Note: I will be posting a chapter from The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle each day until the book has been fully posted. I am doing this as a way to entertain those who have been coping with the new life of social distancing, social isolation, and quarantine in the world right now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once complete, I will hold the book on in full on my site until 1/1/2021. On that day, it’ll no longer be accessible for free.
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If you would like to skip ahead, you are always welcome to purchase a copy, just click the link HERE (or click up top at the menu bar) to go to the book’s page where there are links to where it is available in both print and ebook. Enjoy and I hope that you and your family are doing well!
The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle
by Jeremy C Kester
(c) Jeremy C Kester – All Rights Reserved
Caringly, Cadence washed Agnes’ hair and face before leaving her alone in the room to shower. Not a word was exchanged between the two. The young girl was still upset over the incident, not having the understanding of an older apprentice.
The latch to the door clicked and Cadence went down the stairs to look for her master. Room after room she still found nothing. Brandt was nowhere. There was only one area she did not look, but she was not going there. Intruding on that space would not be welcomed were he there.
She stared at the entrance, toying with the idea of opening the door. Finally, she turned and went back to the second floor. Disturbing him wouldn’t have been a good idea.
When she returned, Agnes was dressed and sitting on her bed. Cadence wondered if she had indeed taken that long to return or had the girl even bothered cleaning.
Agnes’ clothes were damp as though she didn’t bother to dry herself off. Her hair was still wet as well. Most of the curls were pulled nearly straight from the weight of the water.
“Thank you,” Agnes meekly said. She appeared more embarrassed than anything else.
“You know he was trying to help you get out your anger.”
Agnes shrugged. “I guess.”
“Don’t worry about it. He’s tough on you. He’s tough on everyone. But I don’t think that he’ll push you that hard anymore.” She was unsure if what she was saying was true or not. Though she had been with Brandt as his apprentice for many years, there was no telling how he would respond. “Do you want to go for a walk?” It was the only thing that she could figure to say. Surprisingly, Agnes jumped at the opportunity.
It was a Saturday. Agnes kept thinking to herself that it was much too early to be awake on a weekend. She was glad though that she didn’t have to look forward to going to class. That would have been too much for her to handle.
The sun had risen some since they had went back in from the failed training now giving the morning sky a bright blue tone. There were only small, sporadic clouds anywhere to be seen. The air remained chilled from the night before, and Agnes found herself a little colder than she had expected to be.
Cadence walked in silence. She wasn’t sure still how exactly to talk the girl. Admittedly she was unsure how to talk to most people, but a grieving 12-year-old was another matter. Pain did not mix well with hormones.
They lived in a quiet community. Each house they passed showed care in how they were kept. Lawns were cut and manicured. A few had toys for small children scattered about. Though there were a few, Agnes thought that she saw not a house that wasn’t perfect. She imagined what it was like to live as a family as those in the ones in on the walk she was looking at. Houses not that unlike what she once lived in herself.
Cadence looked depressed, yet conversely content as she walked along. “What’s it like?” Agnes asked.
“Huh?” Cadence snapped out of her gaze. “What?”
“What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
Agnes stuttered a little. “Being a Sentry.”
“You are a Sentry. What do you mean?”
“I know,” Agnes replied. “I just don’t know what any of it really is about. My parents told me a lot, but I don’t remember.” Cadence knew it really meant that Agnes didn’t listen.
“What is it that you want to know?”
“Is it really that much training? I mean, do we have to be up that early all of the time?” She knew the answer but asked it as though doing so would give an opportunity to find something that would allow her the ammunition she could use to get out of it. It wasn’t supposed to be for a few years that she started anyway.
“If you want to be good, then I think you have to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“What about when Safiya was there? Didn’t you practice with her?”
“Yeah. And that was ok I guess.”
“I know she loved living with you guys.”
“I miss her. I haven’t heard from her in so long.”
“I hear it is tough over in Syria right now. I know Brandt sent them to let her know about what happened, but there really is a lot going on there too. She might not of even gotten the message yet.”
“Can’t I just call her?”
“They don’t have phones at their colony. Not sure why really, but we had to go through the conduits to reach her.”
“I hope she’s ok,” Agnes said, the sound of concern coming from her.
“I am sure that she is fine,” Cadence said. “She was pretty tough. I remember dueling her. I am sure that if you practiced, you’d be better than either of us.”
Agnes shrugged. Might have been a mood, might have been what she was really feeling, either way, she answered again that she didn’t want to learn.
Cadence didn’t turn. She kept her eyes forward. “Why not? Can’t get better at much of anything if you down train and practice. Why do you think that I am so good with Iliad?” Cadence patted on her ornate cloak as though there was something inside. Cadence was wearing a long trench-style coat.
“You brought it?!” Agnes looked surprised with Cadence as to why she would be carrying such a weapon.
“Of course,” Cadence replied with a slightly elevated tone. “It is one of our lessons: never be without a weapon.”
“Why is that?”
“At any point you might need it. It is far better to have it and not need it. If something attacked you and you don’t have your sword…” she trailed off on the explanation.
Agnes turned to see a small park next to a small lake. Cadence led the pair to the edge of the water taking care to not be near any of the gifts that geese or ducks may had left behind. Cadence knelt down and then sat, careful not to catch anything with Iliad. “Sit,” she said while patting the ground besides her.
Together they had come to where there was a small lake that sat in the middle of town. Towards the middle of the lake there was a small fountain that shot the water up in a fantastic display. Agnes looked around feeling like she had lost track of things. She felt slightly disoriented not even knowing which way she came from.
“I come here a lot to sort things out,” Cadence said.
“You need sorting out?” Agnes blurted. “I don’t get it.
Cadence sighed while looking at the water. “I really do. Everyone needs to do this. Some people maybe more than others. You just have to learn it.” They both sat in silence on the grass. Agnes could feel the air slowly losing the chill, but she still had to wrap herself tightly to fight off the cold.
“My mom trained me on the swords since I was young. I just never wanted to. She was always telling me that I was too impatient. I don’t want to be like them. I didn’t want to learn to be like them.”
“Do you wanna talk about it?”
Agnes just shrugged. She wasn’t even sure of the reasons herself. Not seeing her parents often enough had given itself enough reasons. Those long days and nights worrying if they would come home from a mission or if they would come home at all bore a chasm she couldn’t fill. Becoming what they were was the last thing she wanted. Distracting herself from the thoughts, she asked, “Why is Brandt so tough with me?”
Cadence said bluntly, “he thought you were spoiled. Mostly it is because he wants his students to be able to defend themselves if he somehow wasn’t able to.”
Agnes tried to see her parents in that same way. It was almost amusing. Spoiled. How could Brandt see her as spoiled? She couldn’t imagine their failures in any scenario. Perfection still abounded her memory of them. “Be patient and listen. If you leap to conclusions too soon, you might not stick the landing,” her father would tell her.
Stick the landing, she thought. Though she never fully understood it, she tried to practice it, believing that one day the answer would come to her in some striking realization. Of course nothing ever did. The words only found their comfort in the knowledge that her father was wiser than was she.
“Are you ready to return to school?” Cadence asked, breaking Agnes’ thoughts. “Only a few days left that you can be kept out.”
A groan sounded from Agnes as her stomach churned. For whatever reason, she expected to be done with school for good. It appeared that it wasn’t the case.
“Why don’t you go to school?”
“I finished early.” Cadence excelled at nearly everything. School had come easy to her. She was exceptionally gifted with mathematics and science. Nothing but school and training ever occupied Cadence’s schedules. “And once I finish my apprenticeship, the High Sentries will place me somewhere to work.”
“Like Filip. Maybe I’ll be a Sentry who protects us from mortals finding out what we do. Or they’ll make me like Brandt and your parents were and go after demons.”
“But why school? Why do you need school?” Agnes fiddled with the buttons on her cardigan.
“To fit in I guess,” Cadence shrugged.
“I don’t want to fit in with people. They’re too mean.”
“We never do really fit in, we just have to blend in, I think. Mortals would be terrified if they found out what we do. That’s why so few mortals are allowed to even know.”
Agnes shrugged saying nothing else. The idea of returning to school continued to eat at her thinking. She didn’t want to go back; that was it. There shouldn’t have been any further discussion about it, yet there was no discussion at all: she was going back.
Seeing her friends of course brought some joy to it, but she had only a few, two really. Even they were outcasts as she was. Nothing would change. It would be a miserable experience as usual. The difference would be that she didn’t have her parents’ company to look forward to every day.
Frustrated, she stood up and began walking back.
“Wait up,” Cadence called out before standing and chasing after the girl. “I guess we’re done,” she remarked under her breath.
When they returned to the house finally, Brandt was sitting on the porch of the house meditating. He was kneeling with his hands outstretched to each side. His eyes were closed while his head tilted down.
Upon seeing him, Agnes felt a pang in her heart as if something threatening was nearby. A desire to run up to her room to hide was waging a war inside her. She fought to stay, to face the day even if it meant to deal with him.
“You should go teach her some of your katas,” Brandt said as the two girls crept around him. Agnes nearly ran and hid from the surprise of hearing his voice suddenly.
“We were planning to,” Cadence replied.
Brandt nodded and resumed his meditation.
“He does that a lot,” whispered Agnes as the pair entered the house. She was sure that Brandt still heard her watching him as he disappeared behind the latched door.
“What do you mean?”
“What he’s doing now, with his eyes closed and all…”
Cadence laughed, “meditating? Yes, he does that all of the time.”
“Is that something we should do?” The girls passed through the kitchen. Agnes’ stomach grumbled as she saw the food still sitting there. Although she had her fill earlier and the food remaining was cold, she reached over and grabbed some.
As Agnes ate, Cadence responded, “nah. It’s up to the person. I don’t meditate like him. My way of clearing my mind is going to that lake. Or swinging Iliad around.”
Agnes didn’t hear and had already forgotten about it. Once she got her fill she followed Cadence out to the back. She didn’t know why she followed along. Nothing about her getting up from the park earlier was a plan to practice. She didn’t want to. She wanted to go hide in her room. Instead, she found herself carefully placing her cardigan down in a safe place while picking up the Scottish broad sword.
A glint of the locket caught her eye. Her hands reached back behind her head and unclasped the chain holding it. Then she walked back over to her cardigan and tucked it neatly inside. Neither item was unimportant enough not to guard during practice.
Cadence yelled, “watch me a couple of times, then I want you to try and copy me. Don’t worry, you won’t get it right until you practice it a lot. And I’m not kidding you: you’ll need to practice it a lot.”
Agnes felt a lump climb into her throat. It hadn’t crossed her mind before. The idea of trying to copy Cadence was intimidating.
The movements were slow at first, controlled, calm. The sword appeared to glow as glints of sunlight shone against it as it gracefully maneuvered each motion. Agnes felt that she could see Iliad dancing through Cadence. Each movement was fluid like water flowing gently in a small stream. Calm. Cadence’s eyes were closed, not appearing to notice anything other than what she could feel.
A faint smile hinted on her face as the movements because faster. Grace remained the paramount way that Agnes could describe it. Watching it, she could hardly contain her jealousy. Cadence was beautiful and graceful.
Every slice fell through the air silently. God’s own face would have easily shed blood were it the air.
If only Cadence knew how connected the sword was to her, Agnes thought to herself.
Worry quickly began to overtake her thoughts though as Agnes wondered how she was ever going to get to the skill level in swordsmanship that Cadence had. It was just so far-fetched that she could be that good. Though it truly wouldn’t take her long, the idea eluded her. Then before she realized it, Cadence was holding out Iliad for Agnes to take hold of.
“I don’t know what I am doing,” Agnes said.
“Relax. It’ll be hard at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.”
Defeated in posture, Agnes skulked over to where Cadence was standing.
Would you care to dance?
Agnes nodded as the words flowed from the handle through her arm and to her ears.
She is such a beautiful dancer, but you shouldn’t be jealous. Never be. You can learn in time, but only if you let go of all your jealousy and fear.
Again, Agnes nodded as Iliad spoke to her in a calming voice.
“Now take it slow,” Cadence said, startling Agnes who had been almost transfixed. “This is just practice. It took me a long time to get where I am at.”
Agnes raised the sword and shifted herself into a ready stance. Though she had experience handling weapons, this was different. Cadence was grace; Agnes felt like a brute. Nothing about what she was to do would be easy in her mind. She set herself to fail before even trying.
The belief evolved to fruition as she took her first few steps. A dust plume billowed as she landed hard tripping over her feet as she went to spin.
Hand over her mouth trying not to laugh, Cadence said, “maybe we’ll just try you out with some basics before having you repeat one of my routines.”
Agnes looked over at Iliad lying in the dirt. She felt embarrassed more for letting the sword fall than for falling. “I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s a pretty resilient sword,” Cadence stepped over and picked up the blade. “I am unsure how, but it doesn’t seem to ever get damaged.” She flipped the blade down and examined the hilt. Agnes picked herself up off the ground and brushed herself off. She looked at Cadence slightly puzzled as the girl looked over her sword. “See?” Cadence said as she pushed the hilt forward to show Agnes.
Agnes looked disinterested. “Can we just practice?”
“She has a bit to get to your level, Cadence,” Brandt interrupted. Agnes nearly jumped when she heard his voice. “Why don’t you go and continue while I give her some more basics,” he instructed.
Cadence nodded silently and moved away to another part of the yard out of Agnes’ view.
“You saw that?” Agnes said meekly.
“Yep,” Brandt said. “Don’t feel ashamed of that. You are only learning after all.”
“I guess.” The words didn’t make her feel less embarrassed.
“So you are impressed by Cadence, huh?”
Agnes nodded, not knowing what else to say.
“Follow me,” he said as they walked around until Cadence came into view once more. Cadence practiced her katas again with her eyes closed. Movements were completely out of memory from having done it so many times. Agnes certainly saw this. She wondered how anyone can perform with such grace without seeing what they were doing.
“How can she know what she’s doing with her eyes closed?”
“Sight is only one of the senses,” Brandt whispered. He sat down quietly beside her. “She is a master swordsman. Far better than either of us will ever probably ever be,” he continued. “Except maybe you,” he added. Agnes wanted to run away at the moment and those thoughts were the only one that she was able to focus on. Brandt’s gentle tone, a far diversion from normal, urged her to stay and listen. “But she will never believe herself to be. She worries too much. She focuses too much on what she cannot do, instead of accepting what is. Were she to do so, she would unlock so much more potential.”
“Why did you have her teach me? She wasn’t a very good teacher,” Agnes asked.
“She’ll be a great teacher; she just lacks that bit of experience. You are far more skilled for someone your age. Sentries don’t get their abilities for a couple more years. You have them now. I’ve tried to ignore it, but I am more curious of exactly what you can do. I thought that maybe you’d pick up on Cadence’s abilities without much effort. I was wrong. But in either case, I believe you might learn better from her.”
Agnes allowed silence to get between them again for a moment. She continued to watch Cadence. As the sun continued to rise in the sky, Iliad shone with even more intensity.
Brandt broke the silence. “My master once told me that the weapon must extend your skin.”
Agnes looked up, a perplexed look on her face. Brandt chuckled, knowing that his pupil was confused.
“When you are holding a weapon, you make it an extension of yourself,” he explained. “Your skin goes beyond the weapon’s physical boundaries so that when it is moving, you are.”
It didn’t make sense to her, but she took the words to the best of her ability turning them around in her mind as she tried to fully grasp it.
“You’ll learn what I mean in time,” he added.
She nodded as her mind jumped back to her talking to the same cruel man she’s known her whole life. “Why do you hate me?” she asked plainly, surprised by her own bluntness. She wanted to shrink away after the words left her mouth.
Brandt sighed. “You’re spoiled. You’re narcissistic. You’re stubborn. You’re rude. You fight me at nearly every turn and have done so since you were little. I don’t hate you, but I certainly have had little patience for you.” He watched as the young girl processed what he said. She was obviously very taken aback, insulted by the words. Quickly, he put his arms around her. “But I am getting to know you better, and I am willing to admit that I am wrong. My apprentices have always been agreeable. Until you. There is a story I must tell you sometime. It might help you understand.”
Agnes smiled through the tears that had built up in her eyes. She didn’t understand; that was for sure. But through it, in that moment, she realized that Brandt wouldn’t be nearly as bad as she believed he would be. She still wasn’t sure that she liked him, but she was sure that she hated him a lot less than before.
Together, they resumed watching Cadence dance in the shadows of the trees around her. “Are you ready to try something again?”
Agnes nodded and smiled.
Soon after the training, Lef stood, or rather hung, in the doorway entering the house. “Mission for you,” he cackled.
Brandt shook his head. He had promised the girls a story that night for the effort that they placed in their practice. “Cadence,” he called.
She ran up behind him, frowning as she saw the small conduit. “Yes?”
“I’ve been summoned for another mission. Make sure she’s ok until I get back.” He motioned to the young girl still swinging the broadsword behind them. Her movements much more steady than before.
“Oh this one you will like,” Lef squeeled in painful delight. Pain riddled through the two Sentries’ ears. Brandt was sure that he wouldn’t.
If you would like to skip ahead, you are always welcome to purchase a copy, just click the link HERE (or click up top at the menu bar) to go to the book’s page where there are links to where it is available in both print and ebook.