Jerica swung the sword reluctantly, trying to get a feel for how it was weighted. It had clearly been balanced for someone taller than her, and it felt bulky and awkward compared to her own sword, but she could make do with it. If she had to.
She sighed and turned towards the platform that Aerik had walked onto, only to find him watching her closely. He cocked an eyebrow. “What’s the problem?”
“Other than you being childish?”
“I’m being childish?” he snorted.
“Sounds like we finally agree about something.”
“I guess I would be childish if I ever agreed with you about something,” he answered dryly. “Now I suggest you get set, before I get tired of waiting.”
“No.” Jerica swung the sword in a large circle to stretch her shoulder, looking at Aerik calmly as his eye brows shot up in a silent challenge against her refusal. “You said it’s you or the dragon. I choose dragon.”
Aerik scoffed. “You think you’ve got a better chance of beating a dragon than beating me? Do I really intimidate you that much?”
“No.” Jerica walked towards the sparring block where he stood, staying well out of striking distance as she cracked her neck. “But once I kill you I’m going to have to kill the dragon anyway. No point in wasting my energy with you first.”
“Well you’ve got another thing coming if you think you can just kill my dragon and then waltz away without fighting me as well. We’re a team. Do you know what team means? It means you care about someone other than yourself. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
Jerica narrowed her eyes, indignation welling up inside her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think you know.”
“Well I don’t think that’s called for,” she snarled, feeling strangely betrayed. She knew she wasn’t and never would be allies with this man – and yet his kindness in their conversation about fear had lowered her guard, and it was startling that he was throwing insults from her reputation at her again. “You don’t even know me.”
“And I don’t think you making threats about running away, after all I’ve done is give you food and heal your wounds, is called for. But here we are, Princess.”
“It won’t be a threat once I follow through.”
“Which brings us here,” Aerik said, stomping his foot once on the sparring block.
“Guess it does,” she spat, stepping onto the block as she swung her arms once more to loosen up her stiff muscles. She still didn’t want to fight him. She was starting to like him, despite herself, and didn’t want to kill him. But his taunting was making it easier.
Aerik stepped forward and slowly started circling towards her left. Jerica didn’t wait for him to make the first move. She waited until he stepped around her left side, then lunged towards him, extending her sword towards his side.
He knocked it aside as easily as she’d expected.
She spun, using the momentum to bring her in a full circle, and brought her blade down in an overhanded blow towards his shoulder. She yelped as a sharp pain ran through her abdomen mid-strike, suddenly forgetting the attack and stumbling past him. Aerik brought his elbow down across her back, sending her sprawling face-first onto the ground.
Jerica rolled over to her back hastily, lifting her sword to defend the attack she expected Aerik to make while she was down, but it didn’t come. Instead she found him smirking at her. “Just because the bone is healed doesn’t mean you’re back to your prime. There is still going to be tenderness when you over-extend yourself. Now get up.”
Jerica pushed herself to her feet, cheeks burning with embarrassment. It had been many years since anyone had been able to push her over with such ease, and she didn’t appreciate his condescending tone. It made her feel foolish.
Aerik lunged forward with a thrust that would have skewered her if she hadn’t dodged in time. She reflexively knocked his blade aside, then made a pass at his side. He blocked her attack and brought a pass down over her head, actually managing to execute the maneuver she had failed moments before.
Jerica stepped forward into the attack and grabbed the wrist of his sword-hand with her left and locking her elbow, forcing his arm to fly clumsily over his head. She made a back-handed pass with her sword at his unprotected side. He brought his free hand down to hit the side of her head, making her stumble backward, disoriented.
She fell to a knee and ducked as his sword came whooshing down behind her. In the half moment it took his blade to fall, she held her forearm against the back of his knees and drove her shoulders into his legs, making him fall over backwards.
Jerica quickly rolled in the opposite direction and bounced to her feet as Aerik pushed himself up with a grin. She frowned at him, confused why he would possibly be pleased at being knocked off his feet, before it finally struck her. He was toying with her. This was nothing more than a game in his eyes, and he seemed to be enjoying having an opponent that was going to put up a decent fight.
Jerica glowered at him and dove at him the instant he was on his feet, thrusting her sword towards his abdomen. He easily deflected the blow and brought one around on her side – mimicking the same set of blows she had dealt moments before. The following moments were fierce – a dance of flashing blades.
Their swords clashed together then flew apart again and again, sometimes Jerica on the offensive, sometimes Aerik – neither one able to gain the upper hand. The faster she struck, the faster he blocked – and the longer they fought the more apparent it became that she was never going to wear him down. She needed to find a weakness in his defense.
She tried an over-handed blow, but he was too tall and moved too fast. He grabbed her wrist and twisted it sharply, making her drop the sword as her wrist bent backward awkwardly. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jerica’s left fist shot up and caught Aerik on the jaw. He stumbled backward, surprised by her quick improvisation.
She followed through with a right hook to his chin, as she grabbed the hilt of his sword, just above where he held it, with her left hand. With a swift motion she yanked and twisted, falling away from him with his sword in her hand.
She rolled to her feet with a victorious grin on her face, holding his sword awkwardly in her hands. It was much longer and heavier than the sword she had been using and was uncooperative in her hands. She looked at him, just as his eyes flicked down towards where her own sword was lying, not far from his legs.
She lunged forward with the sword, trying to head him off, but he was too fast. He grabbed the smaller sword quickly backed away to give himself a moment to get settled with it. Jerica lifted the large sword over her head with both hands, staggering slightly as the heavy blade shifted off balance and dragged her along with it.
Jerica tensed her muscles, determined to regain control of the blade. She preferred smaller blades – they were more eloquent and were significantly easier to wield than the meat cleaver she currently held over her head. Despite all her training, weapons that relied on brute strength alone were still significantly biased against her.
She lunged at him again, using both hands as she brought the sword down over his head. He stepped to the side, smirking as the weight of the sword pulled her off balance again and caused her to stumble to the side of him as she struggled to control it. She looked anything but dignified in that moment – more like a young girl who had tried on her father’s heavy work boots when they were three times as large as her own shoes, than like a warrior to be feared.
The fought for several moments longer, each minute that passed seeming to last an eternity. Each new strike made a little more sweat bead on Jerica’s brow, and her shoulders began heaving as she panted for breath.
She forced herself to stay focused.
It didn’t matter how tired and sore her body was, or how difficult it was to swing the much-heavier sword she had foolishly taken. None of that would stop Aerik from sending her into the afterlife in a moment, if she let him get the upper hand.
Aerik and Jerica got progressively closer to one another as the battle raged on, no longer relying solely on the tips of their swords to do the fighting. They each landed several solid blows on the other, fists proving to be just as effective as the swords in such close quarters.
Aerik attacked with an impressive combination that Jerica struggled to stay ahead of with the awkward sword in her hands. Jerica made a pass towards his head. Aerik deflected the blow, twisting his blade in a way that yanked Jerica’s already unbalanced sword from her hands.
Jerica threw her hands up defensively but didn’t have a chance to form an attack before he followed through with the next phase of his own attack. He stepped forward and slammed his left forearm into her chest as he hooked his heel behind her ankle, driving Jerica to the ground. She landed heavily, grunting as all the air suddenly was knocked from her lungs.
She instinctively began to sit up. The tip of Aerik’s sword met her before she could so much as get her shoulder blades off the ground, the tip insistently pushing against her throat until she relaxed her abdomen muscles and let her shoulders and head fall back to the ground. She looked up into Aerik’s face fearfully, waiting to see what his next move would be, painfully aware that she was beaten.
“See? Here’s a perfect example of you not being fast enough,” he said, applying a steady pressure to the tip of his sword digging into her neck. “And you should absolutely be afraid of being solely reliant on my mercy.”
Jerica swallowed hard, not even bothering to look for her sword. She didn’t know where it had landed after he yanked it from her hands – and at this point it didn’t matter if it was right beside her. It was much too unwieldy, and his sword was much too close, for it to help her now. The fighting always turned to talking when someone was pinned with a sword on their throat.
“Tell me, Princess,” he said, squaring his shoulders as he stood over her. “Are you afraid now?”
Jerica wet her lips nervously, heart pounding in her ears so loudly she could barely hear, as she forced herself to take another breath. “No.”
“Of course,” she agreed.
He suddenly chuckled, expression softening. “You’re ridiculous.”
He grinned at her. “That was fun.”
Jerica hesitated, staring at him for a long moment as she tried to figure out where she had seen that facial expression before. It seemed familiar – as if she had already fought him and had him say that exact thing to her as he stood over her.
He pulled his sword away and offered her a hand up before she could place him. She hesitated a moment, looking at him suspiciously, before she finally accepted the hand up. He clapped her on the back before turning and walking stiffly back towards the weapon’s wall. “You were almost difficult to beat, Princess.”