Jason was up uncharacteristically early, despite his earlier exhaustion. After learning of his impending combat training he had been restless, tossing and turning in bed with visions of Cantonese action films playing through his mind. When dawn broke he quietly dressed and sat on one of the plush chairs in what he could only describe as the living room, looking out the window into the stirring city.
“I thought you would be sleeping,” Rakesh said, causing Jason to start. The man had slipped quietly from his own room, and was surprised to see the youth staring out the expansive windows at such an early hour.
“G’morning to you, too,” Jason muttered.
“Didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that,” Rakesh said with a smirk. “Not sleeping well?”
Jason shook his head to say no. “Nervous, excited, apprehensive. Can’t sleep with all that on my mind. So, uh, when do we start?”
“Start?” Rakesh’s voice echoed from the kitchen area. He reappeared moments later with a pair of glasses. “Just what are we starting, Jason?”
“Yulevi told me you’d teach me sword fighting.”
“She did, now?” Rakesh passed one of the glasses to Jason, who looked at the contents and gave it a quick sniff before gulping it half empty.
“Yup,” he replied, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “Said it would give you something to do while you consider our next move.”
“Huh,” was all Rakesh voiced in reply. He knew it wasn’t a bad idea, and both of them needed to keep busy while waiting for Aurok to return. Besides, who could blame the boy for wanting to play at swordsman?
“So...?” Jason had drained his glass, and was looking at Rakesh expectantly.
“First off, we’ve got to get you properly dressed. Can’t have your silks fluttering about all dainty-like, now, can we?”
Grinning, Jason retreated to his room to strap on his leathers.
Within a half hour Rakesh had led a very eager Jason to the sparring gym, a modest room in the basement of the tower. Like Aurok’s apartments, the gym was brightly lit and sparsely furnished. From what Jason could tell, light was fed in from above ground via a clever skylight system employing mirrors to direct light underground. Although Jason had seen lights in various parts of the city – and surely they must be electrical – there were none to speak of in the sparring gym.
One of the walls was panelled floor to ceiling with mirrors, likely to scrutinize one’s stance. Otherwise there was nothing to adorn the walls, save for a large rack of swords near the door. Jason looked at these longingly, admiring the faint glimmer the transported sunlight created as it danced across the polished blades. The blades were an unusual bronze colour, and a few of the smaller ones were jet black.
“Does it matter which one I take?” Jason asked, not removing his gaze from the weapons.
“Leave them for now. You can’t rush into sword fighting, just as you can’t rush into a sword fight. It’s a game of strategy, not strength, and so requires mental preparedness.” Rakesh answered.
“You going Zen on me, sensei?” Jason laughed sarcastically.
Irritation creased the elf’s features. “If you’re going to shorten my name, make it Kesh. Understood?”
“Whatever you say, Kesh,” Jason replied.
“That brings us to the first lesson: never let yourself go, be attentive, and don’t taunt or irritate your opponent. It is difficult to predict the actions of a man blinded by emotions.”
“Got it, what’s next?”
Rakesh paused for a few moments, considering both Jason’s eagerness and his own dislike of instruction.
“I have the feeling you won’t truly learn or pay attention until you have a sword in your hands.”
“You could say that,” Jason shrugged.
Rakesh retrieved a sword from the rack and tossed Jason’s way, eliciting a short yelp followed by a clang that reverberated through the small room.
“Gotta take better care of your blade than that, Jason,” Rakesh said as the younger man bent to pick up the sword.
“Now, the first stance you must learn is the upper guard.”
As Rakesh explained the stance he manually modified Jason’s pose, pulling at his arms and legs, rotating his shoulders, and straightening his spine. With all said and done, Jason relaxed before assuming the upper guard without assistance.
“Weight on leading foot, knee bent,” he muttered. “Head straight, make a line of my spine and relax the shoulders. Sword over right shoulder, two-handed grip.”
He glanced from his body to the mirror, making adjustments until he was confident his stance was correct.
“Decent,” Rakesh called. “Now hold that stance.”
In the mirror, Jason could see the man pulling another sword from the rack. Rakesh gave it a few good swings before returning to Jason’s side.
“From upper guard, it is simple to knock aside an opponent’s swing with a downward cut. This should be followed with an immediate attack, but we’ll keep you on the defensive today.”
Jason nodded his reply.
“Ready?” Rakesh asked.
Before Jason could respond the elf aimed a mighty swing at the youth. Jason leapt back with a vulgar shout.
“Kesh, what was that for!?”
Now it was Rakesh’s turn to shrug. “Though you wanted to learn to fight.”
“A little more warning would be appreciated.”
“Fine. I strike in five.”
As Rakesh counted, Jason reassumed his stance. He still wasn’t ready when the count expired, but at least had the sword up over his shoulder to parry.
The strike was made quickly and with a shout, though Jason could tell there was little force behind the swing. His own sword easily knocked aside the much larger man’s blow, filling the gym with the ring of metal.
“Whoa,” Jason breathed, his arms tingling from the impact.
“Always did prefer the crash of iron, though,” Rakesh mumbled.
“I’d take an iron sword over these bronze ones any day,” the elf elaborated. “Not only are they stronger, they’re more dangerous to my enemies.”
When Jason didn’t respond, Rakesh continued.
“You don’t know? Iron is fatal to most elves, with the obvious exception of Iron Elves, like me. Hence everything you see is wrought of bronze, silver, or a number of other metals.”
“Except prison bars,” Jason whispered.
“Right. Now, let’s practice that upper guard some more.”