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~ Previous Chapter ~
Only five more chapters to go! The end is nigh… ish.
This is another three parter this week too as life in Aquila continues apace. Time for some long overdue sword training.
What had started as a normal staff practise in the drizzly autumn air, swiftly turned into something quite different when Captain Myran appeared. “Come with me,” he said and led them to the barn at the end of the field. It was empty except for the benches and equipment stacked against the wall. On the far side, an open door revealed a creaking waterwheel and somewhere nearby metal was being beaten in time to its thumps.
As the students filed inside, footsteps crunching over the sandy floor and drowning out the waterwheel with their curious chatter, the hammering stopped. Silence fell as two men entered. Neither were tall, though both had broad, muscular shoulders, ruddy brown faces and strong hands. One was dark haired, his face soot-streaked and sweaty, while the other had sandy-brown hair and wore a discontented scowl.
Captain Myran cleared his throat. “First-years, meet Derneon Weaponsmith Sohr diDeranon and Gedanon Swordmaster Sohr diGeranon. Your new instructors.”
Nudging each other excitedly, the students chorused, “Good morning, Masters.”
“More students,” sandy-haired Gedanon grumbled. “It is always the way.”
“And always will be, gods and clouds willing,” Derneon agreed, hooking his thumbs in his belt. Unlike his friend, he was smiling. They reminded Mhysra of Hethanon Armsmaster in Nimbys. Clearly all three were Ihran – a people not known for welcoming strangers. Derneon was probably an aberration.
“If we may begin?” At Captain Myran’s suggestion the three men sorted everyone into groups of strength and size. Only one group was different, containing broad-shoulder Derrain, slender Dhori, powerful Jermyn, willowy Haelle and a few other students Mhysra didn’t know so well. She did, however, recognise that they were all the best fighters.
“This should be interesting.”
Studying her own group, Mhysra raised her eyebrows at the boy beside her. He had merry green eyes and a jaw she recognised. He had to be Greig, Lieutenant Stirla’s nephew.
“Any of you picked up a sword before?” Ierali, a Sutheralli girl asked, sounding bored.
The group shook their heads. Swords were for noble lads; everyone else made do with bows and staffs, if they trained at all.
Ierali snorted with disgust. “With any luck they’ll move me up soon.”
“Too good for us?” Alyne had more height than sense, being a redhead of fiery temper.
Ierali sneered. “You northerners do not understand the intricacies of the Land of Light.”
Greig rolled his eyes. “Then spare our tiny minds the burden of explanation, thanks.”
Since arriving at Aquila, the Sutheralli students had found it hardest to adjust. Having all come from the warrior Storm Class of their society, they were equal to the Sky Class of healers, priests and priestesses, subordinate only to the Royal Sun class. This gave them precedent over practically everyone else. At Aquila all were equal, from the lowest beggar to the loftiest duke’s son, unless granted officer rank. Most of the Sutheralli behaved, but Mhysra could understand why this had been an insult too far for Ierali.
“You can’t stop them.” Russet-haired Jaymes smiled shyly. Though he sat next to Mhysra in Myran’s lessons, they had exchanged little more than names. “Once Alyne gets her teeth into something, she’ll go at it for days. We called her Terrier back in Farian.”
Watching the Sutheralli trying to use her height to intimidate the stocky northerner, Mhysra shook her head. “I’m not sure who I should be more worried for.”
“Ierali,” Greig said firmly. “Not even a Storm Warrior can outdo a Northern Red once they get going.” He tugged a clump of Jaymes’ hair.
The redhead sighed. “Don’t judge a man by his hair, lest you be judged by your family.”
“Ouch.” Greig grimaced. “I beg you, never judge me by my uncle.”
“I like your uncle,” Mhysra protested, watching their instructors hand out practise weapons.
Greig blinked, opened his mouth, then shrugged. “You’re Wingborn to Cumulo – you’re addled. I’ll pray for you.” Taking his practise sword from Master Derneon, he skittered out of reach before Mhysra could swat him with hers.
“I will hand you yours first next time,” the smith promised her with a wink. “Why are you making such noise, you pair?”
Jaymes and Mhysra’s eyes met in silent amusement as the Ihran separated the arguing girls.
“Ah, Storm Warrior. How could we forget?” Master Gedanon came over, stroking his jaw, and scowled. “Because we did not. You are poor at staff work. If your sword craft is the same, you belong here. If it is better, improve at the staff. Your past does not matter at Aquila. Pick up your sword and prepare to learn.”
“Remind me never to get on his bad side,” Jaymes muttered.
“He has no good one,” Master Derneon chuckled. “Grumpy, grumpier and annoyed. You will learn.” Winking again, the smith rejoined his partner to begin the unenviable task of teaching.
Captain Myran took his leave and the first-years were ordered to face the front. “We begin,” Gedanon said, holding a practise blade in his right hand. “Strike, then block. Like so.
“Strike high.” Extending his arm, he slowly swung the sword down from overhead. “Middle.” He thrust forward. “Low.” He swung up from his feet. “Left high.” He swung from his behind his right shoulder to above his left. “Right low.” He turned and crouched. “Left middle. Right middle.” He twisted from side to side. “Right high. Left low.” Mirroring the earlier strikes. “Now you.”
Gedanon called the moves and the students followed, some faster than others in their enthusiasm. “No!” the swordmaster shouted. “Slow. Accuracy is more important than speed. The body must learn this new weight and movement. Speed comes later. Now follow.” He led them through it slowly five times before he was satisfied.
“Good. Switch hands.”
The students blinked stupidly and Derneon smiled at their confusion. “A sword is the best weapon against kaz-naghkt. But kaz-naghkt have many weapons. Claws on hands and feet.” He curled his fingers and swiped across the nearest student’s belly, making the boy yelp. “Teeth.” He snapped at a girl and she squeaked. “Spurs on the wings.” He jabbed his fingers at two more students, grinning when they flinched. “Kaz-naghkt have weapons all over.”
“You must fight on all sides,” Gedanon agreed. “Switch hands.”
The students obeyed dubiously and repeated the strikes with varying measures of success. Yelps sounded as students were whacked on heads, shoulders and knees. Poor Mouse was bashed on the head by both of his neighbours when he swung too wildly once too often.
When Gedanon had led them through it more than ten times and the collisions had stopped, he told them to switch back, then introduced the blocks designed to hold off various strikes. When he was satisfied that they could manage with both hands, he paired them up.
“Right side strike, left block. Go slowly. Ready? High. Middle. Low.” After a few false starts and many bashed fingers, the students fell into a steady rhythm, keeping pace with the swordmaster’s voice and the clack of the swords. “Left side strike, right block.” They swapped roles and both masters walked around, adjusting stances and holds, raising arms or lowering them, bending elbows and knees. After the excitement Mhysra had felt at finally getting her hands on a sword it was disappointing, boring and painful.
“My arms!” Greig moaned after they were dismissed. “They feel like string.”
“String?” Mhysra grimaced, flexing her wrists and rolling her stiff shoulders. “Lucky you. I can’t even feel mine.”
“You’re so feeble.” Bright-eyed and with a spring in his step, Derrain rubbed her shoulders. “As if all these months of regular training haven’t built you up.”
“They haven’t,” Greig, Mhysra, Mouse and Corin chorused.
Sharing a glance with Dhori, Derrain shook his head. “You are such disappointments to me.”
Chuckling, Corin jumped up and ruffled his hair. “You’ll get over it.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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