Here’s another incredible mini-story from Melissa Grey! Enjoy.
Training by Melissa Grey
The sword fell from Caius’s numb fingers, not for the first time, or the second, or the third. His training had begun at dawn, and the sun was now high in the sky. It would be noon shortly, and his stomach rumbled as a reminder that he wasn’t allowed to eat until he got it right. Painful tingles radiated up his arm from his wrist. He would sore tomorrow, just as he had been today, and the day before that, and the day before that.
“Again.” The swordmaster’s voice echoed through the courtyard like the bark of a vicious dog.
Caius clenched his jaw so hard, it clicked. He bent down to pick up his sword, and when he straightened, it wasn’t the swordmaster’s cold gray gaze that stared him down. His sister’s crimson eyes gleamed in the afternoon sun, shining as bright as rubies. Tanith’s own sword was clasped in her own hand, the grip relaxed but confident. She’d always been better at him than this, even when they were children practicing with short, wooden blades.
“Need help?” She asked, the taunt accompanied by a small giggle. “That was, what? The seventh time the swordmaster disarmed you? The eight?” Gods, she was smug.
“No,” Caius snapped. “Thank you,” he added, as an afterthought. He didn’t want her to know how much her words stung. “I can manage just fine.”
She tilted her head to the side. A few stray blonde locks, so much lighter than his dark hair even though they were twins, fell across her forehead. She shook her head to clear them away, her eyes never leaving his. “Are you sure?”
The question was no longer taunting. It was inquisitive. Perhaps even kind. She knew she was better than he was. Faster, more adept with a blade. Sometimes, she liked to rub it in his face, but the teasing had gone out of her tone. The swordmaster cleared his throat, impatience exuding from him in waves. Tanith pulled a face, her back to the swordsmaster so only Caius could see. He bit his lip to keep from laughing.
Caius hefted the sword in his hand. He was still unaccustomed to its weight, but he was getting stronger. Soon, he’d able to wield it with strength and confidence. Soon, but not today.
“Well,” he admitted, his voice low so only Tanith could hear. “I could do with a better sparring partner.” Tanith’s lips curved into a smile – it was more of a baring of fangs, really. “This old coot isn’t quite up to the task.”
He watched as understanding flickered across her expression. There was a moment, a brief one that stretched into a silent eternity, when he thought she wouldn’t let him have this small mercy. When she would seize at the chance to best him at something – he had always been cleverer than her and during their childhood, he hadn’t always been kind about it – but her smile softened at the edges and he knew that no matter her grievances against him or her natural competitive streak, she would let him have this moment. She would give him the opportunity to both learn something and save face. And maybe he’d even get to join the other soldiers for lunch today. He had sparred with her before, and while she could be cruel when she wanted, she also knew how to make him shine. If they impressed the swordmaster, they’d both get to call it a day. He was her brother, and she was his sister, and that was a bond that would never be broken.
Tanith tapped his sword with the tip of hers and said, “Well, then? What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?” She slipped into a fighting stance, her sword at the ready, her eyes alight with the glee that always overtook her at the mere notion of combat. The long-suffering swordmaster was all but forgotten. Caius suspected that he too was a little afraid of Tanith, just like almost everyone else at Wyvern’s Keep. “Let’s fight, brother.”