There was a sudden knock upon the wooden door, then a visitor pushed against its exterior and the entryway opened. Cole and Ruby flinched once more at the surprise, and Malachai entered the chamber. He was wearing a suit of leather armor, as well as his usual hunting attire, and he was armed with more weapons than before.
"My king, my lady." Malachai humbly bowed his head at each of the companions, but all they could do was exchange nods of awkward confusion. "I have been informed of the attempt at the king's life. I trust you are more settled in now than before," he said jokingly, but the expression upon Ruby's face radiated her true appreciation for his humor.
"We have been attacked twice since we have arrived, and I nearly died!" Ruby cried out, and she pointed to the bandages that were wrapped around her neck.
"They tell me the source of the toxin was dragon's blood. Tell me, my lady or king, where do you think something such as that is derived?" Malachai looked upon them with heavy eyes.
"From a dragon, that's obvious." Ruby said, and she nodded in confidence for the answer she gave. Cole remained silent, but he imitated his companion by bobbing his head.
"Aye, that remark is true, but answer me this; have you ever laid eyes upon a dragon before?" Malachai brought one of his hands to his chin, then he stroked his stubbly jaw as his expression changed to that of inquisitiveness.
"Well...not exactly." Cole's tongue staggered as he spoke, and Ruby followed his comment with words that were said in a serious tone, "That's because they don't exist."
Their guest stood still for a moment, and he remained unmoved as he contemplated the young woman's retort. Suddenly a smile crept from a corner of his lips, then he bellowed out an obnoxious laughter; at one point, he slapped a knee to emphasize the reaction to Ruby's remark. After his voice thinned and his hilarity ceased, Malachai regained his stoic composure.
"Forgive me, my lady, but dragons indeed exist. They are known as the scourge of Avelen, and are vicious creatures that prey upon both life and land. These are more than simple monsters; they are familiars. The dragons are being commanded by a dark and terrible foe; the title Overlord has been self proclaimed by this villain. You have been assailed twice now since your arrival to this kingdom, and I wager you two will see your share of conflict before the prophecy is fulfilled, or at least before the enemy is pacified."
"Dragons? Overlord? ...Enemy? You're not making any sense, Malachai. You promised us we would receive some answers." Ruby's logical thought process was being overwhelmed by a burdening of irrational and vague statements.
"Aye, I granted you an audience with the Elder, as I promised. If the Council of Sages failed to inform you of your duties, that is on their beards," then Malachai bowed his head toward Cole and continued, "Come my king, our preparations have been delayed by the assassin; we cannot afford to remain idle any longer." The woodsman gestured his arm toward the opened doorway.
"Where are we going?" Cole inquired in a distressed tone; the fatigue of worry and constant summons was beginning to wear upon his patience.
"We are to measure and outfit you for armor, as well as begin your combative training." Malachai could sense Cole's hesitation, so he crossed over to the king and grabbed him by an arm. "I shall escort you, my liege."
"What about me?" Ruby snapped the question quickly, which halted the two men from departing the chamber.
"If you have strength enough to train, you may come along - if you wish, my lady." Malachai bent his head again, gesturing his approval. "The more armed warriors we have in our kingdom, the better we are protected."
Cole spoke aloud before he had time to think, and he said "No way, Ruby! You were just poisoned, and you need to rest."
The young woman gave Cole a cocky look, and with an irritated frown upon her lips she recited one of her companion's well versed lines as she said "I'll manage." Her answer irked Cole, and his face beamed with a frustration, but he decided against disputing with his friend any further on the matter.
The men allowed time enough for Ruby to dress herself into appropriate garments, and when she exited the chamber the young woman was again wearing her modern clothing; from her slender jeans to her comfortable camisole. The group departed down the corridor, and swiftly made their way toward an open and spacious court yard; a place where there were potted plants with fiery red foliage, and the atmosphere was filled with fresh scents and chirping, playful birds.
"Ah, here shall do the trick. " The woodsman grabbed at the additional weapons he had been carrying, and he handed a sword to each of the companions; both of the young friends offered similar looks of apprehensiveness. "My king, this sabre is the hallmark of Avelen craftsmanship; it is a sturdy and reliable blade, and it shall serve you well. My lady, this cutlass is an elegant and graceful sword; the likes of which cannot be rivaled by any other. May it be your safeguard."
After the pair of companions were given their weapons respectively, Malachai began to instruct them on proper combative techniques, and under his tutelage both Cole and Ruby were taught basic, intermediate, and even advanced swordplay. The early evening waned, and night quickly approached as the woodsman drilled and instructed them with surprisingly immediate result.
"You are both doing better than I imagined, but my training alone will not be enough. Ordinarily we use wooden swords for practice while inside the castle, however we cannot spare any time; the hour of darkness continues to grow with each passing day." Malachai separated the friends so that they were face to face with one another, and between them remained a distance no less than a single sword's length. "You must learn to fight a real opponent, and in turn have a taste at what a true battle is. You shall spar with each other."
Cole's eyes were fixated upon his friend, and he asked timidly "You're kidding, right? I can't fight her - I mean, she's a girl..."
"What's wrong your majesty," Ruby's tone reflected her heightened annoyance toward her friend's comment, "afraid of losing to me?"
Malachai laughed at the two companions, and he said enthusiastically "Aye, that's the spirit! I shall survey your movements closely. Arm yourselves - the time has come to measure your attentiveness toward my lessons!"
Cole and Ruby were locked into an intense stare, both of them were feeling irked by the other, and their blades were extended outward as they readied themselves for their sparring session. "I'll go easy on you, since you're hurt." The young man had a smug expression upon his face when he said this, but it quickly faded when Ruby confidently retorted "I didn't ask you to."