- For other articles with related titles, see The Trainee's Test.
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by Anon Emous, bard of South Freeport.
Training was always vigorous if it were led by Lord Villanian himself. Through half-closed eyes, Delaira watched his movements, studying and learning. With a flick of his wrist, Lord Villanian would rip a weapon from the hand of the student he was teaching -- and sometimes, their hand as well if he were in a particularly foul mood. Today, he moved with a fluid grace and cat-like ease that gave no indication of the state of his mind.
"Come!" he called to Delaira, pointing to the spot recently occupied by the latest in a row of defeated students. With the toe of her scuffed leather boot, Delaira covered up the stains with clean sawdust. The arena floor was always covered in woodchips and sawdust, all the better to absorb the sweat and blood of the fallen. Lord Villanian nodded curtly and without preamble, struck his first blow. Balancing on the tip of her toe, Delaira quickly turned to the side, letting his momentum carry the blow away.
She would not lose against him again, she thought. As her wound healed from their last sparring match, Delaira had not been idle. She had been observant. She knew how he liked to glance toward the left, then thrust to the right. She locked her eyes to his, gripping the rough handle of her bardiche with both hands as she stepped backward. She loved the texture of the wood balanced against the glimmer of its sharp silvery blade.
Teacher and student circled slowly backwards, warily watching each other. Each tested the other's reflexes with a quickened pace or a feinted thrust. Delaira saw an opening and relaxed herself into the motion. Stepping forward, she swung the end of the bardiche upwards, as though to strike him in the gut. He reacted exactly as she had foreseen, with a quick twist at the waist, bringing down his weapon hard to push hers away. At that instant, she changed the tactic and instead jerked the blade of her weapon downward.
"Too soon, you idiot," Delaira cursed as Lord Villanian ducked her maneuver with practiced ease. He said, "A feeble try, perhaps someday you'll get the hang of it." Then he swooped low to swing at her legs. She had prepared for this, too, and planted the end of the bardiche into the ground, pulling herself upward and aiming a quick kick squarely into his face. She heard the gasp from her classmates as she landed her blow.
"Not bad," he said, and Delaira allowed herself an inward smile. That was the highest praise anyone in their class had received so far in this training group. She nodded to him imperceptibly as they continued circling, weapons held at their proper angles. There was a movement in the group that stood watching them but Delaira did not remove her gaze from Lord Villanian. She swung and he countered; he thrust and she blocked. "He is waiting for me to tire," she thought, "I will not give him the satisfaction of beating me again."
They lunged at each other again, but this time as their weapons met in another frustration block, someone pushed forward from the crowd, clapping loudly. Startled, both Delaira and Lord Villanian turned their heads to see the Overlord striding toward them. "What is this? Play time for the little ones?" he said mockingly. Selecting a weapon from the rack, he waved Delaira away and faced Lord Villanian. For the first time in the weeks she had watched him, Delaira could see tension in her instructor's face.
"So show me," said the Overlord, breezily stepping closer to Lord Villanian, "how this works. We simply dance around until one of us needs the facilities? Is that how you were trained?" "No! Of course not," snapped the instructor, who then remembered to whom he was speaking, "My lord knows that there are many ways to win a battle. One lesson is patience, of waiting for the right moment to strike a single blow that fells the enemy."
The Overlord laughed, a sound that echoed eerily through the cavernous room in which the students' arena sessions were held. "Oh, my dear Villanian, is that what you are waiting for? The moment for you to strike has long since passed." Lord Villanian jerked his head upward to look the Overlord in the face and as he did so, the Overlord struck, pulling Villanian to him along the length of his sword. "It seems I have found the right moment, Villanian, and you shall never succeed."
Villanian's sword fell with a dull thud to the ground from his lifeless hand. The Overlord pushed him away distastefully, beckoning for Delaira. "If I should die at the hand of the Overlord, I am happy," she thought, lowering her eyes respectfully before him. Instead, she felt his eyes appraising her for several minutes before he said, "You are now the instructor of this pathetic school. You will not attempt an overthrow, like your predecessor." With that, the Overlord stepped on his fallen rival and disappeared into the darkness.