I slipped forward and half bowed to the master before shifting my weight. The attack came suddenly and I slid to the left as I pulled both short curved blades and deflected one of the master’s. I continued moving as I slipped his next strike away and sliced with my other blade. It was deflected up and out and I brought my other blade in and turned to block a strike.
This was not the first time we had faced one another and I let the motions flow through me. Block, slid, slash, shift, turn, stab, block. Finally the master stepped back and bowed. I sheathed my blades and bowed, “thank you master.”
He smiled faintly, “do not thank me Dancer.”
I bowed again, “as you wish.”
He gestured to the door, “never forget the dance.”
I turned and walked out without looking back, that was a year ago. The court was full of talk about the elves that had returned with the prince. The Kingdoms of Ginge and Floff to the south were preparing for war and we knew the foul ones would be looking to cause trouble too. I was only a baron, my father had died suddenly ending my time with the master.
Each morning I went to the practice field to exercise. The other nobles and even the soldiers laughed. I moved through my dance ignoring those around me. I shifted at a disturbance and blocked the sword reaching for me. I slid to the side as my other long knife slashed and the elf slid back quickly. A new dance began as I slid his sword away each time it came towards me.
The elf was grinning as he blocked and spun, lunged and slid to the side. I followed and knew he was not as good as the master and finally slid in instead of away. One knife held his away and the other stopped against his throat. He froze in surprise and slowly stepped back and bowed, “your master taught you well.”
I turned and walked away, “you move to slowly.”
I had barely entered the keep when a throat cleared. I glanced to the side at another elf but continued walking. He fell in beside me, “we did not know your master still taught.”
I stopped and turned to look at him, “what do you want?”
He raised an eyebrow, “you have a problem with elves?”
I smiled faintly, “I have a problem with arrogant people.”
He bowed slightly, “my pardon.”
I turned but did not leave, “I was my master’s last dancer.”
I walked away and went to the small room the king had given me. I used the basin of water to wash and then dressed in the soft green clothes I loved to wear. When I walked into the throne room everyone stopped talking. I walked to the throne and bowed, “your majesty.”
He smiled slightly, “Baron Sinclair. I heard you taught our friends a lesson.”
I shrugged, “perhaps a small one.”
He grinned and then sighed, “I have conferred with the chamberlain about your problem with the bandits. I am afraid it is part of what is coming. We believe they are a small band of goblins with a rogue telling them what to attack.”
I nodded and glanced back as the elves walked into the room with a confident swagger. I looked at the king, “may I have leave to follow and remove these... pests?”
He sat back and looked at me before grinning. He looked at the prince, “take your friends and go with Baron Sinclair. He will command you until the matter is resolved.”
The prince frowned but nodded, “yes father.”
I bowed and turned, “I leave in an hour.”
It did not take me long to pack and I ended up sitting on my horse waiting for the prince. When the hour was up I glanced at the elves who were also waiting and shook my head before turning and leading my pack horse out. It was a half hour before the prince and the elves caught up. The prince was red faced and started to say something when I caught movement from the corner of my eye.
He jerked away and fell from his horse as I slash across in front of him. The arrow was knocked away as I dropped the lead rope for my pack horse and kicked my horse into a run. I slapped two more arrows away before pulling back on the reins and dropping to the ground. I pulled my other knife as I slid forward towards the three men.
I shifted and slapped a lunging sword aside before slicing across to cut the man’s throat. I spun and rolled a slicing sword up and over me as my other blade slice through his stomach. I slid in as the last man took a wild swing and deflected it away before slicing his hand. He jerked and dropped the sword as I slid closer and put a knife blade against his throat, “yield or die.”
He stood froze and finally stammered, “I yield!”
I snatched the dagger from his belt before stepping back, “who sent you?”
He looked from me to the elves as they rode up. I reached out and sliced his cheek, “who sent you!”
He jerked, “King Kronis!”
I turned as the white faced prince walked up, “you are very lucky prince Alex.”
He nodded and looked at the other two dead or dying men before looking at the last man, “who told you I would be here?”
The man looked around, “we were just to kill any travelers.”
The elves snorted but the prince had made me think, “when were you given your orders?”
He licked his lips, “this morning.”
My blade flashed and sliced open his other cheek, “King Kronis is two weeks away!”
He jerked back and dropped to his knees, “it was a messenger!”
I looked at the grim faced prince as one of the elves came close. He barely paused before slicing the man’s throat. I spun and looked at him, “what are you doing?”
He shook his head, “he was a hired killer and you know as well as I that he would have little information.”
I shook my head, “just what the messenger was wearing and if he had any badges.”
The elf blinked and I pushed him out of my way, “interfere again and your long life will end.”
I caught my horse and the pack horses and swung up before turning and heading towards the troubled villages. It was early evening before I slowed and sat looking at a smoldering farm house. I glanced at the Prince, “we will stay here tonight and then follow the trail.”
He nodded and gestured, “we can use the farm’s well...”
I shook my head as I swung down from my horse, “they always foul the wells.”
I led the horses down to the small stream not to far from the fields. I unsaddled them and let each drink before putting them on long leads. I glanced at the sky before laying out a ground cloth and making camp. One of the elves sat across from me as I started cooking, “you have a lot of anger inside.”
I glanced at him but went back to what I was doing. He sighed and turned to bring out a wrapped package. I nodded when he unwrapped it and I saw the block of cheese. He started slicing as the others began adding things. After we ate I cleaned up and put out the fire. I sat back against my saddle, “I did not ask for my position. My older brothers were killed by bandits and my father died early.”
The prince opened his mouth but an elf touched his arm as another leaned forward, “you wished to teach the dance.”
I hesitated and then nodded, “my master said I was the best he had ever taught. I was going to breath new life into his school.”
I looked up at the stars, “now I am my peoples servant.”
The elf chuckled and I glared at him. He shook his head, “you have not thought it through Dancer. You are a Baron with many people that need your time. You also must make sure they can take care of themselves, true?”
I nodded and he shrugged, “than teach them the dance.”
I sat back to think and then looked around as the night birds went quiet. I stood, “we have company.”
The elves slipped into the darkness leaving the prince and I. I pushed him towards the horses as they shifted and stomped, “protect them.”
I pulled my blades and waited, a minute later I slid into the rushing goblins and cut one’s throat and gutted another. I twisted and slid to the side as I pushed a reaching dagger away and stabbed through an eye. The dance always has a pattern and I found this one easily. Shift and cut, turn and slid, slice and block. I stood alone after the last goblin fell and looked around in the moonlight.
There were more goblins out in the field, killed by the elves, a few were close to the horses. I knelt and cleaned my blades and then my hands before going to check the horses. Prince Alex was wide eyed but kept trying to calm the horse. I pushed him towards the camp, “go clean the blood off and put your sword away.”
It took us an hour to pull all the bodies out and away from the camp. We took turns watching and listening for the rest of the night. I was up early and stretched before moving into a field as it began to get lighter. I pulled my blades and looked at the prince and an elf as they walked towards me. The prince bowed, “would you teach me?”
I looked at him for a moment and finally nodded, “you need two knives.”
He pulled his sword and dagger and I smiled, “learn the reach of each and do as I do.”
I stretched before facing the prince and beginning to dance slowly. I watched him carefully as he tried to follow. The elf began to echo my dance but I ignored him. When I finally stopped I nodded to the prince and started explaining some of what he was doing wrong. I left the bodies of the goblins before walking to the burnt farmhouse.
I began following the track as the prince said we had already killed the goblins and asked why I was following them. I glanced from him to the elves, “ask your friends.”
I began to trot as I kept following the tracks. The elves explained that a pack of goblins would keep going to attack another farm and not return. I found their camp site an hour later and followed the tracks out. One of the elves took over and it was another hour before he stopped and looked back. I could hear the fight and kicked my horse into a run.
We broke out of the woods and I saw the goblins around the farmhouse in front of me. I let the horse run and yelled, “SINCLAIR!”
I dropped off the horse at the last moment and let it crash into the goblins crowding around the front of the house. I pulled my blades as I swept into them and began to dance. Arrows flashed past me and into the goblins as the elves stayed back and began killing them. I cut the last one’s throat and spun away as it fell and looked around at the carnage.
I straightened and glanced at the farm house door as I knelt to clean my blades. The farmer and two older lads came out. I stood and put my blades away, “you will need to bury these away from your fields.”
The farmer grinned, “we have plenty of wood to burn them clean first my lord.”
I smiled and turned as the elves rode closer, “fire might help.”
I let the elves collect arrows before swinging up into the saddle. I headed out the lane towards the nearest village. We reached it a little before the sunset and I led the way into the village guard courtyard. The single guard came out, “lord Sinclair.”
I smiled, “it has been awhile Edward. We need to stable the horses and use the guard hall.”
He nodded, “I have reports for you.”
I sighed as I dropped off the horse, “have the tower flash my signal.”
He turned and trotted towards the edge of the village. I led the way towards the stable beside the guard building and started unsaddling the horses. When I came into the well kept house I turned to the small polished desk beside the door. I sat and reached for several sheets of parchment. I glanced at the prince when he carried his saddle bags in, “your father sent news of more highway men.”
He frowned, “I think Kronis may be trying to distract us.”
I nodded and glanced at another report, “I also have another report of goblins.”
He snorted, “they are dead now.”
I glanced at him as the elves came in, “the report is from the other direction.”
I sighed, “tomorrow we hunt more foul ones.”
We used the bunks in the back and fixed a good dinner. Edward relayed more reports for me and I sent a report to my steward. We were up bright and early and riding out as the sun began to rise. The few reports had this group moving towards where the other group would have been. I thought they might have wanted to join forces. I took a gamble and headed for the next farm I thought they might attack.
When we rode into the farmyard everything looked normal. I thought I had guessed wrong as I swung down to greet the farmer and his sons. I opened my mouth and Silver Leaf hissed, “they are coming!”
I glanced at him before spinning to the farmer, “get your family into the house!”
I pulled my bow off the saddle and ran after the elves as they moved to the side so they could shoot into the rushing goblins. After my forth arrow I tossed the bow away and pulled my knives. I slid into the goblins as I began to dance. Slice, slid, shift, cut, back step, stab, turn, slid... The dance is the flow of motion around the dancer that sets the pace.
This dance did not last that long before I came to a stop with the dead and dying orcs around me. I glanced into the farmyard to see the farmer and two of his sons with bows. I nodded and turned to the elves and the prince before moving through the goblins and making sure they were dead. By the time I was done the farmer had harnessed a horse to a wagon.
We loaded the bodies into the wagon and his sons headed towards a far corner. We set up camp in the barn where the farmer’s wife brought out buckets of water to wash in. I was beside the barn later when the farmer stopped beside me holding his hat. I glanced at him, “yes?”
He looked down, “could you teach that fighting to my sons?”
I turned to look at him and finally smiled, “I can give them the basics.”
His sons joined the prince and I that night as I did my exercises. Three days later I was in my study trying to catch up on my barony when the messenger arrived with the king’s call to arms. I sent out my own call and sat back to think. It would take a week for all the able bodied men to answer and arrive. I made sure my chamberlain was current and pulled the old military tents out of storage.
As the men arrived I began to drill them by using the training swords with daggers. Since normally any men that served used short swords it was easy to teach them the basics of the dance. At the end of the week we started marching for the King’s Calling.
That was the rallying point for all his vassals. It would take us three days of marching to reach the king. Each morning and evening we practiced the dance. By the time we marched into the large field my men had the basics down. It was another two weeks before we marched south and a week before my company of men faced King Stephen’s army.
The king had given the center position to us and at first my men were nervous until I calmly walked out in front and began to stretch. The other army jeered and shouted but my company followed my example. I was glad King Stephen did not have archers when the order to charge was given. We rushed forward as the other army ran at us.
I shouted the order for a dance movement and my company seemed to slow as it shifted. A moment later the two armies met and my company flowed through them in a danced that left dead and dying behind. We spread out as the other army panicked and tried to back away from us. That caused the rest of their army to move as a huge gap in their lines appeared.
The king’s calvary charged into the gap as I gave the order to open ranks. They crashed straight through the enemies ranks and charge straight into King Stephen and his nobles. That caused the whole army to turn and throw weapons and equipment down as they ran. I charged towards the milling calvary and my company went with me. I shoved a man’s foot up and he went over the horse and fell.
King Stephen was trying to turn and run but his horse was blocked by his milling guards as they fought the calvary. I slipped through the horses and leaped. I grabbed his arm and yanked as I dropped to the ground. I landed in a crouch as the king crashed down beside me. I moved and knelt on his chest as I put a knife to his throat, “yield or die!”
He froze with his eyes wide, “I YIELD!”
I stood and yanked him up as his guards threw down their weapons. The battle around us slowed and stopped as Stephen’s army threw down their weapons. My company had twenty wounded, that was a lot better than the other companies. It took another week to occupy King Stephen’s kingdom. A week I spent working with my company.
When the runner from the eastern border ran into the room prince Alex was using as his command center. He nodded and the runner blurted that King Kronis was moving his army towards our border. Alex turned as he thought. I was with the other barons and he glanced at the elves before looking at us. He straightened, “Baron Sinclair, take your company. Draw spare horses and march to the border and hold until the rest of the army can reform and join you.”
I bowed before walking out quickly. My mind whirled as I jogged through the large camp to reach my company. When I got there I started giving orders and within the hour we were riding out. My men were awkward on the horses but managed to stay together. It took three days to reach Kronis’s army and they were a day’s march inside our border.
He was camped in a valley that funneled through a narrow pass. I moved my company to the pass and made sure they were fed. I walked into the pass with my six platoon leaders. I finally stopped and looked at them, “we work in platoons. A squad at a time moves into the front ranks and fight to each side and back as the next squad moves up.”
I looked at the men, “the squad reforms at the rear of the company and moves back up the center. If we can continue hitting them and fighting like this the men will have a chance to rest.”
They grinned and glanced around. I glanced to the steep sides, “put a few men on each cliff with bows to keep them from throwing things down.”
We walked back to the company and they left to talk to their men. I walked around thinking and talking to the men. I half expected Kronis to try something during the night but he did not. We were up and in place as the sun began to rise. Kronis was late moving to the pass, he probably wanted us to come out and meet his army. I was in front when they charged and I smiled at my men, “time to teach them to dance!”
They laughed and as the front ranks met and began the shifting dance I had taught them. They flowed to each side smoothly and new men slipped up the center. Kronis’s army shattered and faltered as they were killed. The men protecting us from the cliff top used bows to kill men as they tried to reach them. The battle raged on through the morning and into the afternoon as my supply clerks moved up and began giving out water.
The surgeon even came up to bandage those in need. As the afternoon wore on the army we face finally fell back leaving a huge pile of dead. I moved through my men encouraging them as they accepted rations from the cook and water from the supply clerks. Kronis lost a quarter of his army in the battle and turned to make camp again.
I did not think he would stay in camp though and began having my men pull the bodies back and out of the way. Finally we rested as it grew darker and the men rotated back to eat. They dozed in place with a few men watching. As I expected Kronis stirred his army around midnight. The sentries woke everyone and shortly there was a roar as they charged.
I had the men above us light the brush at the base of the ridge as torches flared and the front ranks moved back. The army surged and my men slid into the dance and flowed to the sides easily. We fought for hours and Kronis’s army died. I slid back and forth blocking swords and killing men as I danced and finally as the sun began to rise they pulled back.
I rested as my men were seen by the surgeon and given water and food. Kronis seemed to have more men today and I knew we would not be able to hold more than the day. This time we had tossed the dead men into a pile to our front. My men relaxed and leaned against each other as they rested and I watched as Kronis met with new commanders as their men formed up.
An hour later there was a horn and they surged towards us. My men were tired but began the dance and slid to the sides. I moved with the men and we fought for hours before I heard a warning shout from above. I gave the order to pull back as stronger forces began to take the ridge on each side. I had lost a couple of squads of men before we were back in formation.
Kronis jeered as his army pulled back but I knew we had bled his army bad. They formed up and then there was a horn as they charged. The company front was a platoon wide but my men were tired. As the charge reached us and we began our dance there was another horn. Suddenly the army was trying to pull back and almost seemed to panic.
I could see prince Alex’s pennant as his army flowed through the narrow pass behind Kronis and Kronis made a serious mistake. He tried to push deeper into his army to get away and ended up withing reach of my company. There was a huge roar and we surged forward. He was ripped out of his saddle and cut apart violently. His army panicked even more and threw down their weapons and began screaming for quarter.
It was over quickly after that. I pulled my company back and let prince Alex deal with the enemy. I had the cooks and clerks make a meal before telling the company to rest. I went to see Alex and he glanced at me as he dealt with another commander. When he was done he turned and smiled, “we did not think you would be able to hold this long.”
I smiled, “I did not, my men did.”
He smiled again, “and it cost Konis over half his army and his life.”
I nodded and he glanced at a duke that walked in with several elves, “I sent word to my father.”
He looked at me, “perhaps your barony could use a change besides farms.”
I looked at him carefully and he suddenly grinned, “after the other battle I sent a report to father. He was fascinated with the way your company fought. Now after seeing what they have achieved here he will be very eager to speak with you. So I am going to head things off since I already told father what I was thinking. How would you like it if our army was trained in your barony? My father will pay your barony for each man you train.”
I glanced at the duke as he smiled, “I was going to ask if you would train my militia also.”
I smiled and bowed, “it will be our pleasure.”
It was years later that I walked out into my large courtyard and glanced at the ranks of men. Only one of the new platoons were mine and they were boys just coming of age. I bowed to the platoon from my old company that had come to teach this batch of men. They turned and moved to each group before I began to stretch and later dance...