Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 2)

Varlaine bowed his head deeply in appreciation, but out of the corner of his eye he could see that Eryn had crossed her arms in frustration. When Naz caught sight of her foot tapping, the mercenary furrowed her brow and let her smile slip away so she could turn and face her with a more neutral expression.

“…Your turn,” Naz said, after a moment of evaluating Eryn’s posture. Varlaine could see it, too: Frustration, unbridled and harsh, boiled under Eryn’s skin. True, they’d not had an easy time since leaving the small, smoldering village of Dalren. Naz drove the trio hard, with little time to chatter on the road and breaks spent either training or preparing for their meeting with the noble at Fort Skyvlan. He understood why; the wolf Alra that had nearly run him down still frightened him. If his brother, the standing king, had hunters like him on their tail, he feared even slight delays could get them caught.

By the time he pulled himself from those thoughts, Naz had taken her sword up and held it in front of her with one hand, the other resting on her hip. That was a stance he was more familiar with. While it was slightly off, and she turned her attacking arm more to face Eryn while her defensive hand was behind her, it was much closer to the style Revengardian knights were trained in. Her experience, and the flexibility of her swordsmanship, interested him. She must have been very well traveled.

“I’m waiting for you,” Eryn spoke out. Her tone was sharp, and she held her branch in both hands, out to her side like she carried her axe. Naz gave her a brief nod of acknowledgement, and then took two steps to close the gap. Two quick, simple steps, and then the mercenary delivered an overhead swing that was too short to connect, too far. Varlaine could see it missing before it did, and so could Eryn. Instead of moving back or trying to block it, the rider pulled her own weapon back farther, body twisting, building up.

Naz stopped the swing halfway to thrust the weapon forward, like a rapier. Her style change caught Varlaine off-guard, but Eryn was already prepared for it, a glare on the blue-haired girl’s face. She whipped her branch horizontally, the air singing as it sliced through, before there was a loud thwack of wood on wood as she struck hard against Naz’s.

If Varlaine had surprised her, Eryn’s strike inspired nothing short of shock. One handed, Naz’s fingers abandoned the weapon, hand recoiling as if bitten. It flung several feet away, landing in the grass near their campfire, but Eryn wasn’t satisfied with just disarming her opponent. Following the momentum through, she turned on her heel and swung the stick with her, spinning a full circle and bringing it around once more. Lacking any better option, Naz used her left forearm to block the strike, and the wood smashed into the back of her wrist hard enough to splinter.

Still clutching the remnants of her switch, Eryn nearly doubled over to pant as she caught her breath. Her brows were still knitted in a firm glare, lips tightened down on whatever she wanted to say, especially when she met Naz’s eye—and caught a stony gray stare back in return. The older woman opened her mouth to speak.

“What was—“

“I’m going for a walk.” Eryn cut her off abruptly, tossing the remnants of her stick aside. She turned around, hands shoving into the pockets of her cloth pants, and started to walk away. Varlaine blinked in shock at what had transpired, while Naz stared after the rider for a long, awkward moment. Then she shook her head silently, braid swaying behind her, and turned her attention to the arm that had been struck.

“I’m… I’m sorry for her behavior.” ‘Laine ducked his head. It was his guard who had lost her temper, after all, who was now trekking further and further away from the pair and closer to the ring of trees that surrounded their campsite.

Naz took a moment to roll her sleeve back and investigate her arm before she responded. “Everyone is tense,” She excused in her usual, scratchy tone, coughing and turning her arm over, flexing fingers. Even from his distance, the prince could see the sizeable red mark on the tanner woman’s forearm. It was going to bruise, painfully. “Training is finished for the night.”

He nodded, slowly, and watched as she rubbed two fingertips tenderly against the mark. With nothing between them, she moved towards the fireside, using her uninjured hand to hold the ground. Carefully, with a quiet grunt of exertion, she lowered herself to sit beside it. When she was settled, he played with the branch still in his hand, before setting it down neatly in the grass to go and sit on the other end of the fire.

(Part 3 is up, and can be found here!)

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