The air whistled sharply as it was cut by the steel blade. Straws poured like blood out of the inanimate body of the dummy. Deep, fatal cuts were intertwined in the belly region, half of what should be the head was missing and so was the right arm. It laid on the ground next to it, sword still firmly gripped.
A few meters back a small hill of hay and rags covered the green grass. Fallen brothers of the amputee were soon to become food for the livestock. The man turned to Ceannard.
-We’ll continue later, I need a break!
-Break? What do you think you’re doing here? Do you think war has breaks? Pick your sword up and get at it! Again!
-No, we’ve been at it the whole day! I killed an entire battalion of scarecrows! My swinging is perfect and my speed is great. I’ll take a break now.
-Oh, you think that if you can cut down some static piles of hay you can defeat Dorcha Aon or even his minions? Pick your sword, now! I’ll show you how good you are!
His lungs exhaled deeply as if they were purifying themselves of all the weight that has been pressing on his soul these last few months. His knuckles whitened as his grip tightened on the hilt of his sword.
Again the air hissed violently! A fraction of a moment later, it turned abruptly into a deafening metallic clink!
Two swords were now matted together, pushing against each other. The two forces behind them were almost equal. Screeching heavily, with a split-second movement, one of them broke the stalemate, twirling and stinging the air in search of its victim.
The man was caught by surprise and found himself dodging desperately the heavy blows of Governor Ceannard. He could feel the tension in his body, his thighs catching fire from the effort, his hands and shoulders sore. Pain was vibrating like a wave through his entirety after each clinch of the two swords.
He was defending with all his might, but his powers were stretched to their limits. One short moment of involuntary relaxation was enough for his enemy. Ceannard swiped past his steel and kicked him in the back.
The taste of mud mixed with blood filled the man’s mouth. It reminded him of that gruesome day he got attacked by the lake. The day that would change his calm life forever.
-Ha! Where are that perfect swing and great speed now, One?
-You had the advantage of being rested. I trained the whole day, it was an unfair fight and you know it!
-Fair? Do you think war is fair? Do you think the Kelpies will care if you’re tired and won’t attack you until you’re ready? Wake up, there is no such thing as a fair fight! You either win or you die! Those are the only rules of war! Now, get up, clean your face and get on swinging at that dummy again. You have lots to learn and little time, none of which we can spare for breaks.
-I see you’re teaching him not only sword fighting. How’s he doing?
-A war is won not by sword, but by spirit! The lad has heart, but he lacks technique. And he got cocky! Can you believe it? He thinks that if he can cut down a glorified haystack he can battle the Army of Evil!
-Well, I see you’re quite good at teaching him modesty too! We have to bring him to his best, it’s our only hope to win this thing.
-I know, mage! I’ll make a soldier out of him, but I don’t like our odds if we have to rely solely on him.
-Oh, Governor, but he’s not alone! He has us by his side. We might not be able to aid him in the final battle, but we can do everything we can to get him ready for it. And we can weaken the Enemy beforehand.
-About that, how are things going in Bhaile? Have you heard back from Ionnsach yet?
-No, I have not! It is the second report he missed. I’m starting to get worried. I already sent two novices to search for him. If they don’t inform me about the situation by end of day, I’ll go to Bhaile myself tonight.
-I’m not letting you go alone, old man! We need you here more and I’m not assuming the risk of our mage getting captured by the Enemy.
-That’s quite gentile of you to say, Governor! I reckon that you grew fond of me lately? At first, you didn’t trust me at all.
-Don’t get your hopes up, old man! I still don’t trust you or your kind. I just don’t have any proof yet of your ill intent. So far, I have my city to free, and if I can use you to do that, then I will.
-Of course, Governor! But, I’d advise you to not waste too much time in trying to find proof that doesn’t exist. You’ll soon see that we’re not your enemy.
-Either way, I’m not letting you go to Bhaile by yourself. And I can’t come with you. He needs us both here. I understand your worry for your apprentice, but I still have loyal followers in Bhaile. I’ll send a letter to the Southern City Gate. It will get to Lieutenant Andar, he can be trusted. He’ll aid us in finding out what happened to Ionnsach.
-Very well, Governor! Send your letter. But if we don’t receive any response, I’ll be forced to go myself.
-Don’t worry old man. I may be on the run now, but I still know how to manage my own city.