Know Yourself, Seek Improvement


“Good fight! Good fight.” Captain Bailen approached from the side of the field, helping combatants to their feet and shaking hands. “Good fight, all of you. Tido, good wrist lock. Channer, how’s your wrist?” He paused to see Channer give him a nod, turning his wrist around and rubbing his neck with his other hand.

Captain Bailen continued with his assessment of the struggle. “Domire, if you’re leading the defense, you need to give more instructions. You hung back somewhat and had a good view of what was going on. You’re tall enough that you could see over your opponents’ shoulders. Your siblings and other guards were in the thick of it. Let them benefit from your view. Aton, that was good that you went with it. Went well over all, but… All of you, you can’t let your guard down when you think you’re winning. Yes, you stopped the assault, yes you were taking them down. But where are they from and what is their full mission? A dead Sageman can’t tell you anything. Besides, this could have been only the first wave. Once it’s been long enough without his return, they’d start sending more anyway. They only have to stop because of crowding. True, in a real situation, more of your reinforcements would be arriving right now, but you can’t let your guard down for a moment.”

Bailen looked over at Valkyr and Pilbon, who was giving her a critique on her archery. “Master Pilbon, can you give us a minute please?” Pilbon nodded, and Valkyr came closer to the group. “Valkyr, how’s your training with the blade coming?”

Valkyr shrugged. “I’m working on it, but it feels somewhat alien to me still.”

Bailen sighed. “You’ve got to work on that short sword. You need to be able to fight in close quarters. Your archery is great and all that, but sometimes—like this scenario here—you’re more needed up close. Even you have to be careful where you’re shooting when there’s a fight like this one. I saw you sighted in and holding shots because it wasn’t safe to take them. That’s when you pull your sword out and jump in.”

Valkyr nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Misol, you did well assisting Tido. Keep that up. Now all of you, overall, good job. Remember, tomorrow in front of everyone, don’t be nervous. Just do what you’ve been doing and keep your wits about you. When your Aunt Stalfa did her Departure—remember, she only has a shield—she carried a dagger as well and used the shield as best she could. She put on a great show, too. You just do what you can.” He nibbled his lip momentarily. “That’s it for today. Well done, have a good day, get ready for tomorrow.”

He turned and walked off to see to his duties with the Guard.

Pilbon called Valky over and resumed his archery critique. Tido stepped up to Aton. “Thanks, Aton. You had my back.”

Aton shrugged. “We all have each other’s backs. That’s just the way the fight went. Besides, they don’t attack me as much since I’m supposedly not so threatening as the rest of you.” Aton sighed. “First prince of Grendhill without a weapon, best painter, best musician, best on the ball field. No proper weapon of my own. You and the others have a clear job. Join father and Aunt Stalfa and lead the guard and protect the land. I’ll paint all our enemies away, or serenade them to pacifism. Some help that is.” He sighed, frowning.

“No, Aton,” Tido assured him, “you’ve got it made. You’re one of us, and a fantastic fighter. Your fighting…isn’t the same as the rest of us.” He hesitated, admitting Aton’s sensitive spot. “But after Father and Domire, you’re the best with the sword. Only I can best you with a battle axe. Only Misolfa can outshine you with the hammer, and only Valkyr can hit targets more true with an arrow. You shouldn’t be bummed. You’re the best with those two rapiers, too, and throwing a dagger.”

Domire and Misolfa walked up. Pilbon continued coaching Valkyr, who was drawing her bow and pointing practice arrows at a post on the edge of the grass-filled square.

Aton kicked the grass with his toe. “You’re right, Tido, of course. But you guys get to go on your trip. Well, I get to go there. But then I come right back. You guys actually go to the training point and pick up your weapons. I just come back and it’s life as usual. It’s not fair.”

They saw Pilbon finish with Valkyr, and Valkyr started jogging towards them. They all began walking back towards the city. Valkyr caught up after a few more seconds.

“So, what’re we all doing this afternoon?” Valkyr said. She had a twinkle in her eye. Aton relaxed at the change of subject.

Domire answered. “Well, Father wanted us to go watch him in court, but from the sound of your voice it sounds like you have plans afterward.”

Valkyr pursed her lips. “Well, perhaps I do, perhaps I don’t.”

Misolfa laughed out loud. “Okay, Valkyr, you’re going to go see Jacquer the Baker again, aren’t you?”

Valkyr turned with an amused fire in her eyes. “Don’t call him that! Just ‘Jacquer’ will do just fine, thank you very much!”

Misolfa couldn’t help herself. “Fine,” she said. She drew her voice out laboriously in a show of resignation. “Even though his father is a baker, and  ‘Jacquer the Baker’ rhymes so nicely—what more could you ask for—I suppose I will respect your wishes and call him ‘Just Jacquer’ from now on!”

Valkyr said nothing and punched her sister in the shoulder.


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