"Princess Cornelia has come to watch your training today," the General announced. Inwardly, Guilford wasn't quite sure what to think. He'd heard stories of Cornelia; She was an excellent strategist and brilliant pilot. However, he couldn't quite wrap his mind around the concept. Neither activity seemed befitting of a Princess and it was rare that anyone except a member of the Britannian Army could do either of those things well. Even within the ranks of the Britannian Army, there were few highly esteemed pilots and strategists. Guilford planned to be among those few.
Would it be difficult to impress the Princess? Would she be satisfied with the way the troops had been trained thus far? And why was she monitoring the training, anyway? Guilford's head was buzzing with questions and it was quite distracting.
He did his best to focus on sparring with the opponent before him. His opponent was Lynette Blanks. Blanks had been his partner since her first day of training. The two of them were seen together so frequently that they were often mistaken for siblings. Blanks, in her few short months of training, was almost as proficient as he. Guilford, however, was able to operate his Knightmare faster than she, giving him a slight advantage. He dodged most of the attacks that were thrown at him and returned with several strong blows of his own, though Blanks was able to skillfully dodge these.
It appeared as though Guilford and Blanks had reached a stalemate until, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her. He saw Princess Cornelia. And she was watching him intently.
Guilford's brief loss of concentration was all the time Blanks needed to win their match. Guilford's Knightmare was quickly knocked off its feet. As Guilford righted his Knightmare, he heard the General's cutting voice.
"Blanks, Guilford, Princess Cornelia requests your audience. Exit the Knightmares, please."
"Yes, My Lord," Guilford responded without hesitation. He quickly stepped out of his Knightmare, his head swarming with questions once more. Was his meeting with the Princess a good thing? Perhaps he would be punished for losing.
Blanks walked to his side. She glanced over at him, looking just as nervous as he felt.
"What do you think Cornelia wants with us?" she asked, her voiced hushed.
"I'm sure it has more to do with you than with me," he admitted to her. He glanced at her, nervously. Blanks shook her head, her usual confident demeanor returning once more.
"She wants to see you too," she reassured him, "otherwise she wouldn't have bothered meeting you face-to-face."
Guilford shrugged, searching for Cornelia approaching. He spotted her after a few seconds. She was a woman of average height, with deep pink hair, shining eyes, an air of command about her, and something silently etched into her facial features that Guilford guessed to be arrogance. Nevertheless, as she halted in front of him he bowed deeply.
"Private Blanks," Cornelia said, addressing Lynette, "How long have you trained at this base?"
"Twenty three weeks, Your Highness," Blanks replied timidly.
"You know Commander Darlton, I presume," Cornelia assumed. Blanks nodded her head. "Report to him, tell him I've sent you. You've been reassigned. You will cease your training and serve directly under my command," Cornelia's voice was steady, showing no sign of pride in Blanks' work, though her actions stated otherwise.
Blanks bowed deeply once more. Guilford could tell that she was excited. He could almost see her small body quivering. He wished he could be happy for her, but within himself he had a desperate sinking feeling. If Blanks was to be rewarded for winning their match, then surely he was to be punished.
"Guilford, is it?" Cornelia asked once Blanks had exited. Guilford bowed once more, careful to show the proper respect.
"Get back into your Knightmare frame. You've got lots of work ahead of you," she said, addressing him curtly. "General," she said, turning her attentions away from Guilford, "bring out my Knightmare frame. I should like to supervise Private Guilford's training myself."
"With all due respect, Your Highness," the General responded, "Private Guilford is an exceptional Knightmare pilot, however, he would present no challenge for you. Perhaps you would prefer-"
"-Bring me my Knightmare, General. Leave the rest for me to decide," Cornelia said. The General bowed and complied.
Guilford's pride was shattered. He retreated back to his Knightmare frame, his blood boiling. As a private, he was used to his superiors talking about him as though he were not present. Cornelia's apparent distaste for him was frustrating. Yet, if she was so unpleased with his progress, why would she challenge him herself?
Cornelia was merely a girl of nineteen, yet she commanded one of the most capable teams in the Britannian Army. This was her reputation. Though he was equivalent to her age, he realized he could never compete with her. Was she setting him up to fail? Did she enjoy watching him flounder?
Guilford squared his shoulders and mustered up his concentration. He would not fail. He would not fail in front of Cornelia. He would prove to her that he was an able bodied soldier, quite capable of combat. Perhaps he would manage to impress her just as much as Blanks had, though Guilford quite doubted so.
"On your mark, Princess," Guilford said, waiting for Cornelia's signal. He merely heard her laughter over the line and barely had time to react as her Knightmare charged straight for his, lance in hand.
"Private Guilford," she said, "your opponent does not signal you before an attack."
Guilford gritted his teeth, holding on tightly to his controls. It became apparent rather quickly that he was no match for Cornelia. While he was able to move his Knightmare quickly, Cornelia not only used the strength of her Knighmare, but also the strength of her mind.
Upon his defeat, Guilford was once more ordered to exit his Knightmare. Cornelia exited her Knightmare as well, walking towards him. He bowed deeply once more.
"Walk with me," she commanded him. Together they walked, no particular destination set, just placing one foot after the other. They traveled in silence at first until Cornelia spoke.
"You may speak your mind to me, Private. I can sense you're thinking about something," her words were short and emotionless.
"If I'm not overstepping my bounds, Princess," Guilford began, still careful to show Cornelia the proper respect, "How is it that one as young as you can command one of the greatest teams in the Britannian Army?"
"An excellent question, Private," she said, her voice still uniform, "It is because I use strategies, Guilford. A soldier or commander can have all the strength in the world, but it will do him no good if he doesn't have a flexible strategy. I hope I demonstrated this clearly to you during our match."
"Yes, Princess," he said. "Though I'm afraid I've never been much of a strategist."
"It is something you will learn in time," Cornelia said, though her voice held little patience. It was as though she was commanding him to learn how to strategize. This bothered Guilford but he said nothing.
"I will return tomorrow," Cornelia said, changing the subject slightly. "You have a lot to learn and I'm afraid you're a bit behind schedule."