Children of the Night
Recollections of Sulayn
Rova in Caliphas, 4707
Perched on the stony outcropping of an ancient church Sulayn sat cross legged two dozen feet above an enclosed courtyard watching as a group of gentlemen stretched and pantomimed combat. Their instructor prattled on with just the right mix of practical advice and vague assertions to sound wise. “Pretend to be weak, that your opponent may grow arrogant”.
Grunting and scraping on stone preceded two heads poking over the edge of the rooftop near Sulayn. Startled, the two teenagers eyed him suspiciously before scrambling over to beg for one of the fruits he was paring. Below them the men shifted into a new pose with varying degrees of grace as their leader offered “Therefore just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions”.
The boy thought he was being sneaky but the girl was the better of the two. His attention was on his gold purse when he felt a gentle tug as his silver pommeled dagger slid free of its sheath. Sulayn had spent enough time in cities much more desperate than this to be lax around street urchins. He backhanded the girl loosening her grip as more words floated up to them from the courtyard below. “Knowing your enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defense”. A few moments and another pear later the three were talking as if nothing had happened. With a smile the two kids slid off the backside of the roof and left him.
Sulayn watched as the exercises below shifted from over extended stretches to awkwardly slow dance movements. He chuckled to himself at the gentlemen playing at fighting stances. The instructor raised his lazy eyes meeting Sulayn’s and waved an invitation to join them. “Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy and is not moved by him”.
The terms set were simple and the rule just one. First contact earned a gold crown. Sulayn and the instructor each took a quarterstaff from a rack on the garden wall and faced off. The two tested each other with a series of strikes, feints and parries, both nodding in acknowledgment at the quickness of the other. Not missing the chance to use this intruder as an object lesson the instructor continued his monologue “Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one, the opposite state should be always present to your mind”. Twisting in a dodge Sulayn narrowly avoided a sharp uppercut to his jaw. He used the tumbling fall to recover into a spin and kicked dirt up towards his opponent’s face. The instructor stepped back raising a sleeve to ward it off and in the process lost direct sight of Sulayn for just a moment. “As in war the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak” From the wall the two teenagers hopped down on que and rushed the older man. Sulayn hesitated but a moment to join the assault with the two simultaneously. “Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected”. Like lightning the instructor spun his weapon catching the girl on the arm and taking the legs from the boy before pulling the staff in front of him in a rigid stance. Unable to adjust his charge in time Sulyan drove forward into the staff’s end, staggered and crumpled gasping for breath. “The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself”. His pupils broke into applause but the instructor silenced them with a hand.
When he helped him up the instructor’s face was unreadable. “Continue to fight like that and your opponents won’t kill you; you will kill you. You’ve been watching us for a week. What is it you want here?”
Sulayn wheezes “I… want to… <cough, cough> learn”.