Chapter One: Growing Storm - Scene One
The coolness of the grass beside the training ring was a even better than Dea expected as she slowly sat down. The welt across her shoulder stung, but she was relieved to reach an end to the match. She probably could have lasted long enough to wear the young Officer down, but her head wasn't in it. She granted an opening, and he took it to gain his third point in the match and break the tie. Now Zacairus was bounding into the ring with a vigor she envied.
"You are keeping track of the points, Dea?" he asked as he gave his sword a testing swing.
"Of course," she said.
Cathal bowed his head in greeting to his new opponent. "Zacairus, son of Tabor, we meet again."
Zacairus paced along the edge of the ring with a proud smirk. His long, black hair was pulled back with a leather tie at the nape of his neck. It stood out in stark contrast against his white tunic. "Formalities. Don't waste my time. Ready for another bruising?"
The Officer answered with a brandish of his sword as he took a readied stance. Zacairus halted his pacing. He took a more relaxed stance, inviting Cathal to make the first move.
Dea only watched for the first few exchanges, then laid back in the grass. She stared up at the starry heavens and listened to the clashing blades as she waited out the pounding of her heart. Cathal always proved to be a good challenge in the ring. He and Zacairus rarely went easy on her, and she appreciated that. Foes on the field would not, so why should her comrades?
She wiped away the cerise hair that clung to her face and tried to work it back into a the tattered braid. A gentle breeze stirred the night air. She breathed it in.
"Point!" Zacairus sang out.
"Don't get cocky," Cathal said in return.
Sitting up, Dea placed a smooth pebble beside Zacairus' coat. "Point."
She gazed around for the water skin and found it where Zacairus had been sitting. Reluctant to move anymore than absolutely necessary, she reached for it with her staff, hooked the strap, and brought it closer.
The water was lukewarm, but refreshing. After a few swallows, she corked it and set it aside.
Laying the staff across her lap, she studied the few markings on its iron body. Its history was worn along its length. She had each engraving and scuff memorized. The weapon had been passed down through her family, but she was of the few to use it as a primary choice. The last to wield it habitually was her mother's great-grandfather, King Arcaius of Baldorah.
Her full name was Lady Deatrah, the Veiled Heiress of Baldorah. Her parents were Queen Belwyn and King Aien of the Land of Baldorah. For the past five seasons, though, she had gone by Dea of Alistad, the title of a Decoy. She served as a Calvary Validius in the King's Fortis. Her plan was to defend her people first hand from the armies of Darien. She worked hard to earn a place among the specialized ranks. The training was unceasing. But thus far, she felt the reward was minimal. Her company had only seen about a dozen battles.
While other companies saw action on nearly a daily basis, the one she was assigned to seemed to be held as reserves. Alton, the captain she served under, was known for his fearless approach to perilous missions. She knew the Fortis as a whole had been stretched thin as of late. Thus, she could not help but wonder why her company was rarely deployed, and when they were, they came onto the scene in time to pick up the pieces of yet another ravaged village.
"Point!" Zacairus called again.
Dea shifted forward and set a second pebble by his coat.
"Are you watching, Dea? You could be picking up some pointers."
"Only because I wore him out for you," she said with a smile.
Cathal laughed out. "Whose side are you on? Point!"
"I think not," Zacairus said, his voice telling of his irritation.
Dea tossed a pebble beside Cathal's coat. "It was a point."
She watched as Zacairus finally grew serious about the match. His dark blue eyes turned dangerous as he pressed in on Cathal and set him up for a flawless exchange. She'd seen him do it many times before. She counted the movements from the placement of each foot, to the shifts of the hilt, right on up to the concluding pass where he brought the broad side of his blade to Cathal's upper chest. "Point," he said quietly.
The young Officer didn't argue. He gave a consenting nod, and took a step back. "Good match." Cathal sheathed his sword. "Both of you."
Zacairus bowed his head. "Good match."
"Unless you want another round, Dea."
She shook her head and got to her feet. "Next time."
The two men left the ring to collect their coats. Zacairus handed the water skin to Cathal, who took one long drink from it before passing it back. "Again tomorrow evening?" Zacairus asked.
Cathal shook his head. "I have a watch shift. How about the next?"
"I will reserve the ring," Zacairus said.
The Officer gave a nod and turned for the trail. "I will see you then."
Dea picked up her coat and brushed off collected blades of grass from the blue fabric. After pulling it to her shoulders, she fastened the buttons and turned to get her staff. She paused when she found Zacairus with it at his side. He had an odd look about him.
"Where have you been?" he asked as he held the staff out for her to take.
She took it slowly and tried to follow his meaning. "I was right here."
"In body, but your heart was elsewhere. You let him win. Where did you go?"
Dea eyed the staff. He knew her too well. "I do not know. Nowhere useful."
He chuckled and gestured for the trail. "Are you getting homesick?"
"No," she answered quickly, then moved to change the subject. "Has anything more been said about your promotion?"
"I have not mentioned it again to Alton. He will promote me when he thinks I am ready." He slowed as he fastened his sword belt to his leather placard. "I will have to keep waiting."
Dea watched up the trail and waited for him before going on. "The next assignment will earn you a new coat."
When he didn't make a reply, she looked back at him. He didn't appear convinced. She turned and hoped to encourage him. "You may not have as much experience as Cathal or the others, but you are just as qualified as they are, if not more so. The only reason you have not yet been promoted is because you have not been given the chance to prove your worth as often as they have. If we are ever called from this camp for something other than cleaning duty, you will be promoted to Officer."
He gave a smirk and glance around their surroundings. "Be careful who you say that around, you will end up with another round of kitchen duty."
She cringed to keep from laughing at his teasing. He was right, her habit of voicing her opinion as of late had landed her in several evenings of cleaning dishes. She did not mean to be disrespectful. Her frustrations had simply gotten the best of her. And Alton's hearing was just as sharp as his sword.