Circlet War

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Child's Play


Beau leads us to the bed chambers. There's no one there. It's a dully-painted room with wide windows with blinds drawn, a large bed with silk sheets and curtains and a door with portiere.

We have nothing brought with us - mostly because we don't have much. From beneath her pelt, Cecily brings out the most prized possession we own - Alys's bow and arrow. She sets it down on the wooden side table and sits down on the bed, admiring the tapestries on the walls.

Alys slumps down on the bed too, but she looks bored instead of entertained. Adelina glances up at the swords and weapons hanging from the walls. She's too short to even reach for them, but there's something wistful in her gaze.

I turn from her to glare at Beau.

He glances at Alys hopefully, but she doesn't even look at him. I'm glad she ignores his attempts to win her over.

He finally turns and sees me. "What?"

I walk over to him slowly. "Stay away from my sister." It's a whisper, so only he can hear.

I expect him to challenge me, to remind me he's three years older than me and that he can fight and I haven't even started learning.

But, he gives me a pained look instead. "She doesn't like me." he murmurs, mostly to himself. "Not like I want her to."

"She's my sister!" I gasp out.

All three of my sisters turn their heads to me.

I glance around them sheepishly. "I was talking about my pet."

"You have a pet?" Cecily asks.

"Yes," I reply, managing a weak grin. "Its name is Sister."

Alys's narrows her eyes. "Its name is Sister," she repeats. Clearly, none of them believe me. I'm bad at lying.

"Erm, yes." I say, knowing without looking that Beau is smirking at me. "I left it at home."

They don't question me. I know they can tell I'm lying, but they don't say so. I almost sigh in relief.

When I turn, Beau is already leaving the room. I run after him, yelling: "Stop!"

He stops. "What do you want?" He wheels round to face me.

"To train," I respond. "My father wanted me to be a soldier. I want to start training, now."

"Audric," Alys says, overhearing us. The next moment, she's right beside me, her annoyingly snappish tone on. "Audric, you'll be trained when your trainers come for you. You can't try to prove yourself with advance practice. You -"

"I get it, I get it," I cut across, irritated. "I can find somebody else to train me for now. I can do this. I just -"

"I could help," Beau offers, brightly.

I look at him, startled. His gaze is on Alys and comprehension dawns on me. He sees this as another chance to get to her.

I frown. Will he ever give up?

I decide to take advantage this time. "Don't worry," I assure Alys. "I'll be fine."

Alys glances uncertainly at Beau, her big, brown eyes raking down him critically. "Thank you for offering, Your Grace."

"Just Beau," he says, reaching for her hand.

I tug his arm. "For God's sake, no hanky-panky in front of me."

Beau drops her hand.

Alys gives me a sharp glare. Her tone is like knife through ice: "Watch your mouth, brother."

I roll my eyes. "Come on, Beau. Let's go," I tell him. "My sister is a real killjoy. You wouldn't want her, anyway."

The field is scattered with warriors in battle armour, wrestling and clashing swords. I watch them in amazement.
"Are you going to teach me to do that?" I ask, pointing at a pair of warriors sword-fighting.
"Not so soon, kiddo," Beau replies. "First," he says, drawing his sword from his belt, "you need to learn the defensive moves."
I am impatient, but I nod. He holds his sword above his head, arm bent. "You hold it like this to shield yourself from an overhead attack. See?"
He points with his sword at a pair of fighters. The first strikes a hard blow towards the head and the other defends himself by holding up his sword against him. The sword of the other clashes with it, but it doesn't touch the opponent.
"If you let your sword give way in that position too early," Beau goes on, his eyes on the pair too, "both of them will hit you on the head. Best not try that. It would hurt."
"I figured," I respond. "What's next?"
"For a vertical blow, you'll have to do the same, but you're going to hold it a little lower," Beau explains. "Look."
He holds it in the same diagonally horizontal position, but this time, it's not above his head, but in front of his bronze breastplate.
"I get it," I tell him. "Can I try?"
Beau glances at another couple of sword-fighters. "Hey! Let me borrow your sword for a second?"
Reluctantly, one of the warriors hands him the sword. Beau gives it to me. It has a silver hilt and a sharp blade that reflects my nervous eyes on its surface. I hold its blade, but Beau shakes his head.
"The hilt, Kiddo," he says. This time, it seems like an official nickname. "Grip the hilt."
The warriors who lent me the sword are listening. I catch them sniggering and quickly grasp the hilt.
Beau reaches over and curls his knuckles over my hand, gripping the hilt with me. "Have a strong hold, Kiddo. Don't let it fall. That's never a good idea."
"Can I fight, now?" I demand, eagerly.
Beau shakes his head. "Audric, not yet," he refuses. "Wait here. I have to get a smaller sword for you."
"I'm fine holding this one," I say, embarrassed.
Beau gives me a critical look, before letting go of the hilt. I drop the sword on the ground.
My face blazes as the warriors around burst out laughing and I feel tears reach my eyes. Beau doesn't even crack a smile.
He bends and picks up the sword. "Don't fret, Kiddo," he assures me. "I'll get you a smaller one. You can do this. Eventually."
I nod gratefully and wipe my unshed tears of mortification. "I can do this."
My voice is weak.
Beau throws the sword the warrior's way and failing to grab it, he topples over. The fighters instantly find that a more interesting topic to laugh over and the attention of the crowd immediately turns to him. I give Beau another grateful glance and see he's smiling knowingly - like he did that on purpose.
Maybe I'm wrong to hate him so much.
He turns to the vast castle before him and holds up two fingers at the warrior standing there, on the other end. Seeing it, he pulls down at a lever beside him and the huge moat is covered with a long, narrow bridge that falls into position.
Beau climbs on and walks into the other direction, vanishing into the castle. The bridge lifts and the moat closes.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn. A warrior in a bascinet and silver armour looks at me. Or seems to look at me anyway. I can't tell from through his gunmetal-grey, steel bascinet.
Somebody follows beside him, a boy about my age with blond hair and gold armour, boasting power. His hair is wavy and he has a perfect tan. His breastplate has a piece of robes showing the royal coat of arms on it. His eyes are blue and disapproving.
He's a prince. What is it with cocky princes and blond hair?
"What's your name, boy?" he asks, pushing his sword's point into the ground.
"That's not good for your blade," I note, indicating the sharp point he's dulling by piercing it into the hard ground.
"Says the guy who can't even hold one," he replies, grinning crookedly.
"I can hold one," I reply, my face reddening. "It was just my first time. I could be better than you. You'll see."
The Prince's grin widens. "Know who I am? I'm -"
"Prince Lockwood," I say, deadpan. "Brother to the King, Killer of Dragons, Drinker of Wine." The dude in the armour gives a girlish giggle.
"Uh, not the last part," the Prince says, disgruntled. He blushes, glancing at the giggling warrior.
"I'm very sure about the last part," I deny, hating him more every second. I feel adrenaline and resentment mingle inside me. "Tell you what? I can beat you. In a one-to-one sword-duel."
"Oh, yeah?" the prince challenges, his grin returning. "You're dooming yourself. You're the late Admiral's son, aren't you? Want to join him in his grave, eh? Your pretty sisters would be very disappointed."
"How do you know my family?" I demand.
The Prince smirks into a dimple, but doesn't reply. He just grabs his sword and walks towards the field again.
"You shouldn't have done that." the other guy says. He's shorter than I am, and he has a very feminine voice. "The Prince doesn't like being tested. He takes challenges very seriously."
I ignore his advice. "You talk like a girl," I comment, instead, trying to sound as blunt as possible.
"I am a girl!" he cries, yanking off his helmet.
Fiery-red locks of luxuriant, sweet-smelling hair tumble down his shoulders like a waterfall. Green eyes lock with mine and I behold the most gorgeous teenaged-girl I've ever seen.
"Ohh...," I utter, my voice strained.
He - or she - grins at my reaction. "What's wrong, Kiddo?" she says, using Beau's moniker like a weapon. "Cat got your tongue?"
I flush. "No," I manage. "I just...."
"Saw a pretty girl and drooled?" she suggests, mischievously. "Don't worry. I know I'm pretty. You don't need to say it." She smirks at me.
She's more than pretty, but she's also really overconfident.
"I'm not drooling," I snap, even though I'm not entirely sure. "I just didn't think they'd let a girl fight."
"Pfft, girls are pros," she says. "And when I say 'pros,' I mean professionals, not prostitutes. And even if I didn't, you're not the one to talk, really. You can't even hold a sword."
"I can hold a sword," I protest, blushing.
She snorts. "Sure you can," she mutters. "Tell you what, Kiddo, I can help you."
"Help me?"
"Yeah, help you," she says, grinning. "My mother is a witch. You know, black cats, cauldrons, broomsticks, pet frogs...."
"Okay," I mumble.
"Yeah, that," she goes on. "She makes these potions to make amateurs better and stronger. You could use one."
"Really?" I raise my eyebrows in surprise. "Did you use one?"
"What? No!" she cries. "I was born a professional. I don't need to cheat!"
"Why don't you give your prince friend the potion?" I ask, glancing at the blond Prince enviously.
"Because, I like you," she says, punching my arm playfully. "Or because, he doesn't need it. You do."
"Gee, thanks," I mutter.
She smiles. "Same time, same place, tomorrow?"
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