Lining Meden’s thick pig-leather boots were the smallest claws from a Gryphon’s talons, each a fingerlength long. They rattled as he brought his foot back for a kick, but a wave of force knocked him off-balance and the foot went out to catch him instead of into Lew’s side. Kallen’s voice rang out from the gloom. “Exercise some self-control, Barbarian. You shall have your way with innocent Gryphons for now, but if one toe of violence extends beyond those limits, I shall break it off myself.”
Meden ground his teeth and snarled at Lew. His many decorations fanned out as he spun to leave. “Killin’ me is violence, right?” Tofur wondered aloud, but no one answered him.
“Stand up, child.” Lew tried to push herself to a sitting position, but pain stabbed her arm. Withered hands reached underneath her and helped her to her feet. “There’s something your egotist father has insisted I do.”
Lew didn’t like the sound of that. The chaos was still fresh, and her bruised legs shook beneath her. “Please don’t hit me.”
Kallen snorted. “Meden thinks that Tofur is a Pale One like himself. That would mean he’s not a stranger and we should send him north to his people in Barbar. The evidence, his clothes, his manner of speaking, all belie this fantasy. He is an Ogre from Demon’s Pass. Shared ancestry between Pale Ones and the Ogres of the mountain far to the north is besides the point. Demon’s Pass is not part of Pando, thus our secrets are not safe. Nothing has changed.”
Lew shuddered, thinking of the secrets that Tofur had already shared with her. Her splinted arm kept her hand just at the level of her shift’s pocket with his strange book. She wondered if any moment Kallen would demand she turn out her pockets, and who knows what might happen.
Kallen lifted the staff he kept in his left hand — Lew’s staff — and stood it before him. “Take the staff.”
Lew hesitated, uncertain of her apparent good fortune. She glanced toward Tofur, as amazed as she was. Kallen frowned. “Keep an eye on him. He already has secrets, so our priority is to make sure he doesn’t escape. A Greenwarden must be here with him at all times, so until Osyris arrives our lessons happen here.”
Lew glanced at her feet, reached out with her own left hand and let her fingers find comfortable grooves in the gnarled wood. When Kallen let the staff go, it felt unnaturally heavy from the palestone imbued within. Kallen pressed his lips together. His sneering anger gave way to guileless apprehension. “Be careful. Are you here? Do I have your attention?”
Lew felt breathless, like any moment she might either learn the secrets of the universe or lose the use of her legs, or both. She nodded her head, looking at the floor.
“Look at me, child. This is a weapon, not a toy.”
A hand as gnarled as the staff reached beneath her chin and brought it up. Kallen’s pocked and haggard face bore eyes that measured her very soul. “Carefully,” he began, “lift the staff.”
Lew put all her energy into her left hand and brought the huge staff up a quarter of a fingerlength.
“Now, slowly, ease it back to the ground.”
Lew did as she was told, and the staff bumped into the great hall’s dirt floor.
“Good.” Kallen put his free hand on Lew’s shoulder. “Now do it again, and imagine a ring extending outward from your heart. Be gentle.”
Lew lifted the staff and imagined a yellow ring floating in the air all around her. She let the staff fall, but Kallen cried out, and a quick hand caught it. “Be gentle!”
Kallen glared into her eyes until she looked away. “Try again. Gentle.”
Lew imagined the ring again, extending from her midsection and radiating out to the walls of the great hall. She did not let the staff fall, but carried it down to the floor. With a whoosh, a gust of air blew out in all directions. For the first time, Kallen smiled.
“Knock over this chair.” Kallen moved the bedpan far away, and stood on the other side of the great hall. Lew imagined her ring and grinned. She let the staff slip from her fingers. Wham. A sensation like the whole earth rocked while she stood perfectly still. Kallen braced himself against the wall and Tofur tumbled backwards, his restraints yanking his arms back to the floor before he could roll too far. Lew blinked at the spot where the chair used to be and saw only a spray of filth from the former contents of a bedpan. At the far wall lay a pile of what used to be a wooden chair.
“Imagine a sphere. You’ll regret it if you aren’t careful.” Lew saw a yellow sphere in her mind’s eye radiating around her in all directions, and she tapped the floor. Her feet left the ground and she landed hard on her good arm. Kallen approached and held the staff still. “This is a good technique to use if you are falling. The force of the shockwave against the ground will push you upward and may be the difference between instant death and merely breaking an arm. For some reason your father decided this was a trick that you in particular might need.”
Lew felt her face burn, and Kallen continued. “Shockwave cannot be aimed. It does not differentiate between friend and foe. Too many Greenwardens have hurt and killed friends and allies through its injudicious use. An enemy not disabled will still be thrown off balance, and you can always use it again, so err on the side of caution.”
Lew nodded her head, beginning to feel like herself again. Finally, she actually got to be a Greenwarden. This was her opportunity to show that she was worthy of the title. “I understand, High Greenwarden. I’m ready for my next lesson.”
“Congratulations, Rat Princess!” Tofur yelled. Lew shrunk, as if this nickname might give her away, but Kallen merely rolled his eyes.
A sneer tinged his next smile. “About that next lesson.” He snatched the staff back from Lew, along with all her imagined stature. “As High Greenwarden, it is my duty to hold onto the staff of anyone unfit to use it, and I can think of no one this applies better to than you, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and now physically. If you behave while your arm mends and do your reading and your chores, you may well get your staff as soon as next season. Now I’ll leave you be. If I’m not mistaken, you have a loquacious prisoner to look after.”
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