The two men, teacher and prospective student, faced each other on the dusty road with their swords at the ready. The dirt road was wide and smooth along this section, with no potholes or puddles to trip in. A tree along the side of the road provided shade, but its branches hung too high to catch a swung blade.
"Well, Chad," the older man said as he saluted with his blade, "now is the time to show me what you know."
"Lauren," Chad replied simply, as he returned the salute.
Chad was a thin pale man with long black hair tied back in a braid, and the features of a boy still upon him although he stood a head taller than Lauren. Lauren was stockier, of average height, and also had black hair, once, but it was now peppered liberally with gray.
Slowly, Chad led Lauren through the steps of his sword training. Lauren didn't attack at first, just blocked the younger man's attacks in a smooth efficient manner. Lauren stayed on the defensive so much that his first attack a full minute later, a basic thrust, caught Chad slightly by surprise. He had to scramble to dodge it.
Gradually, Lauren increased the complexity of his attacks. Combinations began to appear.
"Damn, he makes it look easy," Chad thought silently. But Chad also had to grudgingly admit to himself that Lauren had not used any maneuvers that the younger man had not already used as well. No surprises, just basic good swordplay.
Suddenly, Lauren's blade sped up to a blur and performed a quick maneuver that sent Chad's blade flying up through the air. As Chad's eyes flicked up to follow his errant weapon, Lauren stepped close and drove his knee hard into the young man's midsection. Pain filled Chad's body as he crumpled to the ground in a heap.
"What in the name of ... of all that's Holy, were you doing?" Lauren screamed at the fallen boy.
"Doing?" Chad finally managed to gasp, after several breathless seconds.
Lauren stalked over and picked up the fallen sword, then waited while both men collected their breath and emotions.
Chad sat up on his knees and reviewed the last moments of the battle in his head. Weariness had become a factor for both sides, and the two men had fallen into a sort of staccato rhythm. Then Chad had...
"You mean when I started humming?" Chad asked incredibly.
"That was a piece of the Rage Song, lad," Lauren explained. "It's a Song of Power. Where did you learn it?"
"It's a song my father sang when we practiced together."
"When you practiced?" Lauren replied with surprise in his voice. "How did he hold back and keep from beating you senseless with Rage Song flowing through his head?"
Chad looked up at the older man and didn't reply. After a moment, Lauren looked away from the younger man's steady gaze.
Chad's father hadn't held back.
"This all seems a bit bizarre to me," Chad said to his mentor, as he surveyed the room which looked more like a dungeon than part of one of the best music schools in the land.
"The Songs of Power make people want to do things, lad," Lauren replied, as he inspected one of the manacles lining the room's stone walls. "This room is to make sure they don't."
Chad did not reply, and looked about at the others sharing the test with him. Chad was the oldest of the boys by several years. The youngest was only nine. Like him, each of the other boys had a single adult companion who would share the ordeal, bound just as the boys were. Chad had commented on the lack of girls among the handful of children taking the test, and was told that the lack was simply coincidence.
Once all the people were bolted to the walls, four aged men in ankle-length white robes entered the room. Each man wore a single brightly-colored sash which draped about his shoulders and hung in front of him down to his knees. As a servant attached each of their manacles, the man with the red sash began to speak.
"Welcome to the Trial of the Songs," he said in a deep booming voice in contrast to his thin frail form. "This test is in no way connected with admittance to the school of bards. Although we recommend training should you possess a Song of Power, this training will solely be connected with mastering your gift, not in any other area."
"Each of us will sing one of the six songs of power," continued a chubby man with receding hair and a blue sash. "Should you understand any portion of any of these songs, we ask you to sing along, even if you know only a few phrases. Singing ability is not being tested here. Do not worry if you are off-key. Sing out anyway."
.... There is more of this story ...