Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 6—Training
Xan woke early the following morning, feeling refreshed. He climbed out of bed and walked onto the balcony with a yawn, stretching as he went. The sun felt good on his face and bare chest, and he breathed deeply, pondering what lay ahead. Looking over the lake, he decided a vigorous swim would be just the thing to start the day.
He was about to head inside and then out to the lake when a thought occurred. Stepping back to the railing, he leaned over it, craning his neck for a glimpse of the canyon. He couldn’t see it though, and thinking over the previous night, he realized that from the kitchen door he hadn’t seen the lake. From the lower level though, through the two facing windows, both had been visible, the canyon to the east and the lake to the west.
Making his way out of the loft and downstairs, he pondered the layout of the house—or palace. He grinned. It was an ingenious design, the house set between canyon and lake, only sideways—he hadn’t seen either when he first arrived with Fredrik.
Outside the front door, facing south, the forest spread before him, and he decided to walk the entire perimeter of the house, on his way to the lake. He headed east, and as he rounded the first corner the canyon appeared, spectacular under the rising sun. Once again, as he walked, he marveled at how similar it was to the first canyon.
At the north end of the house, he saw that the lake wrapped around part of the way, and he stopped. On the distant shore, he could see banners waving in the breeze and wondered what that place was. There was a pier nearby with a boat tied down, much like the one he’d sailed through the cavern and fought the third snake on.
Continuing, he waded into the lake. It dropped off quickly, he could see, so he dove, relishing the cool water as he swam underwater for several long, deft strokes. When he surfaced, he began treading water, gathering his bearings. Then he swam in earnest with strong, sure strokes, feeling his muscles loosen and then respond to the call. At last, he slowed, treading water once again, before heading back to shore.
Invigorated, he jogged up the small beach area, slowing to a brisk walk along the stepping stones through the rose garden. He shivered, breathing the fragrant air deeply and looking forward to a set of dry clothes.
Fredrik was waiting for him on the patio and greeted him with a smile. “How was your morning swim?”
“Fantastic,” Xan replied. “What’s over on the far shore?”
“Those are the training grounds, near the Hall of Truth, though you can’t see the Hall from here. We’ll sail over, after breakfast, to avoid another lengthy hike. We walked yesterday to show you the city, more than anything.”
Xan nodded; that made sense.
“I took the liberty of laying out clothes appropriate for today’s activities,” Fredrik said as they entered the house. “Once you’ve dried off and changed, come down to the kitchen.”
Xan did so, and Fredrik nodded approval when he entered the kitchen. Xan joined him at the dining table, seeing hot cakes, bacon, and peaches, along with a pitcher of freshly squeezed juice. As they ate, they talked amiably, getting better acquainted. Then, together they cleared the table, washed the plates and glasses, and then headed out.
On the pier, Fredrik boarded the boat while Xan untied the ropes. As in the cavern, the moment Fredrik took a seat in the back the sails billowed full. Fredrik steered toward the distant banners, and Xan sat down in one of the other seats for the ride.
“I have accepted the honor of being your steward, meaning that I will have responsibility for your orientation, social arrangements, personal concerns, and management of your property, resources, and wealth. Is this acceptable to you?” Fredrik said.
Xan met his eye. He liked the man, trusted him already, and enjoyed his company; he replied, “First, I do not think I need a steward, and second, I would much prefer to have you as my friend.”
“First, you will soon realize that you do need a steward, and second, if I am your steward, we will be better friends,” Fredrik countered.
Xan thought that through. “Fredrik, I am sure you would be a wonderful steward, but I can only accept this arrangement on one condition.”
“What is that?”
“You must also allow me to help and serve you.”
“Then we have a deal. You can start by helping me to become friends with Sheba and teaching me about wilderness survival,” Fredrik said with a smile.
Crossing the lake took about twenty minutes, and on the far shore, they docked the boat at another pier. Already, there were half a dozen boats docked, but the area was quiet and still. As he climbed from the boat, Xan looked back over the lake, seeing the house in miniature from such a distance; already it seemed like home.
He and Fredrik headed up a gravel pathway and on through the gates of an arena. Thoth and Sekhmet were there, along with Sheba who padded over to nudge Xan’s leg in greeting. He stroked her head, nodding greetings to Thoth and Sekhmet.
All of them but Thoth sat in a circle; then he began to speak: “The most important thing you need to learn, Xan, is our overall mission―specifically, who we are, what we do, why we do it, and how we get it done. Solomon and I will begin to cover those things tomorrow. Sekhmet, Queen of War, will oversee your battle training, which will commence now.”
Sekhmet stood to lead Xan and Sheba onto the arena field. Another man was waiting there. He was large with short dark hair and a square face, radiating strength and confidence.
Sekhmet spoke, her voice ringing through the air: “I introduce you to Jartan, our Master of Weapons and Tactics, who will conduct most of your training. Lives will depend on how well you follow his instructions. Both you and Sheba have the potential to be great warriors, but you must be trained in the art of war.”
Jartan inclined his head. “I am honored to be your teacher. Let’s get started.”
He handed Xan a light wooden staff and instructed Sheba not to extend her claws or bite. Then he motioned to a group of five men who ran onto the field carrying wooden swords. One of them was wearing a red shirt and another a blue one.
Jartan explained that if any of them were struck by any weapon twice they were to fall to the ground and stay down until told otherwise. He also told them that if Sheba slapped them with a paw or bumped them with her head it counted the same as a weapon strike.
Xan’s job was to protect the man in the red shirt who would also be trying to protect himself. The man in blue was also to help protect the man in red.
Sheba’s job was to protect Xan and the man in red. The other three men were to try to land blows on the man in red. The fight was to continue until the man in red received two blows and fell down or all the attackers were down.
“Are there any questions?” Jartan asked.
Xan spoke up. “I am proficient with knife, ax, and spear but have little experience with a staff. Are you sure you want me to use this weapon?”
“For reasons that will be explained later, the staff will become your primary weapon. We understand that the staff is new to you; thus we do not expect you to excel with it until properly trained. Consider this your first lesson on fighting with a staff.”
Xan bowed his head. “Yes, certainly; I am ready to learn.”
Jartan positioned everyone. Then he whistled, and the mock battle began.
Xan took a position to the right of the man in red. The man in blue took a position to the left. Sheba positioned herself behind. The three attackers all advanced from the front trying to converge on Red.
Xan engaged the one on the right, while Blue engaged the one on the left and Red took on the man straight ahead. Sheba stayed in the back.
Because of the staff’s long reach, Xan quickly landed a blow to the shoulder and the leg of his man, putting him down. He then pivoted to the left and landed a blow on the man attacking Red, which was followed by a second blow from Red. Then Red and Blue easily defeated the only remaining attacker on the left, and the battle was over.
Jartan commended every fighter and told the attackers and the defenders to regroup, plan and be ready for the next round in a few minutes. When he whistled again, the three attackers started to advance in front and then quickly ran to the back.
Sheba batted the first man two times so quickly he hadn’t managed even to raise his sword. Xan whacked the one on his side with the staff, as Sheba batted away the next man’s sword and butted him to the ground where she instantly batted him again. Before Xan could land a second blow on his man Sheba did.
Jartan added a fourth attacker to the third round but the defenders easily won again. A fifth attacker was added for the fourth round, and although the attackers landed more blows, in the end, they were defeated. A sixth attacker and second blue defender were added for the fifth round.
In that round, the defenders lost one Blue and Red received one blow. A seventh attacker was added for the sixth round. The defenders lost both Blues and Red, while Xan and Sheba each received one blow. In the seventh round, with eight attackers, Red, Xan, and both Blues went down.
Sheba roared in fury, ears flattened against her head as she paced before the men. Jartan wisely ended the mock battles before her claws came out. The attackers and defenders complimented each other and shook hands; then the attackers left the field.
Jartan called for an after-action review, smiling as he said, “Xan and Sheba, you both performed wonderfully. Sheba was particularly impressive since she is a natural-born fighter with built-in weapons and far more speed than any here.”
Sekhmet sniffed, standing at his side, but she didn’t disagree.
Jartan gave her a cursory glance. “We all see where this going right?”
Xan answered with a note of discouragement, “Yes: as the number of attackers increases, we will eventually be overwhelmed and defeated. How can we triumph in battle, if our enemies outnumber us?”
“It is true that you can be defeated by an overwhelming force, but soon your team will be able to defeat hundreds of foes.”
“How is that possible?” Xan shook his head skeptically.
Jartan folded his arms. “First, Sheba will need to work on containing her fury during practice so we don’t run out of attackers.”
The cat blinked twice, and he suppressed a chuckle. “Second, you will begin individual training with the staff, developing enough skill to defeat many attackers on your own. Third, we will teach you how to recruit and train additional defenders to fight alongside you, thus evening the odds.”
“Fourth,” Sekhmet interjected, “I, Queen of War, have yet to bestow my gifts. Those will tip the scale in your favor, as you will see.”
Xan’s eyes widened and he looked over. Sekhmet’s lips curled in a ruthless smile and he dropped his gaze. Good that she was fighting with him, training him, and on his side in all of this. He looked over at Jartan, thinking much the same thing.
© Copyright 2017-2022 Gene Van Shaar