Robin danced away from Hal’s training sword. He was bigger, faster, and more experienced than her. That’s why she liked sparring with him.
The yard clattered with the wooden training swords; laughter echoed from the walls. There were twenty of them, the most Sir Garraik would allow in training at a time. Hal and a few others wore colours on their right sleeves marking them as squires. Plague it, but Robin wanted her colours. She was one of the oldest trainees at fifteen winters, but not yet chosen to squire a knight. She had to prove herself, even more so because she was the smallest trainee.
The sword met Robin’s breastplate which stopped the blow as it should, but Hal followed up by closing the distance and grappling her to the ground while she was still trying to breathe. His wooden sword lay across her throat.
“You’re improving.” Hal rolled to his feet and gave Robin a hand to pull her up.
“Doesn’t feel like it.” Robin snapped her mouth closed on the complaint then coughed out the dust from the ground. A cloud crossed the sun, sending a chill down her spine.
“That’s because you’re training with people bigger and stronger than you. You don’t pick safe partners like the other girls.” Hal bowed slightly. “Don’t give up hope.”
“Thanks, Hal.” Robin gave him a smile, hiding the wince. The breastplate stopped the blow, but it was only leather over mail and she would have a new bruise to add to her collection.
“What are Hal’s weaknesses?” Sir Garraik stepped up beside her. His face carried the same neutral expression it always did. Out of his hearing, the trainees joked it was carved from stone.
“He over commits.” Robin wracked her brain for something else to add to what she’d answered every other time she’d lost. “And he’s quick to grapple because he’s bigger than most.”
“Now you know how to beat him.” Sir Garraik stalked off to torment some other trainee.
Sword was her weakest weapon, but it was the knight’s honour. Robin grit her teeth. How is grappling a weakness?
“Mooning again?” Crispin smiled to take the sting from his words.
“Trying to think how to beat Hal.” Robin pushed the gloom out of her head. As long as she was a trainee, there was a chance.
“If you figure it out, let me know.”
“You will be the second to know.” Robin’s lips quirked.
“Second? I’m hurt.” He dramatically put his hand on his heart. “Who’s the lucky gent who will be the first?”
“That calls for a duel.” Crispin drew his sword with a flourish.
Robin scanned the area to be sure they had space and marked an X in the sand with her heel. “Three paces.”
“I truly wish this place had at least one set of stairs.”
“Half of the trainees would break a leg on the first day.” Robin lifted her sword and buckler to the ready.
“Have at you, rogue.” Crispin leapt to the attack. If Hal was a bull, Crispin was a cat. Robin focused on her defence while she waited for the opening. Crispin prided himself on his flamboyant style. Sir Garraik’s jaw clenched at the unnecessary movement, but Crispin was the best trainee not a squire yet, and he’d beat all the squires, except for Hal.
She concentrated on deep breaths; fighting Crispin meant outwaiting him. It was good stamina training.
Crispin’s cut came too far forward, and Robin bashed it aside with her buckler. He tried to step farther in and grapple. Robin had been waiting for that. Unlike Hal who towered head and shoulders above her, Crispin only had a few fingers advantage and not nearly the bulk. Robin tilted her sword to claim his attention then slammed the buckler into his training helmet, only pulling the blow at the last second. Head blows were the only ones Sir Garraik insisted they not strike full force.
Even if she hadn’t pulled it, the attack would have barely brushed Crispin. He recovered and leapt back with unbelievable speed. Robin lunged forward to stay in measure. A slash to his throat clashed against his buckler. As Crispin responded with his own cut, Robin kicked him on the thigh. Since he was still moving backward, it unbalanced him enough to send him staggering to the three-pace distance from the X. He made an impossible sideways leap and lunge to catch her under the arm. Another bruise.
Crispin saluted. “Should try that kick thing with Hal.”
“When was the last time you kicked a tree? It only works if the opponent is moving backward.” Her neck hairs lifted. Someone was watching her.
He laughed and moved to ready again. “That was a nice move with the buckler; almost got me.”
She pushed the feeling away. “I will get you eventually!” Robin shouted and lunged to the attack.