Chapter 7: A Helpful Zombie… sort of
As the days went by, we passed from history (though we continually reinforced lessons) into combat training. First, I taught Valdrel the use of his dagger. Before, he had used instinct well but had no real grasp on technique or strategy. I gave him that.
The next phase was swordsmanship. He had always been an exceptional swordsman, and after twenty minutes of random swinging he was better than I had been after five years. I smiled, knowing that the memories were coming back.
Over the next few months I taught him swordsmanship, but when returning memory and my teaching caused him to surpass me in skill, Matt took over training. After only two months of training he was better than me and near Matt’s level, simply because of memory.
And then, on the fourth day of the tenth month, a knock sounded at the door.
Benny and Eric were there already, while I instructed Matt to wait with Valdrel. I opened the door cautiously, and to my surprise I saw one who I believed to be dead. “Sandy!” I cried out, running forward to embrace her, but then stopping. What if it was a trap?
She smiled and walked through the door, something only one who had been invited by me could do. Because I stopped before leaving the house, I knew I didn’t invite her just now and so she must be real. We embraced, and everyone was happy.
That night around the fire, she told us the story of her escape, that I, being a dutiful historian, recorded.
“We held for almost two hours, thanks to you, Benny, and to the twins’ skill. And, of course, the fact that it took them an hour to find me. It was Ginnar himself who finally killed them. They forced me to watch after capturing me. The twins, weakened as they were, didn’t stand a chance.
“I was taken to the same warehouse where they kept Valdrel. A week later they moved me through the underground tunnels to where they would have moved Valdrel. It was an enormous prison. My cell was six by six feet square, inside a seven by seven, inside an eight by eight, and so on for twenty-four layers. Still, they could not take my blade away, so eventually I was able to escape. They did not want to risk me escaping and so never checked the doors, but that proved to be their undoing, because they didn’t know some had been unlocked.
“Had they watched me more closely I never would have done it, but with so few guards I slipped out. On my way out I grabbed some battle plans, but I think they were a ruse. They said they were going to starve us out, but they must know how well-stocked this place is. I think they mean to attack. I also burned the plans in case they carried enchantments.”
We were all stunned, both by her escape and her revelation of possibly false plans. I did see her logic, though it sounded too suspicious. Why write down plans to starve a base out? Especially if they weren’t detailed?
“I agree. We must prepare for battle. Benny, every day put half your energy into your staff, but rest once a week. Do this six out of seven days. Matt, do half the usual training you have been doing every day with Valdrel so you can rest. Eric, speak with him daily about rage. Help him become familiar. Sandy, I know you have just returned, but teach Valdrel archery basics. He should know how to shoot.
“Oh, and Benny—place sensory wards around the house, and check and restore them daily before your energy transfer. Any questions?”
There were none.
Valdrel walked out of his room to see what was going on. He saw Sandy, stared for a few seconds, turned, and ran back to his room. I laughed and followed.
When I asked why he had left so hastily (though I knew the answer), he replied, “She’s so beautiful.” I told him to focus on training, but smiled, imagining Sandy as queen.
For the next two months or so, Valdrel trained constantly. His lessons in swordsmanship went well. In archery, however, he was often too distracted to shoot well. He was learning something, though, enough that I couldn’t call it a waste of time and redistribute that time. His lessons with Eric in rage went ok, but only in theory. Valdrel couldn‘t seem to explode with anger as Eric did. I found it amusing that he tried, for I knew it would never work. Valdrel’s family didn’t explode. They controlled their rage, not the other way around.
“Valdrel,” I told him one day. “I want you to discontinue your lessons with Eric. They won’t help. Your family has a gift similar to those of Berserkers, only the exact opposite.”
“What do you mean?” he asked confusedly.
“You have a gift known to some as cold fury. Like Berserker rage, it happens only when you are angry. However, instead of dulling your senses and making you impervious to pain and fear, it heightens them. It allows you to think more clearly and more precisely. It is in every sense a true gift.
From then on, I taught Valdrel as best I could to harness this rage, rather than having him learn from Eric.
On the sixth of December, I made a very important announcement. “In two weeks time we will leave in order to return home. We must reach the gateway by the twenty-first or we will be locked here for another year. Be ready, all of you, and thank Odin we haven’t been attacked.
We prepared grimly, knowing that some of us could soon be dead. We only wondered who the unlucky ones would be.