The warrior within, p.1
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           J.T. Marie
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The Warrior Within


  The Warrior Within

  By J.T. Marie

  This story is included in the print book

  Bones of the Sea and Other Stories by J.T. Marie.

  Visit https://www.jtmarie.com for more information.

  Copyright 2010 J.T. Marie

  ISBN 978-1-93575-352-0

  * * * *

  Cover Photo Credit: vladgavriloff

  Used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

  Cover Design: J.T. Marie

  All rights reserved

  WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Published in the United States of America.

  * * * *

  The Warrior Within

  By J.T. Marie

  For Skye

  When I leaned down to wash my face, I saw her reflection above mine in the pond a moment before I felt her staff strike my ribs. I rolled away from her attack, reaching for my own staff, but it was gone. She struck again. I held up an arm to ward off the blow.

  “Never underestimate a fallen opponent,” Makena said through clenched teeth, bringing the staff down hard on my forearm. The crack of wood on flesh resounded loudly in the quiet afternoon.

  I let my arm fall limp and bit my lower lip, the pain bringing tears to my eyes. Instantly Makena’s harsh expression softened—she bent down, reaching for my arm. “Oh, Jhyssa!” she cried. I let her inspect my arm, gingerly feeling for broken bones. “Are you all right?”

  I grinned. Twisting her staff, I flipped her onto the ground. A hurt look replaced the surprise in her eyes. I stood over her and rapped the staff on her forehead once, twice. Smiling, I repeated, “Never underestimate a fallen opponent.”

  She smiled back. I offered my hand, helping her to her feet. I brushed the wisps of her fiery hair from her face. “Well done,” I commended. “You truly are a Warrior, even if the Order of the Soul is disbanded.”

  Shyly, she ducked her head. “I don’t know.”

  “You know the Tenets, you know the moves.” I gathered up our weapons and we headed back toward my cabin. “You came to me two years ago wanting to become a Warrior, and you have completed the training. There is nothing more I can teach you.”

  “Maybe the rebellion will reach us here.” She motioned to the surrounding forest with a sweep of her arm. It was hard to imagine the trees alive with the cries of war, but I smiled to hear the excitement in her voice. “Maybe I’ll get a chance to fight alongside you, instead of against you.”

  “Sparring isn’t fighting,” I corrected. “It’s practice. Besides, we have no need to join in the rebellion. A Warrior’s first obligation is to—”

  “Her sisters,” Makena finished. “‘A Warrior protects her sword sisters before any other cause.’ See? I know the Tenets.”

  I laughed. “So you do. You only need the chance to put them into practice.”

  As we approached the cabin, Makena ran ahead to start her chores. In the distance, a rider appeared, bearing toward me. I wasn’t surprised—since the rebellion against the king had begun, I had been expected this visit.

  “Ceryane!” I called out as the rider dismounted. She hadn’t changed since I last saw her—the same blonde braid tossed over one shoulder, the same icy blue eyes. Only a few lines around her face showed any age. I hugged her close. “How goes it, mentor?”

  She laughed. “Jhyssa,” she sighed, hugging me back. “You graduated from my care long ago. And you should know that it does not go well, if I am here.”

  I nodded. From around the cabin came the sound of tumbling logs—Makena gathering wood for our hearth. Ceryane raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t alone?”

  Before I could answer, Makena came into view. “Oh!” Startled, she stopped, looking at me for guidance.

  With an arm on Ceryane’s shoulder, I said, “Makena, this is Ceryane. Remember I mentioned her?”

  Makena nodded and, without prompting, fell on one knee before Ceryane, exposing her neck and back to the elder Warrior in greeting. A small smile flickered around Ceryane’s lips. “Jhyssa,” she chided. “I should’ve known you’d still be training.”

  “She came to me,” I said, touching Makena’s shoulder lightly. She rose before us. “And she’s good—maybe you two can spar later?”

  Ceryane dismissed my suggestion with a wave of her hand. “She’s been well taught, I’m sure. But I am here on other matters.” Her pointed look said she wanted to talk.

  “Of course.” I motioned towards the cabin. She opened the door and went inside. “Will you care for her horse?” I asked Makena.

  She nodded. “What does she want?”

  I shrugged. “I’ll find out.” I followed Ceryane inside.

  * * * *

  “What’s she like?” Ceryane asked, with a nod at the door of the cabin. She sat at my table with her feet propped up on the chair beside her. She meant Makena.

  I shrugged. Since I first met Makena, there was something between us that couldn’t be put into words. She was more than my neophyte—her thoughts and actions were so like mine, it scared me at times. It was as if our souls were the same, two halves in separate bodies. When we sparred, we each knew the other’s moves before we made them. And we could sit in silence for long hours that rushed by like a rapid brook, each comfortable with the other. Our relationship was nothing like Ceryane’s and mine had been—underneath her tough exterior, Ceryane had a quick wit, and when we were together in the old days, we had always laughed.

  But there was something in the set of Ceryane’s mouth that told me those days were over. Ignoring her question, I asked, “It’s that rebellion they talk of, isn’t it?”

  She averted her gaze and nodded. I sighed. “Leave it to you to get mixed up in something that’s no concern of ours.”

  “I didn’t choose this,” Ceryane said. “The rebels fight for a just cause.”

  “Since when did that interest you?” Ceryane wasn’t the type who fought for noble reasons. She fought because she had to…or because she wanted to. Not because it was right. “What’s so just about a bunch of throne happy citizens?”

  “The king heard rumors of the rebellion,” Ceryane began, “rumors I’m sure you’ve heard as well. Mostly the rebels feel the king has betrayed his people by marrying that Marlean bride.”

  I knocked her feet from the chair and sat down beside her. “So I heard. A second bride, at that, a marriage forged only for an alliance. The rebels should realize that no children from that union could be heirs.”

  Ceryane sat up straighter. “Nevertheless, they don’t like it. The Marlean people worship a different deity, a god who demands sacrifices of human blood.”

  “Fairy tales,” I snorted with a wave of my hand. I heard the slight squeak of hinges and looked up. The cabin door had opened slightly, but Ceryane didn’t notice. A familiar shadow darkened the step. “Told to keep children awake at night.”

  Ceryane leveled her gaze at me. “Be that as it may, the king has a new army of hired swords to silence the rebels. They rounded up a dozen people at an inn not far from the castle and ha
d them put to death as traitors to the throne.” She paused. “Layna was one of those killed.”

  My breath caught in my throat. The Warriors of the Order of the Soul fought in teams, pairs of matched swords that balanced each other in battle. Layna had been Ceryane’s other half for as long as I could remember. A small, delicate woman, Layna’s diminutive size often tricked her opponents into believing they could best her. She was quick with a sword and quicker on her feet—even the hardiest of men fell before her. “Killed?” I couldn’t imagine it. “But why? Rebellion was never her forte.”

  Ceryane uttered a short, bitter laugh. “She was there with a friend. They didn’t ask for the rebels to come forth to be killed—who would’ve stood? Instead they slaughtered the lot, calling them rebels only after their blood was spilled.”

  “So now what?” I asked. “You fight with them?”

  “To avenge her death,” Ceryane said. “The heir-apparent is of an age where, if his father were killed, he would assume the throne. He’ll do what’s right.”

  I nodded. “And let me guess. You’ve come to ask me to follow you?”

  She didn’t speak, but the answer shone brightly in her eyes. A Warrior’s first loyalty lay with her sisters, and one of mine had been killed. I thought about Makena, standing just outside the door, possibly hearing every word we said. She would get her baptism of fire after all. I nodded again and sighed. At least my years of daily training would pay off.

  * * * *

  “You heard.” It wasn’t a question.

  Makena stood by Ceryane’s horse, brushing it down. When I had opened the door and found her gone, I figured she must have returned to the stables. Without looking at me, she nodded.

  “Well,” I said, “this is the moment we’ve been training for these past few months.”

  She shook her head. “I don’t think I’m ready, Jhyssa,” she whispered.

  “Makena,” I sighed, “you equal me with bow and sword.” I reached out and touched her hair, smoothing it down. My hand came to rest upon her shoulder. “You are a Warrior of the Soul.”

  She rolled her eyes. “You know I believe that. But there’s something missing…something more I’ve got to learn.” She hurried on before I could object. “You taught me to aim a bow with my heart, to swing a sword with my soul—I know the moves but not the reasons. I can’t fight until I learn for myself why I fight.”

  I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say—I knew she was right. She had to find that within her which allowed her to strike true. “But sometimes,” I said gently, “a Warrior will learn that only when tested in battle.”

  She turned to me. “That’s not my way. I have to figure out why I choose the Warrior’s path before I can follow it fully.”

  “I thought you said you wanted to fight beside me.”

  “I do—I will, eventually.” She shook her head again. “I’m sorry, Jhyssa. I thought you would understand.”

  I guess I did. She had to find the Warrior within before she could fully become a Warrior to the world. She had to make the way of the Warrior her way. So I smiled my best and waved goodbye when she rode out the next morning. As she disappeared into the forest, she turned once. I thought I’d see her soon—I told her to meet up with Ceryane and me when she was ready to join the fight.

  * * * *

  The rebellion dragged on for five long months. In that time, I fought alongside Ceryane, the battle fever high in my blood. Most nights I slept deeply, exhausted from fighting. But sometimes I would lie awake, the soft crackling of a dying fire the only sound, and think of Makena. I wondered where she was, if she had found the Warrior within herself yet, if she had joined the rebellion and waited for me in the next town, around the next bend. I could see her auburn hair in the turning leaves of autumn, and I had to stop whenever I thought I heard her laugh.

  But she wasn’t in the next town, or the one after that, and I almost forgot I looked for her when we finally reached the palace gates. Rumors ran through the rebel camp, rumors that the prince had poisoned the Marlean queen and only awaited our combined forces before attempting to overthrow his father and assume the throne. Layna’s death had been avenged many times over, but an end was in sight—one final battle before the palace and our cause would be won. We rushed to the call.

  The king’s hired swords fell amid our cries and arrows. I worked through the ranks of the makeshift army, heading for the gates, cutting down as many of the king’s men as I could. A red veil covered my vision—everywhere I looked I saw blood, igniting the fire within my soul, and my sword moved as if by thought alone.

  And then I saw a flash of red in front of me, red like the blood that flowed freely on the grounds outside the palace, a red I instantly recognized. My sword stopped and I looked up.

  Makena stood before me, sword in hand. “Hello, Jhyssa.”

  Blood smeared her face, obscuring her features, but I would know that auburn hair anywhere, even as it curled with sweat from battle. Suddenly I felt very faint, but I smiled broadly and simply said, “Nice of you to join us,” As if I had expected to see her all along.

  She shook her head. “I’m paid by the king,” she said. “I was hired—”

  I didn’t let her finish. My sword swung out and struck hard against hers, and even in the midst of battle, I could hear the clang of metal ring out. The surprise in her eyes was worth the pain in my heart. Hired? Against us? “Warriors stand together,” I said as I struck again, this time with such force that she gave ground. “Sisters of the sword—I taught you as much.”

  When my sword swung a third time, she parried, and the next thrust was hers. “I thought you wanted me to fight,” she said through clenched teeth, the fire back in her eyes. “I thought that’s what Warriors did.”

  “Warriors fight for each other first,” I reminded her. I cut low, forcing her back. “Or have you forgotten the Warrior’s way?” She gave her ground and I followed, driving at her harder than I ever had in practice. She was still a good fighter—she had learned from the best—but my sword blazed with my anger and with a few more blows, she fell to the ground. I glared down at her. “Did you ever find that Warrior within? Did you even bother to look?”

  Lying on her back, her chin resting on my blade, she looked up at me. “Kill me, then,” she said. “If I have failed you so miserably, kill me.”

  I couldn’t. I had killed before—I would again. But the sight of her—hair disheveled, eyes shining with unshed tears, lips trembling with the urge to cry—it brought back too many memories of our years training together, trusting each other. I couldn’t kill her.

  My sword flicked up, the blade opening a gash in her cheek. Blood welled instantly, tears spilling over into the wound. “You are no Warrior,” I said. She closed her eyes, waiting for my sword to find her throat.

  Instead I walked away and resisted the urge to turn around.

  * * * *

  When the palace fell to the rebels, my fight was over. The fire that burned within me had been extinguished with Makena’s tears, and my anger smoldered like a dying blaze. I felt betrayed—I thought I had taught her more than just the moves and motions of a Warrior; I thought she had learned and accepted our beliefs and our way of life. Makena had been more than my neophyte—the years we spent in constant preparation and practice had made us friends. A friendship forged in the steel of our souls, or so I had believed. I had hoped to fight alongside her in the rebellion; I had looked forward to many more battles, many more years together.

  I decided then that I would never mentor another girl into the Warriors’ way again.

  Through the next few years, the new king created a formidable army, comprised of his father’s hired swords and the remaining rebels. He re-established the Order of the Soul, and as a Warrior, I agreed to lend my services in protecting the land’s borders—the farther I was from the palace, the better I could forget what had happened before its gates.

  I tried n
ot to remember the way Makena used to look at me, admiration shining in her eyes, or the way her blood had mixed with her tears when my sword opened her cheek. But I would lie awake nights and hear the sound of our blades, clashing in the heat of battle. And when I closed my eyes, I still saw her, fallen on the battlefield. Fallen by my blade.

  When the king asked the Warriors to return to the palace to celebrate the christening of his son, I didn’t want to go. Anxiety blocked my throat throughout the ride inland, and when the palace gates came in sight, I thought my heart would burst from fear. But the blood had long ago seeped into the land and grass now covered the muddy battlefield of my memories, and the gates were open, wide and inviting. As we passed into the palace grounds, I studied the guards. I didn’t want to admit whose face I sought, but I couldn’t deny my relief when I didn’t see her among the soldiers.

  She was in the ballroom instead, where the christening took place, standing at attention in full uniform behind the king’s throne. Although her hair was hidden by her helm and her face had aged, I recognized her instantly. So I avoided the throne, mingling on the far side of the room, but I looked over once and saw her looking back. A hint of a smile toyed around the edges of her lips. I looked away.

  That night I went to the stables to saddle my horse to meet up with the others a few leagues from the palace. I didn’t want to stay any longer. As I was tightening the girth, I heard someone behind me. Without turning, I sighed. “Hello, Makena.”

  “Hello, Jhyssa.” Her voice was still the same. I looked at her—out of uniform, she didn’t look any older. Her hair was still pulled back from her face, the way she had always worn it. In the lamplight, a long scar darkened her cheek. It ran from just above her mouth up to her ear, an old wound that had healed into a thin red line. When she smiled, the scar curved like a bow. “I saw you at the christening.”

  “Hmm.” I turned back to my horse. “I was there.”

  “You’re not still mad at me, are you?”

  The casual way she asked fanned my anger, dormant all these years. I spun around, our faces inches apart.

  “Mad?” I asked, my voice dangerously low. “At you? Why Makena, whatever for?”

  She didn’t shrink back—I gave her credit for that. “I didn’t want to fight you,” she whispered. “I thought I was doing what you wanted—I thought you wanted me to become a Warrior.”

 
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