AN: You thought I was all done with this story. So did I! A quick little blurb from Ella's point of view, before she was married.
Springtime is my most favorite of all seasons. Everything is waking up and coming to life, little birds are learning to fly, there's always a new colt around the stables, and the new recruits begin their training. Our guard captain, Tirol, is a huge man with a ruddy face and a fierce disposition towards the trembling knights in their weak, shoddy training armor. They only get the quality sets once they have shown themselves worthy. It makes me grin to see his countenance so set with anger and disgust, when all my life I have known him as the sweetest man in the castle, who would tolerate carrying me on my shoulders for hours.
My mother tells me to blame him, in a joking way, as for my fervent appreciation of the finer points of battle, archery, and swordplay. It was her decision to indulge me and give me the finest training in Hyrule towards such endeavours, and she always had a moment to spare to watch me fire an arrow into a target or engage in a short battle against my teacher.
It also allowed me to wear breeches, a true luxury for noble women. Breeches were for women who worked, so they should have been looked at with disgust, but I hated dresses. Always floor length, even in summer, and heaped over an underdress, corset, drawers, nylons, ugh. When training, I still had to wear a corset, but it was designed to flex and bend, and for this purpose was very lightweight. I also got to wear a tunic, but it was long sleeve, which meant I still suffered.
"Too much skin exposed gives men the wrong idea," my mother scolded when I complained. "Not to mention you will lose your fair color to the heat of the sun. Do you want to be as tan as a commoner?" She was so dead-set against the idea of me in short sleeves that when she caught me in a green shirt (always green, my favorite color) with the sleeves hacked off and my coppery hair back in a braid, she almost fainted. I thought it was rather hypocritical of her, as she'd worn short sleeves for her very wedding!
Father didn't say much about my practice, and it bothered me sometimes. Especially when he would say, "you look just like your father," when watching me stomp around in my boots and breeches. I'd never seen him fight, and Mother even said that he was raised the son of an Earl, who did not have to go into battle. Perhaps it was because I was allowed to wear men's clothing?
Whatever the case, I used my practice as a way to express my frustrations. It was joked that there was a soldier's ghost haunting the castle, for I could be seen some nights fighting invisible enemies under the moon. During the day, even when I did not have practice, I would ride my horse out into the fields and fight trees.
One day, I headed out like usual. I decided to go a little farther south than I normally did. The sky was a bright blue with fluffy, full clouds, and the grass of the fields shifted constantly in the wind. I took my sword with me like usual. There were far older trees around here, who creaked gently in the wind overhead. I dismounted my horse and unsheathed my sword, looking around. I bowed to the largest tree before stepping back and taking the first stance, my legs apart and bent at the knee, the sword tip pointed at the ground, standing sideways towards the tree. I swung toward it, bringing my sword into a diagonal slice towards it, and managed to make one good notch. I spun, holding her (well of course my sword is a girl, her name is Evelynn), sideways and bringing it into the mighty trunk again. I swung far too hard this time though, and as I struggled to dislodge my sword from the tree, I heard a deep voice shout "HEY!".
I froze and looked in the direction of the voice. Glaring at me was an older man, around my mother's age. His hair was the same color as mine, with patches of grey at the temples. I whimpered and pouted, knowing I was to be in trouble for ruining this man's trees. He dismounted off his horse, an old-looking thing, and walked towards me in long strides. We were even dressed similar, and I almost laughed, but for his thunderous face. He looked me over, staring in my eyes. I was too terrified to chastise him for being so bold. Something changed in his face and he cleared his throat, stepping back.
"Sorry miss, I thought you were a poacher, tryin' to hack down this forest. It's protected, you know." I watched his callused hands as he reached forward and grabbed the blade itself, pulling it free with hardly a knick.
"I am sorry sir, I did not know that." I looked Evelynn over, she was in fine condition. Now that I knew I was not to get in any serious trouble with this stranger, I felt calmer. When I looked up at him, he was studying my sword. He held out one hand, palm up. I noticed on his thumbs he wore flat, plain wedding rings, hammered from rose gold.
He did not say anything, but I knew and gently laid Evelynn across his hands. He held her point up and studied the edge, swinging her through the air a few times. He looked again at me and grinned, perking one corner of his mouth in a similar way to my own. "Are you good?"
I lifted my chin. This commoner was teasing me! "I am trained by the best teachers in all of Hyrule, sir. I believe that I am, in fact, 'good'." He snorted. He snorted at me! As if laughing!
As I watched, he drew a sword from his own scabbard. It was much longer than mine, and looked old but well cared for. I did not think he could afford a sword, but I would rather win a battle with him before accusing him of anything. I stepped back and took the same stance as with the tree. He stood there, patient, letting the sword hang from one hand useless. "Are you sure that's your stance, sir?"
"I'm ready whenever you are, little princess," was his relaxed reply. Very well, then!
I started with the same swing as I had with the tree, and in one quick sudden movement, he knocked the sword back with a swipe of his blade. I stumbled back a step. His swing was a lot harder than my instructor's. I stepped forward again, facing him, pointing at the ground, on the ball of my forward foot. I jumped forward, bringing my sword up. Again, this stranger knocked my blade around in quick little parries, moving backwards in a circle. I slowed down and gasped for breath, sweat running down my back already. "See, he's being too gentle with you," replied the old man.
I frowned. "My teacher is the best in Hyrule!"
"No, he's the second best. I'd know." Something had hardened in his face. "Come at me again." He stepped back a few paces, and this time I came at him a different way, crouched on my knees, legs apart, sword tip pointed at him and held with my palm up. This time, he not only knocked Evelynn away, but he smacked my arm with the flat of his blade.
"He's letting you stay too open. Tighten up your stance. Know to feel in yourself where your open spots are."
I shook my head, staring at him. "I only have two eyes!"
"Exactly. You have to find it with your nerves!" The old man jabbed my side with one finger. "You felt that, yeah?"
"Yes," I replied, gritting my teeth.
"So feel that all the time. Focus on it, and know to feel it through your whole body. Try and swing at me." He gave me his blade to hold, putting on a pair of heavy gauntlets that protected his palms and the backs of his hands. I waited until he'd secured the gloves, and I tried a very regular attack, swinging in an arc. He grabbed the blade with one hand and shoved it back. I stumbled and gaped at him. "See? I anticipated that. Learn to predict when they are going to attack. Everyone has a tell. You twitch one hand."
I put the offending hand behind my back, blushing.
"Find someone's tell, and use it to your advantage to predict their movements."
He went and retrieved Evelynn for me, holding her out. I took her back and handed him his sword, carefully flipping it around so that he would get the pommel.
The old man flipped his sword around casually. I was no longer so scared of him, but curious. He knew plenty about swordwork, and I wondered how he hadn't been able to make money off it. Was he a disgraced knight?
"Find my tell," he said suddenly. I looked up. He again held the same casual pose, and quickly he ran toward me. I gasped and put up my sword as he came swinging, his face full of deadly intent. Why hadn't I just run away when I had the chance? I was going to be murdered by this commoner! The worst was that he gently bumped my sword, and when I lowered my arms, he was grinning. "Come on now, little princess, I'm not gonna hurt you." I nodded, embarrassed. He moved back a few feet and came toward me again.
I managed an actual defense this time; I parried his sword and deflected it to one side, but he was fast and strong, and soon I was pushed back and ended up falling. He helped me up with his left hand. "I got you," he said suddenly, his eyes wide. I blinked and looked around my body; there was a tiny, hot burn on my shoulder where his blade had gotten through the fabric and on my arm.
I pouted and put my hand to the injury as he put his sword away, muttering curses and reaching in his horse's saddlebag, retrieving some bandages and a clear salve that I recognized from having many scrapes on my knees when I was a child. I visibly bristled, and he noticed. "I know, I know, but we can't have you getting sick."
He prepared a clean cloth with the salve and offered me his hand. "Squeeze this when it hurts." I grabbed his hand and did as told, hissing through my teeth and squeezing.
There was something comforting in it; it was the way my nurse had always tended to my wounds, the same squeezing of a hand or arm to fight off the pain. He wiped the blood away thoroughly, and wrapped a thin layer of clean bandages around my arm. I looked at him with a little frown. "Do I know you, sir?"
"Probably not," he replied casually. I looked away, and when he was done, he pulled my sleeve back down. "There, good as new."
I flexed my arm. The bandages were secure, but not so tight as to ruin my movement. "Thank you," I spoke softly, staring at the grass.
"It's my own fault, don't go gettin' me beheaded now." I laughed a bit and looked at him. He smiled at me with warmth, a few tears in his eyes.
"I won't sir, I promise! You've done me no harm!" I did not want him to panic that because of my failure in defense, he was to lose his life!
"Well, good enough. Take care, little princess." He clapped me on the uninjured shoulder, and turned to his horse.
I stopped him, calling out, "You nod your head!"
The old man turned and looked me over.
"That's your tell."
He nodded slowly at me now, climbing up on his horse and turning away, trotting off.