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Armored - Chapter One (The Sparring Match)

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Khelgar landed on his backside once again, dust clouding around him. He then proceeded to moan miserably and fall onto his side, clutching said extremety in both hands.

She laughed, standing up out of her fighting crouch to walk over to him. "Are you all right?"

"Nay, lass, I think ye've broken me arse!" He was moaning so piteously that one of the clerics observing the bout was snickering quietly to himself.

I watched with no small amount of amusement as the young half-elf tried to convince Khelgar that yes, he could stand up. No, his spine wasn't going to break; it had stayed strong so far, while supporting that enormous ale-belly gut he had grown over the years, yes?

The observing cleric had to turn his head discreetly to the side; his shoulders were shaking suspiciously.

Ceadra smiled down at the dwarf; she pressed her palms flat against the side of her thighs, and bowed as he stood up, finally. "You're getting much better, Khelgar. I know it's hard to get used to..."

"Heh. I ain't complainin' about the beatings, lass, but by the gods...just give me backside a break, will you?"

"That appears to be what she was doing, my friend," I offered from where I leaned against the keep walls. Ceadra chuckled, but Khelgar glowered at me. "Ye've got a sense of humor now, do ye paladin? Why don't you come down here and try it!"

Ceadra wiped her brow, giving me an appraising look. "Aye, you can if you want to. I'm thinking my student here needs a break." Her dark eyes flicked over to where Khelgar was taking very ginger, bow-legged steps to where the cleric awaited. I saw her bite her lip furiously, a traitorous smile inching it's way across her mouth.

I frowned at her thoughtfully. The idea had intruiged me, before, as I had watched the woman train with Khelgar when the dwarf had first decided to become a monk. Seeing Ceadra fight, all legs and grace and silence, was definately an experience that would quell anyone's desire to accept her offer. But...she was my friend. The long roads we had spent, talking and speculating...and mostly laughing...together had made an easy, comfortable alliance between the two of us, and she seemed genuine in her offer, those dark eyes of her's gazing at me intently. I spread my arms wide, my voice echoing the teasing note that had entered into most of our conversations, as of late. "You don't mind a full sized opponent, my lady?"

"I don't mind, no. You might mind, because you'll have to dispense with those...accoutrements you love to bury yourself in." She grinned wickedly, gesturing to my plate armor. Ah...the old argument. She had begged me to forgo my armor after a particularly nasty fight in the Duskwood, when a stray kick caught me a glancing blow on my heavily plated shoulder and had nearly knocked me onto my back. It had also broken her foot; she cursed me for near a full minute while Elanee had healed it for her, and then had started laughing after I answered her request with, "My Lady, I'll need it even more now; to protect me from my enemies, and from you, if I ever incur your wrath." I had checked my shoulder that night when we had decamped; she had raised a welt nearly the size of my fist.

Now, I merely smiled at her. "I'll remove it, Lady...if you promise to pull your kicks."

"Trust me, that won't save ye," muttered Khelgar from somewhere off to the left. Her grin widened, but she nodded at me peaceably.

I stood, and began unbuckling the full plate that normally encased my body. She watched me unabashedly, stretching her long-limbs; I felt a heat creeping in my face, and was somewhat confused by the intensity of her gaze, but stoically bore her eyes on me until the last piece of equipment fell into the pile with a clatter. I turned and walked towards her, in my boots and plainclothes.

"Very well. Now remember, no death blows." She rolled her eyes. "Obviously. But I still have to go through all the rules, or Hin will tell on me." She jerked a thumb at the cleric, who smiled brightly, the paragon of innocence. Ceadra continued; "Also, if either one of us has the other in a hold, you must tap when the pain becomes too unbearable. No trying to be macho; Khelgar's already broken his arm twice because he didn't tap when he was supposed to." Her eyes flicked over to the dwarf irritably; Khlegar grinned. "And lastly, no fighting dirty, not today."

"You hardly have to remind me of that, my lady."

"Aye, you're such a clean little fighter." She smiled wryly. "Ready?"

I nodded. She bowed to me, and for a moment her face was obscured by a curtain of sandy brown hair as her ponytail fell forward. It made me smile, slightly; I had always admired the respect with which she dealt all those in battle, to her enemies. There was not a battle we had fought together, that I hadn't seen her perform that same, quick bow after our foes had lain dead at her feet.

When she straightened, her face had changed; suddenly, she seemed entirely focused on me, her features still, her body rippling with tensed energy. Shadows and light danced across her scarred face as we began circling around each other. As I stared into those incessantly dark eyes, trained unerringly on me, I began to wonder if this was such a good idea...

In the blink of an eye, a foot was flying towards my face. My hand seemed to throw itself up without my brain telling it to, blocking the kick, but almost instantly, her closed fist rammed itself into my stomach. I sucked in my breath sharply as she danced away. She wasn't kidding around...

I'll admit I had multiple qualms about hitting her, myself; for the first few minutes, I merely blocked her attacks, but there were many that snuck past my guard, and soon various parts of my body were throbbing in protest. I paced back from her for a moment, and I saw a triumphant flash in her eyes as she closed in after me, pressing the advantage. She brought her knee high, and immediately, my arm went up to block the on-coming kick...and then her foot swept low, and I felt the ground shift from underneath me. There was momentary weightlessness, and then the ground met me once more, in the form of the flat, hard surface that smacked into my back.

My breath left my lungs in a painful whoosh, and I reacted without really thinking. Her dainty, deadly foot was still hooked around my ankle, and I scissored my legs, sharp and fast while twisting my body. Chivalry, it seemed, was momentarily forgotten. She hit the ground with an audible thud, and instanty I was on top of her, heaving for my lost breath while pinning her arms down. I must have looked as surprised as I felt, for her large, dark eyes filled with delighted amusement, and for a moment her serene focus was broken as she smiled up at me; I could nearly count every one of the small, faint scars that traced her face, see every individual lash that feathered her eyes.

My heart gave an unfamiliar wrench, and my breath seemed lost once more. By the gods...she was beautiful...

And my breath really was gone; while I had been staring down at her, her legs had wrapped themselves around my chest, and were now squeezing with such crushing strength that I thought I heard my ribs creacking; I lifted my hands to pry her free of me, and instantly a small, sharply bony fist smacked into my left eye with a resounding pop! Even as I jerked back, her legs gave another unrelenting squeeze, and I sighed inwardly in resignation before tapping the ground with the flat of my hand.

She released me, and I collapsed onto the ground next to her. Khelgar was laughing uproariously as we both gasped for breath.

"Not bad, for a knight," she managed between lungfuls.

"My lady is...too kind," I wheezed, and, still sprawled in the dirt, she began laughing, as she usually did when her adrenaline began wearing off. She had a hearty, deep-bellied laugh that made my mouth twitch upward in response; how come I had never noticed her laugh before?

I rose to my feet unsteadily, extending an arm to pull her up. She took it, grattitude in her eyes; when she looked up at me, she winced. "Your eye already looks like ripe fruit; I'll heal it for you." Her hand was reaching up to my face, and I nearly jerked away from her. I was remembering her face below mine on the ground, the racing of my heart as she had smiled up at me in pride and delight. Suddenly, the thought of having her touch me was unbearable.

"No! That," I murmered. "Thank you, my lady, for taking the time to instruct me; but I can attend to my own wounds." She was staring at me, confusion scattered across her face. But, she didn't question me; she merely pressed her palms flat against her thighs, and bowed, her long tail of hair flashing in the sun as it fell over her face.

I picked up my armor and practically fled.

Armored Ch. 1 - The sparring match © Avariel

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