“I thought that iron was indestructible,” I said as I held the warped weapon in front of my face.
“Iron flows like water,” Rabbi Rasp said. One eyebrow raised so high it threatened to leave his wrinkled face. His white hair danced wild in the breeze. The wizards that remained had a reputation for being unstable and dangerous. I never thought he was dangerous, but unstable was right; maybe even crazy.
“Water doesn’t cut bone,” I said as I swung my rusted sword once more. Rabbi Rasp dodged with the agility of a younger man. Once I’d stepped to the attack, he brought his staff around in a wide arc. I yelped with the pain as it caught the back of my legs. That was going to leave a bruise.
I leaped backward, trying to escape his next advance. This time I was able to evade his swipe but I had left stepped out of the circle. He paused and waited for me to cross back over the line had marked out with stones. I wasn’t in a hurry to take another beating, so i lingered where it was safe.
I speared the tip of my sword into the earth and knelt down for my water skin. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and took a long drink. It was cool but the flavor of mud was an unwelcome addition. The creek had nearly dried and it was impossible to strain the water clean. Rasp thought it was lucky there was a creek at all. He told tales about the days of old, when water would fall from the sky. It wasn’t hard to imagine why so many thought wizards were insane.
I plugged my water skin and held it out to Rasp. His blue gray eyes didn’t budge from my face while he extended his staff. I reached to place its leather strap on the end of the gnarled stick. Once the satchel hung there, he thrust it upward. In one fluid motion, the bag went airborne. He reached a long fingered hands high in the air to catch it, while he whoped me on the forehead with the knot of his staff.
That one would not leave a bruise. The tap had been only educational. His bony thumb uncorked the water skin. Its mud flavoring didn’t seem to bother the old Wizard. As he downed half the bag I reached for the hilt of my sword and leaned, using the old blade like a cane.
“So, are you going to explain the riddle?” I asked. He drug the back of his hand across his lips and capped the bag. His eyes were still on me. I didn’t like that stare. I pulled my sword from the dirt in case he intended to begin another rally.
“With enough heat, everything is like water,” Rasp said. He thumped his chest with a closed fist and belched. “Mud always makes me burpy.”
Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I couldn’t imagine the blade of my sword, or the shield that I was too young to lift, ever being like water.
“Can you show me?” I asked.
“I can show you,” Rasp said. I dropped my sword on the ground between us. The loose handle clattered. I knelt with my eyes on the dinged blade, ready for the show. Rasp added, “Though the question you should ask is, will I show you.” I was about to protest when something that brought me back to my feet in a flash.
“Hooves,” I said. I glanced in the direction they were coming from. They were not visible yet, but would be soon. “Hide, Rabbi,” I said.
Rasp rushed toward the line of dead trees. Their dry branches had long since dropped all their leaves. It would offer little cover but Rasp would manage. If there was any magic left in the old man, it was the trick of being unseen when needed.
I kicked dirt over my sword, and prepared to meet the mounted stranger. No, make that strangers. I tried to count the sets of thumps, but with each second the noise multiplied. It swelled to a chorus of thundering feet, clanging metal, and shouts. The hooves rumbled close, yet in the distance I could hear drums banging out their rhythm.
“A war party,” I whispered to myself. I stood frozen, willing myself not to move. This would take some creativity.
Over the far hill, silhouettes on steeds began to materialize from the amber soil. “Don’t worry Rabbi, I’ll make you proud,” I whispered. Hopefully he was far enough gone, not to hear me.