The Guild – Chapter 26 – Andrei

Kaitlyn and I casually walk through the streets of Camelot, browsing the stands of wares and observing the busy peasant class at work. Today, Merlin permitted a more casual attire, as we were not being presented to the king. He still insisted on the servants clothing us, but this time they had brought options with them. I smile broadly at the passing peasants in my open lace tunic and leather vest. I carry my sword at my side and wear a pair of unbroken leather boots over a loose pair of brown trousers.

Kaitlyn has on a simple red gown that falls about her feet, decorated with a silver belt which dangles loosely around her hips, accentuating them nicely. The way the fabric clutches her figure is very alluring and I try to not stare. I roll my head in the other direction, letting my eyes wander over the town of Camelot. The medieval city is well built, even in the peasant town. The wooden homes line the curving streets that lead from the castle to the outer wall of the city. It’s a rare sight to see the true city of Camelot in its shining glory. I feel giddy with excitement.

“Would you like to check any of the stands out before heading to the tavern?” I ask Kat, veering around a cart of cabbage. The smell is revolting and pulls me out of my awe for the town momentarily. I look at her, expecting an answer, but I see she is thoroughly distracted by the bustle of the town. She’s looking around with wide eyes wide. It’s really cute and I get the sudden urge to show her more. I wonder if she’d like France as much as I did.

Her grip on my arm, however, is uncomfortably tight and I pat her hand reassuringly, to help ease her grip. Maybe I shouldn’t have offered her my arm. I look forward when she doesn’t respond. Perhaps she didn’t hear me. I spot the tavern just across the way.

“Look, Kat, there’s the tavern. Do you want to explore more of the town first?” I try again.

She turns, finally noticing me, “Oh… Um, what if they’re waiting for us? Maybe we should check first?” She asks.

I shrug, “Merlin didn’t say what time the meeting would take place. He just said they’d be there. I doubt they’ll be waiting. But if you want to…” I trail off with disappointment, taking a step towards the tavern.

She starts to mumble and I lean in closer to hear what she’s saying. “There’s just a lot of people out here… Everything is made of wood and cloth.”

“Yeah, that’s what it’s like in the past. No plastic, not a lot of metal or cement. Mostly stone, sometimes mortar and wood. Why?” I ask, confused. That’s an odd observation to make.

She looks at me with a serious expression on her face. “Everything is flammable. All of it.” She looks around us, “I never realized how dangerous it would be in the past.” Her voice is thick with anxiety. I nearly forgot her fear of setting everything on fire. I feel I have to do something to ease that.

“Dangerous?! That’s the case, even in war. The past is full of fire and break-ability. I wouldn’t worry too much about it Kat. You have more control than I think you give yourself credit for.” I give her an encouraging smile, flashing my teeth.

She frowns, not the reaction I was hoping for. “I don’t know. At least I won’t have to worry about it for a few days anyway.”

“Why? You still exhausted from…” I trail off. I don’t have to say it. She knows what I’m referring to. She nods, knowingly. “Same,” I say. It feels weird, not feeling time, not hearing the ticking. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t know if I can explain it. Would she even understand? Our magic is so different, and I don’t want to worry her. As long as I can keep her safe as we come up with a plan for how to get back, then I’ll be happy.

We walk up to the tavern and I grip the door handle firmly. Finally, we’ll get to meet some true Guardians! This is an opportunity no one else has had at the Guild for a long time. I intend to take full advantage of this meeting and learn as much as I can. I imagine Kaitlyn will too. I open the door with my free hand and nod to her to enter first.

We’re immediately greeted by the jarring sounds of men drunk on mead, laughing loudly and talking about nonsense. The room smells of sweat and something sour, I can’t quite place it. It’s dim, candles mount the walls providing most of the light in the cluttered room. The space is filled with roughly made tables and benches, a bar at the back has a counter but no stools, as it would in our time.

Behind the counter, on the wall, are a pair of mounted blades, unsheathed and glimmering in the candlelight. In the corner to our right, stands a man in travelers clothing, playing a flute-like instrument. The tune is gleeful and upbeat, but can barely be heard over the roaring of the men enjoying their drink.

“Are you sure?” I ask Kat again, raising my voice a little. This seems to draw the attention of many of the men, who stop yelling to gape at us. I follow their eyes to Kaitlyn. I don’t imagine many finely dressed ladies come into this tavern often. I eye them distrustfully, steering her away from the tables and towards the bar.

We barely make it five steps when I hear someone shout, “Oh my gods!” A man, not much taller than myself, dressed in a yellowing tunic with almost orange hair rushes up to us with extended arms. “You look like you could be my baby sister!” He shouts loudly, grabbing Kaitlyn around the waist and lifting her off the ground in a spin. He suddenly takes off with her, weaving between the tables towards the bar.

“Hold on!” I shout. Who the heck is this guy? You can’t just… walk off with someone! I rush after them, I wish I could use my time speed to get her back, everything feels awkwardly slow.

“Ceph! Look at this! Look at her!” His voice becomes higher and he looks way too excited. He approaches a tall man leaning casually against the bar, frowning.

The man peers over the edge of his glasses – yes, glasses! I’m taken aback by the observation because, in this time, glasses don’t exist. His expression is stern and serious as he glares at the flamboyant orange-haired man who is shaking Kaitlyn like a doll in his excitement. His deep voice cuts through the dine of the tavern as he speaks.

“Eli, put the poor girl down… She’s not a plaything.” He barely raises his voice but it’s as sharp as a knife. Even I freeze when I hear it, though I’m not the one being scolded.

The orange haired man, Eli, pouts, setting Kaitlyn back on her feet. I dash to her and grab her hand. “But look! Doesn’t it look like we could be siblings?” He says to the man.

The dark-haired man continues to stare at him, face unchanging. It’s actually quite frightening. When he does decide to speak, it’s with certainty and precision, “If you are referring to the fact that her hair colour is almost as peculiar as yours, then perhaps, but it is highly unlikely that you have a sibling I do not know of.” He places a gloved hand in the pocket of his long, leather trench coat, pulls out a silver pocket watch and begins to swing it casually around his finger.

Kat stares at the two men like she’s seeing ghosts. “You’re the Guardians.” She states.

How does she know that? I mean, the glasses are weird but… “Kat,” I say, placing a hand on her arm. “Merlin never told us what they looked like. How would you know that?”

Kat shakes her head, eyes fixed on the one with glasses. “It’s them.” She says with certainty.

“She’s right,” He answers, letting the watch dangle in his hand. “She is in tune with her magic. We are Guardians. My name is Ceph, Ceph Stanford, and this is my friend, Elias Flynn.” He gestures to the orange-haired man.

I repeat their names in my head. “Wait a minute, Ceph Stanford? Are you the Ceph whose notes I’ve been reading?” So… He was a Guardian? My heart thumps loudly in my chest at the prospect of actually asking him all the questions I’ve had about his scribbles.

He looks up, as if he’s trying to remember, then shakes his head from side to side. “Not sure. I don’t really keep notes, but I sometimes write thoughts down in the books I read.” He says. It’s really him! I throw out my hand excitedly to shake his.

“Hi, I’m Andrei Hanganu, and this is Kaitlyn Smith.” I introduce, waiting for him to shake it. He looks at it like he’s not sure what to do with it, and leaves me hanging. I let it drop with disappointment.

“It’s our pleasure. Merlin tells me you are mages from the future.” He looks at Kaitlyn, studying her closely with his bright green eyes. “You must use fire. Eli’s right. And you…” He turns to me. I freeze under his stare. “You are a time mage.”

I nod, suddenly nervous. He looks young, but I feel like he’s much much older than me. I suddenly feel so much less confident. “That’s right,” I find myself saying. “We’re from the distant future, 2018.”

“I would assume so.” He says turning away and watching Elias. “No one has visited us from the future before now. It’s a pleasant surprise.”

Eli grins, “Wow! That’s incredible. So, you’re a fire mage too, little sis?” He asks, eyes alight with interest and energy. I spy Ceph rolling his eyes at the endearing nickname he’s given Kat. I would have to agree, it’s a little strange. I don’t really like it.

She looks at him, confused, “Um, yes. I am.”

“Oh, this is so exciting! Come on, sis, let’s see what you can do!” Eli scoops Kaitlyn over his shoulder and heads for the door.

Kat gasps, “Wait!”

“Eli…” Ceph raises his voice a little. “What did I say about the girl being a plaything?” He reminds.

Eli turns back, with big brown eyes, “But…” He trails.

Ceph stares, shaking his head once to the left ever so slightly. Eli’s shoulder’s slump and he puts a frazzled Kaitlyn down again. As soon as she’s set down she runs back to my side. I grip her hand in mine. Man, keeping other men off her seems to be hard in this time… I have to keep my eye on her.

“Why don’t we use the taverns private room for a chat Eli. Will you join us?” He asks me. I give Kaitlyn a reassuring grin.

“Yes, that’d be nice,” I reply.

He turns around and calls over the tavern keeper, asking for the room. He also orders a drink of mead for each of us and then beckons us with a wave of his hand, to follow. We follow him up the narrow stairs to the second floor. Kaitlyn seems to be taking them slowly, so I offer her my assistance and take some of the weight off of her steps, holding her by the waist and subtly lifting. When we reach the second floor we file into the private room on the left. Ceph pulls the door shut with a click and takes the seat closest to the door.

The room is not large, a square table is set before a small stone fireplace which is warming the room. There are four small wooden chairs, littered with nicks and dents. Upon the table is a candle holder with five candles. The wall across from the door has two small windows with shutters in place to keep out the cold. I pull out a chair closest to the fire, ready to offer it to Kaitlyn.

“Well, now we don’t have to worry about prying ears. Kaitlyn was it?” Ceph asks, gesturing to the chair before I have the chance to say anything. “I sense your spirit is depleted, in a manner of speaking.”

She looks up in surprise as she sits in the seat. “You can sense that?” I listen carefully to the terminology he uses.

“Of course. I’m a Guardian. All Guardians can sense another’s prowess in the arts. It’s unusual to see ones spirit so low though. Tell me, how did this happen?” He asks, putting his booted feet on top of the table and leaning back in the chair. I can’t believe how casual he’s become. Eli flops down into the chair next to Ceph, leaning towards him a little endearingly. This leaves me the chair in the back corner, across from Kat. I take a seat and listen.

“I… I don’t really know.” Kat picks at her nails nervously. “One minute we were trapped, and then something snapped and I just released all of my energy. I wasn’t really thinking about it.” She says with uncertainty.

“It sounds like you’ve only just awakened as a Guardian, but that doesn’t consume your spirit to the degree that you are displaying now. Do you remember anything else that happened while you were trapped?” He asks curiously. “Perhaps there is another cause.”

“I remember the chains melted, and then when… I was shot, I barely felt it. The bullets just went right through me… But then I felt, like, this big electric current, and it was like, all of my energy disappeared. I think… I heard a voice, but it all happened so fast. I don’t remember it all that well,” She explains slowly.

Ceph’s expression goes dark as he mulls over the information.

Eli bounces in his seat, hardly able to contain his excitement. “Wow! It sounds like you went into full fire form! That’s super rare! I’ve only managed it a couple of times myself.” He turns to me and asks, “Did you see it? Was it amazing?”

I’m taken aback by the question. It’s not really like I got to see much of the transformation myself. I’d been shot as well. I think back to the events in the cell, glossing over the memory of ‘him’ and the whip with displeasure. “I did. I mean, it was kind of hard to be impressed when so much is happening all at once. The room got really hot and I sort of remember seeing her suddenly become consumed in flames. It was almost like flames, in the shape of a woman walking, until she suddenly stopped, sort of spasmed, and fell in her regular form. I was mostly concerned for her well being at the time.” I recount.

Ceph’s voice cuts through, “When a Guardian’s power awakens, they feel a snap, as you described. It’s like all the power aligns and you feel it burst from your internal being. The other sensation you mention is not associated with the awakening. I’m not sure what it could be but there should be no electric shock.” He explains. “Why were you trapped in the first place? What triggered your awakening? Please tell me with as much detail as you can recall.”

I look to Kaitlyn, wondering if she thinks it’s okay to tell them about the book and… him. I feel my hatred for him grow inside me and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

“We were tracking…” She glances hesitantly at me, “Someone… Who betrayed the Guild and stole a precious book. One made by the last known true Guardian – A Guardian like you. We wanted to get it back because I found out that he was my ancestor, and I thought maybe we could bring back the Guardians with it.”

Ceph and Eli share a thoughtful look. “Last true Guardian? So, something happens to us?” His confidence looks a little shaken. I grimace, we have to be careful how much of the future we reveal, pertaining to them.

“Yes, well, we don’t know much of that story. We only just came to the Guild ourselves. But-” I deflect.

Kat jumps in, “The history is vague. He was the last confirmed Guardian we know of. There could be more out there, we’re just not sure.”

“Well, anyways. This book you mentioned.” Ceph returns to the topic at hand. “Would it happen to be the book of Guardians?”

Kat blinks, “I… think so? All I know is this is the key.” She pulls the pendant out from beneath the collar of her dress. It glints faintly in the firelight.

Ceph eyes the pendant thoughtfully, recognition slowly spreads across his face. “I know this…” He whispers. “Where did you get that?” He reaches out a hand, as if to take it, but stops and pulls it back, waiting for Kaitlyn to answer.

She frowns, “I had a nightmare, and when I woke up, it was in my hand.”

“That pendant is a key to the book a very important Guardian made in the 18th century. That book contains very sensitive information about Guardians, and as far as I know, you cannot open it without that key, at least, that is how it was designed. You should not have let that book get taken. Who took the book?”

The seriousness of his tone has me on the edge of my seat. Kaitlyn looks at me nervously. I guess I need to clarify for her. “Well, we think this man, who calls himself the Master, is behind the theft of the book. He had one of his cronies steal it from the Guild crypts about a week ago, in our time. We don’t know anything else about him yet, but we found a location where he could possibly be working out of. We aren’t sure why he wants it, because we don’t know what’s in it. No one does.” I explain.

“Hmm… I don’t know anything about a man calling himself by that name. But Markus never let that book out of his sights. What happened to him? Did he… pass?” Ceph asks.

“Yes. There’s a crypt beneath the Guild. That’s where the book was kept.” I reply.

“He’s not dead! How many times must I tell you, people?” Rhoan snaps drawing everyone’s eyes on Kaitlyn.

“No one can sleep in a stone crypt for over a hundred years and still be awake.” I snap at him. “Besides, if he’s not dead, why would he keep it a secret from the entire Guild? Was it not important to him to start the school in the first place?” I can’t figure out this puzzle and it frustrates me.

Rhoan, in his mouse form, crawls out from under Kaitlyn’s hair and down into her lap. “He still communicates with me, from his stasis.” He says. I give him another glare; more information when he feels the need to share it. I don’t trust him.

“It’s not a secret,” Kat mumbles, staring into the fire beside her. “The dragons know he’s alive. Maybe the council does too.”

“Hmm,” Ceph contemplates. “Markus would not fall easily. Not the Markus I met, at least. He was the most powerful Guardian I met in that time. It would take a lot to bring him down. I am still concerned about the book, however. You need to get that back as soon as you can. You should not have let it be taken in the first place. Are there really no other Guardians in your time? Other than you now?” He asks Kaitlyn.

“Wait, what?” Kaitlyn flinches, caught unawares.

“Are there any other Guardians in your time? Other than you and Markus?” He repeats.

Kaitlyn shakes her head, “I-I don’t know… It’s been three hundred years since the founder went to sleep. How can I have awakened, if I never even got a chance to read the book?”

“That book isn’t the only way to awaken a Guardian. All Guardians are born a Guardian, it’s whether or not they are awakened as one that makes them so.” He informs us.

“Merlin said something similar to me, yesterday when we arrived.” I interrupt.

“Merlin is very intelligent. I would expect him to know that. The book contains the secrets Markus discovered about how to make someone, who is not born a Guardian, into one. That is dangerous information and in my opinion, he should never have put it into writing.” Ceph explains.

“So that’s what’s in the book. That does sound dangerous. So, how do you know if you are a Guardian or not?” I ask him. Merlin’s words echo in my head, calling me a Guardian. I still am not sure if I really believe him.

“That’s just a sense you have to become attuned to. Like Kaitlyn knew downstairs, she just understands it to be true, right Eli?”

“Yea!” Eli grins, “It’s like, you meet them for the first time, but it feels like you’ve known them forever, y’know?” They share a quick glance before looking away. It’s strange. Like they’re having some inside joke.

“Then, how would a born Guardian awaken?” I ask, a little confused. “If you’re born a Guardian but you need to be awakened, how does one accomplish this?”

“That isn’t so easy. When one awakens to their Guardian powers is different for each individual. It involves divine judgment to awaken as a Guardian. In most cases, it’s a trigger; an event where one is under great stress or emotion. Otherwise one needs another Guardian, but I’m not familiar with this method.”

“But none of this has to do with your condition. I’m impressed you are even able to walk around, so I’m led to believe your power was somehow taken, rather than used, but I am unfamiliar with the methods of stealing one’s power. I only know that it is possible.” Ceph continues.

“Yea, sometimes when we jump, Ceph’s energy gets low like that. He whines like a baby from his bed for days, and I have to take care of him!” Eli laughs heartily.

Ceph rolls his eyes, annoyed. “It’s hardly that bad,” he mumbles.

“So, it’s normal to take another person with you when you jump?” I ask. “Are there any… side effects for the other person involved?”

“No, not that we have witnessed. We jump regularly, backward and forwards in time.”

“Wait, forwards too?” I gawk.

“Yes, but it consumes much more energy than a jump backward does. I don’t think you are capable of jumping beyond your own time yet. It usually takes a day or two to recover from a jump with a second person before you can jump again. By myself, it only takes a few hours. And jumping forwards takes a bit longer than that.”

“Wow,” I say, awestruck by the amount of detail I’m able to get from him. “It’s super exciting to speak with another time mage. In my time, there is no other time mage to teach me. Is there anything else we can do?”

“It is normal for there to be only one-time mage in your own time. However, in your jumps, you usually can meet another. Your question is a hefty one.” Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and Ceph gets up to answer it. A barmaid stands outside carrying the mead he ordered.

“Sorry for the wait.” She says softly with a small curtsy, entering the room and placing the mugs on the table.

“It’s not a problem.” Ceph waits for the door to shut before taking his seat again and passes the drinks around. “This tavern is renowned for its timeless mead. Please enjoy.” He says with a smile.

Kaitlyn looks into the cup unsure, “Um… Thank you?”

“Oh man, I never thought I’d get the chance to drink mead from the fifth century.” I grin, tipping the glass and taking a large swig. I immediately regret my enthusiasm. It’s extremely sweet and I nearly spit it out before I can swallow. It’s like I’m drinking a jar of straight honey. “It’s delicious.” I lie. “Go on Kat, you might like it.” Girls like sweet things, right?

She cradles the cup in both hands and takes a cautious sip and winces. I guess not all girls do. “It’s so sweet…” She remarks.

“What did you expect?” Ceph smiles, downing half his glass at once.

“I don’t know,” She purses her lips, staring at the sugary liquid, “alcohol?”

Eli laughs explosively, “Oh, sis. You’re so cute! I can’t wait till you’re feeling better and we can see what you can do!” He reaches across the table, clapping her on the shoulder and she flinches, “I’ve never sparred against another fire Guardian before!”

We talk casually while we drink, enjoying the conversation as it turns from magic and Guardians to stories about their recent traveling. When the drinks are finally emptied, Ceph sets his glass down with a sigh.

“I guess we’ll be heading out. You need to rest and gain back your strength. We’ll meet up again in a few days and maybe train you two once you’re feeling better. I hear you’ll be competing in the tournament next week.” He says.

“Yes, I’ve always wanted to try a medieval tournament. They are the stuff of legend.” I grin excitedly.

“I’ve heard that from the future. It’s the main form of entertainment in our time. More of a common occurrence. Well, take care you two.” He gives Eli a nod towards the door and he takes his leave. Eli follows, ruffling Kaitlyn’s hair with his broad hand before leaving.

“See you soon, sis!” He calls as the door shuts.

I glare a little at the fond attention, getting up from my chair and moving closer. We’ll be leaving anyway. Once they’ve left I lean against the table beside Kat. “How are you feeling? Tired at all?” I place my hand on top of hers, still holding the cup.

She looks up, curious, “I’m okay, I think. Why?” She asks.

“Nothing really. It’s just, we pass the training grounds on the way back to the castle. Would you like to join me there for a bit before we return to the rooms?” I ask hopefully. I’ve been eyeing the grounds since this morning. I would like to try a few exercises with the long sword.

Her eyes narrow and her lips curl up, “Are you sure it would be proper for a lady to go to such a dirty place?”

I glare at her hard, recalling the comment I made at dinner the night before. “You know that was just because I didn’t think you were ready to take on a man in full armour right? Ladies frequently look on as their favourite knights’ train, according to historical texts. What are you trying to imply?”

She hums with a cheeky smile, picking Rhoan up off her lap as she stands up, “Here I thought you were just afraid I’d win.”

I narrow my eyes, “That’s hardly the case. I could take you on any day. That was just a fluke.”

“Sure.” She sings, giggling.

“It’s true! When you’re feeling better, I’ll prove it!” I follow her down the stairs and out of the tavern. Outside is bright, compared to the dark atmosphere inside the tavern. We wander through the town until we arrive at the training grounds inside the castle walls where guards off duty are completing their drills.

Two guards, leaning casually along the equipment rack, stand straighter as we approach.

The dust in the field kicks up every time a guard moves through the stances. It reminds me of training in France and I feel suddenly like I’m back home. I walk over to the rack and nod my head at the guards.

“Hi there,” I wave, “Mind if I join in?” I ask. Kaitlyn moves to take a seat on a nearby bench, not far from the equipment racks.

The blond-haired guard eyes me with disdain. “Can you even fight? That sword you got there looks far too small. You might embarrass yourself in front of your lady, no less.” He smirks.

“I could use one of your practice swords, could I not?” I ask.

“Of course. But do you even know how?”

“Well, that’s what training is for, isn’t it? It can’t be that much different.” I grin, crossing my arms over my chest.

The guards share a look, then nod. “Sure, give it a try then.” I give them a curt nod, picking up a long sword to get used to the feel. It’s heavier than the rapier, that’s for sure, but the handhold is not that different. I start with some warm-up maneuvers. I feel the guards’ eyes on me and I hear them snicker as I get used to the handle of the blade.

“Hey, let’s see what you can do, shall we?” The blond steps away from the rack, drawing his own sword.

“Alright,” I take a stance, I have no idea if it’s the right one. He smirks and takes a steady position. There’s barely a pause before he comes at me. He manges to knock the sword out of my hands within seconds. I shake my wrist, releasing the tension left behind. Man, he’s fast. I catch Kaitlyn’s smirk from the bench and frown. I’ll show her.

I pick up my sword again. The guard nods his head assuredly. “Your grip is weak. Hold it with more than your hand. It’s an extension of your arm. Hold it firm.” He offers. I look at the point, swinging it in circles, feeling the tip as if it were my own arm, then mimic his starting position.

I give him a small hand gesture and he comes at me again. He’s a blur of steel and I barely deflect his first strike, taking a step back and turning as he disengages and swings around to my open side. I find his sword resting against my ribs as I come to a stop.

“Have you ever held a blade before?” He asks, an eyebrow raised in disbelief.

“Of course, just a different style of fighting,” I say. I lay my long sword down and draw my rapier. It feels right in my hand and I flick it around delicately from hand to hand, showing off my skill. If he was fighting with a rapier, I’m sure our positions would be flipped. “This is a style I learned for five months, every day when I went to France,” I say confidently.

“France? I’m not familiar with this place. If this is true, they would never win in a battle against us.” He gloats.

“I wouldn’t go around talking like that if I were you. The French will be a very powerful empire, someday.” I smile, trying to confuse him. I resheath my rapier and pick up the long sword. “Let’s try again.” I take the stance. I come on the offense, gritting as he deflects my strikes easily, but I managed to hold out for a few more moments before he gets the upper hand and puts me on the defense.

“You’re a fast learner.” He says, making another hit on my leg before we disengage.

“Thank you. I pride myself on speed. I intend to train for the tournament next week.”

He rolls his eyes. “It takes longer than a week to train for a tournament such as that. Have you worn armour before?” He asks.

“Not this kind, but the weight is familiar to me,” I comment, recalling the armour the Mongolians gave me when I jumped to China.

“Well, you’ll not only need to learn a few stances with the sword but also how to move in armour. It’s different either way. How about I set up practice with the training master? You can start tomorrow.” He says confidently.

“Thanks! That would be wonderful.”

“For now, we can continue with a few stances. Looks like your lady is amused so far.” He comments, pointing a thumb in Kaitlyn’s direction. I look over and see her barely containing her laughter. She honestly thinks she can beat me? I know she’s trained at the Guild and they have a multitude of facilities available but she can’t be good at everything. Has she not considered the idea that perhaps I let her win? I wouldn’t tell her, even if I did, but I am determined to improve my skill in various weaponry in order to best even the likes of her.

We return to the stance and spar for another hour or so. He shows me the movements and has me practice moving from one to the next, flowing from various positions until it looks like a fluid motion. By the time I set the sword down, my hair is dripping with sweat and I feel like I’ve worked nearly every muscle in my upper body. I saunter over to Kaitlyn with a tired smile.

“Thanks for waiting. Were you entertained?” I smile, wiping my brow with my arm.

“Oh, yes.” She giggles, “I’m quite impressed that you held your ground at all, with such sloppy footwork.”

“Sloppy?” I gawk. Is she serious? I doubt she could have done any better, “That is the first time I’ve held a long sword. You know that, right? I can’t believe you!” I eye her closely, how would she fare if she was given something new.

The guard beside her laughs, “Your lady is quite the jester! Be careful with that one!” He warns with a smirk.

“Yea, I think you’re right.” I smile mischievously.

She stands up, rubbing her arms absently, “I would show you if I could, but I think I should be getting back inside.”

“Oh? Too tired to show a greenie how it’s done? Afraid I’ll be better?” I tease. I kind of want to see how she’d manage in that dress, footwork and all.

She looks down, holding out her right hand. It shakes visibly, “Afraid, after watching you? Not at all, but I know my limits. I’m not sure I could even pick up a sword right now.” She scoffs bitterly.

I watch her hand with concern. She’s tired. I should get her back to the room so she can rest. I thank the guards and tell them I’ll wait for their summons to begin training with the master tomorrow.

“Come on,” I say to Kat, taking her arm in mine. “Let’s get you back inside.”

Now that I’ve exercised, my sweaty body feels chill in the crisp afternoon air of November. I imagine she feels the cold too, as neither of us brought a coat with us. We enter the castle proper and wind our way, casually through the hallways until we find ourselves alone before her door.

“Well, here we are,” I say, holding the door handle. “It was fun, wasn’t it?” I lean against the wall, slouching.

She brushes some damp hair off of my forehead, “It is definitely an exciting time. I look forward to watching you become a brave knight, Mr. Hero.” She smirks, teasing.

I feel my blush on my cheeks and smile. “I can’t seem to tell if you mean it or if you’re trying to poke fun.” Her teasing drives me crazy.

She purses her lips, “Can’t I do both?”

I shift the weight on my feet, “I suppose.” I dismiss.

“What are you waiting for?” She glances at my hand, resting on the handle.

I raise an eyebrow curiously. “Christmas? Aren’t you tired?” I ask her.

“A bit.” She trails her fingers down the front of my shirt, “I think it’s a little early for sleep, don’t you?”

I swallow hard before I can answer her. I’m distracted by the sensation of her touch. “I, I would have to agree. It’s much too early for bed, we haven’t even eaten dinner yet.” I don’t want to chance a servant walking in as Merlin mentioned before. If we are to remain here for more than a week, I’d rather keep our image clean, despite my desires. I wait though, toying with the idea. I can’t say I’m not tempted.

“Dinner is still several hours away.” She pushes the handle down with my hand still on it. “Won’t you keep me company?” She looks up at me through thick lashes, with a coy smile.

I glance down the hall, still unsure. “What about what Merlin said?” I feel like I’m on a scale, making a serious decision. I don’t know why it feels important, but, god, when she looks at me like that. It’s so very tempting.

She pushes the door open and laughs, “What about it? A poor reputation never bothered me before. Why would it matter now?”

I’m surprised she would say that, considering the reputation she seemed to have at the Guild. I feel an excitement as I slip into the room and quietly shut the door behind her. I set the latch, just in case. This way, not even Merlin can come in. I spin around and see her standing near the bed.

She unhooks the latch of her long silver belt and tosses it toward the dresser. She then holds out her hand and motions for me to come closer. I’m excited and nervous all at once. I remember the first time and I wonder if it will be anything like that again. I cross the room to her, placing my fingers on her shoulders. I run my hands down the sides of her dress, feeling her hips beneath the material. I lean over her and place a kiss on her lips.

Her hands wander up my arms, down my chest, and then I feel her tug at the bottom of my shirt. All without breaking away from my lips. The sensation is too much. I press harder into the kiss, inhaling the campfire scent that surrounds her. I wrap my arms around her waist, holding her close. I really hate this dress.

I run a hand over her shoulder and try to slip it off, but the collar is too tight. I struggle a little before giving up. I return my hands to her hips and grip the dress in both hands, gathering the material in them and pulling it up slowly. I break the kiss and breathe, opening my eyes. I look deep into hers and pull the dress the rest of the way up. She disappears behind the material, as it slips over her head.

When the dress lays in a heap on the floor I take in the beauty of her lithe figure. Our lips connect and I feel sparks. I slip my hand into her hair, cradling her head, while my other hand rests on the small of her back. I lose myself in the warmth of her lips and the passion of each touch of her hands on me.

Her hands find their way under my shirt. I shiver as her cool palms press against my skin. She pushes the loose fabric up until I break away to pull it over my head. In that moment, she makes quick work of my belt. I barely notice until I hear the clasp hit the floor. I step out of the pants and push her towards the bed – no need to stand.

She sits on the edge, crawling backwards, onto the lumpy covers. I climb on top and run a finger down the side of her face, “You’re a mischievous one, aren’t you?” I smile through the words, leaning in to kiss her as we bump foreheads.

“I waited two whole days. I think that counts for something.” She wraps her arms around my neck, not leaving me any time to respond.

“Only two?” I breathe between kisses. I feel like it’s been longer. I don’t bother to check the math.

“Well,” She giggles, “At least since we’ve been here, but really, since I saw you in that suit.”

“Oh… That. Well, you weren’t…. Exactly… able to then…” I breathe. I suddenly pull back a little, looking into her eyes. “If you need to stop, you just let me know, ‘kay?” I wouldn’t want to make her feel worse.

“If it were up to me,” She bites her lip and smiles, “I’d never do anything else.”

I smile at the thought, but I know that’s just the moment talking. There are other things, I’m sure, she cares to do. I look at her tenderly, twirling a loose lock of hair in my fingers. I lean in and kiss her again. “Then let’s not keep you waiting any longer, M’lady,” I whisper into her ear.

    ~*~

    I roll over in my sleep and suddenly drop to the floor with a startled yelp. I gasp for air and try to orient myself. Where am I? I look around. I’m in a stone room with a desk, table and chairs and vanity. This isn’t my room, is it? I see a pile of clothes in a heap on the floor. I must be in Kat’s room. How could I forget that?

I look over my shoulder and see Kat, sound asleep in the bed. The dream I was having suddenly comes back to me. I had been in that place with no sun but it was light. It was a desert landscape and I felt the breeze. It spoke to me again; I heard the voice in my ears but saw no one speaking. It was eerie. I don’t know why I keep dreaming of that place. This is the second time, now I think about it.

I rub my arm, I think it’ll likely bruise. I stand up and crawl back into the bed, I freeze when I notice Kat sitting up and looking at me.

“Are you okay?” She asks sleepily.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just rolled out of bed.” I yawn.

“That’s not like you…” She rubs her eye.

“It isn’t?” I ask. I can’t think of the last time I’ve rolled out of bed, but I doubt this is the first time. I’m too sleepy to care. “Don’t let it bother you. Let’s go back to sleep.” I hum, snuggling close to her and wrapping my arms around her shoulders.

She looks out the window. It’s getting dark out now. “You know, they’ll probably come looking for you first thing in the morning. For your training.”

I ignore her and squeeze her tighter. I don’t want to think about the morning. “Shh… Sleep.”

She giggles, “If they don’t find you in your room, you’ll miss your chance to learn to fight. I doubt they’ll offer again.”

“You don’t want me?” I pout, why can’t I just sneak out in the morning before they come? I don’t want to sleep alone tonight.

She shifts, nuzzling her nose against mine, “Of course I want you to stay. I just don’t want you to regret it. You seemed so happy when you were learning earlier.”

“Yea but… I’m comfy now.” I whine.

She pulls her arm free to brush my hair out of my face, “Can you be sure you’ll wake up in time?”

I frown. “No…” I mumble.

She kisses me lightly, “Go on. It’s not every day that you get to train with real knights. You can always come and take a nap with me in the afternoon.”

I close my eyes, reluctant to listen, then kiss her softly on the neck. “As you wish,” I whisper. I slip out of the bed and grab my clothes, pulling on the trousers before leaving the room. I pause at the door and look back at the bed. I smile fondly at her and wink. Then I slip out and across the hall.

The air is chill in the night and the hall is dark. I run my hand along the stone wall till I find my door. I push it open slowly, in case it makes a noise, and slip in. The hearth is cold. I dump my clothes on top of the trunk and crawl under the blankets. It’s unnaturally cold without Kaitlyn here beside me, I miss her already.

I fluff a lumpy pillow and try to fall asleep before dawn. Training, I imagine, will be more difficult with the master than it was yesterday. Kaitlyn is right though, I want to train. I want to get better so I can protect her and my friends. I need to… protect.

 

By Kayla West

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