“Thrust. Parry. Cut.”
The commands came in an increasingly quick cadence. Damon swung his sword faster and faster, trying to keep up with the drill-master. Sweat dripped down his face, flung off with each move. There were only two spots in His Majesty’s Cavaliers, and twenty officers were vying for them.
Damon vowed he would be one of the two.
Fortunately, his letter patents had passed inspection for his past year in His Majesty’s Lions, the infantry of Talmarath. Unfortunately, the first elimination test involved sword-work, the weakest of his martial abilities. Where most nobles spent their childhood mastering the intricacies of the blade, he spent his hunting game, illegally most of the time, with a bow.
The drill-master’s cadence stopped and Damon’s arms dropped with exhaustion. Breathing became more akin to gulping as his burning lungs drank greedily of the air.
“Battle Circle! First pair, Forester versus Yallo!”
The Gods are against me, Damon moaned in his mind.
He steeled his features to hide his inner turmoil, threw back his shoulders and swaggered into the circle. Damon knew why he faced Yallo; one of the weakest against one of the strongest to start the weeding process.
He saluted Yallo with his blade and took up a high guard. Yallo saluted and immediately went on the offensive.
It was over in four moves.
Damon found himself on his back with Yallo’s sword at his throat. The drill-master bellowed the match over and the other officers congratulated Yallo on his victory.
Damon stood, face red with shame, and walked out of the battle circle toward the barracks. The drill-master pulled him aside for a moment. “Forester, you need serious work on your sword skills. Come back in a couple of years when you’re more ready,” the drill-master said.
Damon refused to let his head hang in defeat and stalked off. He passed the archery range and an idea took root.
He grabbed a recurve bow and quiver of arrows. He headed to the stables and requisitioned a horse.
He galloped past the range and shot several arrows to get used to the motion of the horse. When he hit three bulls-eyes in a row, he reined his horse toward the battle circle and charged forward.
He fit his arrow to the string and sighted in on the knight who seemed to be winning. He took a deep breath and loosed as the knight started to raise his blade for the “killing” stroke.
The arrow hissed through the air and clanged against the blade, tearing it out of the hands of the surprised knight. Damon kept charging and rapid-fired arrows, pinning cloaks to posts and making knights dance as arrows landed directly between their feet.
The only one who didn’t move or dive for cover was the drill-master. Indeed, he stood with his arms crossed and a hard look on his face.
“Forester!” he barked out. “Enough!”
Damon halted his barrage and trotted his horse over to the drill-master. He dismounted and stood at attention, looking the drill-master right in the eye.
“You will report to me every morning three hours before any other officer for remedial sword-work,” the drill-master said.
Damon started to grin, but saw stars flash in front of his eyes as a heavy fist crashed into his jaw. He spun to the ground.
The drill-master knelt down beside him. “And if you ever pull a fool-ass stunt like that again, I will have your hide on my wall. Understood?”
Damon groaned his acceptance.
“Get up, Cavalier,” the drill-master said. “You have work to do.”
He walked off and Damon thought he heard a soft chuckle.
But he wouldn’t swear to it.