A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers
"Four hundred ninety eight… Four hundred ninety nine… F-five hundred."
As I said the last number out loud, my arms, no longer having the strength to hold my body up, gave in and I fell to the floor.
"L-liena...how many more...of these...do I have to do…?" I was so tired that my sentence was intercut with pained wheezing. Not only were my arms about to collapse, my lungs felt ready to burst.
"I told you when we began our duel, didn’t I?" Liena wagged her finger like a pretentious scholar lecturing a dunce. "If you couldn't hit me with your sword within the sixty second time limit, your punishment would be to do five hundred push ups."
"I...I thought you were joking. Five hundred is way too much." I said through all my wheezing.
"My teacher did the same for me," she said matter of factly. "But...I always managed to hit her before the time limit was up, so I never had to do any push ups."
She smirked like she was oh so great.
"O-one day...I'll beat you in a duel. Mark my words."
"Oh?!" she looked a little shocked at my declaration. "Really?! When my teacher gave me the same test, I had a fifteen second time limit."
That last bit of information broke me. She didn't seem like it on the outside but Liena was an extraordinary knight.
Lia and I broke the news of our new apprenticeship to Sena and her father the day we were scheduled to leave the capital. Of course, not informing our parents about it or not even getting to say goodbye to them didn’t sit right with Liena, so she let us return home for a few days to sort things out.
Understandably, our parents were shocked and frankly didn't believe us at first. It wasn't until Sena’s father confirmed it all that they finally believed us. But once they did, they at first were a little worried, but eventually our parents began to feel proud of us. And Lia and I became the talk of the town for the two weeks we were there.
Then Liena came to fetch us and we had to say goodbye to our homes for the foreseeable future.
It was a long journey from our hometown to the capital which meant that we stayed in a few inns along the way.
Usually, Lia and Liena slept in the same room and I got a whole room to myself. It always felt so nice to sleep in a bed all by yourself.
But there was this one time when the inn only had one vacant room. The coach driver slept in the carriage, but that still left Lia, Liena, and me. Having no other inn to go to, the three of us slept in a single room.
You might be wondering how that worked out… Well, it didn’t. Every time they had to change clothes, I would have to step outside and wait for them to finish.
On top of that, there was a single bed big enough for only two. And of course, I was immediately assigned the floor. Liena asked for more sheets and made me a makeshift bed on the ground. As for the two girls, they slept soundly in the bed. At one point, I got up to use the bathroom, and saw Lia and Liena cuddling sound asleep, like mother and daughter.
Sheesh. Liena doted on Lia so much that it made Lia seem like her apprentice instead of me.
But that was all four months ago.
Lia and I were now knight apprentices and Sena have enrolled in a trade school here in the capital. We sometimes found time to visit her but it wasn’t very often. Sometimes I didn’t see Lia for several days at a time, but that was because of the intensive training we were receiving at the moment. Well, I don’t know how hard it is for Lia, but I can assure you that it's much easier than mine.
“Okay,” Liena began with a little clap, “now that you’re done with that, it’s time for more sword training.”
“Are you trying to kill me or something?” I complained as I obediently picked up the training sword.
It was pretty heavy even though it was only used as a training sword, but that was why Liena told me to use it. She said that when I get to use a real sword, it'll be at least three times as heavy. So I needed to get used to using this training sword in preparation for a real one.
When Liena let me hold her rapier just to prove her point, I nearly dropped it due to the sudden weight. Even so, she told me that rapiers were one of the lighter swords. The one Knight Andor was using–a long sword–was easily twice as heavy as hers.
But what impressed me even more was just how fast Liena could move her sword. Even with its weight, it was hard to see the sword’s tip when she swung it. And that was still when she was going easy on me.
Like I said before, she didn't seem like it on the outside but Liena was an extraordinary knight.
Every week for three months I had been training to the point of utter exhaustion. Liena said that it would all pay off in the end but she hadn’t told me why. So I would just have to wait.
“Alright, Sam, get in position.”
I did as I was told and stood next to Liena with my sword aimed before me. I guess she was having some mercy on me today by letting me end my lessons with simple sword drills.
“Okay, begin. One...two...three.”
As Liena progressed through the various sword stances, I followed. Down, then to my upper right followed by a horizontal slice to my left. We continued with the exercise until we were completely in sync. We had done this together so many times now that it only took a few seconds for us to move in unison.
It was a very calming experience, something that you wouldn't consider since it was sword practice. But the way each movement of the sword fed into the next without much effort made the whole thing feel awfully relaxing.
We kept at it for at least an hour. The movements were so effortless that my body just carried them out automatically. Liena had stopped counting all together. But even so, we didn’t break our sync. And before we knew, the far horizon hard turned a soft crimson, and soon, evening had arrived.
We called it a day and Liena and I parted ways on our way to our rooms.
× × ×
Liena had woken me up extra early today but she didn’t tell me why up until now. It was about six in the morning and she had taken me to her favorite restaurant down south.
“Yep. It’s basically a tournament to entertain the people of the capital. It’s the talk of the city. I’m amazed that you haven’t heard about it.”
Well, between the antagonizing training Liena had me doing and the six hours of sleep I got everyday, I hardly had the time to go out into the city. It was no wonder I hadn’t heard anything.
"Alright. So a tournament is going to happen soon. How does that concern me?" I'm guessing I'm involved in it in some sort of way.
"I guess I haven't told you who the people that compete in the tournament are, have I?" She said it with such a mischievous grin that chills began to run down my spine. "It's a sword fighting tournament."
Then her words sunk in. "Did you sign me up for this tournament?"
"Yep," she giggled as if she had merely pulled a harmless prank. "And it's in four hours."
Not only had she signed me up for something I had no interest in, but she also waited to tell me until the very last minute. I hadn’t known Liena for very long, but putting off things until the very last moment was something she did very often.
"Don't worry. You'll be fine."
"Well, given your track record, it's hard to believe the things you say."
"H-how rude," she said, aghast. "And when I say you don't have to worry, I mean it. It might be a tournament but it's relatively small. There's only eight competitors."
"Only eight?" That really was small. With that amount of people, the first round would already be the quarterfinals.
"I know you don't really care much for it but it's kind of tradition for both knights and knight apprentices to compete in it."
"Huh?! What do you mean?"
"Well, the only ones who compete are knights."
That came as a surprise. Who would have thought that the proud and noble knights put on a tournament between themselves.
"But that's not all," Liena continued. "The winner of the tournament receives a prize."
"And what would that be?" I asked, my interest piqued.
“You know how I’m always telling you that you’ll eventually get a proper sword?” I nodded and she continued. “If you win the tournament, you will be able to get your own sword.”
Okay. So it was basically just a tournament involving several knights and apprentices and the winner received a sword as a prize. But why? Why did we need to win a tournament in order to receive a sword. Couldn’t we just be given a regular sword and be done with it. There was no need for a tournament in that case.
“If you are wondering why you need to go through all the trouble just to receive a sword, it’s because they aren’t ordinary swords.”
“What do you mean?’
“You see,” she began, “every sword given from this tournament is made of a special metal that originates from a volcano up north. They’re made from this metal because of just how strong and durable it is. In the hundred years or so that we have been using this metal, only one of these swords has ever been broken.”
Now that she was beginning to explain it, I was starting to gain more and more interest in this tournament. A sword that basically never breaks, sign me up. Well, I guess Liena already has signed me up.
“Of course, the metal is pretty rare. That’s why we hold tournaments, to see who is worthy of one. The metal oozes out of a crevice in a cave in the volcano, and only enough for one sword can be gathered every year. Most don’t consider themselves fully fledged knights until they win the tournament and receive their sword.”
I guess that makes sense. So… “Does that mean that you won your rapier in that tournament?”
“Yep,” she answered with a smile as she placed her hand on the place on her hip where her sword would rest. We were only going out to eat so there was no reason for her to have it with her. “Though, it took me two tries to get it,” she chuckled.
If it took Liena two tournaments, which basically translated to two years, I doubted I would be able to receive mine as fast as she did. I let out a deep sigh as I thought about it.
“Don’t look so sad, Sam. Even if you don’t get your sword today, that’s not what makes you a knight. You should know that.” She tried to cheer me up with one of her smiles which I guess kind of worked.
“I guess, but you’ve hyped those swords so much that I now really want one now.”
“Well, you’ll just have to win the tournament, then,” she giggled.
We were just going to have to wait until the tournament started to see if I had enough skill to win it all. I doubted it, though. Liena kicks my ass every time we duel. So I seriously doubted I could win three consecutive duels against others who might very well be better than me.
But there was no point in thinking about it now since our food had finally arrived.
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