The three shadows stole around the city walls. Their cloaks made no sound as they crouched beside the gates. The hoods cast shadows over their faces, but their glimmering eyes were still visible. The leader cautiously slipped into the open stables beside the huge gates, careful not to bump the quiver on her back. Three of the horses perked up, jerking their heads against the chains that bound them to the wall. The figure unsheathed a pair of long throwing knives, sending slivers of light up the walls.

A guard atop the wall barely noticed until a faint noise of metal rending metal reached his ears. He peered over the wall, but no one was visible.

At the base of the wall, three mounted shadows melted into the darkness surrounding the city, leaving no trace that they had ever existed.

* * * *


The voice was met by groans from the twenty men standing in pairs. The sweat dripped down my face, making my eyes burn from the salt. The sword felt cumbersome even after four hours of practice. All I wanted to do was go find my old caretaker and have a mounted archery contest, or practice with swords for mounted men…

"Aden! Up, your partner waits for you to stand up."

I gritted my teeth and stood upright, meeting the gaze of the formidable swords master. I deliberately exchanged the heavy ground sword for the lighter one in front of his face and turned to face my opponent, a brutal boy three years my senior. He laughed and swung his broadsword into a one handed ready position.

I assumed the elvish two-handed position that Frayne had taught me. Outside hand on the top, it lets you have more power in your swing. It became quickly clear that I had the higher skill level. I danced around the heavyset man in a fluent set of blocks. We soon had a crowd surrounding us, jeering and laughing at the man's struggles to best me. Flipping over his head, I snatched a second thin sword from an onlooker and set myself up for a take down.

I felt a dull burning pain in my left palm. I had dropped the swords and my upright stance. I seemed to float in a haze, gazing at the gaping hole in my palm. The whole crowd, including my would-be partner backed away from my assailant and me. Ignoring the pain that shot through me, I picked up the swords again and turned to face the boy who was the sword's master's favorite, Rethes.

He sneered at my resuming of my position. "What now, Aden? Are you going to dance me to death?"

I steadied my breathing and concentrated my energies into actually fighting Rethes. I spun at him, spraying his impeccable tunic with my blood as I swung into a hold with my swords crossed at his neck.

"What now? Did my dancing scare you?"

There was no laughter this time all eyes were wide and fearful as they fixed on me. I could feel Rethes shallow breaths as he shook. Then someone grabbed through my punctured hand. I ignored the pain as I spun with my other hand. The hand released and I saw that the swords master's hand was soaked in blood. His face betrayed nothing but shock as I sheathed both swords and ripped my shirt into bandages for my hand. I walked away from the silent staring faces of the men. They held nothing for me now. I needed my own way to clear, not to be forced onto theirs.