"Watch your flank! Parry! Thrust! On your toes you dalcops!" Old Tom firmly whacked the closest boy with his thick trademark cane that never left his side. Tom was never really known for his kindness, and his mouth was always expelling a fair amount of spit along with his constant insults. But, for all of his blustering and clouting, he never really harmed any of his charges, and most who graduated, had a sort of fondness for the old codger. That doesn't however, mean that it was a pleasure to receive the occasional welt.

Blowing an auburn strand of hair out of my vision, I readied for my turn. The boys currently sparing had been at it for some time, and were obviously looking for a quick way out. Seeing this, Tom growled and gave them both a good smack before sending them to run laps around the castle grounds for their laziness.

"Will, Barney, you're up." Looking up from my stretches, I roll my shoulders before accepting a practice sword from Sam's outstretched hand. He gives me a thumbs up and hands one to Barney. I didn't really know Barney, he was a bit of a loner, and a rather pudgy boy that was mercilessly picked on by the others. Tom called "Ready!" and I slipped into the familiar stance, readying my blade, and looking toward my opponent. His stance is clumsy, and the point of his sword wavers back and forth as he struggles to keep it up. I sighed. If I beat him too easily, he'd be punished, but if I let him get a few pitty hits in, we'd both be running laps past suppertime.

"Begin" I was startled from my thoughts by a clumsy jab aimed at my side. I easily evade it and spin around, bringing my wooden blade up to block my exposed back, but Barney was still reeling from over correcting with his swing. Seeing no way to make it look as if he had any skill whatsoever, I grudgingly jabbed my sword into the side target on his practice padding, and return to my original stance, and await Tom's verbal abuse for my opponent with a ready wince.

"Why do I even bother with you, ya' great Tallowcatch?!" Tom didn't even bother to hit him, and just began spitting insults, waving his arms around like a blind pelican in a storm. "Your father never gave me this sad excuse for an effort! He was top of his class! Perhaps I should just send you home to him and see what he can do with ye!" Barney was quivering like an autumn leaf on the branch, ready to crumble up and be blow away, and I couldn't help the words that slipped from my mouth.

"Let 'im be!" I covered my mouth, trying to take the words back as he directed his red face and bulging eyes at me. He stares for a while, blustering and fuming.

His face drops as an idea crosses it, and I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Though he was a good man that cared for his boys, he also had quite a temper, especially when crossed. I had once seen him smack a horse's backside because its young rider refused to jump an obstacle in the course. The boy was in the hospital wing for days after his resulting fall, and still refuses to ride anywhere near Tom during training.

The look in Tom's face was quick, and soon replaced by his usual grouchy stare. "Want to stand up for this bucket of lard William? Well how about this, I'll make him your responsibility! You've got two weeks to get some improvement out of this waste O' space, or you both get a month of detention!" He looked on smugly as my face quickly went from relief to horror. I frantically rack my brains for an excuse, any excuse; but there was none to be found. Seeing my look of resignation, Tom nodded in satisfaction, and called the end of the lesson. He walked off, leaning on his cane in an almost mocking way, proud of unknowingly sealing the girl's fate.

"I'm a dead woman." I whisper as I passed a very green Sam on my way back to the castle, unknowingly still gripping the wooden sword, trailing it behind in the dirt.