Tinaca’s First Lesson
Sir Liam could barely stand the silence. The emptiness of the travelers path coupled with the utter lack of sound from Tinaca was threatening to drive the man to his wits end. The Helm Breaker remember this was precisely the sort of feeling that promted him to seek comfort at the bottom of a never empty ale tankard in the first place. The Rayward warrior would have happily taken on a full lace formation of enemy cavalry with his bare hand than suffer another silent day with Tinaca sitting next to him.
Tinaca was never known to be a talkative one but there had at least been some verbal back and forth with the girl since parting ways with Father Mazeon and Pratt. Now the girl was silent and statuesque. She sat and wordlessly looked out at the vast road ahead like a living specter. Sir Liam desperately wanted to engage the child in conversation but he could barely find any words that he wanted to say to the girl, let alone the resolve to speak them.
Sir Liam was totally unaccustomed to feeling so disarmed. The notion of fear was something that he had precious little firsthand experience with. Now each time he looked into Tinaca’s dark enveloping stare The Helm Breaker felt helpless and struck mute. The savagery that Sir Liam have brought upon the men who tried to rob them was instantly recalled each time he looked Tinaca in the eyes. He had never experienced the guilt of showing a child so young to full violent force of his vocation.
The Helm Breaker had many battlefield memories to think on and the faces to many fallen enemies to visit. He had never had to confront the reality of giving the memory of bloody combat to an innocent bystander like Tinaca. When he thought on it, Sir Liam realized that all of his combat had taken place in front of professional soldiers or men of fighting quality. He had ridden through the aftermath of more than one ruined community and witnessed the tragedy of survivors trying to reconcile the horrors that they had seen but he had never been the one to give them such nightmares.
Sir Liam could no longer withstand the punitive silence that he felt emanating from the girl at his side. The Helm Breakers mind went blank and he let his instincts speak for him. “I am sorry that you had to see what I did back there. I told you to stay hidden,” said the large Rayward man with a sense of humility resonating in his speech. Sir Liam refrained from looking at Tinaca as he spoke because her knew that he would never be able to get the words out if he looked at her while trying to unburden himself.
Tinaca remained looking ever forward and cold. It was impossible to tell if the girl had comprehended the words or even if she heard them at all. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of her shoulders as she breathed it would be near impossible to tell if Tinaca was alive or some opulent porcelain doll.
Sir Liam felt his inner troubles magnify several times over. Allowing himself to show the child some of his own vulnerability coupled with the anxiety he was already combating made for a powerful concoction of moral turmoil. Sir Liam thirsted for a hard drink. The bitter taste of alcohol had always helped to dull the complex emotions that the world inflicted upon the man. He needed to feel nothingness now more than he had in months. It was torturous for the warrior to sit next to the silent girl.
In an unbeknownst act of mercy Tinaca suddenly put Sir Liam’s growing woes to rest. “I knew that you would kill those men. I wanted to see you do it,” said the girl with all the poise of a master courtier.
Sir Liam’s jaw could not help but go slack at the statement. His momentary joy at the end of Tinaca silence was demolished by the child’s confession. The Helm Breaker found himself wishing that the painful silence had endured even longer. He did not care for this new world that he lived in where the innocent and soft spoken girl who he protected exhibited a curiosity for bloodshed.
“Lass, whatever could make you want to see me end a man and leave a pile of bloody corpses? Have you gone wrong in the head?” expressed The Helm Breaker with unrepentant disbelief. The Rayward man nearly stopped the wagon in the middle of the road. Even the simple task of holding the horses’ reigns was suddenly a trying feat for Sir Liam to manage with all the lightning that was firing in his mind.
“I wanted to see how you did it. I wanted to learn,” Tinaca said grimly. She never looked at The Helm Breaker despite his relatively animated physical reaction to her last statement.
“You wanted to learn what?” asked Sir Liam in a voice that was void of all the strength and power that his resonating military lilt normally carried.
“To fight like you. I want to be greater than I am, like the way you spoke of your hound Amurai,” Tinaca said in fast response.
Sir Liam was perplexed and scratched at his thick beard while he valiantly tried to make sense of the enigmatic girl. Tinaca’s mention of his departed hound dog did not help to alleviate The Helm Breaker’s mental fog. “Why would you want to know how to fight? Battle often means killing and killing is not a thing for little ones,” Sir Liam said with a near patronizing melody in his voice.
Tinaca took some time to formulate the words in her head. She knew that she wanted martial instruction but she had not fully comprehended why. “I know that you will not let anyone hurt me but what if you can not stop them? You will not be able to protect me forever,” Tinaca answered after a lengthy silence and period of reflection.
“You worry about things that you need not worry, lass,” Sir Liam said with a dismissive air.
“Are you going to live forever?” Tinaca asked with disarming precision.
Sir Liam felt the stab of the girls words strike him in the back of his throat. He said nothing in response and only continued to drive the wagon onward. The Helm Breaker reflected on his exchange with the girl as the silence returned to fill the space between them. Sir Liam felt even worse off than he had before speaking to Tinaca. Her words took root and began to fester inside of the Rayward man like a disease. The child had reminded the veteran warmaster of his own mortality. After years of victory followed by copious amounts of drinking and rabblerousing, Sir Liam had been able to put notions of death from his mind with little effort. He looked down at his aged and scarred knuckles as he rapped the wagon’s reigns against the horses’ back and felt the weight of his years pressing down on his shoulders.
Sir Liam was pulled out of his brooding by the familiar scent of smoke in the breeze. He looked ahead and saw the remnants of another wagon stopped in the middle of the travelers path. The flames that consumed the ruined wagon were subsided and tracks leading away from the site told Sir Liam that whoever attacked the wagon had long departed. The Rayward man wondered if the owners of this wagon had encountered the brigands who tried to relived Tinaca and himself of their supplies.
Sir Liam stopped his wagon before getting too close to the scene of the ambush. “Stay here. I mean it. You stay put unless I say otherwise,” He said to Tinaca with a stern measure in his voice.
Tinaca said nothing but nodded in affirmation.
Sir Liam approached the burned out wagon on foot. He firmly held his great maul in his hands. It only took a moment once he was among the aftermath to know that any possibility of danger was long passed. He thought of scavenging for food or other provisions but it was plain to see that whatever had not been stolen had burned to nothing. Sir Liam’s eyes lingered on the body of a man who had been cut down beside the wagon by a bladed strike across his chest. The Helm Breaker began to leave the site but his gaze found something else that drew his attention.
The Rayward man lumbered off the path and into the grassy dip that ran parallel to the travelers path in this spot. He came to loom over the body of a cold motionless woman who had been pinned to the ground with a spear plunged through her torso. The most striking part of the image was the lifeless child she held in her arms. The infant had been brought to an end from the same weapon that had slain the woman. Sir Liam looked at this portrait of a woman who had given everything that she had in and attempt to save her helpless child. It had all been in vain. The woman had scarcely made it a stone’s throw from the cart.
The sight before Sir Liam was not a story he was unaccustomed to but this was the first time he had seen the slaughter of innocents by evil men since accepting the call to protect Tinaca. Sir Liam realized that it was not the chimera he had to concern Tinaca’s safety with. If he could not protect the girl from the twisted beasts brought on by the red rains then there was nobody in all of Argaia that could. Men, on the other hand were different creatures. They could lie and deceive, plot and manipulate. Men could strike at a child within the security of thick city walls. With the harsh times that the red rains were sure to continue brining, Sir Liam knew in the core of his being that men would only grow more desperate to survive the approaching trials. The Helm Breaker visited some of the memories of what he had seen desperate men do if it meant the chance of clinging to life for another day.
Sir Liam shook the horrible thoughts from his mind but they were replaced with Tinaca’s words. As much as he wished it, he could not deny the truth in what Tinaca had said. As The Helm Breaker looked at the copse of the slain woman and her child, he confronted the fact that he would indeed not live forever and as such his time as Tinaca’s guardian was limited. He gave a heavy breath out and looked up into the crimson tinted sky above as he accepted what he had to do.
“Come here, lass,” Sir Liam called to Tinaca.
The girl slipped down from the wagon’s driver’s seat with some difficulty. The large spokes and wheels were hard for the child to climb with her delicate hands. Once Tinaca was on the ground she toddled over to where Sir Liam stood. She made no effort to avert her gaze from the graphic display of brutal murder that lay before her.
Sir Liam cleared his throat and found the words he was looking for. “If you had been in this poor one’s place what would you have done when the brigands set upon the wagon?” Sir Liam asked Tinaca while pointing to the lifeless woman on the ground.
Tinaca frowned and furrowed her brow as she thought for a moment. “I would have run and hid,” she said.
“Aye, I imagine that you would have. You might have even gotten further than this one but I doubt you would have been able to hide before bad men put a spear through your back just the same,” Sir Liam said mater-o-fact while giving the haft of the spear the protruded from the woman’s back a slight nudge with his elbow. “Tell me what you would have done instead of running,” he continued.
“I would fight them,” Tinaca said with a voice that carried surety and resolve but still managed to sound lost and hollow.
Sir Liam went to Tinaca and knelt down so he could be eye to eye with her when he spoke. “No you wouldn’t fight them. You would die quick. I believe that you have the steel in your spirit for fighting. I see that warriors stare in your eye, same as mine. Your body is weak though and the weak die quick,” Sir Liam said before standing and returning to the driver’s seat on his wagon and leaving Tinaca to absorb his words. “Well come on then. We best move on.”
Tinaca shuffled her way to the large wagon. She made to climb back up the wheel spokes and sit next to Sir Liam but he stopped her from doing so with a wave of his large gauntleted arm.
“What do you think you are doing there lass?” Sir Liam asked the girl with the faintest trace of a smile showing through the dense collection of whiskers on his chin.
“I was getting on the wagon,” Tinaca responded with a befuddled look contorting her face.
“No you are not. If I am going to make you strong enough for battle you are going to have to build up some endurance and get some size on you. That means you will be walking the rest of the way to Rayward. On we go now,” Sir Liam said with a small chuckle as he rapped the wagon’s reigns and started the horses moving again.
Tinaca let out a sigh and started placing one foot in front of the other as she followed the wagon on the long road to Rayward. As she walked she puzzled if she should be feeling gratitude or resentment for Sir Laim’s abrasive tutelage. Her situation made her think of Pratt and she wondered what kind of similar trials the boy had been subjected to under the instruction of Father Mazon. The image of Pratt in Tinaca’s mind made walking on the cold hard ground feel less miserable for the girl and even livened her step. Tinaca felt like she was growing stronger already. Tinaca stopped and scratched her head as the wagon suddenly halted and Sir Liam leaned over the side and looked at her with an expression that she was unable to read.
“Wait, I can not do it like this,” said the Rayward man.
Tinaca cautiously went to climb up the side of the wagon once again.
“What are you doing?” Sir Liam gasped in reaction to Tinaca’s attempt to mount the driver’s seat.
“I thought that you did not want me to walk anymore?” Tinaca said in an exacerbated fashion.
“Oh goodness no. I certainly want you to walk to Rayward but I realize that you being a lass mean’s you are not built for fighting. It means that you are going to have to work twice as hard if I’m to make a proper fighter out of you,” Sir Liam said as he reached in the back of the wagon and plucked out a thick plank of wood. He handed the piece of lumber to the little girl as he spoke. “Carry this across your shoulders while you walk.”
Tinaca took the wood and clumsily balanced it on her small frame. She wobbly began following the wagon as it returned to motion. Tinaca felt the pressing weight of the lumber clear any conflict from her mind. She was most certainly experiencing animosity and resentment for The Helm Breaker.