Chapter 1: A not so sweet victory

Sun blinded my eyes. I stepped back to get out of my opponent's reach. He was breathing hard; the heat was getting to him. We paced in a circle, waiting for someone to make the next move, my eyes locked on his to wait for the movement that would begin his attack. He blinked. His sword came down on me with crushing speed. His strategy: using his brute strength against my small muscles. Our swords clashed loudly. I quickly swung his sword out of the way before he could place any pressure on it. If he had been able to, I may not have had the strength to hold up against him. Before he stabilized his hold I made short jabs at his hands and legs which he clumsily blocked at strange angles. I had him. Simultaneously out of my last jab to his leg, I swung my sword and forced it down on his. The sword flew out of his hands onto the hard- packed dirt. I pointed the tip of my sword at his neck. The match had ended.

"Good game!" I called, holding out a hand to help the squire up. He brushed it off rudely and stalked off.

"I went easy on you. It won't happen again."

I stood there shocked. He hadn't held back! Was I ever going to win in their eyes? I'd thought, if I won, they would finally accept me…

"Great job! You fought very well!"a voice said from across the arena. I looked over. Kam, my best friend, smiled at me from the railings. I jumped over the wooden fence to join him. Here was one person who believed in me.

"Hey! So how did I do?"

"Good. What's wrong?"

I could never hide anything from Kam, he knew me too well. "They'll never accept me as a real sword-fighter, no matter what I do. It's pointless to try." I said with a sigh, unbraiding my long hair.

"You're not going to give up sword-fighting just for THAT are you?" he asked incredulously.

"Of course not! I'm just irritated. Anyways, no one can take this away from me!" I said passionately.

"That's the spirit! It doesn't matter what others think, right?"

I nodded. "Um, thanks for teaching and helping me, it really means a lot- to me." Where had this shy person come from? I did not usually act like this.

"What's this for? I'm just following orders."

"What?" I asked, startled.

"Oh I'm just kidding Ani. You really believed me?" He laughed, his eyes twinkling.

I began to walk away. When he was in this mood it was almost impossible to talk to him seriously.

He ran up to walk with me. "Oh I'm hurt! To think that through all we've been through, all that we've done! I thought we were friends! " he said overdramatically, his eyes dancing. A passing courtier looked back at us strangely.

"I've only known you for five months, so don't start getting a head of yourself with that wild imagination of yours." I retorted.

"There she goes again! Hurting my sensitive feelings! You have no mercy for your obedient-and devilishly charming guard, do you?" He said, barely holding back a smile.

"Oh and don't forget modest!" I said playfully.

"What's that supposed to mean? You really are cold-blooded, Ani. I-"

Ani sighed and put her hand to his mouth. "Alright, alright, I give up" I said with a smile. They had arrived at the door of her bedroom. "How about you show me just how obedient you claim yourself to be and wait at my door."

"Oh why, my dear lady?" he asked, suddenly acting the part of an obedient guard.

"This "Lady" has to change from her brother's exercise tunic to something more becoming, and by that, I mean constraining and uncomfortable" I said ruefully, my mood darkening just thinking of it.

"Don't let it get to you, Ani. One day you'll be free." He said, his eyes shining.

"And when will that be? When I'm dead?" I asked sarcastically.

He shrugged and opened the door. I turned back to him. "You know, as far as I'm concerned, you are a pretty good guard." I said shyly, blushing. What had come over me to say that?

"Coming from you, I'm honored." I searched his face for any sign of a joke, but he was serious. "Will we still have a training lesson tonight in the arena?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world. It's the only thing that keeps me sane, you know."

"Until then, my Lady" he said with a short bow

I closed the door and sat in my chair. What a busy day! I had beaten that cocky squire! All my work for weeks had culminated to that. Kam really was an amazing teacher! He was nineteen, an experienced swordfighter and my personal guard… the Gods must've been smiling on me when the commander assigned him to me. He could beat men twice as old as he, and was the youngest man in my guard. I'm sure he doesn't know how happy I am when I am with him, how important he is to me. He's my teacher and friend, somebody who accepts me for who I am and always has a smile for me.

My personal maid came through the servant's entrance to get me ready and interrupted my thoughts. Queen Edoline was going to visit me today, she said. It was something urgent, I supposed. Queen Edoline is my mother, but we are not close. I am the fourth sister, someone of little power compared to my many brothers and sisters. My parents all but ignored me, and I am happier because of it. Only because of my status am I allowed to swordfight. I had fought with my mother for many months to get this chance, and only because of my lack of importance was it allowed. She had never bothered to visit me in my quarters before. This news was unsettling.

….

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