Ch 4

The early morning sun just barely crested the eastern mountains when the captain of the guard and his sub commander came out of a side door of the palace. Not truly wishing to be different from his men, the uniform for the captain of the guard didn't vary too much. He wore the same outfit with the steel and leather armor. The only difference to his outfit was that his half cloak was a reversal of the usual cloaks worn by the palace guards. A blue and white-lined half cloak with the mark of the royal family embroidered on the back.

They walked over to the line of the fifteen new recruits that they were to test for the next few days. On the surface, the recruits seemed like a promising bunch, but they'll soon see if they can serve what they show. On either side of the line, the other palace guards that were selected to help oversee the recruitment test also stood at attention, left hands resting on the pommels of their swords.

The captain of the guard sized up his trainees, he extended his arm toward his sub commander for the list of names of the fifteen young men before him.

"Markel Aaronson!" The captain of the guard called out.

"Sir!" responded a young man near the far right.

"Isaac Alaxson!"

"Sir!"

The captain of the guard continued down the list, marking down those who had answered and crossing out the few names who did not come or were late.

"Cray Laronson."

"Sir!" Amongst the line of new recruits came a reply that said person was present. Craya winced internally at the sound of her voice, hoping no one noticed. She had been practicing how she would talk that could pass as a young man that may just happen to still retain a bit of a higher voice than most men.

"Hm. That name sounds familiar." The captain of the guard commented, looking in the direction to where Craya was standing. "Was Laron Garretson your father?"

Craya suddenly felt very warm under captain's intense gaze. "Yes sir." Craya answers, her voice slightly deeper. The way she wanted it to sound like.

The captain nodded as he made a mark next to Craya's nickname, just remembering the conversation he had with a young maid about a week ago. "Good man, Laron. Jeorge Ianson!"

"Sir!"

Craya slowly let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. She'd worked so hard to get to where she was now. She was not going to turn around just because of a silly slip up of voice.

Craya was taken from her thoughts as the captain if the guard named off the last recruit. He closed the leather folder and gave it back to his subcommander.

"Good morning recruits." The captain greeted. "I'm Captain Goesh. This is my sub commander Lieutenant Zaer. For the next three days, you all will be tested to see if you even have the skills that are crucial to being a palace guard. This is not just another position as a common soldier. We are the first and ultimate line of defense for the royal family. If we fall, the kingdom falls." There was a brief pause from the captain as if letting what he just said sink in. He then nodded to Zaer and departed.

"Today, we will be evaluating your skills with various weapons while checking for your endurance." Zaer explained and nodded to the few other guards to approach. "You will be split up into five groups. Each group of three will be overseen by a senior guard and it is they who will be deciding whether or not you are fit to become a palace guard." Zaer made a gesture and one of the guards stepped forward, a piece of paper in hand.

"Franz Frankson, Arcin Joshson, and Jax Aralson. Step forward." The guard watched as three recruits stepped from the line and came to him. "Follow me." The four men walked away as another guard began to read out his group.

"Dirnel Craigson, Patrik Nateson, and Cray Laronson. Step forward and follow me." At the sound of her name, Craya's heart started to pound as she and her group mates followed their overseer.

He led them to a place near the farthest corner of the training field where there were many kinds of equipment that had been set up for their use.

"My name is Tobi Carlson and we will first start out with your skills with a sword." Tobi gestured his hand toward the small portable rack of swords. He seemed young, compared to some of the other guards, but he was definitely much older than Craya and her peers. "They are real swords, but they are dull for the purpose of this test." One by one they each got a sword, unsheathed them, and waited for further instructions.

Tobi drew his own dulled sword and stood in front of Dirnel, a tall dark haired young man with faint freckles dotting his face. "As we spar, I will occasionally change partners until I have fought with each of you while the other two fight each other. Am I understood?" All three recruits nodded their heads.

No sooner had they lifted their heads, Tobi lunged for the stocky built Patrik. Taking that as their sign to begin, Craya and Dirnel faced each other and began to spar. Since this is her real first time fighting with anyone, Craya began in a defensive position, deciding to read Dirnel's movements before trying anything. Actually fighting with another person was much different than imagining an opponent. In her mind she knew what was going to happen next and so could act accordingly, but in fighting Dirnel she really had to watch him as she did little more than block.

From what she could see, Dirnel was pretty good. His stance is a little too narrow, which had nothing to do with his height. 'He's a little arrogant.' Craya assumed as she continued to watch the man's actions. Eventually, Craya felt comfortable enough to attack and see how he would react. The sudden change of defense to offense caught the other recruit off guard as he struggled to block Craya's attacks. While his advances were a little flashy in an attempt to intimidate his opponent with a seemingly high skill level, they were a little slower to Craya's quick jabs. A few times, Dirnel tried to go on the offense again, but Craya managed to block his strikes and keep the upper hand.

All of a sudden, Craya's dull blade was blocked by that of their overseer as he cut in to spar with Craya next. Once again, Craya dropped back to block Tobi's strikes. Even though she didn't have a lot of formal training, Craya could definitely tell the difference between Dirnel's fighting style and that of the veteran palace guard. His stance was perfect, firm yet flexible and in complete control of his movements. It was hard to describe how, but she could tell from the contact of steel on steel that he was going a bit easy, coaxing her with openings in his movements.

Deciding to just go for it, Craya lunged when she found a good opening, shoving off Tobi's sword with her own and quickly swung at his shoulder.

"Don't hold back." Tobi instructed her as he tried to force her to the defensive again. "I need to see what you're capable of." Having a lot more years of experience fighting with a sword, Tobi knew that Craya had originally aimed for his head, but changed direction in the last minute.

Obeying the overseer's words, Craya began to get a little more creative with her attacks. 'I should show them just how good I am if I want to join the palace guards.' Craya counseled herself as she wacked away his sword, giving herself an opening, and started swinging at Tobi with some of her best moves. For several minutes, Craya managed to keep Tobi from delivering any of his own attacks for most of the time, getting into a kind of tug-of-war to be the leader in their duel.

Once the overseer was satisfied with what he had observed of Craya, he caught Craya's sword with his and forced it to pierce the ground. While she was distracted, Tobi turned on an unsuspecting Dirnel, nearly making him trip on his own feet. Once Craya got her sword out of the ground, she prepared herself to face off with Patrik.

Compared to her other two opponents, Patrik's attacks had a lot more power in them that would nearly knock her off balance if she didn't watch her footing and braced herself properly. His movements were slower, which left him open for some of Craya's attacks, but he was at least fast enough to block and counter with a few of his own heavy hits.

By the time Tobi called for them to stop, Craya felt her hands were slightly trembling from all the pressure it had felt from their fight. Patrik noticed.

"Sorry about that, Cray" Patrik said, patting Craya on the shoulder. Even his hand felt heavy.

Craya returned his smile with her own slightly awkward one. "No, it's alright." She also put her hand on his shoulder, exerting a little more force than she usually would so that it would not feel too weak to him. "I am not used to fighting against someone with as much power as you. I'll get used to it."

The three trainees returned their swords back on the portable rack and looked to Tobi for further instructions.

"Next, I shall test you on your spear work." He threw each of them a spear before picking one for himself.

Craya felt a little nervous as she looked down at her weapon. Since she was still a bit young when her father died, he wasn't able to teach her too much about how to use the spear. However, despite his unfortunate absence, she trained the best she could by herself. Occasionally she would even ask Shera to help her out.

This time, Tobi picked Craya to spar with first, lunging forward to push her back and away from the other recruits. Internally groaning, Craya jumped away from the reach of the overseer's spear and got into a battle ready stance that she remembered her father teaching her. With her left hand extended to grip halfway down the length of the spear and the other hand ready to move the spear in whatever way she needed.

Every time Tobi would get too close, Craya would intercept his spear and whirl it away, creating herself an opening to swipe at him. At times he would just duck or dodge, at other times he would rush her back, stopping her attacks midway. Craya really hoped that her performance with a spear wouldn't badly affect the evaluation of her skills.

Eventually the overseer moved away from Craya and left her to fight with Patrik. Just like with their spar with swords, Patrik was a bit slow with his movements, but was quite precise as he kept her at a good distance away from him most of the time, making it hard for her to land a good hit if he were an actual enemy. When they changed partners again, Dirnel was another story. With him being tall and having longer arms, all Craya could really do was defend against his far reaching attacks. A few times she would try and dive in for an opening to gain some advantage and then lose it within a few moments.

Once again, their overseer stopped their sparring to change to another weapon. "The next two weapons that we will be testing you with are not what we would usually use in a fight. However, it wouldn't hurt to know how to use and defend against these weapons." Tobi walked over to a small barrel that held long thick poles, each dotted with the scars of multiple fights. "We will first familiarize you with the staff." He threw each of them a sparring staff before facing them with a smile. "You never know when you might find yourself in a situation where the shaft of your spear breaks off. Or maybe with the rare chance to fight with a long tree branch. Even though we are supposed to be the elite fighters as the last defense between the enemy and the royal family, it is important to also be adaptable with our fighting styles and techniques. And there will be times when you will have to improvise."

Patrik raised his hand. "Sir, did you really-"

"Yes, I did, at one point." Tobi said, cutting off the recruit. "And I won. Leaves can be quite distracting, just so you know. Now, let's begin, before you can really catch your breaths. And don't worry if you've never practiced with a staff, this is just to expose you to it." The overseer gave Dirnel's staff a tap and them fully swung at him to begin another sparring match.

Deciding that it was time she pushed for the initiative, she quickly turned on Patrik, watching the overseer at the corner of her eye for an example of what to do with a staff. With one end, she swung out to hit Patrik on the side of his head, which he blocked and then pushed back with so much power that Craya nearly fell back if she hadn't leapt away. She dug her heels into the ground and met his attack with the other end of her staff, forcing the opposite part to snap towards Patrik's shoulder. The unexpected contact caught both of them off guard. Feeling a little more confident, she started trying different things to try and land another hit on him.

After some time they switched partners again, Craya ending up with Dirnel. Since he'd already fought with their overseer, Dirnel kept Craya on her toes, his approaches being much different than her and Patrik's inexperienced blows.

Once again, Tobi stopped their sparring after testing Craya with her staffing. "Good. You all seem to have a decent grasp as to how to fight with a staff."

Their overseer returned his staff back to the small barrel. "The last weapon we will be working with before lunch is the axe. However, how we spar will be different than the other weapons we've been fighting with for the past several hours. You will each have an axe and a sword. When we pair off, we will switch off who fights with an axe and who fights with a sword. Through this test, we'll see how you can fend off an axe wielder and how you would use an axe. Once again, it's not a commonly used weapon for palace guards, but some knowledge of most every weapon is very useful, along with learning to adjust as quickly as you can with weapons you are not familiar with."

Tobi waited until the recruits got themselves each a sword and axe and then faced off with the closest one, which was Craya. He swung at her so suddenly she almost got her head chopped off if she hadn't angled her sword to redirect the heavy blade. A bit stunned by the action, and the whole experience itself, Craya missed the opening that was naturally given to her as Tobi readied himself to strike again, using the momentum of his previous swing to power up his next move. Seeing his next action, Craya adjusted her position and struck out with her own axe, which forced Tobi to quickly adjust himself just in time to block it.

With each traded blow, Craya and Tobi took turns attacking with the axe until Tobi decided when to change partners. Fighting with an axe took a lot out of Craya as she started to feel the tiredness in her arms. The combination of the amount of force it took to not only block an attack, but to swing her own as well forced her to really push herself. And that was just with one partner.

'This is going to be a long sparring session' Craya thought dejectedly as Patrik stepped up to battle her. From her other fights with Patrik, she knew she was going to suffer a lot. He's a heavy hitter, and it's not like she could keep him at bay using her other weapon.

Tensing up her muscles and steeling herself for their next spar, Craya waited for Patrik to come at her. As he swung his axe, Craya changed her hold slightly so that instead of striking the long blade of her sword against the wooden handle, she caught it at the junction between the blade and crossguard. It was a risky move, but it helped lift some of the force from her tired arm. With Patrik's axe temporarily out of the way, at the same time, Craya swung her own axe toward Patrik, who, of course, dodged it, her attack being fractionally slow due to her lack of strength.

'I need to move faster. Hit harder.' Craya castigated herself. She was tiring, but she forced herself to keep moving. To keep fighting, despite the screaming of her muscles. She knew from the beginning that this trial wasn't going to be easy.

After what seemed like forever, to her great relief, Tobi intercepted Patrik. Even though it meant she wasn't quite of the woods yet, still needing to fight Dernil, she at least didn't have to be on the powerful swinging end of his axe. Now she just has to endure a little longer.

Taking advantage of the few previous seconds of the trading of partners, Craya briefly lowered her axe and leveled her sword in a defensive position. Needing no more encouragement, Dernil rushed her, going for a side sweep. Craya was able to block it easily with her sword and make an attack with her own axe.

Fighting with Dernil was definitely much easier on Craya, compared to Patrik. He may still be a hard hitter, but she just managed to keep up. She had too. She needed to.

Eventually, once again, Tobi stopped the sparring. It took a lot of effort for Craya to keep her from showing how beaten she felt. She prayed that she would never have to fight an axe wielder again or, at least any time soon. Or, if she did have to do it again, she hoped that she'd be a better fighter by then and finish them quickly. She forced herself to imitate the heavy breathing of the others and ignore the need to gasp for more air like a fish too long out of water. They returned their weapons and stood at attention.

Tobi briefly applauded them as he spoke. "Good work, everyone." He took a quick glance towards the front of the field and then addressed them again. "We will be breaking for lunch now. Once we're done, you will be given further instructions for the the rest of the day. You are dismissed." He turned away from us and began to walk somewhere else.