“Is that all?” Gerald said as he looked at the two old men standing in his study.
Arthur nodded. “That is all about the envoys, my lord. But there is another matter.”
Gerald had just received affirmation from Arthur and Uncle Rudolf that the envoys had come with the good intentions they appeared to hold. Arthur had mentioned that the negotiations were going well, while Uncle Rudolf had assured him that none of the envoys’ members had tried to sneak anywhere they shouldn’t. “What is this other matter?”
“Kale, the bowyer, my lord,” Arthur said. “He has achieved something, it seems, and he wants to see your lordship.”
“Ahh, him,” Gerald nodded, remembering the time he’d allowed 500 gold coins to be prepared for the use by the young bowyer. The young man wasn’t only a bowyer, but also an excellent woodworker in all aspects. He’d promised Gerald that he’d achieve something with the gold he’d been given. “I’ll see him after the envoys leave, I suppose.”
“Yes, my lord,” Arthur said. “There is nothing else then.”
Gerald hummed. Then he moved his eyes to Uncle Rudolf. “Did you speak to Robard?”
“For the third time?” Uncle Rudolf chortled. “Yes, I did. Yet he is too stubborn. I doubt anyone could persuade him.”
“If he won’t be persuaded, then let him know that he does not need to be,” Gerald said, his eyes sharpening. “It will happen whether he approves of it or not.”
Uncle Rudolf nodded with a wry smile.
“That is all,” Gerald nodded to the two of them to leave. “Frederick is likely waiting outside. Tell him to step in if you see him.” He threw Uncle Rudolf an irritated but light-hearted glance.
The old steward chuckled but seemed a bit embarrassed as he did so.
The two old men soon left, and then a young lad entered the study
“Frederick,” Gerald said.
“My lord,” Frederick bowed his head. He seemed to be getting used to his role in the game they were playing to disguise his presence in the Viscounty. The young lad glanced from side to side at the bookcases in the study. Then he gazed at Gerald with apparent excitement. “These are your books, my lord?”
“The ones on your right are mine. The ones on your left were my father’s.”
Frederick grinned as he stepped closer to the bookcase on his left. “Oh, ‘History of Ancient Manuals’. This is a rare one.” He caressed one of the late Viscount’s books. He turned around and headed towards the bookcase that carried Gerald’s books. He gazed at its shelves for a moment, then he widened his eyes and pulled a book out halfway. “‘Origins of Asura’. I’ve only heard of this book. I’ve never seen anyone in possession of it. Can I borro—”
“My lord, I will take very good care of any book you give me. If you were only to lend me one of—”
“No,” Gerald stared at the young lad as he repeated his words with a mild but decisive tone.
Frederick nodded reluctantly as he pushed the book back in place. He moved to stand in front of Gerald’s table. “You’ve summoned me, my lord.”
“I have,” Gerald said. “I used to have an attendant, but he was . . . stolen.” A begrudging expression appeared on his face. Uncle Rudolf had told him that he’d be training Harrid, and that the boy would have no time to attend to him anymore. He’d chosen the boy in the first place because he trusted his loyalty. He’d saved him and Yanna from the streets, and they were unlikely to divulge his secrets. Now his only choice for a young attendant would be Frederick, since any harm that came upon him would also come upon Frederick and Lucas. The son of the betrayed Duke would have tight lips for his own good. And he also seemed honest enough from what Gerald had seen from him. He’d been ready to sacrifice himself for his men before. “Since you’re already my squire, it would do no harm for you to attend to me as well.”
Frederick frowned in confusion for a moment, then he nodded solemnly. “Of course, my lord. As you command.”
“Very well,” Gerald said, waving him out. “Lady Elrite should be arriving soon. When she does, allow her in.”
“Yes, my lord,” Frederick bowed his head and stepped outside.
Gerald sighed in exasperation. He’d have to receive Reya again and go through another day of pleasantries. He’d decided to ignore the disguised proposal from the Baronies. He didn’t see any need to give an immediate response. He could always accept it later, after the envoys have left. The Baronies would never say no to a new ally, which meant that he would lose nothing by ignoring them for now.
“That is enough,” Master Rudolf said, stopping Harrid’s continuous low thrusts with the training sword.
Harrid halted and straightened himself, waiting for the next command.
The old steward looked at him and narrowed his eyes. “Have you ever heard of attributes?”
“Sir Robard mentioned it once,” Harrid said, remembering the vague knowledge he’d garnered from that day, when he’d heard Sir Robard discuss it with Master Arthur. All he knew was that attribute manuals were rare and priceless. Even knights like Sir Robard seldom had a chance to read one.
Master Rudolf nodded. “Aside from Warrior manuals, there are attribute manuals. Such manuals always follow a certain attribute; like fire, water, lightning, and others.”
Harrid’s face brightened. Perhaps Master Rudolf would explain to him everything he needed to know about attributes.
“You are not a Warrior yet, but you can still learn an attribute while training to become one.” Master Rudolf began walking towards a wall that bordered the training grounds. The wall was a man’s height, and it shaded part of the grounds against the sun. The old steward glanced at Harrid.
Without dawdling, Harrid followed, until they were both a few steps away from the wall. There was an unspeakable excitement riling within him now. Did Master Rudolf’s words mean that he would be taught an attribute?
“My family’s attribute is darkness,” the old steward said, casting a regretful gaze at the ground. It took only a moment for him to withdraw it and regain his bearing though. He looked at Harrid. “Its foundation is simple enough for you to learn.”
Harrid found himself grinning from ear to ear as he heard the words. It wasn’t an illusion in the end. He would indeed be taught an attribute.
“How strong will an attribute make me, Master Rudolf?”
“They won’t make you strong,” the old steward shook his head. “Attributes are unique fighting styles that were made hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Each attribute manual is named after the element it most represents. A manual that teaches an aggressive way of combat will be a fire attribute. A manual that teaches a powerful defense will be an earth attribute.”
Harrid’s hopes were brought down by the words. He sighed without sound. He had imagined attributes to be something much more than this. He had hoped they would allow him to confront enemies that were larger than him.
Seemingly sensing the disappointment reeking off him, Master Rudolf gave him a cold stare. “A Warrior without an attribute would hardly have a chance against one with an attribute. Light, wind, and darkness. These are the most mysterious attributes. They are rare and difficult to learn, but one can still learn them nonetheless.”
“Will I learn the darkness attribute today?” Harrid regained some of his excitement, peering intently at Master Rudolf and forsaking all patience. Curiosity for the mysterious attribute attracted his senses once more.
“The simplest part of it,” came the answer.
Harrid grinned again and looked at the old steward, awaiting his guidance.
“The most important part of my family’s manual is sight patterns. They are the origin, and they’re the beyond,” Master Rudolf explained. “One cannot learn the manual without learning them, and one cannot excel in the darkness without excelling in them. There are many things to be learned between, but the beginning and the end are the sight patterns.”
“What are sight patterns?”
Master Rudolf smiled. Then he shifted his eyes, fixing them on a fly that flew circles under the sun of day. He stepped towards it and coerced it with his hands, forcing it to fly closer to the wall. “Keep your eyes on the fly. Don’t lost sight of it.”
Harrid complied and fixed his eyes on the fly chased by the old steward’s hands. Soon, it approached the shade cast by the wall then . . . it disappeared? He focused his eyes and widened them in an attempt to find the fly he’d lost, but it was to no avail. He stepped closer to the shade and tried to find it again, but it only made him seem like a fool attempting to see the wind. He looked at Master Rudolf apologetically, trying to muster a smile but failing to procure anything with more than one corner of his mouth.
“You lost sight of it,” Master Rudolf said, gazing down at him.
Harrid nodded silently.
“That was to be expected,” Master Rudolf said. “This is the simplest form of a sight pattern. A man’s eyes can’t see both light and darkness at the same time. With training, you can improve such a simple pattern for your eyes. But most importantly, you have to learn how to use it to your advantage.” He pointed at the border between shade and light. “Watch, it’s coming out.”
Harrid looked where Master Rudolf pointed and saw the fly come out of the shade and into the light again. He followed it with his eyes away from the wall, determined to not lose it again.
“You don’t need to fix your eyes on it anymore,” Master Rudolf’s voice came from behind him. “You need to fix your eyes on me.”
Harrid turned around to nothing. There was no Master Rudolf, at least not in the light.
“You would need at least a moment or two to notice me in the darkness,” Master Rudolf said as he stepped out of the shade and into the light. It was as if he’d been born from nothing as he stepped out of the dark, right in front of Harrid. “And that would be all I need to end your life without resistance.”