Chapter I

It was impossible to miss the commotion that had aroused the entire market square, where, towering over the crowd of buzzing villagers, with his wide set back crouched forward in anticipation, and thick hands gripped confidently around his sword, stood the apparent victor of the sword fight in progress. He laughed with a loud booming voice in mockery of his opponent, who by all likeness, presented little, if not no threat to him, as he lay sprawled on the ground in a position which defied the laws of flexibility. Still, this young lad was indeed fool hearted as he was determined, and, oblivious to pain, he hopped up and bended forward challengingly, refusing to surrender.

"It's gonna take more than a flip to get me down. Game's up, I'm gonna bring you to your knees!" he exclaimed in blind pride.

"The fool!" remarked one of the older bystanders.

"He'll surely get himself killed!" agreed another.

"And he was so young too," sighed yet another.

Facing the younger boy, the man smiled in amusement as he whipped his sword expertly to his side to show off his dangerousness. "Surrender while you can, boy."

"Never," the boy responded, not deterred in the least as he retrieved his own sword, "I'm gonna take you down!"

With that, he blindly rushed forward and attacked the other contender, with a force that was expertly blocked, and the moment he faltered in surprise was easily used against him to knock his sword from his very fingers.

There was an instant hush among the spectators, as they held their breaths in expectation of his surrender, but the boy did the opposite and wildly swung at the man with his bare fists, only to be thrown into a row of barrels stocked to one side. He easily rolled off the mess, now dripping wet, to retrieve his sword, but was met with the shining blade of his opponent, before falling back in exhaustion.

A cheer went through to crowd, as they acknowledged his win, and triumphantly the man bellowed.

"Who dares to challenge me like this fool," he motioned to the slightly stirring boy, "will be met with a similar fate."

"Are you sure about that?"

By this time the crowd neatly parted as the daring new challenger approached without a hint of fear, and caught off guard at this bold move, the man gruffly turned around. This new challenger was small and lean… much smaller and leaner than the other boy had been. This challenger also walked with a noble stride and air, with an uplifted chin and straight back that marked an aristocrat.

"I'll need your sword if you don't mind," the new challenger said kneeling beside the defeated boy, who only gazed up in a daze.

It was clear from his voice that he was young, very young, but there was something not quite right.

"Might I have a name to engrave on your tombstone?" the man asked in mock sincerity.

The masked new challenger smiled and removed the helmet, revealing long flowing blonde hair, and a delicate face much suited to the confines of a castle rather than a battlefield.

"Rael Edwards. Remember it," the girl smiled beautifully, "Because it may be the last thing you do."

Now, if those words had been uttered by a man, let alone the foolish boy this warrior had just fought, he might've taken a slight offense to those words. But seeing them coming from the delicate lips of a young woman, he could do nothing but snicker.

The girl looked disappointed for a moment, then once again held high her head and stepped forward.

"I challenge you, Sir Riley," then added, "to a match."

The watching villagers, who had been silent till then, burst into a fit of laughter and taunts.

"The girl wants to fight!"

"Doesn't she realize her riotous ways won't suffice to this?"

"Give her your sword! Perhaps she'll help you with cleaning it!"

The girl merely looked around about her, and decided to ignore the taunts, and so she pressed the amused man to fight her.

"Y-You… want me?" He panted between fits of his bellowing laughter, "T-to fight you?"

The boy was able to sit up a little at the surprise of this new turn of events, and watched as the girl frowned a little, her eyebrows furrowing in frustration.

Did she actually expect to fight against a trained warrior and survive? Or was she merely asking for a death sentence?

"Listen, I don't condone that kind of behavior of any woman, but if you go back home now your father does not have to know about this," the man tried to reason, still chuckling slightly.

She was bold above all, with a courageous spirit, a challenging catch for any man in need of entertainment.

"And shall he also remain oblivious to your attempts to seduce his only daughter?" she accused boldly, causing a buzz to stir through the increasingly growing crowd. He glared at her with a different kind of fierceness, and seeing her evident success she went on. "A knight is supposed to protect the vulnerable, are they not? So, let's see if you are worthy."

She thrust the sword she held at him quite admirably for any woman, but Sir Riley was a trained knight who was not about to lose his pride or his influence for that matter, and he easily blocked her attack, and took a hold of both her wrists.

She stared at him with wide eyes.

"Wrong move," he said simply before flipping her over. She was able to maneuver into a proper back flick and impressively catch her sword as she landed.

"No, I believe not," she said.

Astonished by this feat, the crowd was once again silenced as they watched what played out before them. The knight seemed to be angered by the accusation and as if the blood had gone to his head, rushed at the girl viciously.

On realizing that this was no longer a match, but an actual struggle for life, she proceeded to quickly dodge his bloodthirsty blade, which came at her wildly. One particular strike threw him off balance, and he plunged over a picket into the bushes below.

Still breathing heavily, Rael bent down to assist the boy, who had a serious wound on his side.

"Hey, look at me!" she pleaded as she knelt beside him. "You have to take off your shirt so I can get a look at your wound!" Her hand was knocked away as she attempted to touch him.

"I don't need you help!" he said, hardly even able to speak as he breathed raspily.

She frowned in annoyance, "Yes you do."

"No one asked for your help!" he spat at her, "Why don't you stick to sewing as you should!"

Rael felt herself riling up in anger at the nerve of him who she was just trying to assist. This very situation was a perfect example of how unfairly the society labeled women as nothing more than companions and caretakers.

"Well I-"

"You'll be doing what know?"

As the grip around her shoulder tightened and the familiar voice spoke, Rael knew she was in for trouble, and reluctantly turned to face her father.

The expression on his face did nothing to cheer her mood and like a condemned criminal, she walked the walk of shame to the waiting carriage.