“Again,” the boy said, pushing himself off of the ground shakily. He barely managed, but something inside of him roared to life. Some force, some anger, for having been bested. Again. The instructor looked down at him, holding his dulled practice shortsword delicately, at the ready. A grin appeared on his lips.

“Again? Boy, I’ve beaten you twice now. You have a third in you?”

The boy grunted, shoving a knee beneath him and, carefully, shakily, rising to his feet. In his hand, he gripped his own dulled sword tightly, as if it might slip from his grasp at any moment. It wobbled in his grip, but the boy sneered, and raised it, challenging the instructor.

He tsked. “Your pride will be your downfall.”

Pride? This wasn’t about pride, the boy thought. Maybe it had been before, every time he’d been bested by his instructor, maybe he’d gotten up because his pride was wounded. But this was something else. Some kind of anger, at himself, at his sword, at the world. He didn’t ask to be Crown Prince of Alturo, but the Gods had commanded it through his conception, and here he was, playing a role. Fighting for the sake of fighting. 

Not anymore though. His pride had been wounded enough, the thick scar-skin on his proud heart had hardened him and softened the blows more and more each time. No, this was something else. Some need. There was something to prove here. 

He lunged forward, slashing at his instructor, who deftly stepped backward. The instructor darted left, and whipped his wrist, flicking the tip of the sword at the boy, who parried the blow. Then, pushing his instructor’s sword skyward, the boy stepped forward again, animalistically, angrily, and slashed at his instructor’s leg. 

His instructor parried, and kicked the boy’s leg. He cried out, not out of pain, but out of rage. The face of his late father floated through his mind. Too weak, came to mind. Feeble child. Incapable.

His sister was now Queen. 

And here he was, getting whacked by a fake sword. Repeatedly.

He darted in, and landed a blow on his instructor’s side. The man huffed, almost doubling over, before standing up straight and saying, “So, you’re angry. Good.”

Their swords clashed in a flurry of blows as they danced around the sand pit. Every so often, he’d land a blow on his instructor, but more often than not, his instructor landed blows on him. His body shook, ached, threatened to give out on him. But he didn’t stop, lunging in, parrying, side-sweeping and twirling with his blade. 

At some point, the instructor backed off, a bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. “You’re angry,” he repeated, breathing heavily. “You weren’t fit to be king. You’re barely fit to hold a sword, boy. And now you’re angry.”

The boy growled, and charged forward, kicking up sand behind him. For his kingdom, his pride, his inner worth, he charged. A high swing, a low kick, they were fighting again, beautifully. The steel clinked and rattled as their swords met. The boy, sweating profusely, pushed his muscles to the limit and screamed as he went in for another attack.

But, the instructor swept his leg beneath the boy, kicking upward and knocking him on his back. The instructor placed the tip of his sword on the boy’s chest, and poked him a bit. “You’ve lost again,” he said. 

The boy groaned, rolling into his side and trying to regain some of his lost wind. His clothes were sand tattered and his body bruised. Everything hurt, everywhere. He let out a small, angry sob. Was this all he was? Second rate, good for nothing, worth less than his peers? A failure?

He rolled over, and, for a moment, laid in the sand, recovering. Tears formed in his eyes as he lay there, thinking, cursing his father’s name, bitterly rueing his sister, the Queen, angrily glaring at his instructor. The man looked down at him.

“Well? Shall we call it here for the day?” the man asked.

The boy grunted, and, shakily, began to push himself up. He’d quit, every time before, he’d quit after the first few failings. But this time, things were different. This time, he was angry. He scowled, grunting as he pushed himself to his knees, and then, leg by leg, to his feet. He wobbled for a moment as the world slightly spun. Still, he gripped his sword.

“Again,” he said.

The instructor eyed him over, a glint of surprise in his eyes, before grinning, and raising his sword to point it at the crown prince. 

“Again,” said the instructor, waving the boy on. “And again, until you get it right, boy.”

“I will be king.”

“I know,” he said, and for the first time, a small, genuine smile appeared on his lips. “But if you want that, you’ll have to get through me. So, again!”

“Again,” the boy grunted, taking a step forward. Then, he took another, and another, and then, he charged in, everything hurting, down to his soul, but he charged. Taking a leap, he raised his sword and, with a triumphant cry, met his instructor in combat, again.


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