A Lesson in Staves
Finally, a post! I know, you all are astounded. Just another short story about one of my characters, this time it’s Acrisius “Risi” the Warrior. A huge thanks go out to the people that helped me revise and edit out the weird little kinks. They are @gylfiesan, @quaunaut and @soylentverde.
“Now, stand with your hooves shoulder-width apart, girl. No, not that wide. Keep your upper body back, keep yourself balanced.”
I looked up at the stern, frowning Draenei for approval. “Shoulder-width apart.” I shifted my hooves, lining them up like he said, and adjusted my grip on the thick, rough staff I had clenched in my hands. It was hot, too bloody hot for my tastes, and sweat trickled down my back underneath my stiff leather armor. The sun blazed down on me, shining in my eyes and blinding me as it filled the clearing. My hands grew moist as they clutched the wooden staff, and I glanced at the weapon in distaste.
“We start with the most basic of weapons, girl,” my teacher had said when we had picked out our equipment in the morning. I had reached for the large, weathered swords immediately, hefting them in my grasp until I found one with decent balance, but he’d laughed as soon as I turned to join him in the training yard. “Little girls don’t start out with swords. You’ll start with a staff. Should be easy enough for you.” Frustrated, I had plunked the sword back on it’s rack and snatched up a gnarled old staff, following him out into the day sullenly.
Now, it was time to use the blasted thing. I had only ever worked with swords back home on the farm; in truth, ‘sword’ was a loose term for a long wooden stick that I used to hit and stab the little old scarecrow in our yard. But certainly I was beyond such child’s play as a simple two-handed staff.
My teacher, once a glorious war-veteran but now was reduced to training the new recruits here at the Exodar, was mean, old, and scarred. He always looked angry, with his furrowed brow and sneer that was marred by a thick scar that traced his face from chin to ear. He had told me to call him ‘The Wolf,’ some title or what-not he’d picked from his days of fighting. He certainly looked far from a fearsome wolf now; more of a grumpy old goat.
A second too late, I caught sight of his staff whizzing down through the air at my head. I flinched, but the hard wood still cracked me over the horns and sent me stumbling sideways. “Hey!” I cried out, blinking away dizziness and tears from the bright pain. “What was that for?”
“Stop day dreaming, girl. You won’t last a second in a fight if you lose focus.” He dug the tip of his staff into the dirt, leaning on it as he glared at me. I shifted uncomfortably, avoiding his dark eyes for a long, awkward moment, before he barked out, “Show me how you would attack me.”
I sighed. Finally. This should be easy. I hefted up my staff, and ran towards the Wolf, letting out of cocky battle cry. I closed my eyes for the impact, expecting a hefty collision and perhaps a thud as he fell over. I picked up my speed, kept running forward… And right at the moment when my staff would hit solid flesh, the wood dug into nothing but air and I went tumbling forward into the space. My eyes flew open in shock as my balance shifted too far forward, and I fell onto the dusty ground. Dirt and grit filled my nose and mouth, and I sat up spluttering. My lip burned, and I touched it gingerly, my dark fingers coming away sticky with blood. Laughter was coming from behind me, and I turned to glare at my teacher, seated on a stump and cackling.
“Not funny,” I spat, wiping my bloody lip with the back of my thin fingerless gloves before rising to my feet. Pangs of pain flared up from my hip, my elbow, my cheek. I’d be dotted with ugly bruises tomorrow morning, and I felt my face flush with embarrassment.
“On the contrary, girl. Quite amusing.” He ceased his chortling, but his lips still twisted up in a darkly amused grin. “Pick up your staff, girl. I can see we’ve got some work to do.”
Three hours later, we were still at it in the yard. The sun was beating down harder on us, the inside of my armor slick with perspiration and starting to smell foul. Beads of sweat fell into my eyes, stinging me, as I locked staves with the Wolf.
“Block! Parry! Now, sweep!” he yelled, running me through the moves he had taught me two hours before. “Lunge! No, not like that.” His staff came swinging in an arc, rapping me hard on the base of my tail. I gritted my teeth at the sting; his preferred method of teaching me was less instruction and a more ‘hands-on’ approach that consisted of beating me up until I did it right. “Come on, girl. You’re disappointing me.”
Growling softly, I reached back with one hand to rub the sting from my butt. “No sane person fights this long in the sun, sir.” I could feel the heat going to my head. If it meant killing the stupid man to get a glass of water, I would do it.
“No breaks,” he snapped, swinging his staff at my back once more. Fumbling, I managed to block his swipe and staggered back a couple of steps before pulling my posture back together. Hooves shoulder-width apart. Upper body back. I shifted my stiff fingers on the wood, fixing my grip. My whole body ached from sloppy blocks, poor timing, and exhaustion. My determination for a cool drink of water and a bath kept me going, and with a cry I moved in on my teacher.
“Block,” I muttered under my breath, my staff colliding with his with a loud crack. “Dodge.” I danced back from his staff, just barely missing his attempt to knock me onto my ass. “Lunge.” My staff shot forward, brushed off easily by an idle toss of his staff.
“Come on, girl, hit me! I haven’t got all day for you to grow up.” His face looked bored, the butt of his staff digging lazily into the ground. “I could be spending this time training the better recruits. I don’t want to waste my time.”
His words stopped me dead in my tracks. My eyes widened, and started to sting with an oncoming wave of tears. My lower lip trembled. No one, not even my mother had spoken to me like that before. I had been trying so hard, and this… This cur spoke to me like I was nothing but a child. I was suddenly conscious of how absurd I must look, strapped into ugly, stained armor, my long ponytail plastered to my neck from sweat, frizzled and disheveled. My arms fell to my sides, my staff dangling from my swollen fingers.
The Wolf snorted angrily, and eyed me with disgust. “I never should have taken on a girl,” he spat at me. “You’re weak, child. Go home to your farm. I’ve no need of you here.”
“Are you calling me… Weak?” I felt fury, hot and ropy and bristling inside me. “Me? You’re calling me, weak?” My hands tightened, and with a savage cry suddenly I was running at his back, swinging my staff with what strength I had left. My bruised hands, bruised behind, bruised face, and especially my bruised ego stretched and screamed in pain, but in my fury I ignored them. “You think I’m weak?” I cried out, swinging my staff down at his back. The Wolf span, and a quick, feral grin seemed to flicker over his face before his staff appeared to block my attack. “I have spent my whole life training for this and you call me weak?!”
Sweep! My staff flew towards his legs, met by his block. Before he could move, I was spinning my staff around for a new attack. Lunge! My staff was swept out of the way, but I kept moving, my anger fueling me. Block, parry. Attack. On and on we went, for what seemed like hours. The sounds of our staves crashing together rang throughout the clearing, and could feel the trainees and teachers all watching. Lunge, parry, sweep. With every strike blocked, my anger grew, and soon I noticed even the untouchable Wolf was breaking a sweat. I felt my breath rattle in my chest, desperately seeking more air to feed to my burning muscles, but harder I pressed on.
Attack! A wild, untamed scream sounded in the yard, and it wasn’t until my weapon was halfway through the air that I realized the screech had come from me. The wood was whistling down towards my teachers shoulders with blinding speed, and I felt my split lip tear open once more as a wicked grin. If I had been a second faster, my staff would have bitten into the flesh of his shoulder, but suddenly his own weapon was there and my staff hit with a deafening crack. I stood there for a second, panting and gasping for breath, sweat dripping from my face, before I took a long shuddery breath and relaxed my grip on the weapon. Blinking my eyes, I pulled it away from the Wolf, wondering for a moment at how light the thick staff seemed all of a sudden. It wasn’t until the sound of wood hitting the ground that I realized it had cracked; part of the weapon, splintered and cracked, lay on the dusty earth now. That’s odd, I thought. That’s not supposed to happen.
A bark of laughter broke my reverie. “Not bad, girl.” My teacher’s eyes lit up with a ferocious gleam. “Not bad at all. Let’s hope you can keep that up.”
With a desperate gasp of laughter, I fell back another step. The praise, slight as it was, dissolved my anger, and I beamed at him stupidly.
He bent over to pick up the shattered bit of wood, and tossed it my way. “Of course, you’ll have to carve a new weapon for yourself before tomorrow’s practice. Was careless of you to break yours. If you want to become a serious student, you need to learn to take better care of your tools.” With that, he turned and left.
My anger sparked back to life, and grumbling I stomped out of the training yard past gaping peers. I shoved the broken staff into the corner of the weapon’s room, before stamping my way to my quarters deep inside the Exodar. By the time I reached my bed, my anger had cooled, but I still muttered darkly to myself as I stripped off my armor and rang for a hot bath. I noticed with a happy sigh a huge pitcher of ice-cold water and a cup on my bed-stand; I gulped the liquid down greedily, soothing my parched throat. My limbs began to groan, stiffness setting in, and when the steaming water came I sank into it with a moan of delight. Call me girly, but damn I love to feel clean.
When I had finished with my bath, I changed into a simple linen robe before I started my hunt for a new piece of wood to carve. My legs protested as I marched up the long, winding ramp up and out of the city, but I ignored them. Stop complaining, it’s good for you. Finding a suitable branch to hack down to size wasn’t difficult, there was plenty of good wood around the Exodar, but getting it was another matter. Somehow I managed to shimmy up one of the trees, pine needles and twigs scratching at my face, and hacked down a thick branch without tumbling to the ground. The drag back to my quarters was laborious, but I managed. I sat on my bed, hauling the piece of wood into my lap, and was about to begin the slow process of chipping the branch down to size when the Wolf’s head suddenly appeared around the side of my door.
“Ah, good. I see you’ve gotten to work on your new staff,” he said, his mouth twisted up in one corner in what seemed like a friendly smile. I didn’t like it one bit, and grunted in reply.
“Just wanted to let you know, the cook needs some able-bodied young people to help her carry some crates of fish that the fishermen just brought to shore.”
“So?” I bent my head to keep working. The cook could haul the stupid things herself.
“I volunteered you.”
“What?!” I glared up at him. “Those things weigh twenty stones at least.”
His smile turned wicked, and for a second I could see how he had gotten the name the Wolf. With his twisted lips, the angry scar, and flashing eyes, he looked uncannily like one. “And there’s twenty of them. You’d better get some sleep tonight.”