Casidhe found little to hold his interest in South Reach. His feelings about the Templars kept him from looking for work in Lothering, until he overheard a group of men talking about Black Torin and took to the road without a backward glance…
Three months ago
Casidhe knew he had less than two minutes to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his brow before his next lesson began. He didn’t mind; he needed the practice, and he felt like he was getting through to some of these people. Besides, more clients meant more money…
His next client turned out to be a human woman, close to his age and height, with a wave of shining red hair. She was dressed to move, and wore her own sword. She was also beautiful in his eyes, but he pushed that aside; business was business. “Are you Casidhe?” she asked.
Casidhe nearly panicked. Did Black Torin send her? No, don’t be stupid. “Indeed I am,” he replied, with what he hoped was his most dazzling smile. “Casidhe Fionnlagh, trainer of duelists in the Orlesian fashion.”
“Good. I’d like a lesson, please. Will you teach a woman?”
He almost seemed offended by the question. “I’ll teach anyone with coin and the will to learn.”
She reached for her coin purse, but Casidhe waved his hand. “You can pay me after the lesson, Ms…?”
“Honored to meet you, Miss Corwin. I fear the weather’s turning, though; shall we head into the gymnasium?”
She nodded and followed him inside. Full of warm summer air, it wasn’t much of a gym, really – Casidhe had been in nicer barns – but it was convenient to the field, and not too crowded. She seemed put off by his charm, so he decided to drop it. “Do you have any former martial training?” he asked her once they’d found a spot.
“Sort of. My father taught me a little, when he was around. I’m not very strong; is that a problem?”
Was her father dead, too? “Not really. Most foes you’ll face will be stronger than you anyway; I have the same problem. But dueling is about making the most of what you’ve got. You’re right-handed; that’s good. May I see your sword, please?”
Miss Corwin drew it and handed it to him. “Just as I thought. This sword’s much too heavy for you. Truth be told, it’s too heavy for me.”
“Sorry,” she said, annoyed. “It’s all I can afford.”
“I meant no offense, miss. Please, use mine for now.” The blade went from his scabbard to her hand before she could object. Her attention focused on the sword’s beauty before she realized how much more natural it felt in her hand. “Now,” Casidhe said, “show me your fighting stance.”
It took her a moment, and Casidhe knew right away that they had a lot of work to do. “Here, like me.” He snapped to attention automatically. “Your right foot should point at me, and the sword’s too close to your face…”
He spent most of the session addressing her bad habits while trying to manage her temper. She found the work frustrating, and was jealous of how naturally it came to him. She refused to quit, though, and by the time another client demanded his turn, Casidhe was sure that Miss Corwin had learned something – and she thanked him for his time as she paid.
“Come back next week,” he told her, “and I’ll teach you to parry, Miss Corwin.”
“You’ll teach me tomorrow, Mr. Fionnlagh,” she said with a smile, handing his sword back to him, leaving the gym as the rain began to fall.
- – - – -
Miss Corwin took three more lessons that week, and was reasonably good at defending herself by the end. But every lesson had been cut short by new clients.
“Come by at noon,” Casidhe told her as he took her coins. “Most everyone’s taking lunch then. I’ll have more time for you, Miss Corwin.”
“Call me Teresa.”
“As you like it, Teresa.” To Casidhe, saying the name was like a mouthful of glittering jewels.
- – - – -
Two weeks after the lessons began, Teresa asked Casidhe, “My father’s asked me to invite you to our home for dinner tonight.”
“I would love to,” he answered, unable to think of anything he would rather do.
Once the arrangements were made, Casidhe stopped giving lessons that day. He went to the Blue Bottle, the inn where he was bouncing in exchange for room and board. He bathed and shaved, helped himself to a good bottle of wine, and made his way across town to the tenement.
A squat, broad-shouldered man in his fifties answered the door, his ruddy face breaking into a wide grin. “At last!” he said, clapping Casidhe on the shoulder as he passed into the home. “I’m Jaedar Corwin. Teresa had to step out for a moment; please, come in and make yourself at home.” He took the wine bottle from Casidhe and squinted at the label as he closed the door.
It only took a moment for Casidhe to take in the small room. Food covered a table, ringed by four chairs; a large, overstuffed couch showed signs of constant occupation. He noticed a tiny shrine in one corner, adjacent to a display of weapons and armor. Between a wash basin and a chest of drawers, an open doorway led off to another room – probably the only other room. It didn’t add up to much, but Casidhe felt more at home here than he ever had in the MacDaer estate.
Jaedar limped across the room and settled in the couch before asking, “Are you any relation to Brandeouf Fionnlagh?”
How does this man know that name? Casidhe wondered as he took a seat at the table. “Yes, sir. He was my father. Did you know him?”
“Only by reputation. I was a fighting man in my youth, you see. I heard he once slew four men in ten seconds without even breaking a sweat.”
“He never told me any stories, but the ones I heard from other people were a lot like that, yeah.”
They talked for a few minutes until Teresa came through the front door, a loaf of bread in her hands. She waved to Casidhe, then stopped to kiss her father’s cheek. As the Corwins chatted, Casidhe examined the breastplate near the shrine. The craftsmanship was extraordinary – and the markings were Templar.
What had Casidhe gotten himself into?
Suddenly Teresa’s hand was on his shoulder. “Thank you for coming. Sorry I was out, but our bread was moldy and – are you all right?”
“Are you a Templar, sir?” he asked Jaedar.
“I was. Once I hurt my leg I wasn’t much use to them any more.”
Teresa sat next to Casidhe at the table.”Is there a problem?” Her eyes were a shade of blue that Casidhe had never seen before.
These are good people, Casidhe. They’re not out to get you. Who invites someone into their home to arrest them? For the Maker’s sake, say something! “The Templars in Denerim gave my family a hard time once.”
“That sort of thing’s not limited to Denerim, I’m sorry to say.” Jaedar worked the wine bottle open as he spoke. “When I was among them, it was just the cost of doing business. Now that I’m out, I see things… differently.”
“I’m relieved to hear you say that, sir.”
“Me, I’ll be relieved once we’ve all had some of this wine.”
- – - – -
“Seems odd,” Jaedar said after Casidhe was gone, “that someone who hates the Templars came to Lothering.”
“You think he hates the Templars?” Teresa asked.
“More than he was lettin’ on.” The way her father busied himself with his wash basin full of dishes told Teresa that he had nothing more to say about that.
“So what do you think of him?” she eventually said.
He looked up at her. “Rough around the edges. Not as sure of himself as he wants you to think. And he’s running from something, but I’m not sure what.”
“You know, I didn’t like him at first – he was so chummy, like he was just another smooth-talking pretty boy.”
“Then you realized there was more to him than that.”
“Sure, but I didn’t like that either. He’s so much better than me with a blade, and he makes it look so damned easy.”
“He’s got a lifetime of training from a father who didn’t love him very much. You’ve got two weeks with him, and all the terrible stuff I’ve tried to show you.”
“He’s helped me so much already… if I could afford to hire him all for myself, I would.”
“You might not have to.” He placed the last dish to dry, and looked up to see his daughter staring at him. “What, you didn’t notice? That boy is crazy about you.” When Teresa laughed and shook her head, he added “You’re beautiful, Teresa, and I’m not just saying that because I’m your father.”
“You really think he fancies me?”
“I do. You know there’s only one way to be sure..”