This is the story I told you about in the last post that I said was intended to be a quick flash fiction piece. It did, in fact, stay that way. (Though I may choose to do more with it later. For now, though, this is what we’re going with).
This is “Sparks Off the Blade.” Enjoy:
Houlder was used to being injured.
A childhood of labor followed by the years of training to be a member of the Royal Guard had not been easy on his body – it was a canvas, its art the suffering that a life such as his was doomed to. Innumerable scars from his time as a laborer and earned during his training and time as a member of the Guard, skin older than his age from the hours in the strong sun of a hot Etarican summer, his hands and feet almost calluses themselves, his nose and left index finger crooked from breaks that hadn’t been properly set.
When the war had broken out, his inventory of injuries had done nothing but grow.
Now, he lay in the dark tent he shared with half of the infantry. His cot was somewhat stiff, but he was grateful to be off his feet. In the battle two days ago, he had received more additions to his canvas: a gash along his cheek, the work of a particularly agile enemy armed with a number of daggers, and a fracture in his left hand. He had known as he did it that it was foolish to put up his hand before his sword when that barbarian had swung a club, but it was instinct.
Nevertheless, his wounds were dressed and he was still among the more able-bodied of the infantry, so he needed to be prepared to spring to action when the next battle came.
For now, though, he lay in the dark, in the tent crowded with the heat and stench of his brothers-in-arms.
The call to battle came sooner than he would have liked – the horn sounded just as the first light began to show over the horizon several hours later. Houlder supposed the enemy had surrounded their encampment in the night.
They were nothing if not smart.
Quickly he donned his armor and went out into formation – straight lines, proud lines.
“They’ve got our camp surrounded,” the General shouted from his position on horseback. “But they are weakened and exhausted and they number fewer than us, and you are Etarica’s finest. Form four units in Armored Spearhead formation and meet the enemy at the cardinal guard points. Break through their lines. Don’t surrender our position. Move!”
“For Etarica, King and Country!” Houlder shouted, accompanied in the trained response by the voices of the hundreds of men who stood with him in formation.
They spread out, and the battle was swift to begin. Houlder quickly found himself engaged in combat. His opponent was slight and carried a sword just as Houlder. To match his opponent’s lesser stature, though, his sword was a longsword: tapered and light weight against the heavy breadth of Houlder’s great sword.
Houlder smiled grimly and thought to himself that this would be either a very close or a very easy fight.
Their swords met in a clash – Houlder’s opponent didn’t waver beneath the weight of Houlder’s blow, parried quickly, and moved in for another strike almost before he blinked.
A very close one, then.
They were an even pairing. Despite the gravity of the situation, Houlder found that pleased him. His opponent was fast and graceful, moving swiftly and smoothly, balanced against Houlder’s training, strength, and surety of movement.
Their swords – extensions of themselves, the one slight and wickedly sharp, the other broad and powerful – met in clashes and scrapes again and again, filling the air around them with metallic clangs and the glowing spray of sparks.
It didn’t take very long for Houlder to realize he would lose. He blocked another blow and hardly had time to raise his sword to parry the next. He tried to get in a strike of his own, but when his sword fell where the opponent had just been … it fell into empty air. His adversary’s agility was outmatching him, despite all the time he had spent cultivating technical skill.
Houlder wasn’t particularly perturbed by the knowledge he would probably die in the next few minutes. Everyone was to die, and life as a member of the Royal Guard had familiarized him heavily with the idea of his own death.
To die in battle, at least, was a death for which he was well prepared.
His acceptance of the fate did not translate into surrender to it. He was too well trained for that. He fought harder than ever – if his upbringing had taught him anything, it was that one’s destiny could be changed. It simply took your blood and your sweat.
He rose his sword in block after block, maneuvered it through parry after parry, but never managed to get a good grip on the offensive.
When Houlder’s opponent almost got his first hit in, it was a blow to the cheek that was already cut and still in the early stages of healing. A swift uppercut of the blade that Houlder could hear whistle, and that would have taken off most of the flesh of Houlder’s cheek.
Houlder was surprised it hadn’t – it had looked bound directly for its mark. His opponent faltered for a moment, too, presumably surprised he had missed, also.
Houlder took the moment’s falter and stabbed at a chink in the enemy’s armor just by the armpit, but, as always, the fleet-footed warrior spun away before Houlder could make contact.
A visceral growl escaped Houlder.
He was a man who was used to disappointment, but he was not only losing. He was being made to look foolish. That was something for which he had much less tolerance.
And he was growing weaker.
A clash. The glow of sparks that quickly extinguished as they fell to the ground. The thinner, longer sword scraped against his and he felt the vibrations travel through his hands, into his arms, straight to his bones. Another clash of contact, another vain attempt to injure his opponent.
The opponent’s sword came away from Houlder’s very quickly – quickly enough that Houlder’s sword fell.
That was all the enemy needed. That split second of vulnerability. They both watched as the sword, a thing of true elegance in the enemy’s hands, was driven into Houlder’s stomach.
But … it didn’t.
Drive into his stomach, that is.
At the last moment, the enemy’s aim swerved around Houlder. By a great margin.
Houlder could not stifle his surprise. His hands came to his torso, noting that he had, indeed, not been stabbed. He looked up at his opponent, who stood just as shocked as he.
“What?” Houlder said, breathless from their battle.
The enemy soldier growled and tried again, a swift, strong jab at Houlder’s heart.
Again, at the last moment, the sword turned away.
The enemy’s scream of frustration was high and piercing. The stab came again and again, and every time, the blade swerved away from Houlder, much to the bewilderment – and, for one of them, frustration – of both of the warriors.
“This cannot be true,” Houlder’s opponent said. When the graceful swordsman finally spoke, it was with the unmistakable timbre of a woman. The slight build and lightness on her feet made sudden sense.
She ripped off her helm and threw it to the ground. “It cannot be,” she repeated. She slapped her chest. “Stab me. Go on. If it’s true, it must be true both ways.”
Houlder hefted his sword and aimed truly for her chest. He would not miss. He knew his sword and his ability, and she stood directly before him, open to the blow.
By the rules of everything Houlder knew, he should not miss.
Yet his sword rebelled and turned away from the woman in front of him, pulling his arms to the right and away from their mark.
“No! No, this isn’t right. There’s been a mistake. You cannot be my – ”
“Soulmate.” Quietly, unbelievingly, Houlder finished her sentence.
In his heart, the uneasiness and despair at how they were to resolve this situation mingled with something else. Something Houlder tried to ignore, but could not help feeling the warmth of.
The despair mingled with hope.
I wrote this (in part) because I’m putting together a portfolio for a scholarship right now and part of my angle is showing my growth as an author. This is the cake topper, if you will, branded as my “most recent piece of writing.” Because it is.
So, if you have any feedback, I’m open.
See you later, gators.