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New Arrival

Post by Julen on

Julen resisted the urge to roll his eyes. After all, he’d been equally clueless about the basics of armed combat, and Railtus hadn’t mocked him. It was just one of the rare times when Julen remembered that the man training him -- the man whose wisdom he trusted, the man whose orders he obeyed without question -- was actually five years his junior.

“As attractive as it looks on cookies, I don’t think being purple is the main attribute that young Andreya is searching for in men.”

Ignoring the way his body protested each movement, Julen struggled out of his arming coat and draped it over a chair. Then, he crossed over to Railtus, placing a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You’re a warrior. Angelsworn. And I respect that. But I’m a married man, which comes with its own set of knowledge.” The corner of Julen’s mouth curled impishly. “Maybe I should train you. We could borrow a wooden woman from the brothel and go find a field to practice in...”

Railtus’s continued expression of harassed bewilderment made Julen grow serious again. “Look, the fact is that you’re very attractive to women. I could explain why, but you probably don’t want to hear it, and anyway, since nothing on the list is a habit you’re likely to change, it wouldn’t help. Just think of it as a more pleasant variation on being hungered after.”

“In regard to Mavelle...a gentleman may be discreet, but in this case, the lady is not. I saw the way she looked at you during the confrontation with Phelan. She wasn’t just worried you were going to smite her brother. She was worried he was going to hurt you -- she practically said as much to him, if he had ears to hear it. Also, after you went into the courtyard, she told me that she wanted to be worthy of you. I interpreted that as meaning more than she hoped her hospitality was up to your standards.” Withdrawing his hand, Julen shrugged. “After watching the two of you together, I could take a guess at how you feel about her. But I don’t need to guess how she feels about you.”

Lacking the energy to remain standing, Julen retreated to his bed, and sat down on the edge of it. “Just be nice to Andreya,” he suggested. “She’s twelve. If she knows any more about romance than holding hands and looking at the moon, she shouldn’t. Having a crush on you is just part of growing up.” Again, the impish smile appeared. “And enjoy the cookie. I’d help you eat it, but I’m too tired to chew.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

The straight face had been apparantly too convincing. Julen seemed to be taking his reaction seriously. Were it not for what immediately followed, Railtus would have laughed out loud.

As it was, what followed was the crack about a training dummy from the brothel, and bright anger flashed forth from that response. "That was too far." Railtus warned Julen, of course, he could never see himself hurting Julen, but the dread stillness through which he funneled his anger was what people had in mind when inventing the word 'ominous.'

Within but a few seconds, the burning wrath of an indoor star had faded. Slowly, he nodded. Most of what Julen said had made sense, about Mavelle certainly. Clearly he knew more about this sort of thing, and his comments concerning Andrea put the Angelsworn's mind to rest.

Still, being so attractive to women was news to Railtus. Instinctively, he doubted it, but actively disbelieving things was not in his nature. "About women," Railtus began, not sure how to proceed, "Why would I not want to hear it?" Standing out above all was the assumption which Julen had made. "You are probably best telling me anyway. I'll be busy eating the cookie."

Again, said with a perfectly straight face.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

When Railtus told him that he’d gone too far, Julen’s eyes widened and his heart shrank. He didn’t experience fear -- fear would imply that he felt threatened in some way. But he felt cold. The expression on Railtus’s face chilled him to his very core.

“I’m sorry,” Julen apologized, casting his gaze downward. “I meant no offense.”

The rare instance when Railtus seemed to be completely out of his depth had made Julen overly bold. Now, once again, he backed off and attempted to reassess his relationship with his employer. Railtus didn’t want to be treated like a noble. And he certainly didn’t want to be treated like a divine being. But he also didn’t seem to want to be treated like a normal man -- at least, not any of the normal men that Julen knew. There were complexities to this, and lines drawn in places Julen couldn’t see.

Pulling off his boots provided Julen with an excuse to keep his eyes averted. Only Railtus’s question about women coaxed Julen’s gaze back upwards. And even then, Julen spoke more carefully than he had moments before. “I didn’t think you’d care,” he admitted. “I thought you’d feel it was superficial and unimportant. But if you’re really curious...”

Julen shrugged, managing a smile as he did so. “You’re noble. You’re eloquent, chivalrous, and exciting. You’re like the hero of every romantic tale ever told. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re also handsome enough to coax the stars out of the sky.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

"Thank you." replied Railtus, seemingly understanding. "I am?"

So much for him understanding.

More seriously, the claim that he was handsome seemed to occur to him for the first time. It was simply something that he had never noticed, as if it was never a part of his life. Railtus shrugged, idly expectingto think about it later. He never would.

Besides, something more serious was apparant. Clearly Railtus had stung Julen with his recent objection to some of his comments. That was more important than any romantic appeal that Railtus had.

Holding Julen's gaze, Railtus eased himself over to sit on the bed, accidently bumping his foot painfully on a forgotten training spear. A subtle gasp of breath was drawn in at the unexpected pain, then his lips twitched in amusement as he let out a snort of laughter at the silly event.

"I know you meant no offence." stated Railtus casually, deliberately ignoring the pain in his foot. "Occasionally friendly teasing can come too close to an insult. There is no harm done." Railtus added, grasping for a filler before his next point. "For future reference, avoid mentioning me in relation to brothels. Women are not to be used as chattel and I would never associate with the practice. That is all." The words were spoken lightly, almost softly and gently, with no trace of his former anger. He even shrugged.

Watching carefully, Railtus left a pause, as if wondering whether to consider the matter settled. "Unless there is anything you have in mind, I shall heal your arms so that they do not give you trouble tomorrow, then return to House Anstrun and collect you in the morning."
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

As Railtus finished his explanation, Julen nodded. He appreciated knowing exactly what about his comment had awakened such terrible anger. And in most respects, he agreed with Railtus -- it was a tragic thing when circumstances forced anyone, man or woman (from overheard comments, Julen had learned that the brothel employed both), to accept coins for an act that should only be bought with love and trust. Usually, on the occasions that Julen’s path took him near the brothel, he hurried past it with downcast eyes. Even if he hadn’t made promises to Rosemary, no known force would ever get him inside. And yet... And yet, sometimes, when no one else was around, when the absence of his wife was like a bleeding wound, Julen paused outside the brothel doors, and he wondered what it would be like to purchase a bit of comfort, an hour’s worth of forgetfulness.

And that, Julen realized, was the difference between him and Railtus. Railtus had never wondered. Or if he ever had, it had been too long ago for him to remember. That was why the joke hadn’t been funny. Most men laughed at such insinuations because it allowed them a release -- a socially acceptable way to acknowledge that yes, no matter how infrequently, no matter how much they would never act on them, they had these thoughts. Railtus didn’t. So to him, Julen’s comment had only been an insult.

Not vice, Julen noted. No jokes about vice. It’s not the same for him.

Grateful for Railtus’s offer to heal him, Julen extended his aching arms. Then, when that was done, he thanked his friend and wished him a safe journey back to House Anstrun. Briefly, Julen considered asking Railtus to give Phelan a goodnight kiss from him. In the end, however, he decided against it. The joke wasn’t exactly about vice. But it did touch on family, which might be another sensitive subject, and Julen didn’t feel like testing new ground.

After Railtus had left, Julen finished undressing, before lying down in bed. Sleep came almost immediately, sucking him down like a murky bog. But even buried in its sluggish depths, Julen’s mind still fidgeted, throwing out a strange combination of memory and imagination as he dreamed.

One. Two. Three.

Darkness. He was in a bed, but not his small bed at the bakery. The mattress beneath him was larger, stuffed to plumpness with soft feathers, and a variety of cushions had been scattered across it. He felt their textures tease his naked skin -- the chill smoothness of silk, the downy caress of velvet. And that wasn’t all that he felt. Someone else was in the bed with him.

Four. Five. Six.

At the edge of Julen’s awareness, the voice continued its unhurried counting. But Julen barely heard it. Reaching through the darkness, his fingers brushed against the arch of a hip, the round curve of a breast. Rapidly, a hunger awakened deep inside him. It had been too long. And the temptation was too sudden and too close.

Seven. Eight. Nine.

Now, each number was accompanied by a mild sensation, like someone flicking their finger against his back. Julen couldn’t have cared less. Blinded by the darkness, blinded by his own lust, he pressed random kisses to his partner’s body, as if that could help him draw a mental map of her terrain. And the sighs and moans with which she received the touch of his lips rose to a sharp gasp as he pulled her beneath him, making them one.

Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

Steadily, the force marked by each number had grown in strength, until it was more like a rod snapping across his shoulder blades. The pain made Julen wince. But he was sunk deep in the warmth of a woman, and for the first time in four months, he was so close. Gods, he was so close! Doing his best to ignore the invisible assault, Julen rolled his hips, hearing his cries of pleasure echoed in the darkness. Then, a pair of arms wrapped around him, yanking him closer, and Julen experienced sharp release. White light swept over the world. When it faded back to a reasonable level, Julen could finally see where he was -- a bedroom, decorated in the tawdry lavishness that he’d always imagined for a brothel. But that wasn’t what shocked him. Glancing down the woman he’d just had sex with, Julen saw, to his horror, that she wasn’t a stranger.


Smiling, she unwrapped her arms from around his body. And as she held her hands up before him, Julen saw that they were stained with his blood.

An insistent knocking jolted Julen from his sleep. Blinking in the morning light, Julen attempted to process the sound, and finally realized that it was Railtus, come to collect him for another day's training. “Just a moment,” Julen called out, forcing his body into a sitting position. He was glad that the necessity of getting dressed bought him a small delay. Julen didn’t want to face Railtus until that dream had faded completely from his memory.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Patiently, Railtus waited, holding stock still as if standing to attention. He found the posture made time pass more swiftly. The delay was a surprise to him. Mentally he challenged his expectation why Julen was not up first. Perhaps simple fatigue from the training. With that settled, he let his mind drift at rest.

So much for that notion.

As was his way, Railtus found something else to occupy his mind with, planning out the next lessons. They would cover an hour with the spear against each weapon, during most of this Railtus would be using his shield. This time Railtus would try a few unexpected shifts in styles, just to get Julen used to adjusting mid-combat. Fixed styles were rarely effective combat methods, so Julen would need to learn to counter versitile foes.

Usefully, a new bundle had been brought. This one using extra cord, cord travelling the length as well to be easier to carry by looping it over the body and carrying the bundle across one's back.

Sure enough, Railtus waited for the door to open, and waited to begin the lesson.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

Hastily splashing water from the washbasin onto his face, Julen pleaded with the images still lingering after his dream. Go away, go away, go away... Unfortunately, the harder he tried to erase them, the more deeply they seemed to etch themselves into his brain.

At last, disheveled but dressed, Julen pulled open the door. The sight of Railtus was enough to set off fresh waves of guilt and embarrassment. Julen prayed that his friend just assumed that he felt bad about not being ready. “Sorry,” Julen apologized, beckoning Railtus inside. “Overslept. I should have asked Effie to wake me. Tomorrow, I’ll see to it that she does.”

“Just give me a moment to eat something, and we can get going.” Retreating to the table, Julen reached into the pack Railtus had given him, and pulled out another sweetcake, which he immediately began to devour. “I really am sorry,” Julen repeated, between bites. “When I sleep, I sleep deep. And I always have these dreams.” Again, half-recalled sensations crawled across his memory like unwelcome insects, and Julen shook his head, attempting to cast them off. “No more talking about brothels right before I go to bed.”

Okay, that was WAY too much information. Shoving the last piece of sweetcake into his mouth, as much to shut himself up as to satiate his hunger, Julen started to gather the training weapons. The new bundle Railtus had brought gave Julen a much needed excuse to change the subject. “Clever,” he complimented, swinging it up onto his back. “Alright. I’m finally ready.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Comment remained unpassed. By all appearances, no judgements were made. Although the impassive face could mean something worse and far more serious. With all of this, Railtus reclaimed his cloak and eagerly set moving.

"Any techniques that you feel a need to learn?" wondered Railtus, inviting Julen's opinion concerning training. "And in case you were wondering, there is a reason I make you carry all of this around." Railtus added, now giving Julen one training pike to carry.

For some reason Railtus seemed thoroughly indifferent towards any embarassment from Julen. Out of a mild self-consciousness of his own with the thought of being seen not carrying anything while Julen was loaded like a mule, Railtus carried one (training) spear and shield. Worthy of remembering was the falchion. Julen would have to know how to care for his own gear.

Walking through the streets, standard trend was for people to get out of the way. While convenient, it was also very irritating. Deference always frustrated Railtus.

Catching sight of the field they had used in the industrial district, everything was how it was when they first used it. Including the absense of a blimp.

Cold horror pierced through the Angelsworn as he worried for the health of Ramas. Just how much the boy needed healing had been made very clear with the first attempt. Without attention, the boy would never truly recover. Leaving just made no sense to Railtus. At all.

Unsure what else to do, Railtus proceded with the lessons. After all, this was where they last met and the only placed Finner would know to return if seeking him out. They could ask with the Guard on the way back. After all, the protectors and enforcers of the city would make a high point of tracking the movements of a monstrosity like that.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

“Because we don’t own a horse?” Julen guessed, a touch of mischief entering his voice as he responded to Railtus’s assurance that there was a reason for his heavy load. Being outside helped him feel better. A pleasantly cool breeze stirred the morning air, making signs creak as they rocked back and forth on the chains that held them suspended outside various businesses. Striding briskly against the wind’s current, Julen allowed it to carry off the last fragments of his dream, like a tree releasing dead leaves. Finally, he could focus on the waking world.

“As for techniques, I’d like more practice about what to do when an opponent gets past my spear point. Especially what you showed me with the dagger. And maybe, if you think I’m ready, we could start talking about how I can aid you in combat. How we could most effectively fight together. I don’t want to be in the way.”

Julen was about to continue the conversation by asking how things were at House Anstrun, when he saw the empty field and his good mood abruptly vanished. The airship. Where was the airship? Ramas still needed more healing -- Railtus had been absolutely clear about that. Irrationally, Julen wanted to start yelling at the sky, demanding that gnome return. Finner had seemed like a good sort. Why would he risk Ramas’s life by leaving?

And then, it hit him. “This is my fault,” Julen confessed, bowing his head. He couldn’t stand to even look at the spot where the airship should have been. “While you were resting, I...I used my magic. The boy was still in pain, and I just wanted to distract him, to take his mind off of it. Finner saw me. He didn’t seem to mind, even though he knew what I was doing wasn’t legal. But he must have changed his mind later. Decided it wasn’t worth risking what the guards would do to him if he was caught harboring an unlicensed mage. So he took off.”

“Dammit!” Overcome by guilt, Julen succumbed to a rare moment of frustration, and threw down the training pike. “I just wanted to use it for some small good. I should have known better. Nothing good will ever come from anything I do with it.” Desperately, Julen pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, as if by blocking out the world he could somehow keep himself from doing any further damage. “Nothing good will ever come from anything I do at all.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on


It was audible.

A gauntleted fist seized Julen by the wrist and dragged his hand forcibly away from his face. "Enough of that!" he barked fiercely. "Drop the self pity now. That is an order."

An uncompromising stare met Julen solidly. "You tried to do the right thing. Any decision Finner makes is his, and his alone. If he decided the health of his apprentice was not worth the risk, then it was the act of a coward on his part!" Stock still, Railtus seethed, his gaze shifting off to the side as it shimmered the air with rage. This was not anything so trivial as an insult, or fate working against him, it was the thought of an innocent being left at risk. Once more, holy fire burned within his heart.

Something not very comforting when he had yet to let go of the arm.

Far more dreadfully, he calmed instantly. "I hope you helped him." A voice steady, somber. "Only use that method if agreed first. It can be a liability, so we need to think through every use first. Now pick up your spear and start training." Again, a command. No indication that whether Julen wanted to made any difference.

Just as suddenly, his voice softened. "If you want a penance, we will go to the City Guard on the way back. Hopefully they kept a lookout. The boy telling them about you is a risk you will have to take.

Selecting a sword from the bundle, Railtus got back to business. "Take your spear. Dagger work." An announcement.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

When Railtus grabbed his wrist, Julen’s head snapped up, and rage flashed in the depths of his brown eyes. Nothing as fierce or terrifying as Railtus’s divine fury. But the honest anger of a free man unaccustomed to being handled in such a way. And for a moment, it was an unsettling thing to see.

Too furious to be intimidated, Julen met Railtus’s gaze with unflinching steadiness. He was determined not to give an inch. But as he listened to the lecture, his rage dimmed, and then flickered out completely. Railtus was right. Julen couldn’t hold himself responsible for whatever decision Finner had made. And wallowing in self-pity wasn’t going to help Ramas, or Rosemary, or anyone at all. He needed to pull himself together and get on with this.

By the time Railtus suggested a visit to the City Guard, Julen had regained enough control to nod. But even with his anger banished, a certainty remained inside him -- the certainty that a line had been crossed which shouldn’t be crossed again.

When Railtus finally released him, Julen held up his bruised wrist. “That was too far,” he informed, carefully choosing words to match the ones Railtus had spoken the previous night. Then, considering the matter settled, Julen picked up his training spear and prepared for Railtus’s next lesson.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Biting down hard, Railtus struggled not to react. Reacting would cause this to escalate. Any confrontation was sure to be one sided, but would mean harming what was essentially a good man. Such a price was not his to pay. Such an act was not fair, right or just.

Even if it made perfect sense.

Offence sparked harsher thoughts. Frankly, this was not an equal partnership. In his eagerness to develop a true friendship he had overlooked that fact. When very first they met Julen was going through a difficult time, one which Railtus had helped him through. So far, Railtus had taught Julen to believe in himself, supply him with a highly paying job which he could easily have done through other means, called in the hospitality of his family, made an enemy of an elite swordsman, and was now providing training. In return, Julen had... offered him some stale bread and a room for the night, a room accepted more for Julen's convenience than his own, served as a guide while receiving far more than standard pay, brawled in the home of his family, and risked both their lives through reckless use of magic and foolish refusal to register his talents.

House Anstrun and the Fighter's Guild could both easily supply prospective squires, better yet, possible lords alongside whom he could earn his accolade. Grim truth as it may be, Julen was expendable.

The righteous never became so through choking on pride, fairness and honour and compassion were more important. Resenting defiance was the behaviour of Phelan, behaviour Railtus would never reduce himself to. Selfish acts were a luxury denied to the Angelsworn.

"I forgot you are not yet a soldier." Railtus admitted, "I will take more care how I handle you until then." At the same time, he had no intention of making further allowances for this self-pity. While no offence or harm had been intended, Railtus would not consider his actions just then to be wrong.

Of course, when training began, all of this moralising did nothing to stop the first exchange from ending in a shield rush in which the footman was launched across the field by a privately irate paladin.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

And when I am a solider? Julen wondered. Then it will be alright for you to lay your hands on me in anger? Perhaps I should buy you a horse rod, Master Railtus.

In that moment, part of Julen dearly wanted to march off the field. If he’d been able to hear Railtus’s thoughts, to know that he was being considered an expendable burden kept only as an act of charity, then he damn well would have. But he was no mind reader. So he stayed, swayed by other things -- the admiration he felt for Railtus, the debt he owed him, the excitement he’d experienced when Railtus first handed him his shield to carry. And, of course, Rosemary. As much as Julen might be tempted to throw Railtus’s bishani back in his face, they were not his alone to dispose of. In the end, his pride had to mean less than her wellbeing.

Also, perhaps more important than any other reason, Julen had made a promise. He didn’t break his promises. Unless Railtus dismissed him, he was in this for the long haul.

So, when Railtus knocked him across the field with a shield rush, Julen immediately picked himself up and mounted an offensive of his own. Due to the gap in skill levels, he was hardly able to give as good as he got. But he did his best. And soon, the physical demands of training left no energy for anger.

Sometimes, Julen still thought of Ramas, causing his gaze to stray to the spot where the airship should have been. And invariably, Railtus exploited those lapses in attention by smacking him with a wooden weapon. This, in addition to being good combat training, was a valuable life lesson. Never let problems that you can’t do anything about distract you from problems that you can. With a bit of effort, Julen managed to focus his attention solely on the sparring. Blade and shield, strike and block, became his entire world.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Immediately after the first rush, Railtus offered a hand to help Julen back to his feet.

Only to find himself pressed back by a furious assault. Having folded his waster inside his shield arm he was unprepared for the attack. Newly strong blows battered his shield and he realised that he was using all of his skill to defend, as if facing a real attacker and in real danger.

Again able to bring his training sword to bear, he brushed a spear thrust aside and whipped the waster forwards like he would against a true foe. The false blade swung on neck level, carried with power.

To veer off early.

Railtus caught himself short on that strike, sharply aware that this was escalating already. Such consideration was rewarded with fresh stabs aimed in his direction. In place of cuts, Railtus would hold the sword crossways in front of his shield, akin to a hanging guard. With that combination he would engage the spear, pushing it downwards and to the side as he advanced to press the edge onto Julen. No impact, but adding pressure to the sword once contact was made, leaving no doubt that the sword had landed.

A few times Railtus had to counter dangerous maneuvers, such as the wooden dagger stabbing high above the shield. Without a counter, that would have caught him in the eye. Springing sideways to evade further, he continued on without complaint.

To his credit, a few spear strikes got through. Likely blows that would be turned by armour - a slash across the greaves, a jab on the vambrace, a knife edge along the gamberson sleeve. One solid thrust landed on the thigh, on the skirt of the quilted gamberson. This unbalanced Railtus, forcing that leg out from under him. Only by slamming the shield down on the spear shaft in his fall did he avoid a further blow.

No longer expecting quarter or even civility from Julen, Railtus thrust a sword over the shield arm, thrusting from a crude ox-guard. Either the move would enforce sufficient distance to prevent the use of the dagger, or it would strike into the gut. Either way, fine.

Having tucked his feet under him quickly to come up standing, Railtus managed to dodge back. A thin smile formed at that. Truthfully, an observation was being conducted, almost an experiment. Railtus wanted to see just how far Julen would take this.

What was more, was that Railtus intended to let him take this to extremes, without being drawn in himself. Manipulative, perhaps, but that alone required no justification.

Sooner or later eyes without the haze of anger would have to notice that the constant striking and parrying was unusual. Normally, after each successful blow, Railtus would stop and explain how the strike was landed, what made that tactic effective, and what could be done to counter it.

Controlling pace, Railtus kept up short, controlled jabs, conserving energy while forcing Julen to always move. Sooner or later, the farmer would need chance to regain his breath.

This was a chance exploited most of all. "Are you done raging yet?" Asked flatly, with a hollow space left afterwards waiting to be filled with an answer.

With his mind away from the combat, Railtus began evaluating recent events. Julen had been angry when Railtus had grabbed him, apparantly holding a grudge. Witnessing anger was trivial to Railtus, a sight he as often saw from villains he was thwarting. Witnessing pain or sorrow was more meaningful, and such a sight would halt Railtus dead from what he was doing.

Much as he preferred to think otherwise, Railtus was accustomed to Julen being meek, to the point of shouldering blame for the confrontation with Phelan. Now, that reaction, so out of character, was almost a personal attack. Personal attacks were nothing new, but Railtus had valued Julen's friendship, and that made him vulnerable.

Like any warrior under serious threat, he turned defensive.

True, Julen was taking the kindness shown to him for granted. True, since Julen entered into his service, Railtus had done more to serve Julen than the other way around. True, this unexpected attitude was not something he had agreed to tolerate. True, something seriously needed doing about such egocentric self-pity as was being shown. True, this personal flaw was drawing him away from his duty.

None of this changed the fact Railtus had hurt Julen, if only mildly. An accident, yes, but one easily avoided.

Blaming Julen would be easy, but it was only right to take responsibility for one's actions.

"My apologies for hurting you earlier, it was not my intent." As the apology was sincere, it referred to any harm and not the act of grabbing, an act he felt he had every right to do considering the circumstances. "I was careless and rash to have grabbed you like that, and I am sorry."

"As for the lesson, remember that letting anger and pride rule your weapon like that is a good way to get innocents killed. If there are any problems to cover, I will hear them now."
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

“Are you done raging yet?”

“I’m...done...” Bent over, Julen suffered through each breath as he drew it in, like someone dragging a rake across the insides of his lungs. Despite the way it hurt to inhale, he couldn’t seem to stop panting.

The rage was gone. Julen wasn’t even sure where it had come from. He felt ashamed for attacking Railtus -- especially since he knew it was his own powerlessness, not Railtus, that he’d really been lashing out against. Powerless to help Ramas, powerless to properly master his magic, powerless to shape his own destiny. Back in Shim, he’d been a respected member of the community. A free man who owned his farm and earned a good woman for his wife. Bit by bit, all that had been stolen from him. Until here he was, taking orders from someone five years his junior, unable to even control when he was touched or how.

“I’m sorry,” Julen apologized. “I...for a moment, I lost myself.”

I forgot that I’m not that man anymore. I forgot that I walked away from him on the morning I walked away from Shim.

Looking at Railtus, Julen searched his face for some trace of compassion, some hint that he understood why this was hard. But of course, there wasn’t any. What was pride to an Angelsworn? No more than lust, or greed, or any other human failing. An abstract, understood but never experienced. A blot on other people’s souls. An insect to be swatted out of the air.

If only it was that easy.

When Railtus apologized for hurting him, Julen glanced down at his wrist as if he’d forgotten it was there. “I’m alright,” he assured.

Closing his eyes, Julen drew a deep breath, and held it for as long as his still-weary lungs permitted. Then he exhaled, letting go of so much more than air. He let go of his past, of the rights he could no longer expect or demand. He also let go of his future, which both scared and excited him. All he held onto was the current moment. He was Railtus’s footman. And damn lucky to be, considering the alternatives he’d been facing a few days before. This was his life now. This was his only hope.

“The only problem is that I’ve wasted too much of our time.” Drawing himself up straight, Julen shifted his feet to match one of the stances Railtus had taught him, and held his weapons ready. “If you still feel inclined, I’d like to resume my training.”


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