By Princess Linden's fourteenth summer she had so perfected her secret skills at sword and knife play Sir Klaron himself was hard pressed to guard against her blurring speed and aggressive tactics. Then came the fateful day she beat his guard twice in one session, once with knives and once with the swords!
When their sword practice ended, Sir Klaron bowed deeply before her. "You are no longer my student at arms, Your Majesty; you are my equal! From this day onward, we'll both be learning from our practice sessions."
"Ah, thank you, Sir Klaron, you honor me!" Linden's dark brown eyes glistened with pride in both their exemplary efforts.
"You deserve it, Dearest Princess. There is one boon your servant would ask of you, though?" Sir Klaron entreated.
Linden spoke with conviction, she was as loyal to Klaron as he was to her. "Anything, Sir Klaron! My very existence is due to your sacrifices and loyalty. If it is within my power to grant your wish, you shall have it!"
"My love and pride for you and Calvar are what drives me, Your Highness. Would you grant your humble servant his wish of seeing you win your Weapon Master's Sash before the Guild?"
Linden's mind reeled at the question! Klaron wanted her to test before the elite Weapon Master's' Guild. The very arrogance of the idea appealed to Linden's'own pride in their many accomplishments. She smiled mischieviously at Klaron. "If you say we can do it, my loyal Knight, it shall be done!"
At the next meeting of the Guild, Sir Klaron announced he had been training a very skilled apprentice. Sir Klaron asked the Guild that his apprentice be given special dispensation to remain anonymous. He truthfully told them the student was from a Royal family who might not approve of the student's testing for membership in the Guild. This so ired the membership, especially King Wildar, that they immediately gave their unaminous permission for the applicant to remain anonymous.
On the eve of the next scheduled Guild meeting, Sir Klaron was to meet her at the Castle paddocks. She sneaked down the servant's stairs and then easily ghosted past the guards. Sir Klaron was already waiting for her when she neared the paddocks. He had arranged for their mounts and had them waiting. He also had her favorite weapons with him; he had carried them from the Castle earlier.
Linden pulled her gown off over her head and stood before him clad in a boy's leggings and tunic. Linden had bound her budding breasts tightly with a wide strip of material. Her long hair was brushed out straight, and tied with a leather string like a boy's. "You have the mask?" He asked. When she nodded and fished it from her tunic he told her, "With your slender figure and those baggy clothes, you'll pass; let's go."
They mounted and rode to the Hall of the Weapon Master's Guild. Linden's stomach was filled with butterflys, but Klaron calmly spoke of the event with supreme confidence in their skills. As they approached the large hall, they could see a big crowd of members and nervous apprentices was already forming. Linden's own excitement was swiftly beginning to turn to anxiety. "I forgot to tell you." Sir Klaron innocently told her. "King Wildar and Prince Vandar will both be here. Just relax."
Linden laughed anxiously. "Just relax? That's very easy for you to say, Sir!" She donned the mask and dismounted. Her knees felt weak but they sufficed to hold her as she alit. She told herself to be brave as she handed her mount's reins to a servant and then followed Sir Klaron into the milling throng.
The unwelcome news of King Wildar and Prince Vandar's presence had doubled the pressure on poor Linden. Sir Klaron stopped for a brief moment and turned to her. "It's customary for the Master who is putting his apprentice up for membership to show his confidence with a small wager, but I've bet a Baron's ransom on you, Your Highness, and I intend to win. You are skilled far beyond all but a few of the Masters here and you will easily qualify for induction!"
How could she, she thought, have allowed Klaron to risk not only his spotless reputation, but his considerable fortune, too? She was feeling increasingly miserable about the entire affair, but his confident words steeled her for the task; there was no backing out now. The King had been promised an exhibition and she resolved herself to give him one!
Sir Klaron rated a seat at the head table at which King Wildar, Prince Vandar, Sir Gannon, and a few select others sat. As Sir Klaron's apprentice, her station was standing directly behind his chair, and she proudly did so. Wildar was alertly looking over the other apprentices and then he turned to her. "So this is your mysterious apprentice, Klaron? A slightly built lad, I see."
Linden bowed deeply to the King as Sir Klaron responded confidently. "Slightly built? Yes, Your Majesty, but my apprentice has lightning speed, surprising strength and endurance, and deadly aggressiveness with a blade!" Poor Linden quaked in her boots, she felt as if Sir Klaron must surely be speaking of someone else!
The King's thick brows arched with interest at Count Sir Klaron's remarkably confident description of his apprentice's skills. "I value your opinion above anyone's when it comes to swordplay, my Friend. I've been looking forward to this exhibition, I'm certain it will be very entertaining to us all!" Linden thought to herself that it would indeed be entertaining if they unmasked her!
Linden noticed that after having heard more of Sir Klaron's avid description of his apprentice's skill her Father called one of the stewards to him. She was close enough she made out he whispered, "Place two bags of gold at the best odds you can get me on Sir Klaron's apprentice." The steward nodded and rushed off.
The course for knife throwing consisted of large targets, the knives had to all be within a smaller area of the target to qualify. The archery course was shot at three stationary apples, each of which must be pierced from a proscribed distance, and the swordplay was an exhibition. This was usually fought against the trainer, and was judged by the membership as being acceptable or not. Linden wasn't very impressed by the difficulty of the required course but then, she had been trained by one of the very best of the Weapon Masters!
The meeting was called to order and several other apprentices were tested. Most gave creditable performances and were admitted to the Guild and their sponsors were well pleased. Linden's nervousness had come to a peak by the time the floor was turned over to Sir Klaron, but she stubbornly clung to her pride. She remembered above all else, Sir Klaron believed in her!
Sir Klaron wasted no time in getting to the point. "Your Highnesses and fellow Weapon Masters, I have a highly skilled apprentice to bring before this honorable assembly tonight!" He turned toward Linden. "Come forward, please. For the sake of anonymity the Guild has generously decreed my apprentice may remain masked. In deep appreciation of this and in honor of Her Royal Highness, Princess Linden, my apprentice has chosen the title, 'The Avenger of Calvar' and will dedicate tonight's exhibition to her!"
All eyes went to the slight figure before them. Everyone in the audience knew the lad was being presumptuous, but if he passed the tests and brought honor to King Wildar's Royal Cousin and foster Daughter, he was certain to gain the King's instant favor!
One of the members, Lord Lamdor, who had been more than slightly over-served with ale, remarked loudly, "That stripling isn't big enough to avenge anything, much less that ragtag Kingdom; I'll wager a bag of gold against him." All eyes went to Sir Klaron and the King. Drunk or not, Lord Lamdor had made an insulting remark regarding Princess Linden's country in public! As Linden was second only to the King's own Son in succession to the Throne of Zuldar his remark could be construed as treasonous!
Linden put a small hand on Sir Klaron's nearest shoulder to calm him; she felt him trembling with suppressed rage, but he obeyed her touch perfectly and stood his ground! Her own eyes had flown to King Wildar's table. She had seen his big hands move swiftly to Prince Vandar and Sir Gannon's shoulders when the loud mouth sounded off. He held the two of them securely in their seats to prevent a Death Challenge!
The King rose slowly from his massive throne, Linden knew from long experience, Wildar was more enraged than she'd ever seen him! The barbaric expression of rage on his face made a lie of the cool response on his lips. "Lord Lamdor, make that ten bags of gold to make it interesting and you're on!"
The drunk looked around as the crowd heckled him. He realized now he had stupidly overstepped his bounds and would get out of this only by wagering a fortune in gold but he couldn't back down now without losing face. "Done!" He said loudly.
"Oh, no!" Linden thought. "I've got to defend Father's honor now, too! Well, there's no backing out now."
Sir Klaron demonstrated his enormous self-control and continued as if nothing had happened. "My apprentice wishes to get the difficult portion of the exhibition over first." As he walked to the small table containing the targets she drew three arrows from her quiver. She held two in her hand and notched the one to her bowstring and drew it. She knew to always be prepared for a trick when drilling with Sir Klaron, and events had just gotten weirder for them all. He picked up the three apples and began to walk down range and past the rail on which they were normally placed.
The normal test was to hit the three apples while they sat on the rail. Without turning or giving her a warning, Klaron tossed the apples into the air in succession. Linden swiftly loosed her first arrow, then she let her superbly trained reflexes take command of her body as she drew and released the other arrows!
The second and third apples were split before the first halved one had stopped rolling; the crowd stood and roared its excited approval! Linden relaxed measurably; she knew the move had been a carefully calculated one on Sir Klaron's part. He had shown her the way to success in this test was to allow her trained reflexes to guide her.
"Ah." Sir Klaron laughed. "That wasn't so difficult after all! I think my "little" apprentice may have passed the archery portion of the test to everyone's satisfaction! Now for the daggers; I believe my fellow Weapon Masters will approve of our slight change in this drill also." Sir Klaron said.
He moved a small wooden table to the line on the floor the apprentice was supposed to stand behind. On it he laid a fistful of her exquisitely balanced throwing daggers. He then went over to the wall where the big target hung and he assumed a peculiar splay-legged stance before it. His awkward stance drew the rapt attention of everyone, and the hall went expectantly silent.
Linden was perfectly calm. She stood at the table and again allowed her muscles to do as they had done in practice thousands of times before. She picked up the first dagger and threw it into the air, another, and then another followed the first. Her other hand came into play until she had five daggers creating a dazzling circle in the air! Even the onlooker's loud shouts of dismay failed to distract her from her intense concentration.
One dagger after another flew out of the rapidly whirling circle toward Sir Klaron's still form! One thudded into the wall to each side of his head, then one to each side of his torso, then the last dagger disappeared from their sight as it sped to its mark! The dagger reappeared with a loud thunk; its hilt was just grazing his clothing below his crotch. The throng once again stood and roared its approval! King Wildar, Prince Vandar, and Sir Gannon came to their feet! Sir Klaron and Linden bowed in gratitude as the roaring crowd slowly retook their seats.
"You see, I trust my student implicitly, with all of my valuables!" Sir Klaron boasted loudly to the raucous crowd. "Next, we will show you an example of my apprentice's exceptional footwork and aggressive swordplay."
The small size of the apprentice was striking, in direct comparison to Sir Klaron's large bulk. She was Child like in stature beside him. The crowd had been greatly impressed by the other two superb drills, but most doubted the little Avenger had the sheer strength and endurance to stay the course in the dueling
Linden and Sir Klaron walked to the sidetable for their weapons. "You're doing wonderfully, Your Highness! I'm enjoying this immensely." Sir Klaron congratulated Linden as they assisted each other in donning chestguards and helmets. There was no risk of them being overheard by the noisy onlookers.
"Thanks to you, Klaron. You're the best!" Linden returned confidently. They walked to the center of the hall, they saluted each other with their swords, and then they commenced to dueling. Each of them was using the twin swords of the discipline Sir Klaron had first mastered.