Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 1)

The branch in Varlaine’s hands rattled and shook, sending up a vibration that tingled through his palms and nearly convinced him to drop it outright. He winced at the feeling, but steeled his grip; Naz, who had just struck at it with one of her own, offered a nod of approval in return. She stepped back, lowering her arms, and evaluated his stance.

“Not bad.” Her voice cracked, as usual, and ‘Laine couldn’t help but liken it to the noise of the warm campfire he and Eryn had successfully built nearby. “Turn into your parry more. Don’t just stop the attack, deflect it. Create an opening.”

Eryn was standing near him, her own switch of wood gnarly and thick, heavier than Varlaine’s. The practice session had already been going longer than any Naz had provided in the week since departing Dalren. Even the older woman was starting to sweat with exertion, but she still had not had enough; no, her eyes turned to Eryn, fingers tightening around her branch again as she brought it up in a stance that paralleled the blade to the ground and pointed the tip at the rider.

“Your turn,” Naz instructed, rolling her head and neck to stretch them but keeping the stick trained on Eryn. “Show me your stance.” The trainee put off an air of boredom, looking skyward, perhaps hoping that Cassius would soon return with food. The griffon had been sent to hunt some hour or so prior.

“I really don’t think I need to.” When Eryn responded, it wasn’t directly to Naz’s face. She spoke first to the sky, and then her head turned to look at Varlaine. “Can we stop? My arms are tired and all of this is stuff we covered in the basics.”

When Naz spoke, she barely masked the annoyance in her voice. “We will stop when I think you can both successfully defend yourselves. Ready yourself, Eryn.” Still in a stance, Naz took a step to circle the blue-haired griffon rider, who was still watching the prince. Varlaine shrugged, and she rolled her eyes before lifting her own branch to block.

This time, Naz moved differently. Her strike on Varlaine had been easy to read, enough that he managed to see where it was coming from and shift sides to block it with time enough to spare. The way she approached Eryn, though, left her ‘sword’ in the air and pointed straight, as if she was going for a thrust until the last possible moment. Before Naz took the step that would commit to that strike, she shifted her hands and swept the stick around horizontally.

Eryn, who had prepared to block the stab using an overhead chop, stumbled off balance when she saw the branch instead aiming for her side. Even Varlaine could see how clumsy and sloppy her block became when she abruptly switched gears, body drawing away and arms turning into Naz’s strike. Wood struck wood with a loud crack, and Eryn’s makeshift weapon flew from her hands while the young woman yelped and jerked her hands away on reflex, shaking them out.

“That wasn’t fair,” Eryn protested. She put her hands on her hips and glared at Naz, who stared back unamused. “You went way easier on the prince.”

“Fair? You took on military training. I should hope you handle yourself better than a novice. You’re supposed to be his guard.” Naz shot back. “Pick up your weapon. Once more, the both of you.” A pause broke her speech, then, and she cleared her throat. “We’ll make it our last for the day. Varlaine, you first.”

She took up her weapon in the same stance she’d used to strike at Eryn, and turned her attention to the young silver haired boy. ‘Laine took a moment to appreciate the way she stood, weapon held high instead of at her side or in front of her, the way he typically saw Revengardian soldiers carry theirs. Perhaps it was a token of her homeland.

Breaking himself from his thoughts, the prince nodded to confirm that he was ready. Naz returned the gesture, and then moved forward to close the gap between them. He watched her hands, the way they tensed and shifted as she drew closer to him, and brought his branch up and to the side in advance. Once he was watching for it, he could see that she moved her weight to the side and carried herself a half step off kilter when she went for a feint. When her stick swung in from his left, he brought his in to meet it. While his arms moved, his left foot pushed out, forward, to throw more momentum behind the block. When his weapon slapped against Naz’s, it hit hard enough to quake the branch in his hand, but he was ready for it with a grip that whitened his knuckles and made his hands ache.

Surprised, Naz let her strike glance off with relative ease. She caught her balance quickly, and a smile graced her lips in a way that made it harder to concentrate on the jagged scars that marred her face. Varlaine briefly wondered why she did not smile more, when it was so eye-catching, but he lacked time to think about it when Eryn was simmering at him and Naz was stepping back, lips curling down to a more tame approval. “…Well done!” She praised, after a moment, some tiny amount of excitement in her voice.

(Part 2 is up, and can be found here!)


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