A pair of rivals converse after a fight.
|The clamor of clashing steel rang throughout the dusty arena. Amongst the crowd, onlookers cheered, bets were exchanged, and the flutter of wings as birds fled the noise accompanied the sliding of feet on dirt. The amber sky cast long shadows upon the many slate colored walls and worn wooden training dummies the arena housed. All this escaped my mind as I raised my blade in defense, my opponent's sword crashing violently into it once more. I swung my sword, impacting the blade with her own, knocking her arm away as I thrust forward my own rapier only for it to be parried away deftly as she recovered. The dire insults and arrogant boasting were gone, now only the rhythm of dirt and steel filled my mind. I sidestepped a vicious stab, feeling the wind it gave off brush against my face. I smirked as I swung the flat of my blade, once more meeting the hostile steel, my leg dashed forward suddenly, sweeping the ground behind her legs. Surprise filled her eyes as her feet left the ground. Without warning an arm grabbed my own, pulling me down with her. Within a split second we had both crashed into the ground, she on her back, me on my front as a cloud of dust filled the air. I could hear the disappointed sigh from the betting crowds as the match was deemed yet another tie.
I groaned as I pushed myself off the soil as I sheathed my sword. The crowd had already dispersed, the sun itself, as if disappointed by the showing, had fled under the hills. I sighed heavily.
“A hundred and forty-seven matches. Thirty-seven wins, thirty-seven losses...”
“...And seventy-three ties...” I heard behind me, as I turned around I saw my dissatisfied rival helping herself up, her steel blade, planted blade first in the ground, assisted her ascent. “It's like this every day now, isn't it?” I could hear the sharp disappointment in her voice, it matched my own perfectly.
“Yeah...” I looked away, the last of the sun's light was exiting the sky as stars appeared in the sky, like watchful eyes waking from a long slumber. “Used to be that I'd walk here every morning and face a different opponent every day, each one better than the last.”
She snickered from behind me “Well I can't help it if I'm the best, Jack. Someday you'll just have to accept that.”
“Sure, maybe if I lose a limb or two first. Maybe.” I turned around, despite the darkness I could see her dusting out her clothes in that same fashion any other aristocrat would. “You just have to accept that money doesn't give you fighting skills.”
“Pah” I didn't need the dim starlight to know she was scoffing at me. “Have I ever used something as foolish as money to prove my superiority? One would think you're jealous, not that that's a surprise.”
“Me, jealous of you, Olivia? You can't even handle a little bit of dirt on your clothes!”
“It's called being presentable, I wouldn't expect a barbarian like you to understand.”
I huffed, crossing my arms. A sudden thought struck me. “It really is like this every day, isn't it?”
The dusting stopped abruptly. “How do you mean?”
“We boast and insult each other, duel until dusk, end the day tied and bicker some more. I'm not even sure what started it.”
The rhythmic sound of dirt compacting adjoined her steps as she stood beside me “What starts any rivalry? Similar skills, nothing more, nothing less.”
“Careful there, princess, you might admit how great I am.” I could hear her scoff once more in response.
“Truly, you've no talent for philosophy, socialization and thought. I do not wish to defeat you, I wish to defeat your skills. I am sure you feel the same way.”
I stood silent for a moment, pondering. “Yeah” I finally answered “I guess so.” Scratching the back of my head, I turned to her. “So when does it all end?”
“Why, when one of us loses, isn't that obvious?”
“Whenever that happens, the loser simply defeats the other the next time. A loss only lasts as long as it takes for one of us to become better.”
“Perhaps such a rivalry is what has made us so interesting to watch to the commoners. It's quite poetic, really. A never ending battle between a beautiful lady and a, um, I hesitate to use the word gentleman...” I could almost feel her wry smile.
“You? A lady? More like a lost little girl trying to look big for the masses.” I instinctually ducked as a hand swung through the empty air above me. “My, with aim like that no wonder you haven't won in several weeks.” This time I was the one grinning.
“Need I remind that you haven't won in the same amount of time?”
“I'm pretty sure the last win was mine.”
“Ha, your memory is as dull as that sorry excuse for a blade.”
“I assure you she's sharper than you.”
“She? My, you truly are lonely.” A girlish giggle pierced the darkness.
I scoffed “So I named my sword, after all the work I put into crafting it, it felt natural.”
“You smithed your own sword?” Genuine curiosity echoed in her voice, startling me slightly.
“Interested, are you?”
“Don't get the wrong idea, I always figured you must have stolen such a sword, you clearly cannot afford it.”
“You give me too much credit, you're the sly one.”
“Are you implying something?” She leered, I could hear her grip on her blade tighten.
“No, not at all. But I've seen how you handle other nobles. How they smile and nod as you get them to give you whatever you wish them too.”
“I wouldn't expect a fool like you to understand, but I've more than your sub-par skills to think about, I am to inherit a trading company after all.”
“Well I'm sure you're suited for it.”
Silence dawned, I looked up at the sky, the blackened sky dotted by pinpricks of light, I sought out the many constellations, tracing them with a finger.
“So you're a smith?”
“Planning to be, yes. Figured if I know how to use what I make, I could make 'em better. Hence the fancy sword moves.”
“I thought there was only one smith in town.”
“There is, my pa.”
“Huh.” She paused, I could feel her pondering, quick and calculating, her eyes always narrowing as she did so. “We do purchase quite a few of his arms for our trading company.”
“Really now, I always assumed you had some exotic supplier with some kind of miracle metal.”
“Hardly, he's close by and the weapons are higher quality than anything we can get elsewhere, cheaper too.” Silence persisted for a second before she ran a hand through her hair, flipping it out of her face “Don't let it go to your head.”
“Heh, wasn't planning on it.”
“You don't plan on a lot”
“Don't need to. Got instincts.”
“Instincts aren't enough in a fast paced duel.”
“They're the only things in a fast paced duel, you don't have time to construct a strategy, you just do.”
“I disagree, a good plan can topple even the mightiest foes.”
I shrugged, “They sure haven't toppled me yet.”
Silence persisted for a moment, a brown strand of hair obstructed my vision, matted down with sweat. “I always figured you planned around my own style.” She finally answered.
I wiped my forehead, the offending hair moving out of my vision. “No, just kinda figured out how to block certain moves and rolled with that.”
“That's called a plan, you fool.” She rose a pair of fingers to her temples.
“That's called instinct, princess.”
“Princess...” she repeated. “Why is it that all you commoners refer to me as such?”
“Perhaps because you refer to us as commoners.”
Silence returned, almost stifling in nature. It occurred to me that I had not had a real conversation with Olivia, merely taunts and insults based on assumptions going both ways. I glanced over at her, she was adjusting her long blonde hair, a sudden thought entered my mind.
“So how do your folks feel about you coming out here to fight lowly commoners?”
“I don't think I have to tell you they don't approve.” She tugged at her hair, small chunks of dirt rained down.
“So why come back here every day and do just that?”
“I imagine for the same reason you do. The rush, the thrill...” She glanced mischievously “The rivalries.”
I shrugged “Shouldn't you be hanging out with friends though?”
She sighed “A noble does not 'hang out' we are too proper for such frivolities.”
“My, that sounds rehearsed.”
“So why don't you do it anyway? You certainly have no issue doing something as unladylike as fighting.”
An unhealthy pause entered the arena, my eyes grazed the spectral sky once more, tracing another constellation.
“Because I have no real friends, I suppose.”
“Truly? No other bluebloods your age?”
“Of course there are, you idiot. I would just rather come down here and fight for hours than sit around gossiping about irrelevant topics.” She glanced away, if there were more light, I'd have bet I could see a blush.
I nodded “I guess I could see where you're coming from.”
“Yes, I suppose you could.”
“Well if you really need to have some downtime, I'm sure I could show you around a few places.”
“You do know who you're speaking with, Jack? We're not exactly on good terms.”
I shrugged “So what? Who says we have to stay that way?” A giggle erupted next to me, slowly it grew as she doubled over laughing. “What?” I blurted, unsure if I were bewildered or aggravated.
It took a full minute for her to recover as she slowly rose back up, giggling lightly “Simply ignoring social feuds like they hold no weight, you would not survive a day in the life of a noble.”
“Carrying grudges like that, you wouldn't survive a day in the life of a commoner”
“I suppose so.”
I kicked a rock as the quiet returned to the old duel grounds. “So what do you say?”
“It would certainly make for an interesting day.” I paused, surprised.
“Accepting, just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Ha, I'd never have thought you would.”
“You are certainly not alone in that.”
I turned around, surveying the sky. A luminescent moon had risen from the depths, its pale light shone on the lands. “Sure is getting late.”
“I suppose it is.”
I stretched my arms “Well, I guess I should head back.” I paused, stretching out my legs.
“Now? I think we still have business to attend to”
I rose an eyebrow, I hardly needed an answer as she rose her rapier. I smirked, things might never change. I flowed back into my stance, raising my own steel. “Loser buys the winner a drink?”
“Ha, winner chooses the drink?”
“It's a deal.”
I could already feel the motions and rhythm of combat flowing “En guard.”