “Why Tar Valon, I wonder, if the wine is merely adequate?”
“Why not Tar Valon? Most places have only adequate wine,” Valtrin says, shifting in his seat and glancing away briefly, as if studying something. “I’ve ... some matters to attend to, first, before I leave. And then, I’m not sure where . . . somewhere in the south. Perhaps Altara again. There’s little good to be said for cold weather, you see.” He grins sharply, lips tilted somewhat, and then he swallows more of the wine before he continues, moving to a different topic—one that doesn’t have to do with him. “Where shall you go next, whenever you go? Hunting the Horn I suppose, eh? I suppose I shouldn’t ask for something that must be a carefully guarded secret…”
“Southerners,” Shirin replies with a wry chuckle. “Isandros didn’t care much for winter in Saldaea, or Shienar. It was almost amusing,” she continues, smiling entirely too brightly. Until, that is, she considers your question, something of a frown clouding her expression slightly. “I am not sure. Wherever there’s a large library filled with plenty of dusty old tomes,” she dryly responds, making it rather plain what she thinks of that aspect of Horn-Hunting at least.
A briefly arched brow follows that comment, but Valtrin doesn’t pursue the topic, not immediately in any case. Instead he takes another measured sip from his glass and turns his eyes to study the color of the wine as he holds the glass up before his eyes. And then he says, mildly, “I hadn’t thought you’d be the sort to enjoy dusty old tomes. I suppose the Hunt is rather . . . more glamorous in the hearing than the doing. Those endless songs about Hunter This and Hunter That doing great deeds overlooks the days of tramping about with nothing to show for one’s work but saddlesores.”
Looking rather ... surly at first, Shirin then snorts, letting out a wry chuckle. “I am Saldaean. I don’t get saddlesores.” Taking a healthy swallow of cider from her glass, she then continues, with a wicked smile on her lips, “I could spend days in the saddle, doing most everything, and not get sore in any way whatsoever.” My, my. A couple of more drinks, and Light only knows what she’ll be boasting about.
A low chuckle as the light in Valtrin’s eyes dance with a certain ribald amusement. He takes a slow swallow of wine and then asks, “Most everything? I hesitate to ask for further details. I can imagine a lot of things that one might do on horseback. Awkwardly, though. Unless one’s a Saldaean?” He shrugs lightly, smirking smile on his lips, and he decides not to ask about the sores, in part because of the distraction that the latest patron causes him—a tall, slim-hipped redhead, her face sharing a certain similarity with yours seemingly.
“Or married to one,” Shirin rather slyly replies, a playful smile on her lips. Until, that is, those tilted eyes glance in the same direction as you’re looking, that smile growing strained all of a suddenly. The new arrival—who is headed towards your table—is apparently familiar. And family, one might suspect. “Yegane,” she greets the younger woman, her voice not as unconcerned as it might have been. “I thought you were going to spend most of the day ... touring the merchant quarters of Tar Valon?”
“I decided that I’d like to have the company of my sister, and Isandros told me you had headed out early for a ride. I was about to go out looking for you, ” red-haired Yegane replies, seemingly quite oblivious of her sister’s mild discomfort. And then she turns to you, those dark eyes looking you over in frank sort of way. “Who is your friend, Shirin?” she asks, glancing to her older sister.
“Valtrin Bar’Wanrey,” says he, standing up from his seat with smooth grace as he sets the glass down. A hand unconsciously smoothes out his coat and straightens a sleeve, even as his dark eyes pass over the long length of Yegane’s form with decidedly immodest study. “From Mayene. A pleasure to meet you—I could see the ... striking resemblance,” he says, voice smooth and rich as honey. “Care to join us, my dear lady? We were just speaking, your sister and I, of certain Saldaean feats of horsemanship.”
“A pleasure to meet you, my lord” Yegane replies, a wry smile curving her lips as she dips into a smooth curtsey. Just happening to glance in her sister’s direction at the same time. “But I fear I will have to relieve you of your company rather than add to it. I really would like to steal a few hours of my sister’s time before her husband insist on her back.” Another sideways glance at Shirin, and smiling in a much too pleased fashion she then adds, “But perhaps I can make that up to you some other day?”
“Unless you’re going back to Saldaea soon, Yegane,” Shirin then interrupts, voice perhaps a touch too firm. Or maybe just in comparison to her sister’s silky sweetness. “I suppose, however, that she is right this time,” she then says, turning to you again. “I wouldn’t want to explain to my father why I let her make her way around Tar Valon’s merchant quarters on her own. Especially not once he’s tallied up the cost.” And with that she stands, and grabs her coat from where it was not too neatly folded across the back of her chair. “I hope you will excuse me, lord Valtrin. And my thanks for the ... exercise this morning.”