After the battle, the crossing was anticlimactic.
The water was turbulent, but neither deep enough nor rapid enough to stop them. It took time, but all three wagons crossed without losing any cargo.
Yorrin stood in the rain, watching as their allies dealt with the dead.
He had already stripped most of the fallen Ruskans of their valuables, stuffing any purses he found into his pack.
A pittance, really. All of them but the leader. The leader, left in a pool of bloody rainwater where Aleksandr had felled him, had at least carried a goodly amount of silver coins.
Cassaline denarii, not Ruskan dengas, Yorrin had noted. That might mean something. Or it might mean nothing. All coin spent the same, and the coins of the old Empire in particular were ubiquitous across every acre of the Midlands.
Yorrin couldn’t help but wonder what had caused the Ruskans to attack them in the first place, though. You’ll find out soon enough, he reminded himself, glancing over to where three wounded Ruskans still knelt in the mud.
Bear stood behind them, axe in hand. Ready to execute any that made an attempt to escape whatever fate would come when Aleksandr could spare a moment to interrogate them.
Robin stood at Bear’s side, sword in hand. Yorrin was fairly sure he was mostly watching them so that nobody would ask him to do any real work. He didn’t look half as attentive as Bear, who clearly hoped the Ruskans would try something and incur his wrath.
“You fought well.” The voice came from nearby, just behind Yorrin. Without looking, he knew who it was. The Spatalian Captain’s accent was distinct.
“It was a bloody mess,” Yorrin replied.
“Si, of course,” Olivenco agreed. “Every fight is this way. Key is to ensure it is your opponent who is left as such, when the fighting is done.”
Yorrin smirked at the bit of wordplay, and glanced at Olivenco. The Spatalian stood steady enough on his feet. The rain beat down on them and plastered his dark hair to his scalp. He must have shaved on the road—or, more likely, asked one of his men to do it for him—because he bore a thin moustache that looped around his lips to form a carefully sculpted goatee.
I could do with a shave, Yorrin realized. He normally kept his beard trimmed in a similar style, but he’d gone long enough that what covered his cheeks likely no longer qualified as mere stubble.
Olivenco’s right sleeve hung limp and empty at his side. In his left, he held his sword. Yorrin had cleaned the blood from it, dried it as best he could in the weather, and sheathed it before returning it. Now, Olivenco held the sheathed sword by the blade, just below the hilt.
It was truly a beautiful piece. The blade itself was gorgeous, of course, rippled Spatalian steel the like of which Yorrin had never seen, and clearly rivalling Aleksandr’s own family sword. The hilt, too, was artful. Intricate bronzework, curling around the blade and hooking down to provide some protection to the hand as well.
That thing probably costs more than everything I own, Yorrin thought. Or everything I’ve ever owned, all put together in a pile.
“You are very badly trained,” Olivenco said. The words came out suddenly, and he was smirking as he said it, so it took Yorrin a moment to register the insult.
“Badly trained,” Olivenco said again. “Sloppy. No skill, no art to your movements.”
“I’m not trained at all,” Yorrin said defensively. “I came up fighting on the streets of Nasarat, when I had to. No armsmasters in the slums.”
“Si,” Olivenco said. “This explains it.”
“Thought you said I fought well.”
“You did!” Olivenco’s smile broadened. “Very quick. Precise. Eficiente. You go straight for the kill.”
Yorrin shrugged at that. “Well, alright. Seems you’re contradicting yourself, but it’s not my concern.”
Olivenco shook his head. “No, you misunderstand. Or I mispeak. My Middish, it is excellent. But still not my mother tongue. You are a good fighter. Good instincts. Badly trained, unfocused.”
That’s fair, Yorrin was willing to acknowledge the facts, in his own head at least.
“With the right training, you will be excellent,” Olivenco added.
“Aleksandr’s given me a few tips here and there,” Yorrin said. “Earlier, anyway. Haven’t had much time on the road. And besides, what works for him won’t always work for me.”
Olivenco wrinkled his nose in disgust. “No, no, no,” he said. “Aleksandr, he is big. Strong. Long arms, longer blade. You are none of these things.”
Yorrin frowned, but he couldn’t exactly argue the point.
“That sword you carry,” Olivenco said. Yorrin looked down at the hilt of his blade, the short leaf-bladed weapon that had likely once belonged to a Cassaline legionnaire. “It is basura.”
“Trash,” Olivenco said. “Perhaps of some use to Cassalines.” He said the word like an epithet. “Simpletons in a battle line, only. Not a true master of the espada. It does you no favors. Your arms, they are already short. Why use a short blade?”
“It’s lighter?” Yorrin said. “Easy to use. Closer to the knives I’m used to, I guess.”
Olivenco tsked Yorrin like a disappointed mother. “Daggers have their uses too, si. Of course. Many bravos, they think as you do. Light, small blades. Good enough for back alley work. But a weapon is useless if you do not have sufficient reach. You must control your opponents. Here.”
Olivenco held out his hand. He offered his sword, hilt first, to Yorrin. Yorrin stared at the masterfully crafted hilt, the grip wrapped in faded and well-worn red cloth.
“Take it,” Olivenco said.
Yorrin wrapped his hand around the handle of the sword, and pulled it from its sheath. It slid out smoothly, and once again he was impressed at the rippled patterns worked into the steel blade.
It was definitely longer than his sword, by a considerable amount. And yet it was lighter, too: blade was thin, and tapered almost to a needlepoint. He was fairly sure a smith couldn’t easily make such a blade of the normal hard iron that was commonly used for blades. But true steel was both flexible and strong, in such equal measure that Yorrin knew this sword would hold up fine in combat.
“Feel the weight and balance,” Olivenco said. “It is better than that pot metal on your belt, si?”
“Obviously,” Yorrin said. He made a few experimental swishes with the weapon. In the heat of battle, he’d mostly just noticed that it was a sword, and did the job of killing his enemies. Now, he realized just how different it was to the blade he’d been growing accustomed to.
With a blade like this, I can see how he was such a good swordsman.
“Your form is terrible,” Olivenco said. “A teenage bravo from the allies of Camarr could kill you in two strokes.”
“He could try,” Yorrin said, frowning. “I can handle myself.”
Olivenco grinned. “Si, si. So I have seen.”
Yorrin flipped the sword around, gingerly gripping it by the blade. He offered it back to Olivenco.
“Alas,” Olivenco said. “I reach to take it, and yet…” he jerked the short stump sticking out from his right shoulder.
Right. He’s holding the sheath in his only hand. Yorrin shifted his grip, and started to prod the sword towards the sheath. It was awkward, and Olivenco chuckled.
“Here, take it,” he said. “You still have both hands.”
Yorrin accepted the slender sheath, itself a beautiful piece of leatherwork, and sheathed the sword. He offered it to Olivenco again.
Olivenco sighed. He did not accept the offering. Instead, he stared out at their allies. Several of Giancarlo’s mercenaries had fallen in the fighting. The Taraamites were helping those that remained in digging simple, shallow graves for them along the side of the road. It was messy work, in the mud and the rain. Lefty’s men—no, Olivenco’s men—did it unflinching. They would not dishonor men that fell fighting at their side if they could help it.
Olivenco turned back, and glanced wistfully at his sword.
“It is a sad day,” he said. “The Cutter of Camarr is no more.”
Yorrin had no idea how to offer comfort to Olivenco. The man was crippled. How could he come back from that? “You could learn to fight with your left hand,” he offered.
“I already know how to fight with my left hand, señor,” Olivenco said. He reached to his belt and drew his dagger. The blade was steel, the hilt ornate. The beautiful craftsmanship matched the sword well. “Besito,” he said. “My little kiss. Good for parrying, and for close work.”
“Sword and dagger a common style in Spatalia?”
“Common? Perhaps no. But I am far from the first. And I will not be the last. Tell me: you have a good dagger already?”
Yorrin shrugged. He reached behind him, producing his longest knife. It was large for a purse-cutter, but it still didn’t hold a candle to the dagger Olivenco held, either in size or quality.
Olivenco frowned. “No,” he said, answering his own question. “It is fine, this can be done later.”
“Getting a new dagger?” Yorrin asked. “You’re, what, offering to teach me how to fight like you?”
Given the line of work you seem to be choosing, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, Yorrin thought to himself.
“I have been thinking,” Olivenco said. “There is a saying, in Spatalia: Los que no, enseñan.”
“I don’t speak Spatalian,” Yorrin reminded him.
Olivenco winked, flipping his dagger in the air. He caught it easily despite the fact that it was slippery from the rain. He wiped it dry on the inside of his cloak, then sheathed it. His expression sobered.
“I am crippled,” he said. “The Cutter of Camarr is dead. I will never be the swordsman I once was.”
Harsh, but true. He knew Aleksandr or Alaina might have some words of comfort. Yorrin had no interest in, or aptitude for, platitudes.
“But perhaps Olivenco still has a purpose,” the Spatalian said. “Si, Yorrin. I will teach you, if you will learn.”
“Gladly,” Yorrin said. “If you know half as much as your reputation suggests, I’d be a fool to pass up lessons.”
He once again held out Olivenco’s sword. The Spatalian eyed it, but did not reach for it. “You cannot learn if I carry the sword you will be learning with.”
Yorrin frowned. “Sure, but… trash or not, I’m stuck with the sword I’ve got. What’s the point of learning to fight with your sword if the one I’ll have to trust my life to is shorter?”
“Si, si,” Olivenco said, nodding. “Fair. I suppose you will have to carry it with you all of the time, then. Not just when you are learning.”
Yorrin felt his mouth go dry, despite the rainwater streaming down his face. He’s offering to let you carry his sword, Yorrin realized. Do you realize how easy it would be to steal?
He brushed that last thought away with a shake of his head. His messy hair whipped droplets of water in every direction.
No… Do you realize how much trust he’s putting in you? Yorrin practically heard the thought in Aleksandr’s voice.
“That’s very… generous,” Yorrin said, choosing his words carefully. “Though sooner or later, I’d still have to go back to my own sword. I can’t imagine we’ll be in a position to find a steelsmith and commission me a similar blade any time soon.”
Olivenco looked thoughtful. “Si,” he said. “Good point. Perhaps you should simply keep it, then.”
Yorrin blinked. He stared at Olivenco in thunderstruck silence for a long moment. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“I did. But I’m not sure I believe it,” Yorrin said. “You’re offering to give it to me?”
“It is not unearned,” Olivenco said. “Twice you have saved my life, by my count. Once in the Underpass, when you stood over my useless, fevered body and fought the duende to a standstill. And again today, when you bested those mercenario. And these do not include any ways your actions might have saved me, saved all of us, as we made our way on this road.”
“This sword is worth—”
“It is beyond price,” Olivenco interrupted. “Look there, draw it out an inch. Near the hilt.”
Yorrin obliged, drawing the sword enough to look at the blade near the hilt. He immediately saw what Olivenco had to be referring to: an etched maker’s mark, the personal signature of a master smith.
“Bruno Marquez,” Olivenco said. “The greatest steelsmith ever to work in Spatalia, Lorraine, and likely the Midlands too.”
“He still alive?” Yorrin asked.
“Si, but… retired. Or so he says. That sword, Amante, and it’s little sibling Besito, were some of the finest work he ever did. More than one Duke or Princep tried to buy it from me for several fortunes. And many more than that tried to take it by other means.”
“And you’re giving it to me.” Yorrin didn’t try to hide the incredulity in his voice.
“I cannot wield it. You can. Perhaps, if you heed my advice, you might even prove worthy of it.”
Torath, if this is your way of telling me to stay on this new path—following Aleksandr, helping others, setting the world to rights—message received.
“Thank you,” Yorrin said. He didn’t object again. If Olivenco wished to give him a kingly gift, he wasn’t about to turn it down.
He unbuckled his swordbelt. He slid the sheathed legionnaire blade off the belt, and fastened Olivenco’s sword in its place. The belt felt light on his hips. The sword hung comfortably. He ran one finger across the bronze pommel.
“And there you have it,” Olivenco said. His voice was tinged with regret. “My Amante will learn the touch of a new man.”
“Amante,” Yorrin said. “What does that mean?”
Olivenco’s lips quirked into a smile. “Lover.”
Of course it does. And I bet “besito” means harlot mistress. “Oh,” was all he said.
“It is your blade now,” Olivenco said. “The name was my own devising, not something that came from its maker. If you wish to give it a new name, it is your right.”
“I’m not…” Yorrin hesitated. “I’m not much interested in naming my tools,” he said finally. “Honestly, if you hadn’t told me it was something else, I’d have just called it the Cutter of Camarr.”
Olivenco laughed. “It is a blade for thrusting,” he said.
“Nah,” Yorrin said. “It can cut just fine. One of those Ruskan’s would say so, if he could speak without the air escaping through the extra hole in his throat.”
“Fair point,” Olivenco said. “Regardless, you wear her well. Would you like to learn the basic forms and stances?”
“Stances? How to stand?”
“Si. From there flows everything else. A poor stance will lead to a quick death.”
That sounds like hogwash. “Alright, let’s hear it then.”
Olivenco began to explain, spacing his feet out as if to demonstrate. He hadn’t been speaking for more than a few minutes when they were interrupted.
Yorrin had seen him limping over well before he arrived. So had Olivenco. By the time Aleksandr was in earshot, they both stood waiting for him. The Whip was close behind him.
“Yorrin,” Aleksandr said.
A momentary look of annoyance flickered across Aleksandr’s eyes. “Come,” he said. “Please.”
Yorrin instantly took up a position beside Aleksandr, and as they walked he kept pace. “What is it?” he asked.
“The prisoners,” Aleksandr said.
Dylan let out an annoyed sigh behind them.
“Prisoners? Oh, the Ruskies? What about them?” Won’t we just give them a quick death and move on?
“I wish to speak with them,” he said. “And I would like your input.”
“What’s to say?” Yorrin asked. “Let’s just kill them and be done with it. It’s what they’d have done to us.”
“I like Yorrin’s idea,” muttered the Whip.
“They were not just seeking to kill us,” Aleksandr said. “They sought one of us in particular.”
Throw down sword. We not kill. Only want woman.
“Alaina?” Yorrin said.
“Da,” said Aleksandr. His voice was low and menacing. “I would like to know why.”
We haven’t the best track record at learning whys so far, Yorrin realized. Still, can’t say I blame him.
“Alright,” Yorrin said. “We talk to them. Find out what they wanted with Alaina. Then we kill them?”
“We will see,” was all he said.