When the entire company was assembled, there were just over a hundred men in total, not including Garrett and his officers. It made Daniela and Ronan feel very small as they lined up in the training area waiting for their captain to arrive.
“What’s going to happen?” Daniela asked. “Are we going to have to fight?”
“I don’t know,” Ronan replied. “This is new to me too.”
“I think he usually starts off by assessing what people can do,” Stuart suggested. “There are quite a few nobles here so they’ll all have basic fencing training no doubt. But I’m guessing you two have no experience whatsoever.”
Daniela shook her head ashamedly.
“That’s not something to feel bad about, most people don’t need to know how to use a sword unless they are a knight or a soldier. But I’m sure you have other talents.”
“I’m quite good with a knife,” Ronan said casually. “You have to be where I come from.”
Fear began to settle itself inside Daniela’s stomach. She hadn’t considered that she would have to be able to fight and kill in order to find Felix. She had assumed they would take her straight to the frontline and she could get a transfer to Felix's unit. Thankfully she was saved a questioning from Stuart by the arrival of Captain Garrett and his officers. The yard fell silent as they all waited for the Captain to speak.
“Welcome to your camp,” the Captain said, addressing the whole gathering. “Here you will be trained in the art of combat until you are deemed ready to see action on the frontline. But before we begin I need to know what I’m dealing with. Pair off and get out your practice swords. This is going to be your first freelance duel.”
Murmurs went through the men as people began to pair off and prepare to fight.
“Shall we stick together?” Ronan suggested. “I don’t want to get stuck with someone who actually knows what they’re doing and at least if I’m with you I’m not going to get killed.”
“I wouldn’t put any money on that,” Daniela said wryly. “At least someone who knows what they’re doing will be able to control their sword, I might kill you by accident.”
“Stop being so negative and let’s duel.”
Soon the air was filled with the sounds of clashing swords. Daniela tried hard to block out the sounds of the other men fighting around her and look just at Ronan and his blunt practice sword as he clumsily lunged towards her. She neatly dodged his blade by stepping to the side and running around him as he staggered forward.
“Very good,” he said, impressed, as he turned around to face her again. This time he swung his sword slowly in an attack at Daniela’s side and she brought her sword up to meet his, the blunt blades still ringing as the metal clashed.
“You’ve done this before,” Daniela said accusingly.
“Not in the strictest sense of the word,” Ronan replied. “I’ve seen other people fencing and I might have picked up a trick or two along the way.”
“Well that’s not fair,” she protested as she forced Ronan’s blade away from her side and coming up to meet another blow aimed at her head.
“What can I say?” Ronan said with his cheeky grin spreading across his face. “Life isn’t fair.” But despite Ronan’s teasing, he took it easy on Daniela, moving slowly to allow her to block his attacks and get her footwork right, not wanting to get himself out of his depth. He was only using moves he had seen, never practiced.
“Very good,” Garrett said as he came round to them, watching Ronan’s shuffling feet as he advanced on Daniela. “You need to work on your footwork Ronan but you have the basic skills.” He then turned his attention to Daniela, who was already starting to tire and her face was glistening with sweat. “I think we’re going to have to start from the beginning with you Danny,” he said sadly. “You don’t look at home at all with a sword in your hand. You need to relax and allow the blade to become an extension of your arm. You have to trust it.”
“Trust it? It’s not going to be able to help me if I get into trouble, I have to rely on myself.”
“See that’s where you’re wrong,” Garrett said. “You have to believe that your sword is part of you, it isn’t separate.”
“That’s the biggest amount of nonsense I’ve ever heard.”
“Don’t worry,” he said calmly. “In time you’ll understand. Once you learn how to use your sword properly then you’ll understand the connection that there is between a sword and it’s wielder.” He turned away, marching back to his officers and addressing the men. “Put up your swords. I’ve seen enough.”
Every soldier obeyed, bringing their sword down so it rested at their side.
“There is clearly a lot of work to be done and that doesn’t exclude those of you who already have some training. All of you are going to be working every hour the Gods send you to become better, stronger fighters so when we are called upon to protect our country we will be able to do that with honour. But in order to achieve that I am going to have to divide you into groups; those who are trained, those who have some training, and those who have no training at all.”
Daniela knew exactly which group she was going to be put in so it was no surprise when she was herded into the group of untrained soldiers. She wouldn’t have minded so much if she hadn’t been completely alone. Ronan was put into the group who had some training and Stuart was deemed fully trained. She didn’t have anyone to lean on anymore so she was going to have to do this alone.