Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Four)

So, if you ever were wondering about how Armed become, you know, all Armed and stuff.

(And I know you were.)

You'll really like this one!

Part four of Char's short about Camden and Elric Briarseal is pretty exciting all around.  Expect at least one more part this coming Wednesday - next Saturday we start posting novel 2 in The Peacock King Trilogy: The Peacock King in Court!  Once that's live, Char might change her update schedule on The Last of the Dhealg'seala a bit.

Anyway, go on and read.


I stamped my foot against the ground, sensing the composition, as I looked at the structure of the courtyard around me.

No, this was no courtyard.  This was a training arena.

Everything was designed to be portable, from the lush greenery in tasteful containers to the benches and the stones that composed the walkways.  Of course it would be preferable to master certain weaponry with the objects in place, but should the situation call for it, the grounds could be completely cleared.  The aisles surrounding the courtyard were faced by simple columns, but backed by thick, windowless stone walls.  The doors were stout, no-nonsense affairs as well, built to withstand direct assaults.

My right hand twitched, a motion that didn't go unnoticed by the Judge.

"A little morning exercise before the tour, then?"

I started to look at him in question, but instinct took hold and I knelt instead, drawing my dagger from my boot and parrying the Judge's attack before I consciously realized he had moved. 

"Well done," he said, standing back and flicking the point of his sword to the side.  

I laughed, flipping my dagger and resheathing it as I stood.  "I am not a match for you, sire."  

"No," he said, tipping the point of his sword into its sheath and sliding it home in one smooth motion.  "However, you could very well be in a very short time."  He glanced to one side of the practice arena and smiled.  "I hope you can forgive my presumption," he said, holding one arm out to the side, "but I wanted to include her in today's activities."

I looked in the direction he was was watching.  A young girl was approaching, looking from me to  the Judge with a puzzled expression.  She stopped several feet away, her green eyes studying me as carefully as any soldier whose inspection I had been subject to, before turning to the Judge with her arms crossed.

Of course she didn't speak Rhivendish.

I took that moment to inspect her in turn.  She was young, no more than twelve by my estimation, and short for that age.  She had begun to fill out as a woman, but was still more limb than length.  Despite her youth, she had the careful foot-forward stance of a trained warrior, and her hands had the beginnings of the calluses that spoke of a familiarity with weaponry beyond mere hobbyist.  Her dark brown hair was pulled back and twisted into a braid which was wrapped around and pinned in a loop.  A sword was strapped across her back, and a smaller knife at her waist.  

She turned and pinned me with those eyes again, and my hand reflexively twitched for my sword.  She watched me a moment longer, then nodded and smiled.

"Jhe Katherine Cruxradia," she said, bowing gracefully.

I returned the bow, careful to accord her slightly higher rank.  "Camdhegn, Laigr Dhealg'seala."

Again, she gave me a measuring look-over, then performed a different sort of bow, one that set my blood singing in recognition.  I returned the bow, and then stood guard.

She came at me quickly, her knife seeming to leap out of its sheath, slipping easily past my guard and drawing first blood in one smooth twirl.  I twisted away and adjusted my stance, careful to keep my eyes fixed on her.  She was fast.  She pivoted on one heel, looking for all the world like a Rhivendish dancer, and flew at me again.  I was better prepared this time and moved with her, my hands ghosting her wrist long enough to brush my fingers against the hilt of her knife.  She twisted away once more, the knife moving out of my reach, and I heard the metallic hiss of her sword being drawn.  I hit my knees and stilled as I felt the edge of the blade against my neck.

"I yield," I said, spreading my fingers wide in case she didn't grasp the meaning of my words.  

The blade withdrew, and her small hand appeared in front of my face.  I grasped it, rising to my feet, and she bowed low over my hand and said something in Radian.

"She thanks you, and says that you're damned lucky you hit your knees when you did, or you would have died," the Judge said, barely-contained laughter in his voice.  

"Would I now?"  I glanced at her, returning the bow with my eyes carefully keeping her in view.  

The Judge chuckled.  "Gevurah doesn't take well to being handled, and Gedulah is very protective of her sister."

I stared at him, certain that the tall warrior was pulling one over me.  His smile widened. 

"Arms don't react well to being handled by any save their Armed."

I looked at the short child watching us with intense interest.  "She's one of the Armed?"

"Armed, and a Poet, as well as one of my officers."

My respect for the child rose, high as it already was.  "How old is she?  I thought none save the Clan would serve the sword at such a young age."

The Judge's eyes twinkled.  "Fourteen, but don't let her age fool you.  She has the mind of a grown woman already, and takes some offense to being in such a young body."

I blinked, then decided I had simply misunderstood him.

Katherine cleared her throat, and I looked her way even as I reminded myself I wouldn't understand a word she said.  "Camden," she said slowly, and it took me a moment to recognize it as my name, "when..."  She looked at the Judge, her eyebrows scrunching together in irritation.  I startled inside as I realized I could almost hear the edges of their silent conversation, and then she was looking at me again.  "When you are free... I would like to match you again."  She grinned.  "This time matching Arms."

I reflexively bowed, wincing a little inside.  "You do me honor," I said, and caught that curious echo once more between the Judge and Katherine, "but I do not have Arms to match to yours."

She listened, then tilted her head at me.  "Gevurah says differently."  She turned and narrowed her eyes at the Judge, speaking quickly to him.  This time, I was on the receiving echo of the Judge's translation.

Her Arms are quite insistent that we introduce you immediately to them, he said.  I was anticipating a more prolonged introduction to the Armed, but they are certain that you are ready now.

Am I?  I said, then froze.  When had I decided?  I didn't recall making any decision to join this unknown army, but there was the curious sense that somewhere, at some point, I had.

The Judge looked at me with his gold eyes, one eyebrow raised.  "If you are, then you are," he said, then began walking towards one of the doors.  Katherine gave me a long stare, then followed.

I watched them a moment, feeling as if the future were bearing all too quickly down on me, then pulled myself together and followed.


They led me into small, sparse room.  A solitary chair was the only piece of furniture present, as well as a few very old and worn weapons, suitable only for display.  Sunshine spilled into the room, lending a soft glow to the wood surfaces.

The soft click of the door being closed behind me set my nerves on edge.  I turned, my guard rising.  The Judge stood in the center of the room, his hand resting on the hilt.  Katherine stood behind him, her face tense.

"What's this about, then?" I asked softly.

Katherine glanced towards the Judge, crossing her arms.  

"I do apologize for the abruptness with which we're inducting you, Laigr."  He drew his sword and twirled it, the blade reforming into the battle-fork form.  "Typically, training for this moment lasts years, but time is short... and I'm certain enough that you are ready to gamble on this course of action."

I heard Katherine's short gasp before I actually felt the tines of the battle-fork in my chest.  My eyes flew from the Judge's flat stare to the silver prongs buried in my chest.  As I marveled at the lack of blood, my vision seemed to slide backward, then go black.

You've courage enough for twenty men.  He says you will see it through, but I have my doubts about your stamina, you half-grown navel-gazer.

I stared into the blackness.  I will last as long as I must.  I am the Dhealg'seala.

A thin mist curled around my ankles, thickening as it rose to my knees.  I heard the low impact of hoofbeats, and a chill raced along my spine.  The Dubhimealleach.

The darkness coalesced, forming jet hooves fringed in fine hair, flashing glimpses of a long, rippling mane and a tail that trailed to the ground like a black silk banner, then finally revealing the midnight-black form of a bridled mare.  She halted two arms-reach in front of me, tossing her mane and snorting.  Her head turned and she regarded me with one blood-red eye, peering out from behind her long forelock, her jaw working as she inspected me.  I stared back, my hands forming fists at my side.

Quick as lightning, her head swung around, teeth bared.  I twisted and dropped to my knees, hand instinctively flying to my side.  I was surprised to feel a hilt, but reflex took over and I drew, swinging my arm around to block.

The Dubhimealleach caught the blade in her teeth, shattering the metal and shaking her dark head.  I had no time to think, only to stare as she reared and squealed, her attack faster this time.  I cried out as her teeth sank into my shoulder, then screamed as I felt my flesh being pulled into her fiery mouth.  

This is no dream, son, I heard the voice of my father say.  I saw his body, stretched out in the wrong direction, face-down in the mud.  The line of Dhealg'seala ends here.

No!  I clenched my jaw and pushed against the mare's head.  She squealed and dug in, twisting as she fed.  

Oh?  I felt the curious sensation of being watched from within.  Rather looks like she's making a decent meal out of you, son.

I can fight this.  

I felt rather than heard the snort.  Yes, I can see that.  Can you win?

I will prevail or die trying.

There was the cold feeling of being stared at, and I saw a brief flash of silver eyes narrowing.  And if you die, boy, what becomes of the Dhealg'seala?

I tried to respond with my brother's name, but the thought was snatched from me as if the mare had taken it into her teeth and consumed it.  I knew to my core that if I fell, my brother would not be able to hold the Seal on his own.  I looked into the mare's eye, for a moment completely unaware of the pain.  

I wasn't just the Laigr of Dhealg'seala.  I was the Dhealg'seala.  

The Dubhimealleach squealed and tossed her head, throwing me through the darkness.  I hit something and slid, pulling myself to my feet as she charged.  I dove away, rolling away from her hooves.

At that moment, it finally occurred to me that my feet weren't stuck.

About time you noticed, whelp.

Aye, he's a slow one, alright, a new voice whispered, sharp and soft.  Ach!  He heard me!  A low, silvery sound, like chainmail spilling off of a chair filled the darkness.  Laughter?  At the same time, my fingers brushed a hilt at my waist, even though I was damned sure this time I had none a moment before.  

Quit thinkin' so damned hard and fight! she said.

I drew, and felt the blade impact as my vision went black and I toppled forward.


Katherine caught me, her hands steadying my shoulders as my knees buckled.  My head fell foward, my nose banging painfully against her collarbone.  I sat back on my heels, blinking tears from my eyes.

"Well?"  Katherine tapped her foot, her lips twitching.  She gave up fighting her own face and grinned eagerly.  "Let's see her!"

"Not in here," the Judge grumbled, pulling the door open.  I blinked against the flood of sunshine, wiping fresh tears from my eyes, and surged to my feet.  Katherine fell in behind me, her footsteps light, as if she were dancing her way out to the courtyard.  I snorted at the thought.  Having been exposed to her form, it was entirely plausible that she was in fact waltzing out to the arena.

She stopped near the edge, drawing Gedulah and adopting a stance that seemed a bit more suited to a knife fight than a sword.  I shrugged, and drew my own weapon.  

Instead of the metallic slide of a blade being drawn, there was that soft chainmail-whisper, and the brush of something at my feet.  I glanced down in confusion, then stared in shock.


Boy, are ye criticizin' my form?

I choked on a laugh.  This is not a man's weapon!  A whip?  What am I to do, tickle my opp--"AUGH!"

My pants lay in shreds around me, one leg bloodied and near-skinless.  The whip had skinned me before I could even register her movement.

Katherine's laughter echoed through the courtyard.  Mercifully, I didn't hear any noise from the Judge, but I also wasn't terribly inclined to look for a smile on his face, either.  

Serves ye right, ye insolent half-brained puppy of an inbred bitch.  She snorted.  I'll have ye know, th' Judge and Jhe Cruxradia are currently arguing over th' terms of their bet.  She sniffed, and I felt her watching them with disdain.  As if t'were a fair deal, what wi' the Judge bein' a part of myself an' all.

I glanced down at the whip, the notion that I was talking to it finally sinking in.

Her, if it pleases ye, she grumbled.  Or Geillg'a, iffn' ye be addressin' me proper.

Geillg'a?  I turned the name over in my head.  Are you my Will, then?

A part of it, she said, her voice a purr in my head.  Yer Will, yer contract, yer Duty... call it what ye want, boy, but when ye boil it down, yer mine.  Now wipe that stupid look off yer face an' look smart.  She snorted.  As smart as ye can manage, ye dull toin.

I looked up, fighting to keep my irritation from showing on my face.

"Don't worry," Katherine says, "we all make that face at least three times a day."  She held out a small kit and a folded bundle.  "For your leg, and a change of clothes."

I sighed as I accepted them, tucking them under one arm.  "My thanks..."  I stopped, unsure of the proper way to address her.

She smiled, one corner lifting higher than the other.  "Katherine is enough.  As of now, we hold equal rank."  Her smile widened a touch, mischief sparking in her eyes.  "Just don't forget to add Jhe once I'm promoted."

"If you are," I said, then blinked at my own familiarity.  To my relief, she laughed and lightly slapped my shoulder.

"Just wait," she said.  She bowed, her hand tilting out at my side.  I was puzzled for a short moment, then realized she was addressing my Arms.

A pleasure to make your acquaintance, lady, I heard her say.  I hope that we'll have a chance to take our measure of each other soon.

Aye, Geillg'a responded, and a pleasure to meet you as well, Your Highness.

Katherine's face twisted into a small scowl as Geillg'a's laughter rippled through my mind.  Ah, ye didn't know that about yer wee friend?  She's the Emperor's daughter, amongst other things.  Geillg'a snorted.  Amongst many other things.

How do you know so much about her?

I know what he knows, and that's enough.

Before I could think of anything further to ask her, I felt her curl up in my mind and quiet, almost as if she had fallen asleep.  I glanced down, and she was sheathed at my waist.  Light sparkled off her as I turned, and I finally noticed that she was composed of thousands of tiny blades, layered like the scales of a snake.  

Rather beautiful, actually.

I felt her rumble of pleasure at the compliment and smiled.  

Katherine snorted.  "Camden, you're going to bleed out at this rate.  Stop daydreaming and dress those wounds."

I startled, then winced as the agony in my leg finally registered.  "Could you show me where I can..."  I held up the kit.

"This way," she said, tilting her head towards a section of the building across the arena. 

I limped alongside her, only half-aware of the pain as I contemplated the quiet, curled presence of my Arms in my mind.


  1. That is easily one of the coolest things I've read; I love how they come in different shapes and personalities depending on the person. Now I want to know about everyone's Arms!


    I still want to know MORE! Like what this means:

    "As if t'were a fair deal, what wi' the Judge bein' a part of myself an' all."

    Poor Camden. Geillg'a is going to run him ragged.

  3. Speculation: All Arms are a part of the Judge, or possibly a part of his trident/sword--a distributed network of eyes and ears. Note how the Judge stabbed him to create the vision and also "I know what he knows, and that's enough." Arms are something like a deputy's badge, but better. Whether their personalities are already extant and just how they make themselves corporeal are mysteries.

  4. Ooo! V has some very spot-on observations. Thank you V! Char feels very happy about how she wrote that section now.

    " Arms are something like a deputy's badge, but better."

    Or as a set of Arms would tell you: "Armed are something like a deputy's badge, but they wiggle around a lot."