Co-written with D.


A Little Training
Drycastle, The Barrens, W/S 380

Lupo paced in the training area, his spear resting over his shoulders. “You sure you want me to help you train, Little Fox? I’m not the best of teachers–”

“And I’m a terrible student; we’ll be fine.” Vitoria’s shoulder shrugged lightly as she tossed her cloak aside. She missed the warmth immediately, and paced slightly to keep warm, before she realized she was mimicking Lupo and grinned. “Even if you weren’t one of the best people to learn from–which you are–” She shifted her grip on the unfamiliar weapon. “Everyone else is too busy, or gone missing, or…”

Lupo took his hat off by and laid it on a nearby rock along with his bandana. “Right then. If you’re sure, I think we should begin immediately… you look cold, Little Fox.” He began to spin his spear around in his hands decoratively before letting it rest with the spear tip against the toe of his boot. “First lesson: how to block.” As he finished the sentence he smirked and kicked the tip of his spear hard, making it fly point first towards his opponent, shifting his grip straight away to catch it as it moved. He had to attack first and quickly; he did not want her dwelling on what she didn’t want to say.

“Lupo!” What meant to sound chiding turned into a laugh as she jumped away, trying to bat the spear away — and succeeding enthusiastically, if not exactly gracefully. “Alright, alright — I’m ready.”

His smirk continued as he made repeated probing attacks, each one a little wide or a little high but each with full speed and force. Each time a blow was parried he bounced backwards, making full use of his reach and his opponent’s lack of it.  After a dozen or so probing blows, he put a little space between them. “So tell me, Little Fox… what brought about the new choice in weapon?”

She shrugged, trying to keep her eyes on the tip of his spear, concerned this was a ruse. “Well, no more banner means a free hand, I suppose.” She took in a deep breath, and tried to keep light on her feet. “And I’m tired of not being taken seriously. Vitoria, fall back, Vitoria, go there, Vitoria, don’t be rash — like I’m ever rash on the battlefield, like I don’t know what is at stake.” She exhaled slowly to hide a sigh. “Like I’m not capable of holding my own, like I’ve not had to hold my own before. Sick of it.”

Letting the spear tip trace a figure of eight in front of him, Lupo slowly advanced towards her. “Oh, I am very much sure you can hold your own, Little Fox.” He switched the movement of his spear to a side sweeping motion as he closed the distance to striking range. “And why should you care if others take you seriously? You are the best judge of what you can do.” She made a dismissive face, and he pressed forward. “The wolf does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep and the fox should not concern herself with the opinions of hens.” He gripped his spear tightly, changing his grip to one more akin to a greatsword hold, and swung it in a high overhead blow, hoping to draw her into a block.

She ducked, and prodded her spear at his legs without intent to hit him. “I don’t care!” Her voice sounded petulant. “I’m just sick of being treated with kid gloves. Shielded, protected, ‘you’ve suffered enough so let us handle this’, it’s –” She narrowed her eyes at him, and swung again with more force towards his centre. “I see what you’re doing. I thought we were going to train, not chat like old men around the fire!”

He brought his spear across his body, holding it at both ends to block the blow aimed at his hip. As the shaft made contact with her weapon he turned his body towards her, rolling his body down the length of her spear and launching a hard elbow towards her head as he span.

She squeaked, then cried out as the elbow connected. With a warcry she dropped her spear and grabbed his, tangling legs through his and trying to wrestle and trip him down to the floor. “Taste Briar wrath, you wolfy bastard!” Laughter rang around the courtyard. She had an older brother; she knew how to wrestle longer legs to the ground.

He struggled not to laugh at the comment. Trying to lock his legs, he momentarily maintained his balance as he wrestled the spear with her. Managing to lift her off her feet, the spear up to his shoulders, using his height to his advantage, he suddenly let out a grunt of pain as Vitoria brought her heel down into the side of his kneecap. Finally losing balance, he braced his shoulders for impact as he toppled over, still clutching the spear tight, and now with the Little Fox on top of him.

She tried to stop laughing, before she hopped and rolled away. “You remind me of ‘Drigo.” She snatched up her own spear and again resumed a ready position. “He never has time to spar with me anymore.” A corner of her lips turned into a wry grin. “And he always falls for that trick, too.”

Lupo chuckled to himself as he stumbled to his feet, dusting himself off and resetting his guard with his spear. A wolfish grin returned to his face. “Congratulations are in order, Little Fox … you are the first cicisbeo to successfully ever get me on my back.” Without waiting for a response he took the initiative and resumed his probing attacks, this time the wide and high blows replaced with rapid ones looking for actual gaps.

Really?” Her face lit up as she registered the praise alongside surprise, before she let out a squeak and had to focus again on his attacks and her defence.

***

“So how come you decided to come to the Barrens this season?” She slumped on the ground, leaning against the bench Lupo sat on, and took a long drink of water before passing the cup up to him.

“In honesty … I’m not quite sure. My unit are in Mournwold this season, but I didn’t really feel like following Marcher orders. So I thought I might come and freelance here a little. Besides, a lot of people I care about are fighting out here and it’s not too far from Holberg.” Lupo groaned as he reached down to a nearby satchel and pulled out a bright red apple. Taking a bite, he continued to speak between chews, “Besides, I had to come and support my sister. She’s always been there for me when I’ve needed her.” He took another large bite out of the apple, and offered Vitoria the remaining half.

“It’s nice of you to come support Andrea.” She accepted the apple and nibbled it. “I guess I was just surprised that you wanted to come, with the region cursed and all.”

He chuckled. “This will be the third time I’ve been in a region with this bloody curse. It’s nothing that I cannot endure,” he said with a shrug. “Besides, an extra physick being here could probably help, not to mention I’ve seen the trouble you can get into, Little Fox. I had better stay nearby in case there are any more mineshafts that need exploring.” He let himself smirk again as he reached for a nearby water skin.

“Do you really think I just get into trouble?” Her fingers idly rubbed along the right side of her cheek, shivering uncomfortably as her nail touched the unfamiliar ridges of new bark.

“No, I just think trouble has a knack for finding you.” He took a long drink of water and sighed. “How come, no matter how much you will it, there is never wine in these things? Each scar you bear is a visual reminder of a life lesson learned, Little Fox, and briars display their lessons prouder than the rest of us. It’s nothing to worry about.” A sincere smile replaced the normal smirk on his face.

“It’s starting to eat at me more, I suppose. Not the bark, no use crying over that. Each patch was gained in service to the Empire, I am proud of that.” She shrugged, and stood quickly, moving across the courtyard and searching her pack for another waterskin. She pulled it out and carried it back, tossing it into his lap. “Just, that lingering feeling that people are thinking I’m a liability. I might not be the wisest, but I’m vigilant. They see the action and just assume I’m being reckless, like I’m incapable of… It’s…”  She sat down beside him and leaned back against the wall, no longer a cicisbeo, simply a weary soul. She pointed at the second skin in his lap. “That one’s wine, by the way. Is that what it’s like to be a changeling, too?”

Taking a swig of the wine, he grinned. “I could not possibly describe what it is like to be touched by summer, but my brother Niccolo always called me reckless. I believe he used to think of me as a liability, but that never stopped him trusting me.” She looked up at him for a moment, pensive. “Vitoria, I honestly believe that you are a liability tono one, and were you my sibling I would gladly fight shoulder to shoulder with you. I WILL fight shoulder to shoulder with you. But stop seeking the recognition of others, or caring about how they perceive you: do YOU consider yourself reckless, do YOU think you’re incapable on the field, do YOU consider yourself a liability? If the answer is no to all three, then maze damn what others think.” Taking a further swig of wine he threw the skin into Vitoria’s lap. “Tell me, Little Fox, out of the Barossas in the last battle, who was it who broke ranks, got cut off and defied orders from their General? And out of the Barossas, who was it who went out into the enemy’s lines and recovered aforementioned reckless Barossa?”

“Not narrowing it down enough there, Lupo.” The wine skin thuded hard against her thigh but felt cool against the tender muscle, and she shifted it absently, thinking long and hard, her eyes unfocused. “I think that circumstances have made me what I am; no chance to change me, make me other than what I am.”

Lupo groaned as he stood up. “You are what you make yourself. If you don’t like what it is, then forge yourself anew. All that circumstance has made you is strong, it made you a survivor. It’s down to you to make yourself what you want to.” Stretching his shoulders and neck, he offered a hand towards Vitoria. “Now what do YOU want to be, Little Fox?”

She grinned, tossing the wine aside, and took his hand to stand. “Ripped at every edge but still a masterpiece.”

***

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