The months passed quickly at the Shang training grounds. Tenar slowly improved in the use of many weapons. She had been in very few fights since her first day, but they were minor fights. She had got used to the hours of work and knew which masters gave severe punishments. And now it was Sunday; it was her free day.
There was a knock on her bedroom door.
Liam walked in. "Hi."
"Shang Fox gave me this to give to you. Said it was from your parents for your birthday."
Liam gave Tenar a parcel, and grinned at the smile on Tenar's face.
Tenar ripped open the paper, and opened a box. Inside was a pottery jar and two bags. She looked at the jar and saw it had a label.
"Bruise balm. Well, that'll come in useful!" said Liam.
Tenar grinned, glancing at him. Unlike Tenar, his black eye hadn't faded quickly. It was still there. She gave the pot to him, and he put it on her table. Then she looked at the two bags. Inside one bag was some red drops and there were biscuits in the other. Grinning, she put both bags on the table.
"What are the red drops?"
"Strawberry drops. They are a kind of sweet. I used to love them when I was with my parents."
Lima grinned. "When you start eating them, may I have one?"
Tenar looked at Liam's black eye. "Do you want some of the balm on that black eye of yours?"
"Yes please. It's starting to annoy me."
Tenar picked up the pot of balm. She opened the pot of balm with much difficulty, as the cork had been pushed in very hard. Inside was a clear smooth paste.
Liam put a bit on his finger and rubbed it into his eye socket. He put some more on, and asked Tenar if it was okay. Tenar was staring at him.
"The bruise, you can see it going."
Tenar picked up her mirror from the small box by her bed, and showed Liam.
"You can too." He removed the mirror. "Do you know this could come in very useful!"
Tenar grinned. "Of course it will."
Liam grinned back. "What shall we do then? Gemma and Brian have gone off somewhere, Stephen and Simon have got work to do for their bad behaviour, and so you are stuck with me."
Tenar laughed. "I don't mind that."
Liam thought for a moment. "Could you teach me how to use the glaive better?"
Tenar nodded. "Okay. While I think of it, could you teach me how to do hand-to-hand combat better??ry time I have had lessons in it my hands are hurt and sore from hitting things too much."
"The answer to that is simple. Punch the wall for a while a day until you build callouses on your knuckles. Then it doesn't hurt nearly so much."
Tenar punched the wall once. "Ouch. Lets do the glaive teaching first, before I maim my hands."
Liam grinned, and followed Tenar out of the room. Tenar stopped and walked back inside her room for a moment to fetch her proper glaive, and then locked the door. Then they started to make their way to the practice grounds.
"Is that your glaive?"
Tenar nodded. "It's a hand-me-down from my great grandfather. It was given to me because I could fight with it better than my father or mother ever could."
"I can understand that."
Tenar grinned. They stopped near the fence and got a wooden glaive, and then headed for a corner of the large field. When they got there, Tenar gave Liam her own glaive to let him feel the weight of it. She let him use it, as he had to get the feel of a proper glaive, not one of the wooden ones. Slowly she started right from the beginning just to see what he could and couldn't do.
An hour later found Tenar sitting on the log and Liam standing with the glaive, both of them worn out from practicing. Liam had made significant improvements, and was feeling much happier.
"Could you teach me some hand-to-hand combat now?"
Liam nodded. "Okay. In a minute. But first I must get some rest."
He leant the glaives on the log, and collapsed onto the ground.
"The glaive is tiring."
"Not when you get used to it."
"Used to it! I'm not even going to be good at it, let alone used to it!"
Tenar sighed. "It just takes practise."
"I'm sure it does. Like everything else here."
Tenar nudged him with her foot. He leaned on his elbow to look at her.
Tenar grinned. "You sound as if you didn't want to come here."
"I had to. The Shang Elephant found me and took me with him. My parents forced me to go with him as they didn't want me and the witch had said I would be the greatest of the greatest." Liam frowned at the thought.
Tenar felt bad about this. "I'm sorry. I didn't know about you not being wanted by your parents."
Liam sighed, and flopped back onto the grass. "It's alright. You weren't to know, especially since I haven't told that to anyone else."
"Just didn't feel like it I suppose."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"What was that about being the greatest of the greatest?"
"Her prediction isn't going to come true, is it? It isn't as if I am very good in many o my classes."
Tenar walked over and sat down next to Liam. "If you practise more it might come true."
Liam gave a short laugh. "Doubt it. I practise from dawn till dusk, yet I get no better."
"Well, you are better than me at lots of things."
"But you have only just got here. People my age are much better than me at everything."
Tenar made Liam look at her. "Stop it. You know you are better than everyone else at hand-to-hand combat, and you are very good with most weapons. I saw you. It is just you aren't so good with the glaive, that's all."
Liam sighed. "But I am the worst anyone has seen at that."
"No you're not. You're just not so good. And I might be able to change that. If I can teach you and then you will probably get better at the glaive."
"Would you carry on teaching me?"
"Of course," Tenar said with a smile. "But only if you teach me how to be better at hand-to-hand fighting."
Liam grinned, and stood up. Tenar stood up as well. "Shall we start now?"
Tenar nodded. Liam asked her to try to hit him. Tenar tried to hit him and kick him from every angle, but Liam fended it off with his arms. Eventually Tenar stopped, grinning. "Show off."
Liam grinned, showing white teeth. Then Tenar hit him on the shoulder. Liam looked surprised, and then stared at his shoulder.
"Sorry. But I managed to hit you."
Liam glared at her, and then tripped her up. Tenar found herself sprawling on the ground and stood up quickly. Liam showed her how to do some throws properly, and she practised them on him. She was amazed at how Liam could literally bounce straight back up.
By the end of an hour of being taught by Liam, she felt like she had definitely improved. They rested for a while, before going to lunch. There they met Stephen and Simon returning from their punishment of cleaning out the stables.
"Hi. How was it?"
"It stank!" replied Simon, holding his nose. "Honestly, what do they feed those horses?"
Tenar laughed. Shang Wolf walked past, and Stephen pointed to his back.
"He hasn't noticed yet Simon!"
Simon burst out laughing after glancing at Shang Wolf. Liam and Tenar looked at Shang Wolf's back and laughed. Stephen was grinning manically.
"I decided to decorate his back a bit."
"With horse manure!" cried Simon, and started laughing again.
Tenar thought of something. "But wont he realise it was you two?"
"No," came the reply, "because as well as us there were a few other people. We were in the end stables well away from him, so he wont think it was us."
"Aren't you nice people!" said Liam.
"Well, what have you people been doing?"
"Training," replied Tenar.
"How did I guess!" said Simon.
"I thought you would be moping because I wasn't there!" Simon said cheekily to Tenar. Tenar glared at him.
"She showed me how to use the glaive properly," said Liam, "and in return I helped her with plain fighting."
"I could teach you the axe if you want??p;quot; suggested Stephen.
"Thanks," Tenar replied, "but I am okay at that whereas I am absolutely rubbish at hand-to-hand combat."
Simon comforted Stephen. "Sorry Stephen," he said, grinning wickedly. "She's Liam's girl now. You're out of the running."
"No one can say that I am 'their girl'. I'm no one's girl," cried Tenar with indignation.
Stephen elbowed Simon. "There Simon! Stop teasing her! You will get as bad as me, and then I will have to get worse!"
Everyone hushed. Ribekah and her brothers, along with an evil looking boy were walking towards them purposefully.
"Who is that?" asked Tenar.
"Justin Raveneye. He is an Adept, and their cousin."
Tenar could see that he was an Adept. He was wearing a black shirt with the same leather breeches that they were wearing. He was at least a head taller than any of them.
The group walked up to Liam, Tenar, Simon and Stephen.
"Hey, look," sneered Justin. "Beauty Queen actually has friends!"
Tenar felt she must reply to this. "At least I don't need henchmen around me that I can call friends."
Justin gave her an evil look. "If you need to keep friends like these then you are better off without them."
"I'd rather be without you and your 'friends'."
"Yes, well I am afraid that as long as you are here you wont be without enemies."
"I think I will never be able to make as many enemies as you. You must have made a new world record."
Ribekah barged in front of her cousin.
"You wont like us as enemies, Goldflame."
"Well, it looks as if I am stuck with you, doesn't it."
"She was the one that tripped me up!" cried Alex, pointing at Tenar.
"Took you a long time to work that out," replied Liam.
"That's quite fast for him," said Stephen.
"Change that to very fast," said Simon. Alex glared at him, and punched him in the stomach. Simon staggered backwards a few paces before getting his breath back.
Stephen looked at Simon, and then kicked Alex hard on the shoulder so that he fell onto his back. Then Stephen jumped backwards to avoid Ribekah's fist, and tripped her up so she landed on top of her brother.
Justin flew at Tenar, only to be stopped by Liam. Liam was just as good as Justin, and once Justin had realised that he fought fiercely. Haran leapt over Ribekah and Alex, and came after Tenar.
Tenar looked at the blonde haired pig before her. He was much larger than her, but she thought that he didn't look amazingly strong. She kicked his chest and leapt away. Haran reeled backwards slightly, and then came at her again. He was very slow, but Tenar suddenly realised he was very strong when his fist slammed into the side of her face. She flew sideways and grazed the right side of her face on the grit path. Haran went to kick her, but Tenar dodged his foot, grabbed it, and pulled him over. As he slammed into the ground, Tenar jumped back up. Haran tried to trip her up, but she ran a bit further away. Haran climbed to his feet, and Tenar readied herself. If this doesn't take him out I will be very surprised, she thought. As he came lumbering towards her, she ran at him. He prepared himself for a kick, but instead she jumped, did a forward roll in the air, and slammed her feet into his head. He fell onto the ground, and lay still. Tenar, satisfied that she had knocked him out, turned to look to the others.
Liam was lying on the floor, bruises all over him. Stephen was sitting on Alex, and Simon was fighting Ribekah. But where was Justin?
The answer came when her feet disappeared from under her, and she collapsed to the ground. Justin kicked her in the stomach, and she winced in pain. He kicked her again in the mouth. She crouched into a ball. He slammed his heel into the small of her back, and she cried out in pain. Justin kicked her once more, and picked up Haran. Satisfied that he had won, he shoved Stephen off Alex, and the four left.
Stephen ran over to Tenar.
"Look at me."
She did. He could see her mouth and nose were bleeding, and a black bruise was quickly forming on her cheek.
"You did well to knock him out."
Tenar grinned. "I tried my best to get Justin, but I didn't have much of a chance."
Liam limped over, helped by Simon.
"I never knew you were good at gymnastics."
"I never knew either," she responded.
She looked at her friends in turn. Stephen had a cut lip and a few purple bruises. Simon had a rapidly darkening face that was covered in bruises. Liam looked the worst off. Seeing her studying his injuries, he explained.
"He did the same to me as he did to you, only first he took the trouble to give me this." He pointed to a large graze on his left arm. "He threw me along the gravel."
Tenar pointed to the graze on her arm. "Same here. Lets all get back to my room, and use my bruise balm."
They didn't have a chance to. Shang Wolf walked up behind them.
"You lot. My office. NOW!"
Avalon Publication (Feburary 2001)