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An Excerpt from The Oathbreaker's Daughter
(Book 1 of the Dragonknight Trilogy)

          Every time the swords struck each other, the ringing of steel carried on the subtle wind currents of the warm summer day.  Training for one to two hours per day, three days a week for the last two years had wrought tough, lean sinews in Jenna’s arms and legs.  While other girls her age mooned and obsessed over boys, many of whom noticed certain differences between the genders, Jenna crossed swords with the one armed teacher of the village’s children.  She was the only one among them Brasalla took the time to mentor in swordsmanship and, to a lesser extent because she left it to Jenna’s mother, archery, and Jenna swelled with silent pride even as the other girls jeered at her.  Two years of training to help her gain strength and then learn the basic forms of fencing had finally led to sparring with real swords, though with dull edges and blunted points.  Brasalla had several of these weapons in her cottage, as well as a number of wooden practice swords and other such weapons, so as to avoid any real wound besides bruises and damaged pride.  The one armed woman had taught Jenna so much, and yet every time a new lesson was unveiled, Jenna found herself bested once again.  She had never once defeated the former Protectress, despite the woman having but one arm, or even landed a single point.  But still she fought, knowing that one day…

          Brasalla attacked with a downward stroke meant to slash down and across Jenna’s body starting at her right shoulder, and Jenna knew her opportunity when it presented itself.  Bringing her own sword around, she easily parried the blade to her left, and scraping steel on steel, thrust her blade forward in such a way that it would skewer her opponent, if not for the spherical mound of steel that made the weapon’s point.  But her sword met nothing, and in her hurry to take advantage of Brasalla’s careless attack, Jenna stood suddenly off balance as her arms extended well forward.  Brasalla’s weight came to bear on her parried blade, forcing the point of Jenna’s sword down to the ground as she could contest neither the woman’s weight nor strength, to say nothing of leverage.

          “You over extended your thrust, little dear.  You’re dead, I’m afraid.”

          “I know.  Damn it all,” Jenna swore angrily.

        With a disapproving glare, Brasalla eased her weight and lifted her sword from Jenna’s, allowing the girl to recover her blade, and she said, “If I were your mother I’d likely tell you to watch your language.”

          “Then, it’s a good thing you’re not, huh?” Jenna shot back, but the tone held more playfulness than challenge.

          “I suppose.”

          “Just once, I want to kill you.  Just once,” Jenna complained.

          Brasalla chided, “Don’t do that.”


      “Whine,” Brasalla explained.  “It’s unbecoming of you.  You’re strong and brave, and you’re growing into a beautiful woman.  Such bellyaching is unacceptable, especially among the Protectresses.”

          Jenna’s eyes narrowed, and she immediately returned, “I don’t want to be a Protectress.”

        “Is there something wrong with being a Protectress?  Something wrong with being a trusted defender of Abrea and our way of life?”

         “No,” Jenna replied quickly, noting her teacher’s suddenly solemn tone and emotionless face.  She chose her next words carefully so as not to give further offense, “It’s just not what I want to do.”

        “You cannot do what you want to do, Little Dear,” Brasalla gently reminded the girl, and it was now Jenna’s turn to grow silent.  “Anyway, do you know what your mistake was?”

         Jenna sighed quickly, puffing a snort of air out of her nostrils in annoyance as she clenched her draw and turned her head from side to side, looking at nothing.  After a moment, she answered, “I assumed.”

         “Assumed what?” Brasalla asked with slightly raised eyebrows.

         “I assumed that you, a trained warrior, someone who has killed people far more skilled than me, made a basic mistake.”

         Brasalla prodded, “And?”

         “And I tried to capitalize on it.”

         “As you well should’ve, but that wasn’t the fatal mistake.”

        “No?” Jenna asked, looking up at her mentor, and her face betrayed a mix of impatience at the drawing out of the lesson and aggravation at her own ineptitude.

      “You did the right thing, but you’re right in that you assumed.  Never assume your enemy has made a mistake, but be ready to take advantage of it if they did.”

        The impatience turned to more annoyance as Jenna worked to unravel the riddle in her mind.  “How does that work?”

       “Even the best trained warriors make mistakes,” Brasalla explained calmly, indicating her missing arm with a pointed look, “and you must take advantage when they do.  You parried my poor attack perfectly, but you were so certain of victory that you telegraphed your thrust badly.”

        “What does that mean?”

       “I knew the attack was coming because I was testing you, but most trained warriors would have seen it coming, too.  You pulled your sword arm back just a few inches to give more force to your thrust.”

       Jenna breathed in a slight hiss of air between her teeth as understanding dawned on her.  “So,” she reasoned, “by doing that, you saw the attack coming and had more time to react to avoid it.”

       “Exactly!  We’re fighting with swords, not clubs or staves or some other weapon that we have to bash each other’s brains in with.  Your father’s sword came from Vulgesch.  It is so strong, can hold such an edge that it can easily punch through most armor, except maybe Vulgesch plate.  Fight with grace, finesse, dexterity, not force.”

        “I…” Jenna began, but she suddenly wasn’t sure what she wanted to say, so she nodded and replied softly, “I understand.”

       “Maybe a little, but I think you’ll understand more in time.  There’s one more thing I’d like you to consider, just keep it in mind.  As a woman and not particularly tall, people, especially men, will underestimate you.  Take advantage of that.  Lure them in, and do something they don’t expect.  Remember what I told you before – fair fights are for suckers.”

       Jenna nodded idly at this, her eyes downcast as she mulled it over.  Without warning, she shot her left foot out, hooking her soft leather boot right behind Brasalla’s right knee while giving the woman a sudden push with both hands.  Caught completely unaware, Brasalla’s legs bent as she tumbled backward and landed hard on her back, only the thick grass behind her cottage slightly cushioning her impact.  Even so, she felt the wind painfully knocked from her lungs as she struck the ground.

       “You mean like that?” Jenna asked with a wide, proud grin.  She pointed her practice sword at her mentor and said one word, “Yield.”

      “You little shit,” Brasalla spouted angrily as she struggled up to one elbow, and then she noticed the tip of the sword, blunted with a sphere of steel as it hovered only a half foot away from her.  Laughter took the woman for a moment, and she tipped her head backward, answering, “Yeah, something like that.  Here, Little Dear, help an old woman up.”

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