Arc 1: Chapter 2-2

While the horses are being prepared, want to have a spar with me?”

Sir Hadrin was smiling. Bran thought for a moment. As long as he didn’t get any lasting damage, the spar would be very beneficial for him, no matter the outcome. Nobody in the surroundings could have an even fight with him, except Celek and the knight. Even beasts were mostly weak against him in this land. Something strong like a direbear was rare and would only appear in some periods. At least he was sure that, with his curse, dangerous hostile beasts would always be attracted toward him.

Bran grinned and nodded toward the knight. He was going to get any help possible before his tribulation. Sir Hadrin’s smile got slightly wider at one side. He motioned with his hand.

Will you fight with that short sword, or will you choose another one? I have a collection of good weapons”

Bran’s answer was immediate, as he knew about the merely average quality of his weapon:

I will choose one.” He smiled sarcastically “Against the likes of you, this sword won’t even survive the spar”

Then follow me. You will choose your weapon from the ones in my bed chamber”

The knight led them deeper into the maze of corridors that constituted the manor. Elea whispered to Bran in a surprised tone:

I have never seen his bed chamber. Even my lord father has never seen the inside of it”

Bran looked perplexed for a moment, and then said:

Why did he agree to me coming to it then? Shouldn’t you, his disciple and the daughter of his lord see it first?”

He never agreed to it. He got knighthood at the age of twenty, and spent a whole ten years tempering himself in wars. He’s a monster, so he’s allowed to have an eccentric personality” After thinking for a moment she added proudly “And yet he sees you as his equal. That says a lot about you”

Bran only shrugged. He would never be on the same level of Celek. Maybe if he learned magic, and had tremendous talent at it, and trained for half a century, he may have a chance, but in his best estimates, he doubted he’ll live more than six more years, and that was only with incredible luck. Bran tightened his fist. Celek’s strength soon wouldn’t be enough to protect him.

Here we are”

Bran looked up. They were in front of a normal looking red door. The knight turned the knob, and they went inside.

The boy and Elea then opened their eyes wide, unable to contain their surprise.

All the walls were covered with weapons. All kinds of weapons. Some weapons Bran only knew through stories, and some he never even heard of. Sir Hadrin just stood at the door, grinning at their reactions.

Bran seized up the knight as if he met him for the first time, and then started with a penetrating gaze:

How did you get all of those?” His hand brushed against the cold steel of a double edged axe, carefully studying it. “These aren’t mere ornaments, and they all look used.”

The knight looked at them, amusement apparent in his eyes. It was quite odd to even see him show a hint of a smile.

Those are my trophies after roaming the world for ten years.” his tone full of reminiscence, he continued: “I always had to fight for my life, and one day I decided to send the weapons of strong opponents who earned my respect here”

Bran arched his brow in confusion.

Why here? If you are so strong, wouldn’t you serve a greater lord than Terrin” Elea gave him an odd look, filled with indignation and annoyance. Bran lifted his hands to placate her. “No offense intended”

Now wasn’t the time to provoke her, else he’ll regret it for months.

The knight sighed.

You really pay no respect to status, just like Celek. This land is my homeland. I had left when I was very young, but I had some good memories here. I decided to come back in the end, and have a quiet peaceful life.” Before Bran could respond, the knight added with a flourish of his hand: “You can choose any weapon for our spar”

Bran turned, dropping the earlier subjects and looking at the weapons. He was opting for a long sword. It was what he was best with, and the longer reach would come handy facing the taller knight. He carefully checked each one, and then he saw it. A thin, one edged long bade, with a slightly curved tip, making it good at cutting and piercing as well. He remembered this weapon. He had only seen it once, but he would never forget. It was the same as the one Celek used to save him from his last tribulation, three years ago. He turned toward the knight.

I’ll take this one”

Sir Hadrin frowned and slightly tilted his head.

Are you sure? That weapon is quite peculiar. I only won against the one wielding it with luck, and his use of it seemed complicated and difficult to replicate”

Bran grinned, a childish excited smile that hadn’t crossed his face for years: “I am sure about it”

The knight sighed and said:

So, you will use that sword? I’m warning you, I won’t hold back, even if it’s your first time using it”

Bran just nodded, and kept his smile plastered on his face. The knight took an ornate scabbard lying on top of his bed. The hilt had a white gem encrusted into it. Bran gritted his teeth. The knight was going to use Azelf’s magic. Sir Hadrin noticed it and a small smile returned to his face.

Bran tapped Elea’s shoulder, as she was still staring and checking the different weapons, and they followed the knight of the room. Sir Hadrin instructed a servant to bring a priest to the courtyard. Elea was unusually silent on the way.

As they made it into the courtyard, she looked at Bran and said:

Do your best”

The boy smiled at her, and went to stand in front of the knight. An old strong looking bald man was standing at their side, watching calmly. He wore a white robe with sleeves of gold. He was the only priest in the Bourg, and was of Azelf’s cult, here to heal any fatal injury.

As Bran slowly drew his sword, he said:

No need for duel’s formalities. I have no title to speak off. Let’s just start”

The knight slightly narrowed his eyes. He looked suspiciously at the boy, and then shrugged it off. He drew his sword too. It was a long sword. The metal looked like it was made by a very good blacksmith. Smithies in Terrowin couldn’t even come close to making such a piece.

Bran looked at his sword. True, he never used it before, but there was always a time to start doing new things. What better time to start using it than against a very strong knight? He knew usual weapons wouldn’t help much in what awaited him after a month and half. At least this sword proved its worth three years ago.

As he carried his sword with his right hand, he put it in front of him in a basic stance. He would have to rely mostly on instinct, until he got used to his new weapon. At least he was used to the longer reach. Celek always made him train with all the usual types of weapons.

The knight carried his sword in two hands, lifting it slightly above his right shoulder. Bran couldn’t underestimate him. His only chance was his high mobility. He ran forward, exploding at top speed and extending his slightly curved sword to the side, in order to not obstruct him. The knight didn’t move, his eyes not leaving the boy.

Bran extended his sword like to stab a small exposed part in joints of the armor, and just as Sir Hadrin’s muscles tensed, indicating his preparation for a counterattack, the boy rolled to the side, using the momentum of his initial rush. His roll took him behind the knight, who was too heavy with his armor to react in time. Bran made an upward attack at the armor, trying to do it the same way Celek did three years ago. Sir Hadrin tilted his sword backyard, blocking the strike. His body couldn’t help being pushed a bit forward.

The knight whirled around, taking advantage of the push to change his stance, his steel shoes leaving deep imprints on the soil. He horizontally held his sword, with its tip pointing toward the boy. Hadrin was intent on not underestimating the boy. Bran’s mind analyzed the situation. He couldn’t use kicks or grapples, as with such armor, his opponent wouldn’t be much affected. If he could hit the knight’s head, as he had forgot to don his helmet, he could do some damage. The knight didn’t move, patiently waiting for an attack, and completely focusing on counterattacking. It was the right choice. He couldn’t charge or do much with his body being much heavier than his opponent’s.

Bran looked at the gem encrusted into the hilt of the knight’s sword. His opponent still didn’t use magic, and he really wished he could know in which form the magic will come. He had very limited knowledge and experience with magic. The boy decided to charge head on. His strike speed earlier was very lacking, and he had to get used to the sword’s balance.

He ran forward with more speed, crouching close to the ground. He made a slight feint with his sword. After the earlier stunt, the knight didn’t fall for it. The man simply thrust his long sword forward at the same time, with such speed and force that the boy couldn’t dodge. Bran deflected the strike with his sword, and as the opponent’s weapon changed its trajectory, the boy let go of his sword, whirled around, jumped and struck the knight’s chin with his knee, catching him by surprise.

Sir Hadrin staggered backward. Bran immediately took hold of his sword that had embedded itself on the ground, and he attacked again. The knight, hardened by his eventful experiences, didn’t get distracted by the damage he got, and parried each strike flawlessly. Some blood slowly dribbled from his mouth. Bran, seeing how his opponent’s defense wasn’t letting any opening, and how skilled he was with the sword, pulled back.

The knight didn’t give chase, and a small smile appeared on his face. His lips were broken and his mouth was a bloody mess. A faint light appeared on the gem in his sword, and his face started healing. Bran couldn’t help but groan. The spar was looking pretty hopeless. He looked toward the priest. He was only going to give healing at the end of the fight or if there were fatal injuries, so the boy could not expect healing but in those situations. The knight was at least able to heal himself. Adding to it this sword that he wasn’t used to, it would be a miracle if he could win. He wasn’t used to this sword enough to pull flawless acrobatics, and every mistake would count heavily in this spar. The boy sighed. What awaited him in this next trip was a lot more hopeless than this situation. He had to get used to this feeling.

Sir Hadrin opened his half healed mouth:

Your brute strength isn’t something you’ll expect from a boy your age. Heck, even I feel like I’m fighting with a very fast boulder”

Bran grinned and answered: “I’ve got Celek to thank for that”

The knight seemed to think for a bit, and then said:

I would gladly learn from such a mentor, but I’m too old for it. I would be happy if Celek could train the little lady for some time. It would be very fortunate”

Bran turned and looked at Elea. She was looking at them with excitement clear in her eyes. Noble lords didn’t need to learn to fight, let alone noble ladies, but there were always some that chose this path on their own, and she was one of them. She kept bothering the lord from her early childhood to learn swordsmanship, till her father relented when the knight returned to his homeland, making him her mentor.

He looked back at Sir Hadrin and said:

I will ask him, but I’m not sure he’ll do it. He never accepted training anyone besides me”

That would be more than enough. You have my gratitude. We shall continue then”

The white light stopped emanating from the gem. The knight face was still not completely healed. Bran lifted an eyebrow quizzically. Sir Hadrin sighed and said:

Healing takes too much energy, and I can’t waste it here”

Bran tensed. So the magic was going to come in a different form. The knight was already expecting tricks, so they wouldn’t work anymore, not against someone as experienced as him. He looked at his long, one edged, slightly curved thin sword. He had grasped some of the basics on how to carry it from the earlier exchanges, but he was far from getting used to it.

He tightened his grip, and this time with the top of his speed, he shot forward, piercing toward the knight’s throat. The man slightly widened his eyes. Due to his surprise, faced with an attack with such ferocity and speed, there was slight lag in his movements. He cursed the peaceful years he spent in the Bourg that had dulled him. The knight tried to move to the side, but he was unable to dodge. As Bran was about to pierce him, the world became white, and pain filled his eyes, numbing his senses for a moment. His sword pierced emptiness. Bran cursed in his mind. Magic again.

Not losing a single moment, without waiting for his sight to return, he rolled to the side. It was just in time. The knight’s sword grazed the boy’s thigh, instead of piercing his chest. He took hasty steps backward, making distance between them. The boy’s sight was returning, but everything seemed hazy and filled with too much light.

At this pace, he was going to lose. He had to start going all out, even if he still wasn’t accustomed to the sword. The knight held his sword in front of him, in a basic stance. Bran started pacing around him, thinking about his next action. He sprung then into action, dashing toward Sir Hadrin. The boy slashed horizontally with all his strength. The knight parried easily, yet couldn’t help but be pushed a few steps back. He was a muscular man, yet couldn’t compete with the boy in brute strength.

The boy used the opportunity and pierced toward the knight’s chest, but a vine erupted from the soil and caught his leg, making his strike widely miss its target. The gem in the knight’s sword was shining slightly. Bran cut the vine. It was shining with a faint light. Bran understood. The vine was the result of the knight’s magic. The knight used that time to attack too. He made a downward strike toward the boy. Bran somersaulted, his sword sliding on the flat of the knight’s long sword, deflecting it slightly. He twisted his body in the air, and threw a round kick at Sir Hadrin’s face. The boy closed his eyes, just as the world became white again. He was starting to predict the knight.

Bran felt his leg striking something hard, and felt the bone cracking. He opened his eyes, and he saw his leg hitting the steel clad arm of the knight. Sir Hadrin had let his sword fall on the ground, just like the boy earlier did. As Bran was falling to the ground, a hand gripped his wounded leg, and the world flashed white again.

Losing his sight again, the boy frantically slashed with his sword. At the same time, cold steel hit his face, breaking his nose and he rolled on the ground. He made use of the roll to pull away, trying to put as much distance as his sight was still not returning. He got up and tried to take a step back, only to feel his legs entangled in numerous vines. The pain from the cracked bone of his leg was numbing all his senses.

Not wasting time to think, he wielded his sword with two hands, and with all his strength, slashed the air in front of him. He still couldn’t see anything, but he felt slight satisfaction after hearing a grunt and the sound of metals colliding. He made another slash, a firm strike but this time with less strength. The knight threw all his weight into the strike, trying to counter attack the monstrous strength of the boy, yet was surprised seeing his sword pushing Bran’s sword back easily.

Bran smiled, and as his sword was pushed back, he made use of the momentum to break free of the vines and throw his own body backward. His sight was slowly returning, but it was still hazy. He could make out the form of the knight giving him chase.

Bran rolled on the ground a few times, and as he tried to stand, he felt his injured bone cracking further, and his butt fell on the ground. He tried to stand again, but he saw the blurry figure of the knight looming over him, and felt cold steel touching his neck. Vines wrapped themselves on his wrists and feet. A ragged voice entered his ears:

You lost, finally”

With a groan, Bran let his back fall on the ground. He felt his nose entirely broken, and he had lost some blood from the wound on his thigh. The worst was the cracked bone in his leg. Pain was numbing his mind, but he felt nothing but utter defeat. He wasn’t even strong enough to defeat the knight, let alone what awaited him in this trip. His sight fully returned, and he turned to look at the knight.

Sir Hadrin was leaning on his long sword, trying to steady his ragged breath. The solleret he was wearing over his foot had some blood on it. It must be from when his nose was broken. His armor was cut apart under his armpit, and mangled flesh, along with a few glimpses of ribs was in full sight. He had stopped the bleeding with his magic. Bran sighed. The sword cutting ability was too much. He must have done that when he had lost his sight for the second time. After catching his breath, Sir Hadrin said:

Never saw someone as annoying as you in a fight. You just keep coming up with new things. This win wouldn’t be mine if you had used your usual sword”

Bran gritted his teeth. He still had to work harder. He would die at this rate.

Helping with his sword, he stood with difficulty. He smiled toward the knight and said:

You’re quite skilled yourself. You’re the first person to defeat me besides Celek in a while”

The knight smiled back, and then said:

You aren’t used to fighting with someone who uses magic though. Celek never trained you in that?”

Bran shook his head regretfully.

No. Celek can’t use magic. You are the first person I fought that uses it”

The knight frowned, looking deeply into the mixture of color in Bran’s eyes. He hesitated for a moment, but decided himself and said straightforwardly:

You’re either lying to me, or Celek is lying to you. There are limits you can never surpass without magic. A monster like Celek should be an unprecedented expert in magic”

Bran only smiled weakly and shrugged. If Celek knew magic, he wouldn’t hide it from him, especially in the current situation. The knight didn’t know how powerful Celek was, else he would never think magic can accomplish such a feat. Nobody knew how really strong Celek was. Bran had only glimpsed some of it three years ago. Every time he had asked his uncle about it, the man just shrugged off, saying even he didn’t understand, nor did he bother to understand. According to him, he just became that way one day after long wars.

The knight motioned toward the priest, and as white light started coalescing around his wounds, they started healing relatively faster than before. Elea, seeing that the fight had ended, started walking toward them.

As she reached them, and awkwardly hugged Bran, the knight’s body was fully healed. The priest turned toward the boy.

Bran waited for his wounds to start healing, yet he felt nothing but the pain of Elea’s hug. After some moments, he looked at his wounds, and he found them completely unchanged. He pulled away from the girl, and looked at the priest. The knight, noticing the look on his face, turned to look too.

The priest was frowning deeply, and sweet was covering his bald head. He had his hands lifted toward the boy.

Sir Hadrin shouted:

Is there anything wrong?”

The priest looked at him and said with a voice full of confusion:

Healing isn’t working on him, no matter what I do”

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