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Authors: Brian Thomsen

The Mage in the Iron Mask (28 page)

BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
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Rassendyll brightened slightly, but still did not look up.

Mason continued, “And I guarantee that we will have it off long before your beard causes you more than a minor irritation.”

“It already does,” Rassendyll pointed out.

Mason chuckled. “Well, at least you’re not choking on it, as your brother desired,” the senior Cloak countered. “Stop looking at the ground. You are wasting the sight of a beautiful sunrise. Choose to enjoy it now, and afterwards we shall dine.”

Rassendyll looked up and enjoyed the rest of the dawn’s early light, feeling a bond of closeness with the old senior Cloak that he had never felt with his teachers back at the Retreat.

When Volo awoke he discovered that Passepout was still sound asleep and snoring loudly, while their iron-masked roommate had apparently already risen. Pulling his pack together, he followed the scent of freshly baked muffins, and arrived back at the dining hall where Chesslyn and Fullstaff were just beginning their breakfast.

“Morning,” he hailed as he once again took a place at the table right next to that of the secret Harper agent.

“And to you, sir,” Honor replied, seemingly oblivious as Chesslyn and Volo exchanged smiles and silent greetings. “I trust you found your accommodations acceptable.”

“Better than some,” Volo replied, and with a wink to Chesslyn added, “and not as good as others.”

“Oh, that’s right,” the host replied, “you are a travel author after all, and therefore always ready to rate the rooms, so to speak.”

Volo thought carefully, and quickly adding, “I meant no disrespect, sir. I apologize if I might have seemed overly critical.”

Honor belted forth a hearty laugh that immediately set the gazetteer at ease.

“No offense taken, my boy,” Honor boomed. “Chesslyn was right. You are a well-mannered sort.”

A groggy Passepout entered the room, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

“And good morning to you, oh master thespian of the heavy-stepped gait,” the host haled. “Your breakfast will be here momentarily.”

“Uh, yeah,” Passepout acknowledged, “thank you.” The thespian took a seat across from Chesslyn and Volo and quickly brightening for a moment, added, “and a good morning to you, fair maid.”

Chesslyn rolled her eyes, and secretly squeezed Volo’s hand under the table.

“I trust you slept well,” Volo said to his old friend. “You seemed to be out like a light when I got up.”

“Indeed, I was,” the thespian replied, “until the booming sounds of good company encouraged my wakefulness.”

“Not to mention the roar of a stomach tempted by the aroma of early morning muffins,” Honor observed. “Dig in, dig in. The bowls will be replenished as the need arises, my portly friend, and there is more than enough for everyone.”

A full mouth and a swallow later, Passepout garbled, “Ufgphmmp.”

“Come again?” Volo asked.

“He asked where Rassendyll and McKern were,” Honor translated, and then turned in the direction of the young thespian. “They should be here shortly. Mason always was a sucker for an early morning constitutional, and I assure you he’s never made a practice of missing breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day you know, provided you don’t sleep through it.”


Volo and Chesslyn once again turned to Honor for
the translation while the portly thespian continued to feed his face.

“Well, of course Rassendyll is probably with him,” the blind swordmaster replied. “You might not realize it, but they do have a lot in common. Wait! I hear their approach now.”

All seeing eyes in the room turned to the empty doorway. Ten seconds later Rassendyll and McKern entered.

Volo shook his head in astonishment, and whispered to Chesslyn, “How does he …”

“… do that?” Honor finished. “My hearing is quite acute. The wise men say that when you are deprived of one of your senses, it is easier to develop your others. Let’s do an experiment while Poins and Hal bring some more muffins so that the sun-gazers can sustain themselves as well.”

Honor quickly stood up and strode to a set of foils that were hanging on a wall fixture in crossed-swords fashion. Taking one in each hand, he called out, “Mason!”

“Over here, old boy,” the senior Cloak answered.

Turning slightly, the blind swordmaster said, “Then you must be there,” tossing the foil directly to the slightly bewildered Rassendyll whose catching of it was more a tribute to the swordmaster’s precise aim, than to any quick thinking on the young man’s part.

Mason took a step away from the masked man just as Honor shouted, “On guard!” and rushed toward the surprised Rassendyll.

The iron-masked man held the foil up in front of himself and protested, “No! You don’t understand. I’ve never been trained in swordsmanship or anything.”

“Of course, you haven’t,” the blind swordmaster
retorted, using the iron-masked man’s voice to zero in on his position, while carefully sensing with the foil as if it was some sort of divining stick. “Up until this point you’ve been a wizard-in-training, and swordsmanship would be grossly inappropriate.”

“I am a mage, not a wizard-in-training,” Rassendyll protested loudly, his foil just barely deflecting a shadow thrust from the master, “and wizards and mages don’t use swords or foils, not even in jest.”

“Who’s jesting?” Honor said, in a tone markedly more serious than the one he exhibited while he had been seated at the dinner table on the night previous. “Since your head has been shelled in that cast-iron insulator, you’re no longer a mage, if you ever were one, that is. All you are now is a marked man whose brother, and several others, I’m sure, want dead. Defend yourself!”

Honor lunged just slightly to the left of the terrified Rassendyll, the blade of his foil just making slight contact with that of his intended prey.

Rassendyll leaped back and held the foil forward, allowing himself more space between himself and the blind predator. Turning his wrist slightly without even realizing it, he adjusted his grip a bit to allow for a little more control of the foil.

Volo, remembering the uncontrollable rage that their host had exhibited on the night previous, moved to intervene, only to be stopped by a firm hand on his shoulder. Quickly turning to see the source of his restraint, he was surprised to see that it was Chesslyn.

The look in her eyes told him to hold back, Honor Fullstaff knew what he was doing. A scan to his left showed that Mason had further withdrawn to a more advantageous place for observation, and a scan to his right indicated that Passepout had interrupted
his meal, and seemed to be frantically looking for a way out that would not put him any closer to the sword fight. Instead of approaching the duelists, Volo instead sidled over to his former traveling companion, and making eye contact, nonverbally advised him to stay in his place.

Passepout complied, but was so uncomfortable, he did not resume his meal.

With a series of pokes, prods, and slashes, Honor Fullstaff had maneuvered Rassendyll to a spot in the room from which, unnoticed by the spectators or the other participant, Hal and Poins had cleared away all furniture that might interfere with their movements. Fullstaff obviously had the playing field memorized, and wished nothing to get in the way of the test that he had planned.

When all had reached a certain point that Fullstaff had set, he lunged forward and with a loud cry, began to attack with full slashing fury.

Rassendyll, despite his lack of training, parried back as the sightless swordsman rallied a nonstop series of attacks, slashing the foil through the air as if it were a saber.

Chesslyn joined Volo on the other side of Passepout and whispered over the thespian’s head and into the master traveler’s ear, “He’s just testing him. Had old Blind Honor really meant business, he wouldn’t be treating his foil as if it were a saber, and I assure you he more than knows the difference.”

“I don’t doubt you,” the master traveler replied, “but testing him for what?”

“I’m sure we will find out,” the Harper answered.

“Indeed, all three of you will,” interjected the senior Cloak who had joined the onlooking threesome, “but for now, just enjoy the show.”

Volo could not help but be impressed by the pure
artistry of the blind man’s swordsmanship. Each attack was calculated to make its appearance within the visible sight limits provided by his opponent’s mask, while never appearing to be anything artificial or staged. As Rassendyll parried and launched counterattacks, Honor deftly blocked each thrust, miraculously anticipating the path of his opponent’s foil without the benefit of sight.

Even Passepout was eventually impressed. “He’s pretty good for a blind man,” the portly thespian commented as he began to sneak bites of hot muffins that had just arrived at the table.

“There never was any question of that,” Chesslyn countered, “but watch Rassendyll.”

Volo immediately noticed what Chesslyn was referring to. The iron-masked man was more than rising to the occasion. His awkward blocks and haphazard attacks had been replaced by more organic moves, mirroring the fluidity of his opponent. As Honor upped the degree of difficulty of each attack, Rassendyll countered, reclaiming lost territory, and gradually forcing the swordmaster back to the center of the room from which he had originally started.

“Enough!” the master swordsman announced, dropping his guard for a moment, and then quickly raising the foil in a salute to his opponent before turning to the left and the waiting hands of Poins who returned the foil to his proper place. “Back to breakfast. My keen sense of smell has determined that the second round of succulent muffins has indeed been delivered.”

A quick glance to the left by the breathless Rassendyll revealed the presence of Hal who quickly recovered the foil from his hand, and placed it in its matched home next to Honor’s.

“Come, come!” Honor ordered with nary a shortness
of breath. “Breakfast is waiting, and believe me there is nothing that stirs the early morning appetite like a gentle workout with an evenly matched opponent.”

The exhausted Rassendyll returned to the place at the table that he had occupied the night before, and after wiping the sweat from his brow with a towel provided by the ever-present Hal, he took a long swig of juice and reached for a muffin to sate his recently incited appetite.

In the High Blade’s Study in
the Tower of the Wyvern:

“Ah, Rickman,” Selfaril said as the captain of the Hawks entered the High Blade’s private refuge, “I understand there was a bit of a problem last night.” The High Blade had summoned Rickman at the same time that he had ordered his breakfast and, true to form, the captain of the Hawks had beaten the morning tray by a matter of seconds.

“A problem, sire,” replied Rickman, adding, “I’ll take that,” as the valet entered the study. Slater bowed slightly and handed the tray bearing the High Blade’s breakfast to the captain of the Hawks, then quickly retreated from the study.

Rickman placed the tray in front of his sovereign, and removed the napkin that covered the tray of tasty early morning delicacies.

“Care to join me,” the High Blade asked in an uncharacteristically jovial tone. “Slater can easily fetch another tray.”

“No, thank you, sire,” Rickman replied, “I have already eaten, but thank you for your generous offer,
and, if I might say, you are in a fine mood this morning; rested and renewed, if I do say so myself.”

“Do you really think so?” the High Blade said. “I must say that it was a most satisfying night, if the Tharchioness’s scratches on my back are any evidence. And as they say nothing stirs the appetite like …”

“… the rest of the virtuous and pure?” Rickman offered.

Selfaril, his mouth full of pastry and jam smiled, swallowed, and agreed. “But of course. But this is not why I summoned you. Slater informed me that there was a trespasser in High Road Keep last night.”

“Really nothing to concern yourself with, sire,” the captain of the Hawks assured, making a mental note to be more wary of the High Blade’s valet. “I am afraid that I may have made myself a few too many enemies among the Thayans. One such fellow was lying in wait for me in my office, but I dispatched him easily.”

BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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