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The Amber WizardThe Osserian Saga: Book One
By David Forbes
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 David Forbes
All right reserved.
Gerin Atreyano moved with an easy stride across the castle's main practice yard, the toes of his boots kicking up whorls of dust from the bare patches of dirt scattered between clumps of dry brown grass. He carried a wooden sword in his right hand; his left was free. Practice today was with swords alone -- shields were not permitted. He wore a leather jerkin under a half-sleeved shirt of chain mail, leaving his lower arms bare. His black, shoulder-length hair was covered by a plain steel helm with flared cheek-guards and an old round dent on the left side, just above the ear.
The heat was stifling, like the hot breath from an oven, but Gerin did his best to ignore it. He focused instead on his opponent. Anything else -- the boys and soldiers talking and sparring in other parts of the yard, the clacking sound of wood striking wood, or a grunt as someone took a blow -- was a distraction he could not afford.
Gerin scarcely blinked as he circled his younger brother. Therain panted and wiped sweat from his eyes with his free hand. His gaze darted about the yard, shifting from Gerin to the swordmaster and back to the older boy again. "Don't keep looking at me, Therain," said Odnir Helgrim, the swordmaster. With his bull neck, barrel chest, and shaved head, he seemed as solid and immovable as Paladan's Tower, in whose shadow he stood. "I'm not the threat. Concentrate on your brother. I'll wager if you look my way again, Gerin'll make you regret it."
Therain said nothing, but no longer glanced at Helgrim. He made several short thrusts at Gerin's sword, which his brother easily knocked aside since he was taller by several inches and had a longer reach. At twenty-two, Gerin was broad-shouldered but lean, with slender arms and long, agile legs that gave his movements a fluid, graceful flow. He had a narrow nose with an ever-so-slight bump in it at the bridge, and dark blue eyes set above wide cheekbones.
Despite being shorter, Therain weighed nearly as much as Gerin. He was built like the men from his mother's family, solid and strong, like a block of roughly cut stone, his features thick and blunt. He also had his mother's straight black hair and dark, piercing eyes.
"This isn't a mummer's dance," growled Helgrim as the brothers continued to circle one another. "By the gods above, you're supposed to be fighting!"
The two had been practicing for more than an hour. They were exhausted, but Helgrim's chiding spurred them into action. Gerin was certain his brother would attack, and he was not disappointed. Therain thrust at Gerin's left side, then pulled back when Gerin moved to parry -- Therain then lunged toward his chest. But Gerin anticipated the move and was ready for it. He knocked Therain's sword aside with a vicious upswing, then drove the blunt tip of his weapon into his younger brother's stomach. Therain staggered backward and fell before he could regain his balance, landing hard on his back. He lay panting in the dirt, trying to catch his breath. He held his stomach painfully; it was not the first time he'd been struck there today.
Gerin stood over his brother and shook his head. "That's the second time I've knocked you down," he said. "What's wrong with you today? I think Reshel could give you a good whipping if she had a mind to."
"You're such an idiot," spat Therain.
"Why, because I keep beating you?"
Therain stood up and shoved Gerin hard in the chest, then left the yard, ripping off his mail and throwing it on the ground. When he was gone, the swordmaster folded his arms across his chest and stared at Gerin. Dark hair covered his arms like a pelt; old scars puckered his skin like runic characters. The tattoos on the backs of his hands -- a circle within a circle -- marked him as a Taeraten of the Naege, the most elite class of fighter in all of Khedesh. "You shouldn't taunt him, my lord."
Gerin wiped sweat from his face. "I was just kidding him a little. But he was bad today; even you have to admit that. And he won't learn if he's not pushed."
"I push Therain quite enough," said Helgrim. "He doesn't have the natural ability with a sword that you and your father have, but he's not as bad as you think." He scratched the side of his head, just above his ear. "Though today was an off day, I'll grant you."
"I've seen him practice with some of the guards. He seems pretty good with them."
"He is. It's just you he has trouble with."
"Then maybe he shouldn't fight me anymore. It doesn't seem to be doing either of us any good."
"Aye, we'll see. It's probably a good idea for the two of you to practice with others for a while, at least with swords. Although maybe I should have the two of you practice together with bows. Maybe he can show you a thing or two." Helgrim chuckled.
Gerin was not amused. He hated that Therain was better than him with a bow. Much better, actually. It gnawed at him like a bit of rot at the heart of a tree. And if he were to be completely honest, he had to admit that Therain was nearly his equal in battle strategy and tactics. His younger brother could be far too rash for his own good, taking chances that in a real fight would get him or his men needlessly killed, where Gerin was cool and methodical and took only carefully calculated risks. He would not deny, though, that his brother had some gifts in combat planning. Not that he would ever tell him that to his face.
But, by the gods, Gerin could whip him handily with a sword.
He picked up Therain's sword and mail from the ground. "I'm done for the day. It's just too hot to practice."
Excerpted from The Amber Wizard by David Forbes Copyright © 2006 by David Forbes. Excerpted by permission.
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