An excerpt from the upcoming Battarack Girls:
On the training grounds, kept on the hillside with three walls for protection and one side open to the spectacular view over the cliffs, down, down, down to the river, it was easy to imagine that the wooden swords we used were actual steel, that the skirmished we engaged in took place in the actual heat of battle. This was especially true for me when I was one of the students holding a sword. Though not my favorite weapon, there was a lot to be said about the versatility of the sword, and, thanks to the regular training sessions Master Theron held for the strapping young lads and lasses of the Battarack stronghold, I was getting quite good at it, too.
It was true that there were more lads than lasses, but that was generally how it was with anything. Far more sons than daughters in the Battarack court, but we young ladies held our own. Not everyone participated in the fighting spars (Caitlyn, especially, seemed to have little interest in the activity, though she certainly watched with her attention glued onto the moving forms), but an audience seemed to make it even better. Each hollow clunk produced by the wooden swords knocking against each other drove me further as I pressed my adversary and made him dance to the rhythm of my steady attacks. I was swearing; Solomon was sweating. I bet even the ring of spectators was sweating, too. It was perfect.
He made a swing for my left shoulder, my fighting side, and I stepped back to block him. With a great arch, he forced my sword down to the ground, then, quick as he could, pulled out to attempt a scorpion’s strike to my side. I pulled back, just out of the reach of the jab, and turned to immediately send my sword sweeping for his midsection. He moved to the side smoothly, blocking my sword with his own. An awkward defense, leaving him slightly convoluted, but an effective one, and he managed to pull it out into a graceful move that threatened to graze my hip. I couldn’t avoid it if I leaned back, so I had to think of something else, and fast.
So I whacked Solomon’s sword down, and, feeling inspired, I launched myself over the two crossed weapons, almost as if I was one of Lady Rosea’s horses going over a hurdle. Only I tucked my shoulder in so I would roll down to the ground. I made sure to keep a firm grip on my sword so that when I sprung back to my feet, I pressed the tip of my weapon into the small of Solomon’s back.
“Dead,” I said, brandishing a triumphant grin that he couldn’t see. I put a little pressure into Solomon’s back, just enough to make his spine squirm a little, and, with a barely perceptible sigh, he dropped his sword. He lifted his arms in surrender for a moment, before his hands went to his chest, over his heart. He fell to the ground with a pantomimed swoon of death. Rolling over onto his back, he splayed his arms out and released a small groan. He remained still for a long moment while the people gathered around us cheered for my victory, some of them politely, other uproariously.
I didn’t need their applause; I just needed the affirmation that I was as deft with a sword as anyone. Still, victorious as I was, Solomon had put up a good fight. I reached down to help him up, and he gratefully clasped his hand in mine so I could give him a good yank to his feet.
I had always liked Solomon, Majani Allok’s first born son with his second wife. I admired the Lady Awngel deeply for her fierce determination and her inability to let anyone tell her what to do, and Solomon resembled her far more than he did his father. Their features were very similar, but, while Lady Awngel looked handsome with her square chin, broad nose, and dark eyes, it transferred as pretty when worn by Solomon. I know his name had come up more than once as my potential suitors, as that dreaded sixteenth birthday loomed in my near future, and I suppose he would be acceptable. He could fight, and he had incredibly beautiful eyes, but his temper could be atrocious, and I’m half surprised he wasn’t upset that I had bested him. He seemed to think that my brothers and sisters and I have been entitled to so much more than he is given, but that is simply not true. Merit has always meant more than blood in Battarack Castle; he is mostly just a sore loser.
“Not bad,” Master Theron regarded us both with warmth in his face, though he never truly smiled. “Solomon, you allow your sides to be open far too much, and, Megg Serene, you must be careful about depending too much on acrobatics to save you in a tricky situation. I’d like to see you pull a move like that off in armor.”
I decided not to grace that with a response beyond a glower, because he perfectly knew I was unlikely to ever have the chance to actually wear armor.
“You’ve been getting ideas from your sister lately, haven’t you?” he asked.
Annamaria nearly, a little sweaty from her own practice, snorted with amusement. “Don’t blame me for that horrible form!”
“All those flips and turns,” Theron said, shaking his head. “You’ve got your nose in too many of Lady Taluin’s books on the Ana’aek, I’ll wager! And I’d be willing to wager my left foot that if an actual Ana’aek saw what the two of you whips consider their style, they’d want to break down and cry.”
“But they worked, didn’t they?” Annamaria chirped, fixing Theron with a triumphant smile. She bounced on the balls of her feet, clearly excited from the adrenaline of thing fighting, and she sliced her hands in the air, each move punctuated with a little shout. When she kicked up her long leg as high as it could go, I found myself admiring the beauty and the grace of the action. But I also noticed that I wasn’t the only admirer, and I doubt the other thoughts attributed to her skills were as innocent. After all, Annamaria was just a year younger than me and her body was finally starting to catch up. All of a sudden, my cheeks were hot, though I wasn’t sure if it was more out of embarrassment or out of anger. Annamaria seemed oblivious, but sometimes, I really had to wonder.
Smiling, overly sweet, I sidled up to my sister and grabbed her arm, gently trying to goad her away. “Either way,” I trilled, as I started moving away from the fighting grounds, “we should probably get going, don’t you think, Annmaria? Come on, Caitlyn. You know Mother doesn’t like it when we spend too much time outside.”
I saw Caitlyn open her mouth to say something, to probably refute the lie, and Annamaria looked a little confused, too, but I fixed them with a sharp look quieted them quickly. I didn’t exactly know how to explain to them that I didn’t like this sudden feeling that came over me.