The old man stood with apparent effort and approached the young woman brought before him. He looked over her effects in turn. After a time, he gestured and she was pulled to her feet. He gazed at her face for a long time, his countenance still and calm as one taking in a vista.
One of the silent guards relaxed their grasp as she regained her feet and stood on her own. The beating she received was just enough to capture her. No permanent damage done, though she had fought with all her might. The guard who still held her fast, kept his grip tight as the pain pulsed where she had wounded him.
“Tell me your name, trespasser.” The old man broke the silence.
She didn’t answer or move.
His dark eyes glinted and something like a smile crept across his face for a moment.
“You are not the first to thus come before me.”
She kept her peace.
He turned his eyes to the guard who held her more tightly and asked “Are you quite well? I see this one managed to draw your blood.”
“I will manage, sir. Thank you for your consideration.” He squeezed tighter as he answered.
She stiffened in his crushing grip, the slightest air catching in her throat.
“Perhaps you seek strength?” He looked to her again.
“There is no greater strength in this world than to master one’s self. The struggle never ends. Each threshold crossed reveals a more distant horizon. In the heat and ardor of my youth, I learned well that there is a cost to bearing such strength and indulging one’s appetites. I learned how fruitless an endeavor it is to fill such a boundless vessel.”
He returned to his seat.
“Tell me how this child was able to strike you so.”
The old man closed his eyes and listened to the odd report.
“And what did you learn from this, my brother?
“With your permission, I’d like to show you.”
The old man opened his eyes and gave a gentle smile.
The guards released the girl. The uninjured guard gathered the effects and returned them to her, while the injured guard attended to his wound, then withdrew his weapon and waited.
She looked to the old man who gave her a deliberate nod. She returned her attention to the one she had injured and scarcely moved.
The uninjured guard made a clattering, urging her on to fight.
She sorted herself and took a ready stance.