Sparring & Footwork: Part 1
The morning calls my name, so I get up to it and peer through the window.
The sun is blooming over trees shining with the midnight rain, and the courtyard beneath is already a steady chaos of movement, cooking, laughter and hungover grumbles.
My muscles ache, but do I not regard that as a sign of improvement. I see weakness. I see a lack of ability to overcome. It fills me with an ambition touched by frustration.
I check my hair to be certain it’s not too greasy. My face feels clean, despite last night’s run and training. I sniff myself and look in the mirror. Nothing too horrendous.
There’s a salve that I apply each morning while I take in the dawn sun, showers, or storms. I rub it in and sigh, enjoying the quiet before everything begins again.
“Note, are you awake?” a familiar voice says through the door.
“You know I never sleep, Raven. Come in, won’t you?”
Raven comes in, half-dressed in training garments. Her summer shorts are belted, but she’s wearing only an undershirt. It takes about one fourth of a second for me to realize how supple her breasts look through the tight fabric, and try not to stare.
Blood rushes to my face, so I turn toward the sun and pretend to prefer that sight.
“Valiant Varop requests you immediately.”
“Immediately? Footwork and sparring starts at the first bell today, does it not? That should be in less than an hour.”
“The messenger told me not to finish dressing, it was so urgent.”
We both realize that I am wearing only briefs and a half-shirt … not to mention, the morning excitement had not fully worn off.
Raven cannot suppress her smirk as stifled giggles fight through.
“It’s not funny! I-it’s not you! It’s just—“
“I think you’d better calm yourself before you see him, at least.”
“You! Get out!” I shout with a surprising amount of embarrassment and anger in my voice, all but slamming the door onto her face while she shrieks and runs laughing.
I tuck myself into a uniform and tie my boots hurriedly before rushing to this chamber.
Adolescence was never something I anticipated as fun, and now as I am tossed into it, I do not enjoy it anymore than I expected. I’m waiting for the morning I don’t wake up to a tent in my blankets.
I pass through the dining halls where the portraits and tapestries loom like giants of art, depicting everything from untouched goddesses in promiscuous poses to scoundrels being hung from gallows.
“Took you long enough,” Valiant Varop says as I step through the open door to his chamber.
He has one of the most remarkable views of a basin with rivers and mountains towering with pines just beyond his chamber windows. Fitting for someone with as much experience on the field.
“Training in the evening again? I understand your enthusiasm extends beyond normal training hours, but you must have misheard me the first time when I said: ‘I do not advise such endeavors,’ what I really meant, and what I will truly say now in a more direct manner, is that you are not permitted to train beyond training hours.”
“Gods damnit, Note, do you not trust our ability to turn you into a competent enough fighter? Do you not realize that you are spitting not only on my advice but on a regiment that has been toiled over and thought out for decades? Altered thousands of times and will continue to be?”
“Training is going to increase in intensity today, but not on your behalf. It is an unfortunate coincidence that it follows a particularly straining night for you. Do not think I have not seen you in the courtyard late in the evening. In any case, changes are always being made. Today marks the day of an unexpected shift in vigor put upon the intermediate class fighters, and now you will be far too weak to overcome the challenges.”
“Are you certain of this?”
“Admittedly, no. You are often full of surprises, Note. I’ll give that to you.”
For the first time in this interaction, he turns around from the window he is facing to look at me. As always, his face is stern, hiding a softness beneath it that I have seen enough of on rare occasions to know the affection he is capable of.
“You are frightened, that is why you push yourself, isn't it?” he asks.
“A mixture of fear and a desire to become stronger than that same fear.”
“Did you practice that line in front of the window in your dorm?”
For a moment, he is overcome with nostalgic laughter. Then it settles. “When you break, today, do not blame it on anyone but yourself.”
“I will not break. But if I did, I certainly would not blame anyone else. Not for a moment.”
“Your body will be screaming. Theirs will be, too, but the conditioning we’ve put them through based on the schedule allows only for a demonstration of willpower and mental strength to overcome today’s obstacles. Not a lack of physical prowess. Ideally, at least.”
“The war is getting worse, Valiant.”
“That is not of your concern. Not until you’re in the field.”
“Not until I am watching from the loser’s side?”
“Watch your words, Note.”
“Until I am holding one of us in our arms while I attempt to carry the burden of victory? Attempt to shoulder an extra load?”
For a moment, it appears as if he is going to bound across the room to slap me. But his posture slackens. He looks back at me once again.
“There is still a life to be enjoyed, Note. Your training, the war, it is not everything. If I see you out in the courtyards during regular training weeks, I will disavow you from the Order. You’ve heard these words?”
“You’ve heard these words. I will not breed any more heartless warriors. They are effective, perhaps, but they embody a life that our cause does not fight for. They embody a life of mechanical thought and obedience, which is exactly what we are trying to free our lands of. We are fighting for freedom and a life full of unrestrained experiences.”
“Then what do you prefer I do, in the evenings when I brimming with that mixture of fear and desire?”
“Sleep with one of the others in your division, or sneak across our campus, instead, to flirt with others you don’t know yet. Read a book you’ve not explored, one that isn’t about swordplay or the fundamentals of footwork. Go for a walk, but do not run. Slow down to enjoy the feeling of spring fading. Of summer coming. Smell winter creep up. Say farewell to your memories, or relive them and sleep while they play on your mind.”
“But those things do not …”
“I have lived, Shamus. I know what it is like to train, to fight, to kill. It is another thing to live. We are busy enough each day. Squeezing out golden moments out of a vial filled with drudgery. Take your late evenings to find those golden droplets, or by gods, I will send you away. Follow the example of your peers. They unknowingly understand this.”
He beckons me closer. We grip arms, nod. His eyes look misty, and I decide to take them in, so that I may draw them later, if I am not too exhausted. I used to draw when I was younger.
He turns back to the window, and I to the door.
Raven is waiting outside. I nod at her, and we walk together in silence down the corridors.
“How did it go, sticker?”
“Not as terrible as I thought,” I admit. “In fact, I rather enjoyed it.”
“You’re strange, sometimes, Note. No. All the time.”
“Is that such a bad thing?”
“Not to me,” she shrugs.
I wonder why my heart thumps so loud when I think of holding her hand.
"Do you want to sneak out of training an hour early today?"
Surprise flashes across her face, and delight finds its place on her smile. "Yes, I'd love that."
"We'll call it a date, okay? I'd like to call it that." My voice sounds stern, professional. This idea of charm and flirting is not my strong suit.
The bell for the midday training begins to sound, as loud as it is deep. The walls tremble ever so slightly, and we hasten our step down the hallways as other fighters for the Order rush out of their dorms, still half-asleep.