“Thomas, focus,” Aeden corrected him sharply. She brought her sword into the next position, waiting for Thomas to bring his sword up and across. Fortunately for his peace of mind, there were no other trainees present who might note his awkward progress. Dust stirred up by his movements across the wooden planks covering the sand-filled pit in the center of the salle floated in the streams of sunlight falling through the clerestory windows. Huge mirrors, used to check body alignment and position in the exercises, were mounted on the west wall.
Thomas completed the set of eight moves that he had been taught as Aeden flowed in the corresponding pattern. By the end of the set, his wrists, arms and hands felt as weak as wet noodles. He’d been working on this exercise for over a candlemark. Aeden neatly twisted the sword from his hand.
“Move your feet in the correct pattern as well,” said Aeden sternly.
She sheathed her sword.
“Come; let’s set you at the pells today to bring the patterns together.”
Gratefully, Thomas picked up and sheathed his sword, shaking out his wrists. He walked with her to the door on the west wall next to the mirrors. They stepped out of the salle into a brisk bright afternoon. They followed the stone walk from the salle to the outdoor arena set between the stables and storage buildings. All of the officers, squires and men-at-arms practiced individual and group movements there. At the end of the arena, four head-high thick posts, called pells, had been buried in the earth as deep as they were tall.
“Now, use the pattern against the pell. As you hit it, shift your weight and return with the opposite strike.” Aeden folded her arms across her chest and stood back to watch.
Thomas took his place in front of the pell and readied his arms, extending his practice sword down and away from his body. He brought it up and hit the pell at throat height. The sword bounced off the pell and he moved with its trajectory and brought it around to hit the other side. His hands and arms moved in the pattern and his feet followed. Sweat covered him from head to toe as he spun and hit again and again. He grinned maniacally. On his last strike, the sword hit at the wrong angle and bounced back against his thigh. He shook his head in resignation.
“Again,” Aeden commanded.
After two more repetitions, his movements had slowed to a snail’s pace, but every blow was accurate. He came to the end of the pattern and raised his sword in triumph.
“Ha. I did it,” he exclaimed.
Lady Aeden smiled. “Of course you did. You've been training hard. A little more time on the pells and you can start sparring with the other squires. You’re doing very well. Have you been practicing with Maccon and Stefan?”
“I have, my Lady. We've become good friends since Garan left.” He frowned. “It’s funny. As soon as he left, almost everyone else started treating me like a person.” Thomas sheathed his practice sword in its scabbard hanging at his left hip. He wiped his sweating face with the bottom of his shirt as he and Aeden walked toward the trough of water at the side of the arena. He dunked his head completely in the trough and swung up quickly, water arching as he shook his head. The cool water felt good.
Lady Aeden chuckled. “Garan was a troublemaker, that’s for sure. Time for your lessons with Captain Mathin. How are they progressing?” she asked.
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