Yay, an update! This was such an important and fun chapter to write. It took a bit longer than I expected, but I feel fairly happy with how it turned out. Let me know what you think by leaving a review! (Don't worry if you are not a native English speaker, any words of encouragement are most welcome). :)
A big shout out to my two reviewers: sarahwilliams1986 and anonymousgal1990.
This chapter is dedicated to you.
- Rampant Id
Chapter 6: "Prove It"
Rufio was laughing. In such a way in fact, that he had trouble breathing. After a few more seconds of clutching his chest while supporting his weight against the tree he looked over at me again.
"You want to what?" The disbelief, mixed in with amusement did not do much to bolster my self-confidence.
"I want to practice sword fighting so that I can protect myself better." I replied as confidently as I could, my chin raised in the air as I stared him straight in the eyes.
Rufio dragged a hand down his face, looked at my stubborn expression and rolled his eyes.
"You're not serious about this; It's just a passing fancy. Two days from now you're going to want to scale steep mountains or wrestle a mermaid. This is not a game. Swords cut and hurt people. They are weapons meant to kill — and you're not a killer."
I scoffed. "And you are?"
He looked down at me seriously with hooded eyes. "Yes, when I have to be."
I saw him turn around and start walking away from the weapons' training grounds. The handful of lost boys who had been training here when I came to him with my request were also packing up the equipment and getting ready to head out for lunch.
I stared after him at a loss of what I should do. Rufio was leaving, and I would never be able to learn how to use a sword. I would always be weak and defenseless! Amongst the panic that this realization spurred, a single thought solidified itself in my brain. I had to convince him that I meant what I said.
I ran forward, grabbed a sword from the ground that someone had not yet cleaned up, and partly dragged it behind me as I hurried to catch up with Rufio. Running up to him and then passing him, I finally stopped and turned around so as to face him.
"You can't go until you agree to let me train. Look, I can hold a sword. I just need you to teach me how to move it." The sword was much heavier than it looked, so when I lifted it, it wobbled and swayed a bit.
"That is not how you hold a sword. Your grip is wrong, the blade is unsteady, and the weapon is clearly too heavy for your small stature. You would more likely skewer yourself than any opponent that you might be facing."
The boys who had been slowly gathering to hear what was being said, were trying to muffle their laughs and snickers, but I could hear them quite clearly. My face turned red at being ridiculed in front of what could now be termed an audience.
"I mean it, I won't let you leave until you agree to let me train with a sword." I stated loudly so that both he and the lost boys could hear my conviction.
"I would love to see you try and convince me," Rufio replied, and walked toward me with measured steps.
"Stop, just say you'll let me train! I don't want to hurt you!" I cried out as he continued to approach me.
He laughed in reply and unsheathed his own sword easily. "I'd love to see you try." Then in a swift motion his sword shot out, knocked my sword out of my grip so that it landed in the bushes, and then before I could do anything else he pointed the sword at my chest.
"Swords are not for you."
I looked up from the blade with wide eyes. "That's not fair. I don't know how to use a sword, so of course I can't compete with you."
Rufio raised an eyebrow and stared at me over the blade. "Think you're brave enough to fight?"
I swallowed and thought, no, I'm not really all that brave. But I really, really want this. Instead I nodded my head energetically, my throat too dry for me to be able to make any kind of affirmative sound.
"Prove it. Show me your courage and conviction." With that he sheathed his sword smoothly and motioned for me to follow him. I swallowed and trailed after him — the lost boys not far behind.
"What is that?" I breathed in awe as I took in the various climbing structures, ropes and the rather large pond.
Rufio walked up next to me. "This is our obstacle course, which most would consider to be our real training grounds. It's where we work on improving our skills and abilities. If you want to convince me of your sincerity, then you need to complete this entire course by the end of today." He glanced down at me assessingly.
"Think you can handle that?"
"Of course!" I replied confidently, despite the internal doubt that nagged at me.
He raised his brows and made a go ahead motion with his hand.
I slowly made my way over to the first climbing structure and looked up. This was going to take a while...
The afternoon sun beat down on me as I struggled to grab a peg above my head and pull myself up. My arms shook with effort and I wondered for a moment whether I would have the energy to pull myself up the rest of the way. After what felt like eternity I dragged myself onto the top of the structure, and my arms gave out a few moments later, resulting in an ungrateful flop onto the flat wooden surface. I simply continued to lay on my stomach and listened to the deep breaths that escaped my mouth unwillingly. The scorching heat of the sun, coupled with the sweat pouring down my face and neck and plastering my clothes to my back, made it feel as if my body was being liquefied by the heat. I glanced halfheartedly in front of me at the remaining parts of this obstacle course from hell. How could I possibly finish all of it in time? I had managed to get through some parts of it, including that filthy mud pit that had made walking upright nearly impossible. However, more than half of the challenges still lay ahead of me and my body felt like it had run a marathon. I was entirely spent. I dragged my weary body to the edge of the platform that I was on and looked down. That crazy red and black punk-like hairstyle was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't even bothered to stick around to see if I would make it.
I sniffed a bit, and wiped my eyes in my dirty shirt sleeve. I knew that feeling sorry for myself was pointless, but I couldn't help it. That's when I heard a voice from below that sounded like one of the lost boys.
"You think she's okay up there?" I could hear the concern in the speaker's voice, but I could not hear enough to make out the reply. I stuck my head out a little further, careful not to lean out too far due to my discomfort with heights.
A group of lost boys sat together on a patch of grass that could be seen on the fringes of the obstacle course. My heart swelled with emotion seeing them looking up at the climbing structure in concern.
I gathered up the last bits of my strength and forced myself to stand up. I heard some happy shouts float up from the bottom as I became visible to my spectators once more. Then I slowly made my way over to the plank that had been placed on the edge of the structure's surface where I stood.
Staring at the plank as it stretched an insanely far distance toward some other structure, I felt my eyes widen. There were no handrails to hold onto, no rope barriers to keep one from falling off. It was simply a single plank of wood that stretched over what felt like an endless chasm. I glanced down for a second and then snapped my eyes right back in front of me, feeling my body tremble all over in fear. It was a long way down. Sure, there was a pond below, which definitely was better than a rocky bottom — but I couldn't swim!
To be honest, the height alone scared me out of my wits. However, if I wanted Rufio to reconsider teaching me how to fight to protect myself, I needed to convince him of my determination. I was not some little girl who would continue being a victim while my family died around me!
I took a hesitant step forward onto the plank. Then another one. Don't look down, don't look down... I chanted in my head as my arms instinctively stretched out on either side of me to help keep me balanced. Sure, the plank was wide enough for both my feet to fit next to each other, however, the empty space all around made it a bit difficult for me to orient myself properly. It felt like gravity itself was trying to pull me down. Staring straight ahead I slowly made my way forward. As I approached what felt like the halfway mark, I was more clearly able to make out the other structure that the plank was secured to. There were no handholds there — nothing to grab onto. Only the smooth wooden side of the structure and the plank itself.
For a moment I felt panic. Where was I supposed to go? I didn't want to remain on this plank forever! In my rising panic I glanced wildly to the side and noticed one lone vine hanging down not too far from where I stood. No way!
It hung about a meter away from me. My stretched out arm was only about halfway there. I would need to jump toward the rope in order to reach it. There was no way I could do it — I would definitely fall! I suddenly saw an image of my father faced with a very similar situation. I remembered encouraging him to try harder, so that we could all go home. Back then I did not understand the terror that he had felt as he reached toward us. How could I expect from others what I was unable to face myself?
I choked back a whimper, mustered all my courage and then attempted to jump toward the rope. Only at the last moment did I realize that my feet were still frozen in place on the plank, refusing to budge. My partial lunge in the direction of the rope was enough to completely knock me off balance, and the next thing I knew I was airborne and plummeting toward the water. Terror shot through me and my eyes squeezed shut of their own accord, but before I could let out a scream I slammed into something solid — and warm.
Prying my eyes open I only saw black. A black leather-clad shoulder to be exact. Someone had their arms wrapped around me. I could still feel the wind whipping my hair around as I looked up into the face of my rescuer. A partially amused face looked back at me, cocky expression and all.
"You! You were watching me the whole time?" I asked Rufio in surprise.
He raised an eyebrow. "I just happened to look your way in time to see your awkward swan dive off that plank." I could feel my face heating up knowing that he had witnessed such an embarrassing moment. His opinion of me must have sunk to new depths.
I glanced over his shoulder and saw to my surprise that we were still airborne. Not nearly as high up as I had been, but at least a solid five feet above the water's surface.
"We're flying!" I cried out in surprise as well as a bit of alarm. I wanted nothing more than for my feet to be firmly standing on a patch of ground at this particular moment. I had enough of heights to last me a decade.
"More like floating," he replied laughingly, as if he found my reaction amusing.
I tugged on his sleeve in my urgency to get him to land. "Put me down. I don't want to be up high anymore."
"This isn't high, we're barely in the air as it is." His relaxed demeanor did little to make me feel better.
"Put me down right now." I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice, but it was proving to be a bit difficult.
Rufio's eyes twinkled in reply as if I had said something especially amusing, and asked "Are you sure?"
At my decisive nod he grinned and let me go entirely. My shriek was cut off as I landed in the water with a splash and immediately started choking on water. My arms flailed around helplessly as my lungs struggled for air, which resulted in desperate coughing and gasping for a few moments before I began to sink. The last thing I saw before my head submerged completely was Rufio's shocked expression from above.
The pain of my lungs struggling for air, my fervent wish that I had agreed to take swim classes like my brother, and the fear that I would die here in this stupid pond for no real reason whatsoever... all of these clamored within me, along with the overwhelming pain that quickly overshadowed everything else.
A split second later I felt something grab tightly onto my arm and yank me out of the water. I vaguely noticed that my legs hung in the air for a few seconds before I was deposited on what felt like solid ground. I was too busy coughing out water from my lungs to really be paying attention to the finer details of what was going on. A hand slapped my back rather unhelpfully, but I did not have the energy to tell the person to stop. Once I was able to breath again, I looked up from between soggy strands of hair to see tough-as-nails Rufio looking soaked and scared beside me, as he helped support my slight frame.
"I-I'm sorry. I thought you could swim..." Rufio mumbled looking ashamed and not meeting my eyes.
"It was a very stupid joke." I replied between gasps, not having the energy to actually be properly angry. "I could have died, Rufio." I added, trying to keep the quiver from my voice but clearly not succeeding if his wince was anything to go by.
He looked absolutely miserable, which actually helped calm me down a bit. I shoved the hair out of my face and looked over at him. His current expression along with his now unimpressive and dripping hairstyle were as far away from the proud and cocky teen as I had ever seen. I grabbed onto his shirt sleeve to get his attention, and when he finally looked at me I said, "Still, thanks for saving me... both times."
Rufio's eyes widened in surprise, and he cleared his throat before speaking. "You're welcome. I'll make sure that you learn how to swim before you go home." His voice sounded a bit gruffer than usual, but before I could respond he had already gotten up from the ground, nodded toward me and flew away.
That's when I realized that he never once even mentioned the fact that I had not completed his test, the one requirement he had set for teaching me swordsmanship. I had failed.
As the lost boys gathered around me to help me up, while patting me on the back and offering words of comfort, none of them guessed that the tears sliding down my cheeks were not out of fear of the near brush with death that I had experienced, but rather for the lost opportunity to prove myself.
Hope you liked the chapter. Let me know what you thought by leaving a review. (It warms the heart and inspires the muse!)
- Rampant Id