05.27.3014: Testing the Edge
Summary: Orren once again finds more than just his blade being tested by Ines
Date: a few days
Related: None
Ines Orren 

Teaching Bungalow
In the scene
27 May, 3014

The teaching bungalow is spare, and seems smaller with the walls down and only the posts that hold up the roof interrupting the vista of the lagoon and mountain island beyond. The walls around the small restroom seem to be the only solid shape in the shifting play of light and water, unadorned except for a single sword and the belt hangs below. In the reflection of sun from sea, the railings seem to disappear into the flood of light, and the outline of the slender woman blurs as she stands before that one sword.

It is early afternoon, the rest hour following lunch is nearing its end, and soon the quiet that prevails over the school will be broken with the clatter of practice swords and instructions of teachers. While others spent the time in their bunks, writing or reading, or perhaps even napping, she has been here.

Ines’s eyes sweep the length of the scabbard, embossed with the emblem of Cape Amran, and the sword belt below. While the leatherwork is elaborate, it also carries the patina that comes not from a fresh coat of oil, but from long years of wear. Many generations of hands have passed the sword from older to younger, and it was venerated, cherished, and used with honor. It was not just a ceremonial trinket, it was a tool with a purpose as well.

Now it hangs on the wall of an erstwhile enemy.

A shelf slides out from the wall, and dark hands reach up to lift the weapon from the hooks cradling it safely out of harm’s way. The sword is drawn, and the scabbard set aside on the shelf, while the metal catches the light and reflects a pale line along the wall. The fingers that test the edge of the blade, and the hands that care for the metal now are no less reverent than those that came before, but these hands find little peace in the task. There is a weighted responsibility in the one that now cares for the sword, a guilt, which pulls her expression into a fierce frown as Ines ensures the sword will never rust or become dull. A duty of honor and remembrance to the one who once crossed that very blade with her own. A promise made that will never be known by the one to whom it was sworn.

Orren has been at Honor’s Keep for far longer than standard, having spent over a month away from his homeland in preparation of the war to come. The art of the sword being his chief motivation, at least at first, he has become something of a regular sight around the lagoons and the training yards. Pushing himself not out of an entitled need to be the best, but out of the honor of treating the training with the reverence that it deserves, he has been an attentive, quiet student.

On this day, Orren finds himself taking a light lunch and returning back to the open-air bungalows. With a black shirt buttoned to his chest that billows in the breeze and a simple pair of black, linen pants cinched together with his sword belt by means of a drawstring, he’s learned to dress like a local; he has long since abandoned his heavy clothing and thick leathers, opting to keep them close by as needed instead. The lighter clothing results in a much lighter footfall as his feet step up the meager stairs of the bungalow Ines is in, announcing his presence without pounding it into the floorboards as he used to.

He doesn’t introduce himself, he rarely does, and the distance he leaves between his body and Ines’ is the same he always leaves when he’s observing. The creaking of the post he leans against is another sound, telling Ines all she needs to know with her ears as he settles in, seeking her presence yet again.

Even the soft footfalls, to one who has long lived in a place of bare feet, are noted, although she doesn’t turn. The sword will not be ignored, and Orren is early. By the time she slides the sword back into the scabbard, replaces it to the place of honor, then closes the shelf. The wall seamless once more, she turns, the sleeveless shift flutters slightly in a breeze that moves through, stirring the curls at the nape of her neck. Her expression is once more as calm and serene as always, betraying nothing of the deep waters that swirl beneath the surface.

Her own sword is at her hip, whether or not Orren recognizes the crest of the blade that hangs behind her, the albatross on her own is solidly Ligonier. “Sir Orren,” she greets quietly. “I have been told that you have been diligent in your studies, and your work with the blade has improved.” The dark gaze rivets on the man at rest, leaning on the post. “Have you sharpened your edge?” The question seems mild, but there is an undercurrent to her stance and the intensity of gaze that may indicate there is more to the question than there seems at first impression.

Sensing that the time for rest has ended and the time for being sharp has returned, Orren leans away from the post and steps across the floorboards towards the Young Lady of Ligonier. The palm of his hand resting on the pommel of his sword, he takes a leisurely pace, One foot before the other, his walk crosses one leg, then the other, and then the other. He’s learned to walk like a better swordsman, and as he strolls he locks his centric gaze onto Ines’ face.

“I’m moving faster than I was before, this much I’ve noticed. With enough muscle memory, I’m turning different, at different times. I’m glad that I came.” Orren replies, coming to a slow stop outside of sword-reach. Shoulders straightening, they roll against their sockets and his head see-saws from side to side, limbering up just in case.

“My edge…however…I feel has changed for the better. I see differently.” Orren pauses; a beat passing over his words. “Care to test my edge?”

Watching the man approach across the floor, Ines is a statue, except the occasional ruffle of her shift as the breeze floats by. “You /see/ differently,” she repeats. There is no move towards her sword, her hands hang easily at her sides, her stance already at shoulder width, one foot slightly behind the other. “House Peake will surely benefit from the improvement when you return.”

She almost of a height with him, so she has no need to lift her eyes as he closes the distance. “I am testing your edge,” she informs him quietly.

Turning his side to her, his sword’s pommel sticking out at a lateral angle to her body, Orren turns his head to watch her down the plane of his shoulder. His eyes dip to her hands, judging the distance between her hands and her sword’s grip, calculating the speed of her draw. His hand moves a bit closer, compensating her speed for his strength. Her draw will be quicker than his when it comes, and if it comes he will have to be nimble to match her.

But the sharpness isn’t in his sword alone, this he knows. His eyes return to hers and he stands calmly, ready should the moment come, but returning to their conversation with ease.

“That sword you were honoring,” Orren replies, eyes flitting over her shoulder to the panel. He’s stopped questioning, the pain he’s gone through in the yard has beaten stupid questions out of him. “It was his.”

There is a momentary gleam in her eyes, a flash and it is gone, although she watches his eyes, she doesn’t follow them. “His?” she asks. “To what man are you referring when you speak of ‘his’?” The tone is light, the question asked with a surety of knowing the answer.

And what her reply will be, and the reaction to follow.

Two steps ahead. The third only half certain.

Though she steps forward, Orren doesn't tighten his stance. Her steps are too light; her eyes lack the sure fire tells of preparing an attack and a sword lesson. Shoulders lightening, his eyes remain locked onto hers, tracking her as she moves forward.

"Your husband." Orren replies. Not ex-husband or prior husband, but husband. Women do not honor the swords of the forgotten. His eyes do not pinch with jealousy at the words, instead he turns slightly; his shoulder opening to her approach to point his chest to hers.

"For as much as I love Khar-Mordune, My Lady…this place calls to me."

"My husband's sword has already been entrusted to our daughter, as she will be squiring soon with a knight of our liege if it can be arranged," Ines replies quietly.

The gleam of momentary triumph shifts to one of challenge. Keeping three steps ahead means once a move is achieved, a new one must be added to take its place.

"I owe no debts of honor to my husband."

Sensing the turn in her mental direction, Orren remains calm, eyes locked to hers from the short distance. Muscles relaxing, he leaves his sword to the side and rests his wrist against the hilt, stepping one foot closer to her to rob her of more of her personal space. Nearly the same height, there is no need to look down to her.

"If you did, it would be understandable," Orren replies, his movements slowing as his eyes sharpen onto Ines'. Speaking within the lines, his lips soften between the words. "Forever father to your children, though their protectors will present themselves or make it known by action. They are lucky to have a woman like you to call mother, protector, and watcher."

“I owe no debts of honor to me husband because I never dishonored him in life,” Ines clarifies, one eyebrow at his ‘understanding’.

The gleam dims slightly, and a subtle shift to the corners of the mouth indicate displeasure or disappointment. “Flattery, Sir Orren,” she intones flatly. “I don’t need to be told I am strong enough and diligent enough to protect my children.” There’s a short pause.

“Off topic and beneath you.”

Losing this round of direction, Orren knows that she's called him true. He has stepped off topic and out of bounds, dulling his edge against the stone in their mental parrying. His words were a swing too hard, too far, leaving him off-balance and open to a death-dealing riposte.

Taking a step to the side, he begins to orbit her like a moon. Moving in the direction of her weak side, his face remains neutral without so much as a flinch at her disappointment. This isn't about her approval. This he knows. Now is his turn for his riposte.

"Your teaching places an emphasis on following the eyes, seeing what your opponent sees." Orren replies to her as he moves in a radius, passing the plane of her shoulder. "This entire visit of mine has been a duel inside of the mind. It has been a different world; a different view." He pauses, letting his words settle in.

“You know what I see, Lady Ines."

The chin dips slightly as she opens her other senses, extending her awareness of her space around her by other means than sight. The further her roams to the side, the less he can see of her eyes, her tells. It also means she’s not focusing on his visual cues, either, but she is moving beyond the realm of sight.

“Justification. You stray yet further,” Ines’s voice remains flat, impassive.

After a long breath, she relents only slightly.

“You chose the topic, Sir Orren. Can you follow it to its conclusion?”

"Not justification. Observation." Orren corrects with a tilt of his head. "An observation of you that doesn't require justification, either." He adds, voice circling around behind her. Bare feet might on the floorboards, his circling of the Young Lady slows.

"I wish to stay." Orren stops trying to hit her and commits to his action; to the topic at hand. "I want to know if my presence is a distraction you'd rather avoid."

"Are you stating an intent to make yourself a distraction, Sir Orren Tylos of Khar-Mordune?" The question is dry, unconcerned, the man is now off the board. His pieces no longer in play.

"I must have misread a desire to learn in your choice of conversation earlier. Apparently your motive was an attempt to learn the state of my emotions and whether they would provide you with a weakness."

Her back is straight, her focus straight ahead, she does not turn her head seeking to bring him back into her field of vision. "You do not know your opponent's weakness, until you know them."

Reaching behind his ear to scratch lightly, Orren tilts his head at the back of Ines’ tumbled curls. Perplexed, his brows knit together and he continues his circular walk. Well along the way to her nine-o-clock position, His eyes trace her features as they make themselves available, the curve of her jawline in particular.

“No, no, you didn’t misread a desire to learn. I’m here to learn.” Orren shakes his head quietly, eyes dipping her shoulder; giving him something to focus on as he collects his thoughts. In truth, the tall, powerful knight is a man who has never been presented with many riddles to solve. His family grew him in the mines, and after their loss his world continued to be a black and white thing of service and clearly painted laws.

“Tell me about this sword.” Orren continues to circle her. “About this ritual.”

She waits patiently, the eye around which his confusion circles, calm and steady. There is no impatience, no prodding, only the stillness.

Finally, the request. "The crest is that of the Amran family," Ines replies quietly. "What could such a sword mean in the House of The Albatross?" The question is clear. Find the answer, ask the questions, seek the truth if you find it worth seeking.

Coming to a stop before her, Orren abandons the sword altogether and folds his arms behind his back. Settling into a comfortable stance, his mahogany brown eyes lower to hers, returning their conversation to just that, a conversation. They’ll spar in the mind today and not in predatory body language.

“Your House has had its odds and ends with Amran, enough tangles.” Orren replies, his tone slow as he pieces things together. “It’s not your sword, is it?” Orren glances over her shoulder to where the sword was placed away. “Is it because you were at Cape Amran when it was overrun, or is it in honor to the person who once held it? Or both.”

The deep, black pools meet his own eyes as he returns to a stance before her. “It is not mine,” she affirms. “It is the sword of Lord Sir Damais, a mainline Amran. It crossed my own sword many times over the years. When last I saw him, he held the sword of a Ligonier. SIr Valoir, a third cousin of mine.”

“It is both and more.”

“Lord Sir Damais died at Cape Amran after you’d come into contact with this sword.” Orren replies with gentle confidence. Trapped by her eyes, the rest of the bungalow and the tropical landscape behind her blurs; his attention becomes a tunnel vision view of her face. “And no doubt you respected the man by the way you honor his sword and pass it to your daughter.” The threads begin to come together.

“Were you there when he died?”

“No,” Ines corrects. “I have passed on the sword of my husband to my daughter. That sword is already in my daughter’s possession, she keeps the edge sharp and the blade free of rust until she is of age to wield it properly.”

“I was not there when he died, if he died. I have not seen a body.” There’s a beat pause as she considers and acknowledges, “I am not likely to ever see the body if there is one.”

Feeling as if he is starting to comprehend, Orren nods his head and shifts his weight to the other hip. Once more, his eyes flit to the wall and then to the black rims of Ines’ eyes.

“Is this ritual, then, the keeping of Lord Sir Damais’ blade to honor him, to keep vigil, or to keep it ready for him should he return?” Orren pauses, considering another possibility. “Or was the sword given to you to pass down to who you see fit, as you passed your Lord Husband’s sword to your daughter?”

“The sword was loaned to me to protect my son and his nanny when we fled Cape Amran,” the answer is given evenly, maintaining a neutral tone as information is related upon request. After a moment, she exhales. “It is not a ritual as you may be thinking. When one has been a loaned a blade, they should not allow it to rust or dull, as that would insult the owner.”

A Ligonier is concerned with insulting a dead Amran.

“But it’s a ritual nonetheless. Setting a table is a ritual, as is saying a prayer or bathing in the morning.” Orren replies, countering her with his meaning of the word ritual, bringing the term back to a more base, regular definition. “When I was a lad and preparing to join the guard at Khar-Mordune, my trainers taught us many rituals that could one day save our lives; all of them involving keeping our arms and armor kept.”

“Please, tell me the story of Lord Sir Damais,” Orren adds, brows softening. “How did he come to such high regard with you?”

“You are assuming that I have high regard for Lord Sir Damais,” Ines raises one eyebrow. “He was an Amran. Squired to a knight of Ligonier. When the Paramount’s plans fell through, he returned to Amran, and I returned to Ligonier. The feud resumed.” The eyebrow lowers, and the challenge returns. “The honor of the blade must be respected, or I would lose honor.”

“In its own special place, surrounded by lacquered wood in a bungalow as nice as this, so close to the core of your teaching?” Orren’s brow cracks, parrying her. “Your children were with you at Cape Amran, he gave you a sword to protect them with. You frowned when holding it; I saw.” Orren steps forward, bringing himself closer to Ines with a discerning look upon his brow.

“Are you telling me you do not have high regard for Lord Sir Damais?”

“Only Nigel was with us,” Ines’s quite words remind him that she had said ‘my son’ only. She doesn’t glance to the wall, or the sword, but she returns with a counter of her own.

“It is a sword, hanging on a wall where one learns to handle a sword. This bungalow is a simple place, used for that one purpose.”

“I do not have a high regard for Lord Sir Damais, no. Neither did I truly have a quarrel with the man.”

“You still haven’t told me the story of Lord Sir Damais,” Orren retorts, head canting to one side. “There’s a story to tell from your perspective; a means of learning. I can ask many questions, My Lady, not all of them will be accurate.” With a pause, he shifts his weight back to the other hip, pressing his toes into the floorboards. He’s been trained to stand for hours on end, but the man would truly be more comfortable with a chair.

“What will you do with the sword?” Orren asks, taking in a slow breath. “Be its custodian, or do you seek a purpose for it?”

“On the contrary,” Ines replies unperturbed. “I have told you all there is to know of Lord Sir Damais. There is no more to the story. We went to deliver Sir Valoir’s sword to him as bequeathed by the Ligonier knight. I went unarmed to show that I was honestly coming on a peaceful errand, and Amran was attacked. Lord Sir Damais loaned me his sword to protect myself and those in my charge.”

She waits. “It already serves a purpose.”

Once again, Orren looks to the wall with the sword to get a better look at it. Eyes off of Ines, his lip sucks in between his teeth, curious.

“The feud.” Orren looks back to her face. “Since Cape Amran fell, what now between your two houses?”

“Indeed. Now that there is no Amran, there is no longer two houses. Without another house there is no feud.” There’s a slight narrowing of Ines’s eyes as she watches him, watches his eyes.

“Hundreds of years of slighted honor and redressing wrongs done. How do you seek revenge on something that no longer exists?”

“More like had all of those people involved in hundreds of years of slighted honor and anger that could have been better spent building mutual trust had known that it would end so abruptly, without closure, by an outside force, would any of those people that made it so important to them?” Shaking his head blithely, Orren’s hands come together in front of his body to wring his hands against each other. If there were a wet towel or a rock in between his palms, the very ground at his feet would be covered in water or tiny chunks of mortar.

“I apologize if that seems…blunt, My Lady,” Orren offers, lowering his voice; his eyebrows soften. “But with the Hostile’s invading our people, for lack of a better word, such feuding only endangers good people.”

The calm remains as always, serene and unruffled, the deep pools of dark reflection do not even ripple at the wringing of his hands.

"Now." The word hangs in the air between them, a commencement in the full meaning of the word,- both an ending and a beginning.

"You begin to know your adversary." There is a slight emphasis on the word 'begin'. She takes one step back and brings her hands together in front of her, palm to palm and fingertips to fingertips, fingers pointing upwards along her sternum. She bends slightly from the waist, offering an invitation in the traditional manner, her eyes briefly breaking contact with his.

"Would you care to dance, Sir Orren?" The draw of her sword, while smooth is unhurried as she offers an opening on even ground.

Orren learned weeks ago to bury any frustration in her puzzling manner of feeling his way through their topics. In truth, it’s been an exercise in emotional control that began as suffering defeat in the sword arena that has made him faster and sharper than he was, as it aided him in tuning his mind like an instrument.

Having seen her respectable bow-stance before, Orren’s brown eyes follow hers as she begins to bend, prompting him to do the same. Averting his eyes as his head lowers and his back bends, as eye contact during a bow is a sign of defiance and mistrust, he draws his sword with the whisper of the blade through the scabbard as he leans back up. Entering his chosen fighting stance, a forward position of his blade at a slight angle that favors his weaker side, he juts his chin towards Ines.

“My Lady, I would care to.” Orren replies, stepping forward with a guarded jab with his blade designed to test her defenses and force her body to move.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Ines=swords Vs Orren=swords
< Ines: Good Success Orren: Success
< Net Result: Ines wins - Marginal Victory

Drawing one foot back, and letting her weight shift slightly away from her opponent, Ines lets the attack come to her. Her off hand tucked lightly in the small of her back, she begins with a basic first position in defense. Since he doesn’t extend himself too much, she lets the jab pass by, leaning out of the way rather than parry, leaving her blade free to test him in return with a low slice to his off side.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Ines=Swords Vs Orren=Swords
< Ines: Success Orren: Great Success
< Net Result: Orren wins - Solid Victory

Steel rings out against steel as the blades clash against each other in a series of parries and blocks. Faster than the man he was when he first arrived, he’s come to rely less on outright power and more on the positioning and strength that comes from footwork and positioning. As Ines swings, Orren follows the line of her movement and catches her slice with the flat of his blade. He fights for the art now, not just for the victory, but with respect for his opponent.

With a buck of his wrist, he pushes her sword aside and wheels to her weak side. Shoulders turning, he feigns an attack towards her lower blade, then drives in high, trying to push her back onto the defensive.

Impassively meeting his blade with her own, Ines’s eyes allow no insight to her thoughts or her opinion of what he’s learned. She is light on her feet, her blade an extension of her self. Following his feint, she is too late to parry with the blade and is forced to follow her swing with her body, ducking under his blade, but spinning away, the off hand lifting away from her back. When she straightens, there’s a new light in her eyes.

She accepts the challenge, and with her off hand back in place, she renews the dance, her feet entering the fray now as she moves lightly in and back, leading him on.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Ines=Swords Vs Orren=Swords
< Ines: Good Success Orren: Good Success
< Net Result: DRAW

Orren presses forward, meeting her steel with the powerful muscle that comes behind his wall of parries and blocks. All around the sound of a dozen sword strikes ring out, the duel becoming pitched as their bodies circle each other. One slash dodged, another parried, their feet work a circle against the floorboards leaving the quickly evaporating condensation of footprints behind as they move. They turn at the same time and their blades lock, bringing the two face to face. With firelight in his eyes, but a peaceful reverence upon his brow, Orren stares to her as he’s pushed out of the lock…and the duel resumes.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Ines=Swords Vs Orren=Swords
< Ines: Amazing Success Orren: Good Success
< Net Result: Ines wins - Crushing Victory

The air hisses around them, crying out the whispering blades through the noon-time air, and the chime and chorus of steel against steel resumes. The time at Honor’s Keep has been good to the knight of Khar-Mordune…but he is not the master.

Arms held in a backhand, Orren’s sword screeches down the edge of Ines’ blade as she gains the upper hand. He steps back, parrying to the defense, and brings his sword to bear. Under a lesser swordsman, he would have weathered the assault.

The assault whirls around him, the devastation coming not from the speed of the blows, but the flow. Each of his parries is met but never seems to actually be a barrier to the continual motion of the blade and the woman who wields it. She continues to close in, inexorable as the waves that perpetually break over the shore of her home. The waves are patient, they can wear down even the hardest rock, and she finds the crack she was looking for. Pivoting closer, a swirl heard on the floor as the ball of her foot presses into the wood, and his next intended parry lashes out into the thin air.

Her shoulder is aligned with his, she faces the opposite direction, and her off hand is placed flat along the guard. The voice of the blade is finally stilled, resting flat against his throat.

The duel comes to a shuddering stop.

Orren…comes to a shuddering stop. He says nothing. There is no loss of honor in his defeat.

The only sounds heard now in the heavy afternoon air are the quick, deep breaths from the two frozen in the middle of the floor.

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