|Posted by Bethanny Lawson on April 17, 2017 at 8:55 PM||comments (0)|
It was hot in the training area, humid, and smelled of sweat. Prince Ty stood in the middle of a circle formed by the soldiers gathered around him and a young man who had been bragging of his skills all morning. Naturally, Ty had to put him to the test.
Ty pulled out his sword. “How old are you?” The boy seemed far too young to be half as good as what they all claimed he was.
“Does it matter?” The blond youth shoved thick, wavy locks of hair back from his forehead.
“Not particularly. But I won't pretend I'm not curious.”
“If you win I'll tell you.”
Ty cocked an eyebrow. “Deal.”
The boy lunged at him. Ty blocked the first blow easily but the second came almost before he had recovered from the first. In a matter of seconds, the boy had a strong upper hand and was keeping Ty firmly on the defensive.
Ty waited, biding his time as he learned the boy's habits and watched for weaknesses. Eventually his opponent took a risky step. Ready, Ty took the opportunity to doge the blow and move in on the boy.
The blond hadn't been expecting it, and staggered back, struggling to defend himself from Ty's fast-paced strokes. He made a move so fast and surprising that Ty didn't have time to think. He blocked the blade in the only way that came to his mind and in doing so shoved his blade into the boy's side.
Dropping his sword, the boy backed away, stumbling on the dirt floor and falling on his rear. “Augh. Ow!” He clamped a hand over the wound, but not before Ty spotted the red seeping into his shirt.
“I'm so sorry.” He dropped to his knee next to the boy. “How bad is it?”
“I'm fine,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“Are you sure?” Ty moved to check. “It felt like I got you pretty good.”
“No.” the boy pushed him away. “I'm fine.”
“Stop trying to act tough and let me look at it.”
“Don't touch me!” The boy's voice cracked and Ty could see fear in his eyes. He helped him to his feet, not letting go of his arm once he had him up. “Come with me,” he said firmly, helping the boy walk to a small room off to the side.
Ty made the boy sit down on a bench. “Now, behave yourself. Sometimes even what seems to be minor injuries in practice can become a big deal if you don't tend to them.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I'm well aware. But since you're not, I'm going to do it for you.”
The boy protested and fought but couldn't overpower Ty. The prince removed the boy's hand from his side through use of some force to reveal a shirt that was blood soaked at the side. “See? This isn't fine.” He turned to a small cupboard against the wall and pulled out white rags. “Would someone get me a pitcher of water?” He called out the door.
He turned back to the boy and lifted the boy's shirt. The boy sucked in a breath as Ty pushed a rag against the wound. “There's extra fabric in the way,” Ty muttered, mostly to himself. He gripped the white binding material blocking him from properly treating the wound and ripped it. A man came in and handed Ty the water. “Thank you.”
The man's eyes grew wide. “Your highness...”
“I know.” Ty soaked a rag in the water and started cleaning around the boy's wound.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“He'll be fine. Just needs cleaned up so it doesn't get infected.”
“Yeah?” Ty finished cleaning and started wrapping rags tightly around the wound.
“I can finish it,” The boy demanded, grabbing Ty's hand forcefully to stop him and taking the bandage away.
Ty put his hands in the air in surrender, letting the boy's shirt fall back down and standing up. “That ought to do the trick.” He finally looked up from his work at the youth in front of him, still dejectedly wrapping the bandage, and in a quick, silent moment realization struck him like a boulder. “You are not a boy.”
The young soldier... now revealed to, in fact, be a female, crossed her arms and glared at him. “No, I'm not.”
Ty looked to the other soldier standing beside him, and back to the girl. “I won. So tell me. How old are you?”
“Your name? Your real name.”
“How long have you been here?”
She shrugged. “Couple of months.”
“Where'd you learn to fight like that?”
She peered at him, halfway between a snarl and confusion. “Anyone can do it if they work hard enough at it.”
“True. But not like you just did.”
She flounced back against the wall. “My father's a blacksmith. Makes weapons for the army. I've been around them my whole life, so naturally, I learned my way around a sword pretty quick.”
“What are you going to do?” The other soldier asked Ty.
“What do you mean?”
“It's illegal for a woman to join the army.”
Ty studied the girl before him. “I know. But she's good. And she's already been doing it for months.”
“You're not going to tell the king?”
Ty looked back to the girl, who was still watching him with arms crossed and an altogether disgusted look on her face, and groaned. “I guess I'm going to have to.”