The winter was harsh, and made practice difficult at best, but I persisted in doing every move 100 times. There were days when I had to clear an area of snow before I could practice. I would often have piles of snow around me which created an eerie silence that would penetrate my ears. The left side was far more difficult than the right. I had to go very slow at first, but after a few weeks, something clicked and the movements began to flow. I started enjoying doing the left side more than the right.
One morning while practicing, I began to have a strange feeling. It was an uneasy feeling. It was a small tickle at the back of my head. I finished going through the movements and quickly turned around. I saw a shadowy figure standing near a tree at the edge of the clearing I was in. It wasn’t startled by my quick turn, and just stood by that tree. I squinted to try and make out any detail of who that shadowy figure was. I could tell that the hair was long and it was a small slim body. I knew who it was.
“Arial, what are you doing all the way out here?”
“I’ve come to see where you go every morning.”
“Why? You know that I’ve been training to be a Knight.”
“Yes, I know all that, but I’ve never seen what your training is. I was curious.”
Arial began walking out from under the tree and into the clearing. She was only wearing summer type of clothing. A thin tunic and canvas britches.
“You’re going to catch your death in clothes like that. It is far to cold out here for a summer tunic and britches.”
She walked faster towards me, looking from side to side. She looked as though she was checking to see if anyone was spying on us.
“Remember that scroll I showed you? The one about the aether?” I nodded. “I learned something it could do. It can keep me warm. I could be as naked as a goat and I wouldn’t feel a sting of cold.”
“What, that’s unbelievable.” I reached out and grabbed her arm, and it was warm to the touch. “How, how does it work?”
“It’s all about the meditation, if you do it right, you can call upon the aether and tell it to keep you warm. You have to focus properly to do it though. It took me nearly a week before I got even close.”
“How early did you wake up to do that and then walk all the way out here?”
“It doesn’t take me that long now fool. I’ve practiced for months, like you have with that sword of yours. Not much of a sword by the way.”
“It’s only a practice sword. Do you want to hold it?” I presented the sword to her, and she gingerly took it from me. As soon as I let go, the weight took it from her hand and to the ground. “I’m sorry, I forgot how heavy that bloody thing is.” When I reached to pick it up and hand it to her again, she told me to stop. She closed her eyes and had this serene look on her face. It was so peaceful. She opened her eyes and for a brief second I saw a flicker of light in them, then she reached down and picked up the sword as if it were a feather. “How did you do that?”
“It’s the aether, I learned that I can do all sorts of things with it. To answer your earlier question, that is how long it took me this morning to heat my body up. I’d say I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
“I’d say the same. I saw something in your eyes when you opened them, what was that.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea of what you are talking about.”
“It was a small flicker of light.”
“I’m sure it was just the sun shining off my eyes when they opened. The scroll doesn’t say anything about flickering light in ones eyes. How do you swing this hideous thing around?”
“I’ve been practicing as well. It gets easier the more you do it. It felt heavy in my hands at first, and now it feels like nothing more than a stick to me.”
Arial handed the sword back to me. It didn’t feel any different to me. “When you used the aether, did you do something to the sword or to yourself?”
“I did it to myself, I asked the aether to give me strength.”
“What does it feel like?”
“It just feels like energy flowing into my body, and then it goes to where I want it to.”
“Where does it come from?”
“It doesn’t come from anywhere, it’s just there, you can’t see it, but it’s there. I can teach you if you want.”
“Aye, I have my hands full with this, I don’t think I would have the time to sit still and do that.”
“It would help you in your training. You could use it to move faster. From what I saw that would be very helpful for you.”
“Ha ha. That would be helpful, but again, I don’t have the time to sit and learn that, I have to practice what I’m doing already. I’m not slow, you should have seen me when I started.”
“You mean you were slower? Now that’s unbelievable. Any slower and you would be a worm inching your way across the trail.”
“Why did you come to watch me again? Was it to make fun of me?”
“I’m only jesting Pitre. You are too serious sometimes. If you want the truth, I wanted to see what keeps you in these woods for so long. Also, you seem to be very good at what you are doing.”
Arial’s head dropped and she looked at her feet as she said this last part. I’d never seen her do that before, and she’d never said anything that nice to me either.
“I think your aether is wearing off. The cold is getting to you, you actually said something nice to me for a change.”
“You stupid prat, I’ll make sure to never do that again.” She began to stomp off into the woods.
“Wait! Arial! You said yourself that I was alway too serious. I guess I need to work on being funny.”
“Indeed you do. You also need to learn how to be gracious and accept praise.” Her face was stern.
‘You’re right, and thank you for your kind words. I have a few more rounds of practice, do you want to stay and watch? It would be much better here in the clearing than over by that old tree.” Arial nodded and took a seat on the cold hard ground. I went through the rest of my routine and when I was finally done, Arial clapped her hands together, so I took a bow to show how gracious I could be.
“You really are very good at that.”
“Thank you. I’ve been practicing these same moves for months now. My father said I had to be perfect with both sides before he would teach me any more moves.”
“That seems drastic. Wouldn’t it be better to learn all the moves and practice them as a whole?”
“I don’t know. I never thought to ask him that.”
“Pitre, I know you have a brain in that thick head of yours, you should really try to use it once in a a while.”
“There’s the Arial I know. Come on, I’l get you back to the village. It’s easy to get lost out in these woods.” I offered my hand to her to help her up. She just stared at it. I shook it to insist that she give me her hand and she finally did. I went back to get my trees, and then led her back to the village.
“You know Pitre, I really can teach you how to use the aether.”
“I’ll think about it, but I really don’t know when I would have the time to practice sitting.”
“You don’t have to practice sitting, you saw me do it while I was standing right in front of you.”
“I have to do it standing? That’s even worse than sitting. You said it took you a week the first time.”
“I didn’t do it all in one sitting. You really are a dunderhead some times. Maybe I was wrong about you having that brain.”
“See, no brain, so how could I even make contact with the aether?”
“I can teach you.” She was firm with her voice and the persistence was compelling enough to convince me to try it.
“Ok, I’ll try, but I won’t make any promises about when I will do it.”
“Fair enough. You let me know when you are ready.”
I nodded in agreement.
The village was beginning to poke through the trees. It was time to part ways. I had to head to the forge to chop the wood, and then help my father with making horse shoes. He started allowing me to help after he showed me the secret room in the cave. There was a lesson in that as well. I had to learn how to hammer the hot iron with both hands as well. I couldn’t see any reason for that, but he was the blacksmith.
“Do you come out to the woods every day Pitre?”
“Yes, I rise before the sun and head out in the dark every morning. Why do you ask?”
“I might just come out and watch you from time to time. It’s good to know that you will be there every day. I won’t show up one day and you not be there that way. Goodbye Pitre.”
I waved goodbye and made my way up the mountain.
I still run the last part of that conversation though my head. I just didn’t understand what that was leading to, and if I had, I might have done things a bit differently.
Follow the link below for Chapter 8.