Julian and I stood by the door for an hour or two. William disappeared early on, obviously bored with the whole affair. When Sarah’s tutor came we both stood on the inside to watch her. At first I tried to amuse myself by trying to estimate the cost of the tutor’s gaudy costume, but then I started actually listening to what they were saying.

The tutor was taking about the history of Coran, starting with Darren the Conqueror – William’s ancestor, I realized- and his battle for dominance with the country’s inhabitants. Sarah’s ancestor had also helped with the assault. I wondered how she had not learned about such an important part of her family history.

The tutor, much to my annoyance, went on and on about how great Darren was and about his many improbable feats, including one amusing story about how he asked the squirrels to pelt the Coranian army with pine cones. It sounded more like a children’s story than a history lesson, and when all of our snickering became too much for him, he ended the lesson and left the room in a huff. As he left, I thought about William and realized that if the late king could become a ghost, then the squirrels may very well have attacked the army.

After escorting Sarah to the dining room for her etiquette lesson, Julian and I went to the training ground to begin my personal training.

“You are very behind,” Julian said, handing me a wooden sword wrapped in cloth. “Most begin training at the age of six.”

My throat became dry. If I did not catch up, would I become a slave again?

Julian did not notice my discomfort. “I think that the most important thing to do know is to make sure that you can defend yourself. And as Orion always says, the best way to learn something is to immerse yourself in it. Now, feet apart, sword tilted.” I followed his instructions and he shook his head.

“Relax! Keeping your muscles rigid only impairs your ability to react quickly. That can get you killed.” I tried to relax, but I think that his advice only caused me to tense up even more.

“Also,” he continued, “keep your elbows closer to your body.” He grabbed my arms and shifted them. After looking at me again, he stood back and took up his own stance.

“We are going to start out slowly. When you block, tilt your sword and let the place near the hilt take the brunt of the blow. Now!” His sword came at me much faster than any of the squires did, and before I could put any of his tips to good use I had taken a painful blow to my right arm.

“Ah!” Those swords did not have nearly enough padding. Julian shook his head.

“I am surprised that you didn’t impale yourself on that blunted sword Orion gave you. The squires must have been toying with you.” I did not like the way he was teasing me, but I stood up and stepped back into position. Practice resumed at a dramatically reduced paced, with Julian constantly warning telling me not to lift up my feet or overextend my sword. By noon, my tunic was soaked in perspiration. Julian, who had taken off his armor because of the heat, used his own tunic to dab at his face.

“Okay, I think that we should go to lunch now. We have another shift…” He trailed off as he became enthralled by something above us. I turned to look and was surprised to see something large coming at us with considerable speed. We leaped out of the way and there was a tremendous crash.

“What was that?” I said, leaping to my feet and dusting off.

Julian squatted and examined the wreckage. “Looks like a chair.” We looked up at the window in unison. What was going on?

The End

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