Lounging on the chaise with her arms spread over the back, Twyla Sanchez had never been so physically comfortable in her life. The soft, incredibly valuable material under her served as a good reminder of how lucky she was to have the king and queen as her parents. Not that it was easy to forget, living in a castle with the kind of furniture and food that many people would kill for. But right now, comfort was the last thing on her mind as she waited for her tutor to come out of his office and give her the results of her final exams.
After what seemed like hours, the door swung open to reveal the tall, slender man in his normal beige robes, holding an envelope in his hand. Twyla sat upright and took a deep breath, hoping she did well.
"Here you go, Twyla," he said, handing her the piece of paper. "I'm sorry to dash off but I'm already late to give my report to the king, so if you have any questions, come find me later, okay?"
Before Twyla could even reply, he had dashed off down the corridor.
Twyla shrugged and opened the envelope. Inside was a piece of paper that gave her the results she was waiting for. Her grimace soon melted into a wide grin as she scanned the writing. "Oh HELL yeah."
She folded it back into the envelope and shot up off the chaise, rushing down to the large window set into the wall at the end of the hallway. Spying the person she was looking for down in the garden, she hurtled down the stairs, almost tripping over at least three times on her way, and burst out of the giant oak doors so quickly that she actually did trip down the marble stairs on the other side.
However, she did not hit the ground.
Twyla let out a yelp as she felt herself fall into someone's arms. She glanced up at the person holding her and gave a sheepish grin. "Heh. Hi."
The dark-skinned man tutted and deliberately pushed her upright. "How many times have you fallen down those stairs in the last month, Twyla?"
"Seven, give or take," panted Twyla. "But who's counting, really? Anyway, look at this, Jerry! I got my exam results! Wanna see?"
Jericho Khan crossed his arms, giving Twyla a slight scowl. "Only if you never call me by that nickname again."
"You got it, Richy."
"I hate you."
Twyla beamed innocently. "Look at my results!"
Jericho took the envelope from her and opened the piece of paper inside. A smile slowly spread over his face as he took in the information. "Congratulations. Looks like you ARE fit to run the kingdom after all."
"You know, my dad would probably have you beaten up if he heard you talk to me like that," Twyla said amusedly.
"Do I look like I care?" Jericho sighed and started walking away. Twyla fell into step beside him. "Look, I spent five years fighting a war on the front line. A lot of things scare me but after that, your father isn't one of them. Nothing he can do to me would be worse than most of the things I saw out there."
Twyla stared down at the loose stone path below her feet. "I guess so. But the war's over now so you don't have to worry about it anymore."
Jericho nudged her sharply with his elbow. "Twyla! Would you tell a depressed person to just "cheer up"? An anxious person to just "be brave"? Mental illness is mental illness, you know. That includes PTSD."
"Okay, okay! I'm sorry!"
Jericho abruptly stopped in his tracks. Before Twyla could react, he pulled out his sword from the shealth at his side and swung it at her. Thankfully, she had been taught well, and she was able to reach for her hidden knife and stop the blade before it reached her arm. She met Jericho's gaze. "Are you legitimately trying to kill me or are you just testing me again?"
Jericho snorted. "I know I said your dad doesn't scare me, but I'm not stupid enough to try to actually kill the king's daughter within sight of at least eight other servants." He retracted his sword and slid it back into its sheath. "I'd need at least six drinks in me. Five minimum."
"I think you really are crazy," said Twyla, still not relaxed enough to put away her knife.
"Anyone would have to be at least a bit crazy to train you, Twyla. I swear to God, you are the slowest learner in the world. Absolutely infuriating."
Twyla's blood boiled. "Slow?! I'll show you-!"
She broke off as Jericho swung low with his ankle and swept the legs out from under her. She automatically raised her knife, but Jericho had only taken a step back, shaking his head. "Control your anger. If you allow yourself to be goaded into a fight that easily, you'll be cut down in seconds. Fighting angry means fighting blindly."
"Thanks," grunted Twyla. "Couldn't you have taught me that lesson without kicking my ass?"
Jericho shook his head as he helped her to her feet. "Nope. That was way more fun. And besides, there's no chance you'll forget now, is there?"
Twyla rolled her eyes. "No, I guess not."
Sensing her mood, Jericho's face softened slightly. "I know you think I'm too hard on you most of the time but it's because I want you to survive out there."
"Then why do you keep attacking me with your sword when I'm not looking?" Twyla complained.
Jericho shrugged. "You're still alive, aren't you? I never do anything that I know you wouldn't be able to protect yourself from. And you know your enemies will never be that lenient, don't you?"
Twyla wordlessly nodded.
"Honestly, sometimes even I think I'm too hard on you. But most of the time, I'm not. You're the only princess of Arabique, so the target on your back is bigger than any soldier's. I'm glad you can defend yourself but that's not always going to be enough here. In an ideal world, you could concentrate entirely on learning to run the kingdom and wouldn't need to fight. Unfortunately, those anti-monarchy protests are getting bigger by the day; soon it'll be near impossible for you to show your face in any of the villages and small towns. I just want you to be ready for anything."
Twyla could only nod again. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me, Jericho. You were the only one willing to teach me how to fight, so… thank you."
Jericho was about to respond when both he and Twyla spotted the palace messenger rushing towards them, face red from exhaustion. "Captain J-Jericho," he panted. "B-Bandits attacking Nerton."
"Thank you. Go tell the king, quickly." Jericho turned to Twyla, pointing sharply towards the shed. "Go get your sword. And pick up a shield while you're there. If you have time to get any armour then great but don't take too long!"
Twyla nodded and took off into the shed, which held an emergency supply of weapons. She hurriedly grabbed her specially made sword and picked up a shield from the hook on the wall. There happened to be no armour in there today so she was forced to leave it.
She caught up with Jericho on a hill overlooking the village of Nerton. A group of golden-clad soldiers, clearly a patrol of some kind, were already battling about a dozen bandits, identifiable from their all-black outfits and masks.
His eyes fixed on the action, Jericho addressed his protege: "Okay, Twyla, I'm gonna need you to be extremely careful, alright? This is just a test of your abilities so if you don't think you can hold your own, don't feel you have to- TWYLA!"
Unable to just stand there while the battle was going on, Twyla charged forwards in the middle of her mentor's sentence and attacked the first bandit she came across. He turned on her, swinging his sword towards her neck with far more ferocity than Jericho had. Twyla automatically raised her sword to block it, then slammed her shield against the bottom of his chin, sending him reeling backwards. Unwilling to kill him, Twyla landed a blow on his head with the edge of her shield, knocking him out.
Wheeling around to find a new opponent, Twyla spotted a young orange-haired man in Arabique apparel fighting two bandits at once. She started forward to help but as she did, she noticed a third bandit with a bow aiming an arrow at the Arabiquan soldier. Without thinking, she dashed towards the Arabiquan, who had just turned after dispatching the two bandits, and leapt in front of him, raising her shield. She felt the arrow hit the wood, with such force that she lost her balance and fell backwards, knocking both herself and the soldier to the ground.
Twyla immediately rolled to the side, preparing for another attack, but all she saw was another Arabiquan finishing off the last bandit. Panting as the adrenaline started wearing off, Twyla sat back in the grass and exchanged a look with the bewildered soldier in front of her. "What just-?"
Twyla winced. "I'm so dead."
Jericho came barrelling up to them, the thunderous expression on his face making him seem extremely angry, but all he did was pull Twyla to her feet and into a hug. Twyla blinked in surprise. "Uh… Jericho?"
"Sorry." Her mentor released her and stepped back, giving the soldier a stern yet gentle look. "Phrixus, go back to your quarters. You're excused from patrol for the rest of the day."
The soldier, identified as Phrixus, hurriedly left.
Shoulders hunched, Twyla hung her head in preparation for a scolding. "I'm sorry I ran off. I just wanted to help fight."
"God, no, I'm not mad at you anymore, I just…" Jericho sighed, tiredly rubbing his eyes. "Look at your shield."
Twyla confusedly raised her shield. Her blood froze as she realised what had made Jericho so worried.
Sticking through the shield, inches away from where Twyla's head had been hiding behind it, was the tip of the arrow.
"So no, I'm not mad at you. Proud and recovering from the near heart attack you gave me, sure. But to be honest, I definitely would have done the same thing if my mentor had been droning on when all I wanted to do was fight."
Twyla stared at him. "Proud? You're proud of me? For what?"
"For saving Phrixus's life," said Jericho, his voice as soft as Twyla had ever heard it. "That boy's the same age as you, and quite like you in some ways. I oversaw his training myself when he first joined the army, you know. He's like a son to me. So I guess what I'm saying is…" He paused, gazing back up the hill where Phrixus had gone. "...thank you for saving his life."
"I would have done it for anyone, trust me."
"And that's exactly why I'm so proud. I-." Jericho's smile disappeared and he broke off as he caught sight of something over Twyla's shoulder. When she turned, she noticed a small crowd of villagers gathering around them, some holding signs with anti-monarchy slogans on them.
"Not this again," she groaned.
"Ungrateful little-." Jericho again broke off and grabbed Twyla's wrist. "Come on, we're getting out of here."
With the last few soldiers from the patrol flanking them, Twyla and Jericho fled up the hill and out of sight.