"Lysander Dumont," Rosalind announced to the crowd, "will be dueling against Evan Tarn." Lysander gave a small gasp. Evan was easily a head taller than him and likely in his twenties already. He desperately searched the crowds for Ayla, his eyes pleading her to stop this madness. She looked worried, stood huddled close to Carrie and Adalia, but made no move to stop the duel. He forced himself to trudge into the arena, where Evan stared at him from across the yards of sand between them, which was both too much for him to sprint across and too little for him to have time to devise a plan. A bell rang out and suddenly Evan charged forward, drawing his sword. Lysander managed a parry, the clash of the swords sending a shiver through his bones. Evan struck again, this time knocking Lysander flat on his back. He bounced right back up, swinging out at Evan in a vain attempt to phase him before he dug the tip of his sword right above Lysander's knee. Lysander let out a small whimper and swung back, his sword barely grazing Evan's bicep. The older man barely seemed to register the small injury and slashed Lysander across the forearm. Lysander yelped as his sword dropped from his hand and drew his arm close to his chest.
"Do you give up yet?" Evan sneered. He should. He should give up, acknowledge that he couldn't win this. Lysander steeled himself against the gnawing critiques and picked up his sword with his other hand, swinging wildly at Evan. Every staggering step made pain shoot through his knee, every wayward slash sending a tremor through him, but he kept moving. Evan struck forward, the flat of his blade slamming into Lysander's chest. The boy fell to the ground again, one hand pressed against his ribs, his pale green eyes steeped in determination. He stood up once more, now pained by every labored breath. He'd be covered in bruises and cuts tomorrow, but if he won this fight, if he could prove himself....it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. He made the mistake to pause, to imagine how proud Ayla would be of him when he won, and let his guard down. Which gave Evan the perfect chance to knock him to the ground yet again. He heard a sickening crack as Evan's sword collided with his chest for the second time, heard the noise before he felt the pain. He didn't try to get up this time, just curled into a small ball in the sand. Evan stood above him, his sword still raised.
"Please," Lysander whispered, and Evan ignored him, knocking him out with a swift blow to the head.
He wasn't out for long, and when he looked back up, Evan looked prepared to do it again. He raised his sword above his head, and Lysander's breathing quickened, tears forming in his eyes. He wasn't sure how much more he could take, both of the public humiliation and the pain. Every breath was agony, and blood seeped into the sand from the gashes in his leg and forearm. He squeezed his eyes almost shut, the tears sliding down his face, curled his legs closer to his throbbing chest. He caught a glimpse of sun reflecting off of the blade of Evan's sword as it began its descent, but a regal voice called out.
"That is *enough*!" Ayla shouted, storming towards them both. "I don't care if this is some competition, you've beaten the boy badly enough already!" She knelt beside him, wrapped her arm around him. "Leave my apprentice alone." All of the tears Lysander had been holding back came then, the near-convulsive sobbing spreading agony through his chest, but he didn't care. It was over.
Evan left in a huff, and Ayla gingerly lifted Lysander to his feet.
"Thank you," he whispered, avoiding her gaze.
"It was merely my job, Lysander."
"Even now?" He asked, louder than he would've liked. "Even now that I lost? I made a fool of myself, and you'll keep me as an apprentice?"
"Rosalind made a fool of you. You did as well as I would have expected you to," Ayla answered. Lysander frowned to himself. All of his studying, all of the training and practice he had put in, and she had still expected him to lose? His expression must have said as much, because Ayla smiled at him.
"Evan is a very skilled member of the guard. He's fought by Rosalind's side since she was a mercenary. You may not have won, but you demonstrated an important piece of your training."
"What piece? That I'm above average at being utterly humiliated?"
"No," Ayla said, and Lysander had the feeling she was talking to the both of them, "That you can take a beating and still bounce back up."
AYLA'S BIRTHDAY: JULY 23Rd