"Joshua! Joshua! Joshua!" The crowd chanted as I faced my opponent. He was a huge hulk of muscle, who favored a mace over the traditional sword. If I won this match I would win the championship. If I lost, I'd probably be broken as most of this man's opponents were. I readied my shield and sword, and prepared to take him on. He swung his mace towards me, and I ducked under it, slashing at his torso. He moved lightning fast, easily blocking my strike. How did he move so fast? I wondered. We exchanged blows, which were quickly wearing us both down. I lunged towards him, but tripped over a rock, landing on my back. I threw my shield in between us as his mace came down.
"So what are you going to do during break, Joshua?" Evan asked me, snapping me out of my daydream.
"He's probably going to flirt with all those beautiful village women all break." Damien joked. We laughed and I leaned back into my chair, preparing myself for another one of Damien's jokes.
"Joshua is the biggest ladiesman I know." Damien continued laughingly. I sighed and thought of the bad luck I had with women. Sure I've had a few girlfriends, but nothing really substantial.
"But what are you actually going to do with a few months away from the academy?" Evan continued.
"I don't know," I replied, "I'll probably do some work on the family farm, maybe teach my younger brothers some swordplay. Maybe show them some discipline." I said, smiling at the thought of my family.
"You both should come visit my family, maybe spend a few weeks in luxury." Evan offered.
I considered his offer. The Hoff House was one of the more prominent of the noble houses. Luxury was an understatement. Great food, soft bed, and a few nights out on the town, what could go wrong?
"I'll think about it," I said, "It would definitely be worth the trip."
"Count me in." Damien said.
"We'd better get ready for class." I reminded them. "We don't want to be late on our last day."
I stood up and started to put on my armor. Unlike most of the academy, who chose heavier iron or steel armor, I had favored light leather armor. I believed in being quick on my feet rather than being encumbered and slowed down. After fastening my straps, I buckled my belt and sheathed my sword at my waist. I had once considered wearing my swords on my back like the elves, but had chosen against it. I threw my shield across my back and sat down to mentally prepare myself for training. I remembered my first day of the academy, and the day that I had met Evan.
It was a hot summer day and I was sitting in the shade of the fortress that seemed to stretch to the sky. I can remember wondering to myself how such a large building made of stone could support itself.
"Hey you! Serving boy!" one of the nobles shouted at me, "Fetch me some water!"
My hands tightened into fists as I could tell he knew that I was no servant.
"Of course my lord." I replied feigning obedience. I grabbed his pitcher and walked towards the well. As I raised the bucket, my back burned, sweltering in the heat.
"Here." I said walking into the shade. I stumbled over a rock and splashed water all over him.
"Oops, sorry my lord, I'm pretty clumsy." I told him. As his face turned red with anger, I saw a fair-faced, blue-eyed, blond haired noble barely containing his laughter. I could tell that unlike the rest of the noblemen here, he might be worth talking to. The red-faced noble walked menacing forward.
"FORM UP!" A commanding voice ordered.
I made sure to stand as far away from him as possible, and just so happened to end up next to the blue eyed recruit.
"My name's Joshua." I told him extending my hand.
"Evan." He replied shaking it, "That was pretty hilarious what you did to Merric."
"Thanks," I said, "It's nice to see that not all nobles are stuck up brats." The next thing I remembered was the hardest, hottest day of my life.
"You ready to go?" Damien asked, snapping me out of my daydream.
"Yeah." I replied standing up. As we walked through the halls, I felt out of place as I often did. This is no place for a farmboy. I thought, No matter how skilled a swordsman he is. My hand fastened around the hilt of my sword and I forced myself not to think such negative thoughts. We exited the keep, walking into the courtyard. I felt more like prey than a soldier.
"FORM UP!" A familiar voice shouted. Commander Lokar was the only teacher who was actually fair to Damien and I, despite the fact that we were not noble born. We had been recruited after showing an aptitude for swordsplay in front of the dean of the academy. I had been lucky. I fell into position, awaiting the order to march.
"FORWARD MARCH!" Lokar commanded. On a good day we marched in a full rotation around the courtyard thirty times, but I felt like today would be closer to forty. Seeing a fireball fly into the sky from across the river I wondered what it would be like to be magically inclined, and to attend the Academy of Magic. The closest person I knew to a mage was Evan, who despite his noble blood, could barely hold a magelight. My legs were tiring, and I wondered how long we had been marching. We had gone much further than thirty rotations, and I couldn't wait to be back at my relaxing peaceful village.
"HALT! Pair up and start sparring." came the familiar command. Evan and Damien paired up, forcing me to pair up with Merric. Evan shot me a sorry look, but I shrugged, not blaming him. Merric had not quite gotten over the first day here, and it had turned into somewhat of a rivalry. Merric would do whatever it took to beat me in anything. Surprisingly he had no snide remarks, and readied his sword.
"What? Cat got your tongue?" I asked slurring the word got to sound more like gotch. He kept a calm smirk on his face and laughed launching an attack. I easily parried his attack an launched my own offensive. The courtyard rung with sounds of steel clashing against steel. He swung his sword as hard as he could at my shield, numbing my arm, almost making me drop it. I wasn't expecting that. My sword arm was tiring quickly, and I knew I had to end this soon. He still had that infuriating smirk on his face, as if he knew something I didn't. Our swords clashed together for the last time, as I saw my opening. I could tell he saw it as well, his smirk had been wiped off his face. Before I could move my sword away from his however, I saw his face concentrate and felt my sword heat up.
"What the..." I started to say before it got too hot to hold. I threw my sword to the ground swearing. His smirk returned as he lunged his shield into mine. Off-balanced, I fell to the ground hard. He pressed his sword to my neck, and I could feel it was hot as well. I shoved it away, and stood up furious. Using magic is forbidden. I thought furiously. Before I did anything rash, I realized anything I did would hurt me more. I had everything to lose and nothing to gain. I assessed my hand, seeing blisters had formed. I shot Merric a look of pure anger, and excused myself to the infirmary.
"How dare he cheat to beat me!" I exclaimed to myself, "What's the point of being a great swordsman if magic trumps all everything!" I shook my head to clear it and calm down.
"What happened?" The young healer asked after examining my hand.
"I must have left my sword in the sun too long." I lied.
"I'm sorry." She said genuinely, wrapping it in bandages after covering it in a green ointment.
"And no more training today!" She added.
"Thank you." I said gratefully.
"Don't be so careless in the future." She said smilingly. Was she flirting?
"Maybe I will be more careless, come here more often." I said looking into her eyes smiling. She blushed and averted her eyes from my gaze.
"My hand feels better already." I told her as I turned the handle.
"Visit here anytime." She told me still averting her eyes, " I hope to see you again."
"I will." I told her as I left the room.
"What a mess." I commented to myself as entered my dormitory room. Clothes were strewn across the floor and my desk was cluttered with papers. I knew that I would not miss my Military Tactics class, no matter how interesting it was. It was definitely not worth the work. I started packing as quickly as I could with my injured hand. I knew that I had to go to the market one more time so that I could buy some souvenirs for my family, Although I could not buy much with my measly sums of money, I had to get what I could.
"Working hard?" Damien asked peeking his head in a couple hours later.
"Just finished." I replied looking around the room. Not only could I see the floor again, the room actually looked bigger.
"Want to head down to the market?" I asked him.
"Nah, I've got no money to spend." He replied, "Maybe Evan would be interested."
"I'd be more than happy to." Evan called out from his room next door.
"Alright lets get going." I said. I met with Evan at the door, and we left.
Shadows seemed to dance around the corridor, and shivers ran up my back. I reached for my sword, but it wasn't there.
"Crap!" I blurted out.
"What's wrong?" Evan asked.
"I forgot my sword." I said feeling vulnerable without it.
"I might not be as good of a swordsman as you," Evan said smiling, "But I'm sure I'm more than good enough to protect the both of us for a couple of hours."
I laughed and readily agreed, unable to lose the sense of dread I had. Loud voices echoed down the hallway, and I immediately quieted down. It sounded familiar, almost like... Merric! I stopped abruptly, and Evan did as well.
"Well well well, look who it is." Merric said as he and his friends rounded the corner, "If it isn't little Joshua, still licking the bruises I gave him at practice."
His friends laughed, and I growled angrily.
"You used magic," I retorted, "That's against the rules."
I noticed his hand rest on the hilt of his sword.
"Haven't you been paying attention?" He asked patronizingly, "Commander Valtiere has taught us to use any weapon we have at our disposal."
More and more I wished I had my blade.
"So you admit you can't beat me without magic?" I said, bluffing.
"You don't even have
your sword." Merric said, "I think its time to teach you a
Merric and his friends took a step forward, Evan and I took a step back. I was defenseless and there was no way that Evan could take on three opponents at once. I felt fear, and knew that there was nothing I could do.