Shannon Harrison was one of the most terrifying people Ashton had ever met.
As someone who had spent months in the Australian Outback, fought in the biggest weaver’s war the continent have ever seen and eventually been sworn into the Order of the Round Table before being sent to North America to endure his Trial, being scared at all took some doing. You wouldn’t think a fiftysomething housewife would be on anyone’s list of scary things, particularly when they answered the door with a half-finished blanket for grandchild number two slung over one shoulder wearing a short sleeved blouse and battered jeans that had seen better days. But, although he had not practiced the art as long some, Ashton could still see deeper than most.
He did not, for example, miss the fact that the entire building seemed to loom over him as if it was ready to topple onto and crush anyone who displeased its lady. Nor was he oblivious to the way Shannon was at the center of the house, at least in the pattern of things if not the physical center of the building, with everything that was there, everything that happened there, sooner or later tying back to her. As she stood in the doorway looking him over he understood how the knights of old could have so readily admired and served women who they had no romantic interests in at all.
They just wanted to stay out of trouble.
That and they recognized a kind of power they would probably never really understand fully. Ashton cleared his throat nervously. “Good morning, ma’am. I’m Ashton ap Percival. I’m here to see Janus?”
“Oh, you’re the grail knight?” She smiled and the whole building seemed to relax. “Come in. I’m not sure where he is at the moment but I’ll see if we can’t dig him up.”
Ashton quickly hurried through the door, not wanting to see how the house would react if he didn’t obey. He knew the Harrisons descended from a long, long line of Templars, weavers who had a special understanding of the power of place. Many people thought Templars settled in places of power but one thing he’d learned in the last few months was that it was the other way around. Templars found a place they thought was important and, in a very short time, made it powerful. He’d been to several of their meeting places – he’d even been to this house once before – but he’d never really appreciated just how much power Templars packed into their strongholds.
“You can wait there in the kitchen if you want,” Shannon said, waving through the door on the right of the entry hall. “I think he’s in the new addition. I’ll just pop through and check. Help yourself to something from the fridge if you’re hungry.”
He nodded and cautiously let himself into the kitchen. It was a big room with a small island in the center and a heavy wooden table at one end opposite the usual cupboards, counters and appliances at the other. The table in particular drew his attention for a minute. It was battered and worn, but so tightly woven into the house around it that it seemed like you could drop a nuke on the city of Fort Wayne and still find this table here afterwards, waiting for the family to sit down to dinner.
It was creepy.
The more Ashton looked around the more he saw the patterns of family life ingrained into the world around him. For someone who had pretty much grown up alone in a fifth story apartment with a family that was more like occasional roommates it was a little disconcerting. He didn’t feel unwelcome… but he wasn’t quite sure what he was being welcomed into.
“Hi, Ashton. Did Gary send you in for something?”
He snapped out of his reverie as Angie Harrison, the family’s only daughter, came into the kitchen with an empty cup in one hand and headed towards the sink. Ashton smiled reflexively, Angie’s three older brothers had made it quite clear that he was to Be Polite, or else. “Hello, ma’am. I’m sorry, Gary…?”
It took a second for it to click. Janus was a title, referring to the marshal or field commander of the local Templar order. Gerald Harrison, or Gary to most people who knew him outside of weaver circles, was the person Ashton was there to see currently held the position. “No, actually he didn’t,” Ashton said after he worked out the question. “I just got here, in fact. Your mother thought he was in one of the additions.”
The Harrison house was over two hundred years old and, while Janus had once recited every addition and renovation in chronological order, Ashton had never made it a point to try and learn them. Knights of the Round who followed Percival we’re, by nature, knights errant, not knights who stayed in place.
Angie finished pouring herself a glass off orange juice and held up the container with a meaningful shake, raising an eyebrow. Ashton shook his head, declining the offer, and she put the juice away, saying, “Well I’ll take you out there, then. Just a sec.”
She let the fridge door swing closed behind her as she went to the doorway he’d entered through and yelled, “Mom, I’m taking Ashton out to Gary in the barn!”
A moment’s pause then Shannon’s voice drifted back from the other side of the house. “Thanks, honey. Come right back.”
The kitchen let out into the house’s massive garage, which was so close to being a barn on it’s own that Ashton wondered why the family might need another one. It was two stories and held a beat up pickup, an full size van and a four door sedan on top of a very serviceable looking tractor. With four people living in the house, and the house sitting on the grounds of a working apple orchard, he supposed they might really need all that space.
What he wasn’t sure they needed was the complex, many layered tapestries that ensured, among other things, that the vehicles would come back safe and sound every time they left. For one thing, if something ever did happen to one of those cars the resulting shift in the metaphysical threads surrounding the household could tear it apart. On the other hand, he hadn’t seen anything around the Harrison household that said “half measures” so maybe the setup shouldn’t surprise him.
Angie didn’t seem uncomfortable around all the heavy defensive weavings, stepping through the intangible web of protections without a second glance and leaving Ashton doing his best to keep up. He did have enough time to notice that the house didn’t defer to Angie the same way it did for her mother. Maybe just because she hadn’t lived there as long, maybe because it only had enough room for one lady of the manor. He wasn’t sure.
It wasn’t until they were out of the garage and crossing the stick infested expanse of crab grass that doubled as a lawn and a shrine to the orchard’s planter than he noticed Angie was watching him almost as closely. “Is something off?”
“I was just thinking you don’t move like any of the other Templars I know, that’s all,” she said with a shrug. “Dad mentioned there was a new guy in the order and I’ve seen you with Gary around Timeslip once or twice so I figured it was you.”
“Well, you’re not exactly wrong. Ashton, son of Percival, Order of the Round Table at your service.” He stopped long enough to sketch a formal bow.
Angie laughed and said, “Angela Harrison, hedge weaver. No need for formalities on my account.”
“Hedge weaver? You’re not affiliated with an Order?” Ashton took a closer look at the girl as she led him up a low hill towards the barn. Plenty of people didn’t like the more structured approaches to teaching, studying and regulating magic weaving that the Orders advocated and the Arbiter’s Councils legitimized, but most of them were long term outsiders. The Harrisons had been around Fort Wayne long enough there was a formal term for their patriarch – Third of the Five.
“Even the Five Families have their black sheep,” Angie said, apparently guessing what he’d been thinking. “If I did put in the time to make the physical baselines and weaver theory I still wouldn’t want to join the Templars. Staying in one place all my life just doesn’t appeal. And the rest of the local Orders don’t really feel like the right fit either.”
“There’s no rule saying you must stay in a given Order all your life, you know.” Ashton gave an depreciating smile. “You don’t think I started with the Round Table, do you?”
Angie’s answering smile was all mischief. “No, not if you’re a Percy. Percival was a grail knight, a knight errant, and people who wind up under his banner never sit still for long. They wouldn’t be true to his spirit if they did.”
“You find something funny about that?”
She shrugged. “Not really, but it does explain the Australian accent. You’re a long way from home, Ashton. What brings you to an apple farm in northern Indiana?”
“One of the best war weavers in the state asked me to drop by.” He paused with one hand on the door the barn. “Are you coming?”
Angie had already started back towards the house but she called over her shoulder, “My guess is this is strictly Templar stuff. Good luck!”
“Good luck?” Ashton shook his head, not sure what to make of that, and pulled the door open.
The Pattern of the Weave is always shifting subtly. Things are always changing and the Weave reflects reality in real time – or perhaps it is the other way around. Weavers study the pattern in its broad nature, its subtle variations and the many impacts humanity has on it. In short, weavers are simply people more attuned to the connections between things than is normal. And when patterns of those connections change, whether from natural causes or deliberate interference, weavers are the first to notice.
As Ashton pulled the door open he caught the barest tremors in the Weave that signaled such a change in the offing. That could have meant anything but, with all the heavy defenses around the Harrison house and a certain level of natural skittishness mixed in, it was enough to have him on high alert.
So when the man with the broadsword popped into existence two steps in front of him Ashton didn’t just duck out of the way, he reacted fast enough to get inside the swing and try to throw the other man to the ground.
He might as well have tried to uproot Ayers Rock. His assailant was more than just heavy, he was somehow rooted to the very fabric of the building and moving him against his will was going to be hard. Before Ashton could come up with a change in tactics his assailant drove a knee into his side.
Rolling with the hit, Ashton took a quick stock of his surroundings. He was just barely inside the barn door, in a room totally devoid of any of the boxes, tools, bales of hay or other farming junk you might expect. The ground was dirt, the walls were wooden and the glint of metal came from the wall to his left. Naturally, that was on the other side of broadsword guy.
Also missing were the complex networks of Templar defenses that made the rest of the property look so dangerous. Ashton had just enough time to smile before the ground brought him to an abrupt stop.
Teleporting wasn’t hard, just messy. All a weaver really had to do was find something connected to where they wanted to go and keep pulling until they had a hold of their destination, then let go of what kept them at their starting place. The Weave, which all that pulling would bend all out of shape, would quickly snap back to its original shape dragging the weaver along with it. The letting go was the hardest part and really all that kept normal people from doing it. The problem for most weavers was all the random stuff that wound up tangled around them in the process. That kind of mess could tie you up entirely, keep you from weaving any magic at all for a long time.
But in a clean environment like the barn Ashton had no trouble yanking himself across the room. Even when his assailant tried to stop him with a hastily woven net stretched between the ground and the rafters Ashton made it past with only a few stray threads wrapped around one arm. He found himself beside a long wall holding a half a dozen heavy swords just like the one his opponent was using. Each was about two feet long and a good six inches wide with no sissy weight reducing gutter running down the middle. One side of each blade had the brilliant gleam of silver, the other the dull matte black of cold iron.
They were stupidly heavy, incredibly sharp and only mildly magical. Also, much heavier than Ashton would have preferred, but any port in a storm. Whatever had been woven into the sword it didn’t look like it would be dangerous if a stranger tried to use the thing so Ashton snatched up the nearest and immediately whipped around to parry an incoming attack whistling down towards his left shoulder.
He countered with a waist high cross cut which drove his attacker back a step, letting Ashton get away from the barn wall for a bit more maneuvering room. He settled into a two handed stance, wishing he could swing the blade one handed like his opponent did, and said, “I hate to point this out but you invited me here, Janus. I wasn’t expecting to get jumped in the doorway.”
Janus, who had the advantages of two years of age, more in experience, at least ten pounds of muscle and an inch of reach, gave a cocky smile. “What does the title mean?”
Ashton groaned. “Roman god of doorways. So of course you attack me at the door.”
“See? I knew you’d work it out.” Janus casually waved the point of his sword at the door. “It was as good an ambush point as any. And, in case you’re wondering, yes this is how the Templars greet guests. At least, so long as those guests are interested in sharing field work with us. We do cross-training with the Hospitallers on a regular basis as well.”
“Oh? So this is just a bit of sparring, is it?” Ashton grinned wickedly. “My good luck then.”
Janus gave a curious tilt of his head. “How’s that?”
“You see, mate, this is the one place I’ve been comfortable since I got here today.”
Ashton immediately stepped in to press the combat again. And just like that, he was back at home.