Balthier spun the sword in his hands. Sweat from the noon sun beat down upon bronzed skin, and ran in rivulets down across his muscles torso and his stomach as he stood in the practice yard of the keep, naked to the waist, and bared at foot. Again the sword swung in his hands as he circled with his opponent, a habit of idle hands, his wrists making a quick circle,, brandishing the blade of the practice sword, almost tauntingly towards the other. Captain General Malquith, a rather large, dark skinned man with a hard demeanor and a harder reputation sneered at the movement, the arrogance that was prince and future King, and yet as the two men circled, the seasoned war vet searching the man’s defense for some weakness, and failing to find one, he grinned. The boy learned well Both men were winded, breathing heavily. Both bore red, mad whelps on their skin, from contact with the wooden practice swords they both carried, although if one were to examine close enough, one would see that Balthier bore a few more than his opponent, however, Malquith’s all seemed gathered around more vital areas in the torso. Precision was Balthier’s mistress.
“Come on old man,” Balthier spoke, chiding, attempting to bait the Captain General into the first move, as he shuffled his feet quickly in the tight circle in which they danced. He could smell the sweat from his own body, that coming from the body of Malquith. He could feel the heat running from them like waves, dancing through the dust kicked up by shuffling feet. Both men were covered with it, as mingling dust formed mud in the creases of their bodies, in the folds of muscles, adding dark edges that only served to make them more pronounced. The sword twisted again, and in that moment Balthier saw what he was waiting for. Malquith’s right foot caught in the shuffle, as toe bit painfully into the ground.
Like a predator, Balthier sprung forward, striking out with the wooden long sword at the quickly raising sword of the Captain General, attempting to hammer the wooden sword free of the man’s iron grip. The sword struck with a slap as wood struck wood, and the jarring force of the impact made scream aching muscle in Balthier’s arms. The blow counter, but Balthier quickly moved to press his advantage, dancing a step forward quickly, bringing the sword around to attack the far side of his opponent’s body from the first strike, a second glancing blow forced away by the strength of the Lord Captain General.
But Balthier persisted, this time ramming a shoulder firmly into his opponent so quickly that Malquith had no time to react. He hit the man hard, throwing him back a few steps with the force of impact, and as the man staggered, Balthier’s sword struck out. Twice he contacted the man’s ribs, both left and right side. As Malquith regained his balance, Balthier spun quickly around the man, slapping at the back of his knees with the sword, to blow them out from underneath him, driving the man quickly to his left knee, before stopping, and gently placing the point of his practice sword at the base of the man’s neck: where death would be instant and painless.
Balthier was breathless, laughing as he felt the point of a steel blade touch between the halves of his trapezius. He heard a clapping coming from the edge of the practice grounds, and as he dropped the wooden sword, felt the blade removed, he turned to see his father standing with a dagger in his fists, and his little sister Anoria, clapping at the gates. His father was casually dressed, without robe of office or crown, so Balthier took the meeting to be between father and son, not King and subject. He smiled, turned and drug Malquith to his feet. “You cheat father, attacking a man from behind is not honorable,” Balthier spoke, not in accusation, but in excuse for having been bested, “and you entered a contest that was not yours.”
Lord Aaemon von Malkus was in his middle ages, a man of fifty-seven, with as much gray to his broad head as he had black. He was still a very imposing figure, with broad shoulders and a broad chest, with arms like tree trunks, and legs as big around as Balthier’s. The Duke of Cyfarwydd was, even at his current age, knight and trusted ally of the King, a charge that he didn’t take to lightly, as he strove to maintain physical prowess in order to properly perform those duties, inspite of age that should have robbed him of his strength years ago. His voice was deep, serious, like a professor who had just lectured on the meaning of life, and wished to drive home the lesson with tone of voice. “Ah, but you practice an art that is meant for war, not honorable duels between men. War is not honorable, and the fights not fair, nor personal. While you were victorious with one enemy, it’s the one you didn’t perceive who stole your life my son,” Lord Malkus spoke, sheathing his dagger back into his belt. “But enough of this. You’ve been out here since breakfast, and it is nearly lunch. The Countess de’Arthia, and her daughter are coming to discuss the upcoming ceremony, and you smell like a pig farmer.”
“Of course father,” Balthier spoke, picking up the practice sword from the dust covered floor, and returned it to the waiting hand of the Captain General, who turned away after muttering a respectful, “your graces”. Balthier, without such ceremony, walked to a waiting basin of water nearest the front of the practice yard, by which his sister stood.
“I thought it was quite unfair of father to kill you in such a fashion,” Antonia spoke, as Balthier stopped, drawing a pitcher of water up from the awaiting bucket. She was a pretty thing, with the bluest of eyes colored after the evening sky, deep and dark, with rivets of perfect silver running through the irises, like cirrus clouds swimming through the azure skies. Her hair was dark, like the rest of his family, and she possess such a noble beauty that it was a no wonder the world waited for her to turn 16… to turn the age of marriage. Balthier simply smiled at the comment, holding the pitcher of water between his two hands.
“Yes well, I don’t suppose it matters much in the manner father decides to kill me,” Balthier responded with some humor, as he poured the pitcher of water over himself, to wash away the dust and mud that caked to his body. “He is Duke, and lord father after all. I’d wager I should be honored he chose to do it himself.”
“Yes well,” Antonia spoke, wrinkling her nose in distaste for the retort, “I shall not speak with him again until he apologizes for wrong. At least he could have killed you to your face Attacking a man’s back. Its criminal.”
“And you attack his heart,” Balthier retorted, “Cut from his chest with a knife of silence. Careful, lest he marries you off to a man who would dull your knife with laughter and sonnets this fall, dear sister.”
Antonia laughed, a joyful, haughty sound that Balthasar has heard throughout his life, a laugh he’s grown accustomed to. She always seemed to make what was on the horizon seem somehow the more bearable. He told he r once that she could laugh about anything, and he still believed it to be true, for her had a happy spirit and a gentle soul that Balthier valued as one of Canterbury’s most prized treasures. She faked a curtsey, spreading her plain brown skirts, in a regal fashion as she bent at the knees, a harmonious light to her eyes, with laughter behind them. “Tis a better fortune than yours, dear brother. The Countess de’Arthia…”
“Will be here in a little while sparrow,” Balthier spoke, pouring yet another jar of water over his head, to wash away what hadn’t the first attempt, “and I’ll not have your light dimmed by ill words spoke in confidence hours before she arrived. The walls have ears here, and a servant’s tongue is very loose.”
Balthier put the pitcher back in the barrel, and stepped back, picking up his shirt from the steps leading down into the practice field, and pulling it quickly back over his shoulders. The cloth stuck to his wet skin as he pulled it down over his stomach, and as he ran his fingers through his short, cropped brown hair, drops of water fell onto his broad back, browning the white fabric.
“To nest, little sparrow,” He spoke, turning to smile at his sister, “I’ve to get ready for the Countess and her daughter, while you.. I do believe you’ve not been keeping up with your books.”
“How…” Antonia spoke, but was silenced by Balthier’s finger against her lips.
“Shh,” he spoke, “ the walls have ears…” He laughed as he turned, and walked back into the keep, to properly bathe and ready himself.