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Excerpt from Breaking Point, A Senior Writing Project

Michelle Catenacci, 2010

        Walking over to the pile of swords at the base of a tree, I picked up the same one I had been using for the last couple of days. It was slightly sturdier than the one I had started out with, but somehow lighter. The latter point may have had to do with the fact that this particular sword was made out of a different kind of wood. I had had the opportunity to see a real one a few days previously. Very few guards carried them on their person, preferring to carry small daggers which could be discreetly concealed. The wooden ones we were using were relatively close to the real thing. The blade was about two and a half feet long with a handle long enough to be grasped with both hands. Here I had hoped we would use rapiers or fencing swords. No, no, these were the big boys that could do some serious damage.

        As I took a couple of swings, Donovan crept up behind me. When he spoke I almost jumped clean out of my skin.

        “What have I been trying to tell you for an entire week now?” Donovan drawled out as he circled around to stand in front of me.

        “That if I don’t start blocking as many blows as I receive, I should just give up because in a real battle I would be dead?” I offered. I lowered my arm until it rested on my side and I gripped the handle tightly.

        Donovan chose to ignore my sarcastic remarks, which was probably a wise choice. “While that might be true, I will not stand for it. We will not leave the field this day until you start showing improvements. Am I understood?”

        I groaned loudly. This was indeed going to be yet another long day. “Yes, Captain,” I relented. It would just be easier if I agreed.

        “You will be practicing with me today,” he said almost casually as he bent down to pick up a sword from the pile.

        My mouth dropped open. Please tell me he was joking. I couldn’t even fend off Oliver, so what made Donovan think that I could with him? He had to be twice my size and definitely far stronger. I was toast. Correction, I was going to be crumbs of toast. There was going to be nothing of me left by the time this ended. I smacked myself mentally. If I continued to think like that than I would never succeed and succeed I must. It was quite clear that Donovan was already on his last nerve with me, so progress was vital at this point.

        “Shall we begin?”

        I snapped my mouth shut and gritted my teeth before nodding. I followed Donovan into the center of the clearing. Glancing around, I noticed that Oliver, Erik and Tristan were all standing to one side. Great! Not only was I going to have to fight Donovan, I had to do it in front of an audience. Could this possibly get any worse? I probably shouldn’t have even bothered to ask myself that question.

        When we reached the center of the field, Donovan faced me squarely as we both placed a clutched fist over our hearts in a ritual gesture to our opponent.

        “Remember,” Donovan called out as we raised our swords before us, “it is all in the eyes. You can see your opponent’s next move in his eyes before he ever makes it.”

        Donovan made the first move, sweeping his sword in a slow elegant arch towards my left shoulder. Lifting my own blade, they met with a loud clap. He swung to the other side and somehow I managed to deflect that one as well. These were practice shots which were not that hard to defend against.

        Donovan crouched in a position to strike. “Good. You would do well to defend yourself. I have seen what you can do; let us see if I can exploit your weaknesses. It is from those that you must learn.”

        He swung his weapon to almost purposefully hit my own. It was from this I learned to watch from where the blow would come, so that I could respond to it. The fight went on for several moments like this. It was almost easy because Donovan made it clear where his attacks would be coming from.

        Donovan pulled his sword away and took a slow step back.

        “Now, it will become harder and faster, I will not be so easy to read, but remember what you have learned here.”

        With that, he sprung, brandishing his weapon across my shoulder, and spinning to catch me with his elbow in the ribs. I quickly fell to the ground but still clutched my own weapon. The blinding heat that pushed wetness to my eyes came more from confusion than from pain. Though the pain was ample. Donovan hadn’t been kidding that it would get harder, though it had come rather quickly.

        Scrambling to my feet, it was all I could do to block Donovan's descent upon me. My legs had not had time to steady themselves and my ankle started to throb. I stumbled backwards from a succession of quick assaults, but I managed to block most them this time. However, Donovan’s pointed looks did not give me much hope that this was going to get any easier. I barely had time to catch my breath when Donovan's sword forced me into action again.

        The third time I picked myself up from the ground, I decided that I had had enough. Taking what brief pause there was I took a deep breath. I could do this, I told myself. I had to, otherwise I would end up as pulp and pulp was the last thing I wanted to be.

        I lunged forward, scoring my first direct hit upon Donovan since beginning. But Donovan was sturdier than I and my weak blow seemed to have no affect on him. Athletic excellence was refined in Donovan, whereas I had very little physical skills. My arms were strong from archery, but that was a completely different strength than what was needed here.

        Donovan smiled a genuine smile. This honestly freaked me out a little since it was a rare expression for him. "Are you not enjoying this game?"

        "Not really, no," I said, ducking under Donovan's swing.

        Before I even knew what happened, the flat of Donovan's sword caught me in the ribs again. The pain blurred my vision as I thought I felt a silent crack. In quick succession, I stumbled back, my foot catching on something; my ankle finally gave way and I fell to the ground. My sword fell from my hands and slid to a halt at Donovan’s feet.

        I couldn’t even look up at him as I wrapped an arm around my middle. Sweat poured down my face and neck from the pain and physical exertion. My hair fell in a curtain around me to help hide the tears which streamed down my cheeks.

        Donovan kicked the sword back to me, landing at my side. “Get up,” he intoned dangerously low.

        I swallowed hard on the bile creeping up the back of my throat, as I roughly wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. Rolling over, I planted my hands on the ground and tried pushing myself up. My breath came in short ragged gasps as I struggled to breathe. I couldn’t get myself to stand up, it hurt far too much.

        “Get up.” I heard Donovan hiss at me again.

        “I have seen enough of this!” a loud voice called out.

        My head was in such a pain-induced fog that I barely heard the whispered voices behind me or the footsteps. A pair of footsteps approached me from behind and someone came to kneel next to me. Turning my head, I gasped, as I saw Tristan besides me and Oliver standing behind him. It seemed as though Erik had run off somewhere. It was quite clear that I was surprised to see them, especially Tristan.

        “You will stay out of this,” Donovan commanded.

        “No.” There was a dangerous edge in Tristan’s voice. “I am thoroughly disgusted with you. I will not sit idly by and watch you do this to her. I cannot keep my silence any longer.”

        “I have treated her no differently that I would have done to any other recruit,” Donovan rationalized.

        “That is exactly the issue at hand. We do not treat our females this way. I know I would not tolerate having my sister treated thusly.”

        “She is not your sister and she was not given to me to train.”

        “This occurrence has only aided to re-solidify my feelings all long about your holding this position.”

        Donovan started coming towards us. At the moment, I wanted him nowhere near me. So, I lifted my hand, angling it towards Donovan’s boots as I squeezed my eyes shut. The energy surged through me and I felt it leaving through the tips of my fingers. After a few moments, I dropped my hand and softly fell back against Tristan. Opening my eyes, I looked to Donovan who was standing perfectly still, his boots appearing as if they had been cemented to the ground. He cursed them quietly as he tried to move them but to no avail. Tristan gave a quiet laugh beside me.

        “For the record,” I began slowly as breathing was rather difficult, “I don’t have any wish to be treated any differently because I am female. Donovan is right to do what he has.”

        “And the injuries you have sustained are all in a day’s work?” Tristan asked sarcastically.

        I whispered a quiet “yes”. As much as I might hate Donovan, I could not hold him responsible for any of this.

        “This is absurd! You are sitting here with at least two broken ribs and a sprained ankle and you are defending him?” Tristan threw up his hands in exasperation. “Obviously your wits are not completely intact. I am taking you back to the castle this instant for healing.”

        Tristan and Oliver helped me to my feet, each of them taking one arm. After I was stable, I held out my hand towards Donovan’s feet again and released him from his current state. Once free, Donovan came right over to us. His eyes fixed on me and for a moment I thought I saw some sort of remorse or sadness. I quickly shook my head; that was probably the last thing he was feeling. However there was something I had to ask him.

        "Before we go, can I have a moment of your time, Captain?” Donovan inclined his head and waited. I turned my head towards Tristan who did not move. “Alone, please.”

        “I do not like this,” Tristan said as he relinquished my arm to Donovan. With Oliver in tow, Tristan moved out of earshot.

        I stood balanced on my one good foot with Donovan holding onto my elbow so I wouldn’t topple over. He gazed down at me with those brilliantly blue eyes, waiting for me to speak first. One would think he would have a few choice words for me right now, but it seemed even he was not going to say them.

        “Is it true?” I asked. “What you said about treating me no differently?”

        “Of course. I told you so on day one. I do not plan on going back on those words.”

        “Why?”

        Donovan hesitated, his tongue poking out to wet his lips.

        “Never has a situation like this presented itself. Never has a she-elf stood where you are, trying to accomplish something that none has ever done before. I know you want to prove yourself, to prove to all of us that you can do this. What sort of triumph would that be if I allowed for you to only come halfway? If I were in your position, I would want nothing more than to be placed on the same level. It is the standard we all have to live up to regardless of where we came from.” There was a slight resentment in his voice with those last few words.

        As his words started to sink in, I realized how much sense they really made. Donovan had pretty much summed up everything rather neatly. It was strange, the two of us who can never seem to see eye to eye about anything agreed on this one detail. A very important detail of all things, as well. Maybe Donovan and I were making some sort of progress in the realm of being at least civil to each other. For whatever reason, I felt the need to point this out to him.

        Donovan laughed when he realized it too.

        “We come from the same stock, you and I. I am not one of them,” Donovan waved his hand in Tristan’s direction. “I came here as the son of a blacksmith to prove myself. Everything we do, everything we are is so wrought in tradition. It was all new to me as it is for you. I became an adult on this field alongside the likes of Laurie and Tristan; trained by Cornelius who wanted the very best from us all and would accept nothing less than perfect excellence. And it is here that you will prove to them all that you belong here. That is why I will not apologize for what I did today.”

        “I would take none,” I replied. I reached up with my free hand and placed it on top of Donovan’s. “While I am sure my ankle is the size of a grapefruit and my ribs have never taken this kind of abuse, you have only dealt to me what you received.”

        “Exactly so,” Donovan said as he placed his other hand on mine. He nodded his head in Tristan’s direction again, who now stood tapping his foot. “I think you better go with him now before he gets any funny ideas. I am sure he is itched for more of a reason to report me yet again.”

        Donovan helped me over to Tristan, who scowled at him briefly before leading me away. In return, Donovan just chuckled, shaking his head as he went about picking up our fallen weapons.


 
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All Information Copywright by Chimes Publication, Saint Mary's College 2010