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Among the Dragons - Chapter 3.1

by Shady


Jerica’s body was heavy.

For a while she’d held out hope that perhaps getting up and moving around would work some of the weariness out of her bones. But she’d woken well-before daybreak and yet here she stood – in the mid-morning – dragging herself up onto the sparring block with less than no enthusiasm. Though she tried to hide that fact. For Kieran’s sake.

He was a small boy of twelve, barely coming to her shoulders, with sandy brown skin and black hair that he brushed out of his eyes as he turned to look at her now. He’d been her squire for two years now and was beginning to fill out, but still looked slight as he stared back at her now. She looked him over with a soft hum.

Kieran furrowed his brow at her. “What?”

She blinked at him, drawn back to the present. Oh. Right. He could see her, too. She turned and shucked off her tunic, preferring to spar in her undershirt to give herself a fuller range of motion. She tossed it in a heap on the ground and then pulled one of the wooden swords off the training rack, glancing back at him. “Oh, nothing… just thinking how I’m gonna rub your nose in the dirt.”

She bent as she spoke and swept her hand along the cobblestone that made up the sparring block, then in a fluid motion reached her arm towards him and brushed her thumb down the bridge of his nose. It left behind a dusting of fine dirt particles.

Jerica smirked at him. “There, that’s better. How you usually look.”

Kieran smirked and rubbed at his nose, snorting. “Nuh-uh!”

“It’s true,” Jerica teased with faux gravity in her tone. “Dirty-Nosed-Kieran, the smallest boy with the dirtiest nose around.”

Kieran laughed at that and shook his head, rubbing at his nose again and grabbing a wooden sword off the rack for himself. “There’s not gonna be any dirt left for my nose after I rub all of it on yours!”

Jerica chuckled and rolled her eyes, stretching her shoulders and back as she wandered to the center of the sparring block. She felt like she had an emotional hangover. There was no other way she knew how to describe it. Last night she’d sobbed until her throat was raw and her body trembled with the effort it took to haul herself from her chair to her bed, even with Aashi’s help. Today she was exhausted and running on vapors, but watching Kieran’s boyish grin and attempts at jabs at her made her feel a little better.

"As if you could reach my nose," Jerica teased, lazily taking a few practice swings.

Kieran took a step nearer her. "Wanna bet? I'll—"

Jerica whirled around towards him, swinging her blade for his left shoulder without warning.

He yelped in surprise and stumbled backward a step, but threw his sword up instinctively, blocking her strike in time. His gaze snapped towards her face, eyes wide and eyebrows furrowed in protest.

She smirked. "Good." She pulled her own blade away and straightened her back.

"Hmph." He straightened as well, getting reset in his posture to be in a better position to parry if she struck again.

She didn't, though. Sneak attacks were best when they were entirely unexpected – she couldn't very well surprise him again now that he was suspicious of her. Jerica widened her stance and repositioned her grasp on her sword as she looked him over. "Ready?"

He shifted again as well and then nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

Jerica returned the nod and then made a metered pass toward his left shoulder again. He blocked this one more gracefully, footing solid and expression drawn as he focused. They settled into their usual routine quickly – with her alternating between various strikes that would force him to use differing techniques to parry.

"Keep your shoulders raised." She paused; blade still extended towards him but she held it with her right hand alone so that her left would be free to grasp his sword to show him where to place it. "It gives you more power to block me like this. Then follow through." She demonstrated as she spoke.

He nodded. "Yes'm."

"Try it." She pulled her sword away and then made a slow pass in the same motion to give him time to block it, which he did. She nodded. "Good. Again." He complied. She nodded approvingly and repeated the motion twice more so that he could practice and gain confidence with the skill. He improved each time.

On the third pass towards him, he blocked, then spun swiftly and made a pass for her ribs unexpectedly. She stumbled backward a step, surprised, though she caught his blade easily before it came close to making contact with her. "Hah! Good!" She grinned, pleased with his ingenuity, but shoving him away all the same.

He smiled at the compliment and made another pass at her side.

Jerica blocked his blow then forced him back to the defensive with an overhanded combo that he had to shuffle back to block. She followed up with a combination of attacks that came progressively faster and harder to test both his speed and strength. He blocked each with almost no indication of struggling aside from his breaths coming faster and heavier.

She spun around with a solid strike toward his middle, expecting him to block it.

But he didn't.

By the time she realized he wasn't going to parry in time, it was too late. She was committed to the blow and there was no way to pull it. Her wooden blade landed across his abdomen with a loud crack that seemed to land as heavy on her own gut as it did his.

He collapsed immediately.

"Kieran!" Jerica threw her sword down and leaped forward in a single fluid motion, skidding to a stop on her knees as she pulled him into her arms.

"Mama?" He cracked his eyes open weakly.

Jerica recoiled before she could stop herself, horrified.

His eyes snapped the rest of the way open, panicked as the realization of what he'd done crossed his face. "Ma'am! I— I mean— ma'am. I'm sorry! Ma'am!"

"No, it's... fine. You're fine." She shook her head, forcing herself to get over herself, and bent over him once again, cradling him in her arms gently. Her heart was racing with anxiety at what he'd just called her paired with fear that she'd hurt him. "...Are you fine? You okay?"

"Yes ma'am." He gave a weak, unconvincing nod.

She looked him over hopelessly. "... We need Ryken." She slid her arm further under his shoulders and then hooked her left arm under his knees and hefted him into the air, stumbling to her feet as she did so. He was heavier now than the last time she'd picked him up; bigger; older. But she barely noticed. There was too much else to think about; fret about.

Jerica held him close to her chest and rushed across the training grounds, through the courtyard, and into the palace. "I'm sorry. I... should have been more careful."

"No ma'am." His eyes were closed now, head resting against her shoulder, though he shook it weakly. "It's okay. I'm okay."

"You'll be okay," she confirmed, though she wasn't feeling certain in that moment. She rushed up to the physician's wing on the third floor, shouting as she approached the door. "Ryken! Dr. Ryken!"

Jerica shifted Kieran in her arms as she tried to figure out how to open the door without setting him down, but couldn't. She kicked at the door. "Ryke—"

The door swung open to reveal Dr. Ryken standing in the doorway. He was a middle-aged man with pale skin and graying brown hair, and a furrowed brow as he stared at her now. "What’s—?”

"Kieran," Jerica interrupted, shouldering past him, and setting Kieran down on the cot. "He's hurt... he... he needs... he's..." She hovered over him in concern as Kieran shifted, groaning.

"He needs me," Ryken said smoothly, shutting the door and striding over to push Jerica out of the way. “Not you. Make space.”

Jerica stepped backward out of his way, exuding anxious energy as her eyes flicked across her squire, too worried to be anything but compliant. Kieran writhed on his cot, eyes squeezed shut in pain, hand pressed down over his ribs.

"It hurts there?" Ryken asked, tone calmer and more even than it ever was with Jerica as he took a seat on a stool next to the bed.

Kieran cracked his eyes open and nodded, voice weak when he managed, "Yessir."

"What happened?" Ryken asked as he sat Kieran up and began helping him remove his tunic.

Jerica felt a fresh wave of nausea crash into her gut as she saw the massive bruise already stretching across Kieran's abdomen. She paced anxiously. "I... hit him." She blushed a little, glancing away. "When we were training. I..." Am sorry. She couldn't very well say that in front of Ryken though. Never that. "...made a mistake. I thought he could block in time, when he couldn't."

"Clearly." Ryken helped Kieran lay back down on the cot. "With what?"

"A training sword," Jerica offered, still pacing in an attempt to burn off her anxious energy. She couldn’t tell if it was helping or not. "Wooden."

Ryken nodded, brushing his fingers across the bruise. Kieran inhaled sharply. Jerica grimaced; guilt stabbing through her. She wished she could undo the past fifteen minutes. Go back to a time when she wasn't the world's worst mentor. Well. When it wasn't quite as obvious that she was anyway. When Kieran wasn't hurt. When he hadn't called her... Mama.

Her stomach turned itself over again.

"Princess." Ryken's voice was terse as he glanced at her. She blinked at him, realizing she'd zoned out. She hadn't stopped pacing, though. Or digging at the threads in the hem of her tunic to keep her hands busy. Ryken looked at her sternly. "Please step into the hall."

She furrowed her brow at him. "What? No. Why?"

"Do you think you're improving the situation in here?" He raised an eyebrow. "You're distracting me, and upsetting him." Ryken gestured at Kieran, who blushed and didn't look up. "...At the very least, sharing your anxiety. Which isn't helping. Any of us."

Jerica hesitated, glancing at Kieran. But he didn't look up at her. She bit her lip, every protective instinct she had screaming at her to stay. To make sure he was okay. And yet Ryken did have a point. What good was she doing, forcing her anxiety upon these two? It would just make Kieran feel worse and make Ryken more likely to make a mistake, if she split his attention.

"Go," Ryken said firmly. "I'll get you when your presence is welcomed."

Jerica hesitated, then sighed and dipped her head and stepped back into the hall. Her pacing got even faster and more urgent once she shut the door behind herself and was alone with her anxiety. What had she done? Swinging a sword that hard at a little boy. A child... who apparently viewed her as a maternal sort of figure.

Crazy.

She forced herself to start thinking about something – anything – else than what he'd called her. Better to walk a rut into the stone floor of the hallway than have to sit with those huge, complicated, messy emotions that he'd kicked.

She wasn't fit to be anyone's mama.

And certainly not the mama of such a precious little kid. He deserved far better than she could ever be for him. And it was upsetting to hear that he'd settled for her, on some level or another. That his brain had assigned her a maternal role. He deserved... better.

How could she make him see that?

She didn't know. But she hoped she'd figure it out by the time the infirmary door opened again.


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48 Reviews


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Tue Jan 03, 2023 7:49 pm
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Otterpop wrote a review...



Heya Shady! Otterpop here with a quick review! It's been a while but I hope that I am able to provide some valuable feedback for this. I actually had to quickly skim through some previous sections as (primarily) I didn't even realize who Kieran was. Once I saw that he had a brief mention in a previous section, I breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing I hadn't been introduced to him yet so that didn't make me feel too silly for looking back.

I must say that I find this particular section to be really well written. I remember making some occasional comments on previous sections relating to grammar and word usage but I found the flow to read much nicer here that I don't have any complaints or suggestions in that regard.

The dynamic between Jerica and Kieran (even though I've only know her for a few chapters and I've never met him before) also felt very natural and I could get a good grasp of the relationship between them. The combat scene also reads very natural to me. I sometimes struggle with writing kinetic/combative scenes in my own stories so I think I will definitely read that over a few times more and take some notes! I really liked Kieran's personality and despite the anguish and exhaustion Jerica had to endure the day prior, this feels like a nice and calm break.

My only real complaint is that Jerica's reaction to the situation of [badly?] injuring Kieran was that it seemed a bit...exaggerated and overexplained is the best way I can think of it. Granted, based on her personality and what little history I know about her, some of her reactions and thoughts make sense, but to me it felt like she was a lot more panicked than she should have been. Wooden swords are no joke and can certainly hurt, though I'm not sure if it could actually produce the damage that would warrant such a reaction from Jerica (especially since she would have a better idea as to what kind of injury she could inflict with a wooden sword). I also mentioned their interaction acting as a nice and calm break compared to previous entries in the story, though I feel as though it was maybe cut a bit too short. Now, the story overall seems to have darker tones and heavier themes (which, there's nothing wrong with that!), but I personally thought it was just the slightest bit jarring to have the calmness ended so quickly. That could just be me, however.

That's all the feedback I have. Hope to have some more free time soon for another review on a later section!




Shady says...


I sometimes struggle with writing kinetic/combative scenes in my own stories so I think I will definitely read that over a few times more and take some notes!


Aww, that's flattering! Thanks <3 Best advice I have to offer in that respect is to really try to visualize what you're trying to describe. I sometimes act out scenes (in my bedroom with the door closed so there aren't witnesses lol) so I can feel which muscles are engaged, how my body is likely to fall, etc. and that helps me a lot ^^

And that's a fair critique of her over-reaction ^^ I think I was thinking her guilt made her panic, but you are correct she should have a better concept of how much damage she actually did and remain more level-headed, given violence is quite literally what she's best at haha I'll take another look at this during revisions.

Thanks so much for your review! It was super helpful, as usual <3



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Fri Dec 16, 2022 12:04 pm
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IcyFlame wrote a review...



Oooh first review on this one! Remind me to shout on my wall about this story later in the hope that review day drives the masses to you.

Now, firstly, not to be pedantic, but have you noticed you've started 2.2 and 3.1 with the exact same line? Possibly not something I'd notice if I wasn't reviewing the two back to back and also not something I'd notice if the sections weren't split up as they are. So I'm torn as to whether you actually need to do something about it because technically 2.2 is the middle of a chapter rather than the start... up to you! It made me laugh though xD

I'm glad to have Kieran back, and I can sense he's going to have a bit of a bigger part this time around which makes me happy because he's a sweet character and I think has a lot of potential for growth!

I really enjoyed the dynamic between them (you know, before Jerica tried to maim him). It's a nice relationship that's somewhere between mentor/mentee and almost sibling rivalry. So I assume when he called her mama it was an honest mistake because that's who he would want when he was hurt. I found Jerica's reaction to him saying that possibly a little over the top? I think the guilt and the worry was generally spot on, but she focused on that part more than I would have expected.

It is very typical Jerica though, to be emotionally and physically exhausted from all the crying and then get up and pretend nothing's happened. I hope that if nothing else this has taught her she needs to take a break! I know she can't very well go off and have a holiday but can't she have some time off after all she's been through?

I haven't got much more to comment on for this section because I don't have too many questions but I'll try to get to part two this afternoon (and hopefully make my way through chapter four as well).

Hoping Kieran feels better soon <3

Icy




Shady says...


Remind me to shout on my wall about this story later in the hope that review day drives the masses to you.


<3

Now, firstly, not to be pedantic, but have you noticed you've started 2.2 and 3.1 with the exact same line?


Oh gosh xD I guess that%u2019s the risk of not touching your novel for three months hahaha thanks for pointing it out! I%u2019ll tweak.




For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle ... anyone can get angry—that is easy—or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.
— Aristotle