Chapter 26 - Rivalry
Marcus was a warrior, and although Rowan never saw the likes of Alena, Alena was no match for him, not even close. Nothing Alena tried, could touch him and yet he could destroy her at a whim.
She learned each lesson painfully and with the kind of patience that Rowan couldn't match. Marcus didn't even appear to exert himself, and he made besting Alena look effortless. When Alena finally lost her patience and rushed Marcus, his blade was at her throat as if he expected the move. He could have beheaded her, but allowed the edge of his blade to draw droplets of blood. When he lowered his weapon, he slapped Alena so hard her legs buckled.
"You know better," Marcus growled with barely controlled anger before he left with long staccato strides.
Alena sat on the ground long after he disappeared through the door. Blood poured from her nose and with a frustration that Rowan didn’t expect, but understood, Alena, cast her sword away from her.
She remembered Rowan's presence, and her head turned wearily to see what Rowan thought of her tantrum, but Rowan had the oddest expression on her face, and she was pale as wax.
"What?" Alena asked with a touch of irritation.
"I finally understand the true meaning of futility," Rowan admitted, and Alena felt anger boil inside her, but she didn't react. She had a strong feeling Rowan didn't mean what she thought Rowan meant.
"Your father would have ripped me to shreds, had we ever met," Rowan revealed her train of thought and shook her head. The anger in Alena fell flat. She hadn’t expected that.
"I don’t understand what good you think I can do?" Rowan concluded and rose to leave. Before Alena met Rowan, she would have echoed the sentiment.
"You just don’t understand your body," Alena called out into the darkness, and she didn’t think Rowan even heard. Still, her sister wasn’t wrong about their father.
"Marcus, even if I taught her everything I know, what good will it do?" Alena asked when she was sure they were alone. Marcus had returned through the other door to take in Rowan's reaction.
"If you teach her, Rowan might just live to fight another day, and we could find what we're looking for," he suggested, and she lowered her head.
"She’s strong Alena, and no one has ever tested her boundaries. You can’t know your strength until you find where it fails," Marcus used her father’s words to remind her of her own strength, and for a long time, she became silent. She nodded, and he left to speak to the priestess.
Alena sat there for hours before she took a bath and returned to her room. The next day she didn't go to the library, but straight to the practice room. Marcus was in the library, and she guessed that, at some point, curiosity would draw Rowan back. It didn't take long before Rowan arrived with a book and sat down with her back to the wall. Alena raised her eyes to watch Rowan and Rowan was overly aware of that glance.
Alena toyed with a short broadsword as if it weighed less than a rapier or a stick, flexing her wrist in lazy arches.
"Come?" Alena invited, and Rowan eyed the sword.
"No thank you," Rowan declined and pretended to keep her eyes trained on the book.
"I’ll play nice," Alena teased, and Rowan looked at her with consideration.
"Marcus tired?" She asked, and Alena shrugged.
"Of playing with a child? Yes," Alena answered with no discernible expression. "Not why I invited you," Alena intoned lazily while assessing Rowan with interest.
"Decided I’m of no use?" Rowan challenged, her fingers tracing the patterns on the book, and betraying her nervousness. Alena settled back with her arms on her knees and her ankles crossed.
"No," Alena denied. She wouldn't admit it, but she would allow no harm to come to Rowan.
"Come, I won't hurt you," Alena invited again.
"Why do you think I would want to take the chance?" Rowan asked with her body language contradicting her, betraying both suspicion and something akin to yearning.
"You’re curious, you're a warrior, and you're bored," Alena listed as she rose in one smooth motion.
Alena flung the sword onto a bundle of carpets as if it were a toy, some unnecessary accouterment that she no longer required and despite herself, Rowan got to her feet. A month ago she would have blindly rushed into this, but now she had enough sense to be cautious. Alena turned and beckoned.
From the first moment, Rowan found herself outclassed, outmatched and outmaneuvered. Alena was a brick wall that repelled everything Rowan tried. Rowan didn’t even get close enough to hit her body, and yet it wasn’t a display of strength to discourage her.
Each failure was a lesson taught by a powerful mind that evaluated and decided at a rate that astounded Rowan She learned, and Alena found Rowan had an exceptional intellect that must have hungered for this manner of challenge.
Alena pushed and pushed, and Rowan got up off that mat a hundred times. When Rowan lost her temper, Alena took her down with a single touch, and Rowan's brain refused to accept that it was possible. She was unable to move.
"You’re all muscle and brawn, Rowan. Strength is useful, but I'm stronger, and you can take me down if you just allow yourself to consider the possibilities," a sharp, unexpected pain, released Rowan from that state of defeat and as she bolted to her feet, she allowed her mind to take it all in; to anticipate instead of reacting.
She moved in as if to attack, but buckled her knees in the same instant she kicked out and swiped Alena from her feet. She kicked up to keep Alena off balance, and she could barely credit it when Alena fell.
Rowan moved in to choke Alena, but Alena grabbed the front of her shirt, and with a foot to Rowan's midriff, she hoisted Rowan over her head and onto her back, winding her.
"Nice try, but when you catch the lion, what do you do with it?" Alena mocked with sardonic amusement.
"Run away," Rowan groaned as she tried to catch her breath.
"Better find a tree then, the lion might be faster than you," Alena taunted with more than a hint of seriousness.
"Lions climb trees if they’re hungry enough," Rowan countered, and Alena sensed some change in Rowan.
"Says who?" Alena asked.
"Marti... Someone told me that once," Rowan caught herself. "I’ve had enough," she decided, and she vaulted to her feet. Alena said nothing as she sat up and watched Rowan leave. Not sure what caused such a violent emotional response. The certainty in her grew that someone harmed Rowan in a way that caused deep wounds which never healed.