A few days later, wearing my usual attire again for which I was grateful, I was met by a red haired Satyr and his son. I was surprised to see that the son was the Satyr that I had ordered to take care of Elthinor. I was almost sure his name was Pinnathir. He smiled at me hesitantly while his father conversed with Nolan about his level of skill.
“Hello again,” Pinnathir said shyly. “I took care of the Elf just as you told me to.”
“And you did a marvelous job,” I said with a smile. “My name is Filynora by the way. And I must thank you for taking care of my Elven friend. I know that Elves are your enemy and that it must be hard to be friendly towards him.”
He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away from me briefly. “Personally, I have no qualms with Elves, but they do attack our villages and destroy and loot and…kill Satyrs and even Fauns and Kids.”
I frowned. “That just does not sound like Elves,” I said, shaking my head. “I lived with them for a couple of months, and they seemed just as peaceable as you do.”
“Maybe it was because you were Human?”
“Maybe,” I admitted. “But Elthinor told me that Satyrs are just as bad. He and his sister were kidnapped by one when they were younger.”
“Now that does not sound like Satyrs!” he exclaimed.
“Maybe it is some kind of mistake?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Pinnathir said with a shrug.
“Filynora is it?” the older Satyr asked, cutting into our conversation.
“Nolan says you have less experience with swords than he does. He also told me that you have practiced with heavy sticks to simulate swords.”
“That sounds about right,” I replied, smiling brightly.
“Good. You both shall start with the basics,” the Satyr said. “My name is Terryn, by the way. We start in an hour. My son will show you to the training room.”
He left us abruptly and we stared after him for a moment, a bit disoriented from his sudden departure. Pinnathir gave a little smile and shrugged.
“He does that a lot,” the red haired Satyr said quietly. “He is too busy to wait around and idly chat.” The young Satyr sounded a little bitter, but shook his head and smiled again. “Now, follow me.”
We did as he said and wound through a couple hallways and ended up in a large room with a rack of spears and other weapons in one corner of the room. Other than that, it was wide open space. Like in all Satyr buildings, which were always one story, the floor was dirt; polished wood was too slick for their hooves, and they did not have the patience to carry and carve enough stone to lay a stone floor. The walls were wood and the roof was high enough that I figured Gabrithon could fit comfortably in the room with room to stretch his arms over his head; lucky for the Centaur, Satyrs liked high ceilings. This room, unlike personal rooms, had no red anywhere. Pinnathir watched us as we looked around. I wished Elthinor was there to make me feel better, but he was out in the snow with Gabrithon and Valtrak teaching Satyrs about Vampires and Aswangs and what little he knew about Naga. I was handed a stick and Nolan smirked, sliding into a defensive stance.
“Come on Fily. A little practice before we are bored to tears by stances and positions?”
I felt a smile curl my lips. “Nothing would make me happier.”
We stood there, watching each other carefully. Pinnathir backed away and knelt down, keeping well away from us and observing. Nolan suddenly lunged forward and the sticks met with a crack. He drew back and lashed out again, forcing me to duck and move back; he might have been stronger, but I was quicker and easily dodged his strikes. Sword fighting was like dancing, I thought, recalling the night of the attack. And we twirled, ducked, and weaved as if there was an invisible rope between us; when he leaned forward, I leaned back and when I struck, he dodged.
We had each landed a few good blows when Pinnathir cleared his throat. We paused and looked at him. He stood and walked over to us, absently twirling a stick he had picked up.
“Your way of fighting is so…well, rudimentary,” he said slowly.
“How else do you suggest we do it?” Nolan asked, sounding a bit winded and a little annoyed.
“Well, our swordplay is more graceful,” Pinnathir replied.
Nolan and I stared at him for a moment, glanced at each other, and then both began to laugh. Gracefully? We were talking about fighting monsters here. Survival even. What did grace have to do with any of it?
When we finally stopped laughing, Pinnathir was staring at us indignantly. “What?” he asked.
“You are just too innocent,” Nolan said, an amused lilt to his voice.
“What do you mean by that?” Pinnathir demanded, his green eyes blazing.
“You have obviously never been in a real fight before,” Nolan replied. “One where your very life was in danger. If you had, you would give up this notion of being graceful while fighting.”
“You, too, eh?” a disgruntled voice asked.
We turned to see Elthinor looking very irritated with his sword at his hip. Beside him was Gabrithon, his own sword with him, and behind him was Valtrak with his axe at his back. The Elf and the Centaur looked angry and offended.
“They called us heathen!” Gabrithon exclaimed, stomping his front feet. “They said that our style of fighting is-”
“Rudimentary and ungraceful?” Nolan asked dryly.
“Yes,” Gabrithon said moodily as he crossed his arms.
“They were fascinated by my axe,” Valtrak said, smirking up at the Centaur. “Don’t get me wrong, they still thought it was heathen, but they did pay it more attention than their swordplay.”
“Be quiet!” Gabrithon snapped, glaring distastefully down at the Dwarf.
I sighed at their behavior. I had hoped that with us being stationary for so long they would start to get along, but it seemed like that was only a dream at this point. They argued every chance they got, taking opposite sides, I was sure, just to be against each other and not because of any firm beliefs on their part. It was beginning to grate on my nerves to the point that I was ready to lock them in a room together with weapons and let them fight out their hate for each other. Something in my face must have betrayed my thoughts because they were all suddenly staring at me again.
“Is something bothering you, Filynora?” Valtrak asked; I still could not get him to call me Fily.
“Why do you two not get along?” I asked irritably.
“He is a Dwarf!” Gabrithon exclaimed.
“He is a Centaur,” Valtrak growled.
“Yeah? Nolan is a Human and Elthinor is an Elf! You do not see them fighting.”
“Maybe because Nolan is afraid that the Elf will hurt him,” Pinnathir cut in.
I spun on him, warm anger coloring my cheeks. He looked taken aback and bowed his head respectfully. It did not help.
“Look, I do not need you to start arguing with Elthinor. It is bad enough that those two are constantly fighting. Please try to get along with him?”
“If that is what the lady wishes,” he said, though I could hear strain of holding back in his voice.
“Thank you, Pinnathir,” I said then sighed and turned to Gabrithon and Elthinor. “So, you two are heathens who do not know how to properly wield a sword, but you two have had experience actually fighting with swords. What do you think Nolan?”
“I think I would prefer them teaching us rather than the naïve Satyrs,” he said bluntly, and Pinnathir lost his temper.
“How dare you?! My father is the best swordsman in the entire Satyr kingdom! You should be honored to learn from him!”
Nolan stared at him for a moment then gestured for me to give me my stick. I did so, a bit confused. He tossed it to Pinnathir, who caught it and stared at it.
“What is this for?” he demanded.
“Elthinor?” Nolan asked with a grin, offering his own stick to the Elf.
“Gladly,” Elthinor said, answering the unspoken request.
I watched with a small smile as Elthinor took the stick and immediately lunged for Pinnathir. The Satyr yelped and ducked.
“What are you doing?!” Pinnathir gasped.
“Defend yourself! The evil Elf is attacking you!” Elthinor laughed, brandishing the weapon.
“Let’s see your grace now!” Nolan mocked and my smile disappeared. He looked guilty and sank back into his shy nature, giving a weak smile and a mumbled apology.
After that, all our focus was on the fight. Pinnathir was all too obviously bewildered and disoriented and Elthinor immediately landed several good blows. The Satyr staggered back after a moment and a fire suddenly blazed in his eyes. He lashed out without thought and Elthinor barely countered the blow before another one came in. Pinnathir gave an exhilarated laugh as the Elf stumbled back, a bruise already blooming on his arm. The red haired male leaped at the Elf again and Elthinor and Pinnathir locked weapons again and again, the Satyr surprisingly good at transferring from his graceful style to the more ‘heathen’ style that his people claimed we had. He seemed to be having fun with it, too. Their clashing ‘swords’ masked the sound of the door opening behind us, but not the shout that came with it.
“What is going on here?”
Pinnathir and Elthinor paused and we all looked to see Terryn standing there with his hands on his hips. He was staring, I noticed, between Elthinor and his son. Pinnathir could not contain himself, even with his father sternly staring at him.
“So that was real fighting?” he asked with a breathless laugh.
“Well, sort of,” Elthinor replied with a smile. “I was not actually trying to kill you, so not really, but it is closer than your ‘graceful’ style.”
Terryn did not like that. “What are you talking about? That was nothing like the sword fighting I taught you!”
Pinnathir looked at us and, after a moment’s hesitation, defended us. “But father,” he said in a small voice. “From what I can see, they are right about this.”
“Right about what?” Terryn demanded, his voice cold.
“Our fighting style,” Pinnathir muttered, his eyes flitting away as his burst of bravery fled him.
“Oh? Is there something wrong with it?”
“It is difficult to keep such grace while really fighting an enemy that could easily kill you,” I cut in smoothly.
“Prove it then,” Terryn challenged, his eyes narrowing.
I grew irritated about this argument; we had basically had the same argument with Pinnathir and proven our point to him. I guess it’s my turn, I thought irritated as I snatched the sticks away from Pinnathir and Elthinor and tossed one to Terryn.
“Fily,” Elthinor said, cautioning me.
I ignored it and lashed out. At first Terryn was able to remain graceful, but as the minutes ticked by and he slowly began to grow frustrated by my constant attacks; no matter how many times he struck me, I kept coming back for more. He was beginning to learn that I had much more resolve than I looked like I should have and that I could take more pain than most girls. I wanted to laugh at his growing irritation, but I did not have the breath to. As he grew more disgruntled, I grew more tired and my reflexes began to falter, causing me to get struck more and more, but despite my bruises, I kept pressing forward.
At one point he shoved me backwards and I was caught by strong arms and pushed back towards him. A quick glance caused surprise to well up inside of me; there was a huge crowd of Satyrs that had gathered during our fight and we were encircled by them. I could not dwell on that, too determined to prove my point fully. By that time, he had dropped all graceful pretenses and was fighting in our ‘heathen’ way. I was glad to have proven that grace was overrated when fighting an actual enemy and that survival was tops, but by then I was so caught up in the fight that I did not want to lose. I had no idea how I was going to win, but I knew I wanted to more than anything.
More time passed and we continued to duel, my mouth growing dry and my arms beginning to grow weak. He was better off than I was, I figured, because of his being male. He had me backed into a corner and was merciless in his attempts to take me down. Desperate, I dropped onto my back on the ground and he leaned over, smiling victoriously. I grinned back at him, placed my feet on his stomach, and heaved. He flew backwards and I scrambled on top of him, tossing my stick away and pulling out my knife—which I had found in Valtrak’s room, strangely enough—and pressing it to his throat. My chest heaved with my labored breathing and he stared up at me in surprise.
“Fily! That’s enough!” Elthinor suddenly exclaimed, grabbing my shoulder. “He is not our enemy.”
“I know that,” I said hoarsely and sheathed my knife as I stood. I stared desperately at my friend. “Water. I need water.”
I was handed a waterskin from one side and I drank from it eagerly, wetting my dry throat. I drained half of it then offered it to Terryn, who had stood and was staring at me strangely. He did not take it, but continued to look at me.
“What? Are you not thirsty?” I asked, a little self-conscious because of his gaze.
“I thought you could not fight,” he stated slowly. “At least, that is what Queen Miyana told me. Was she misinformed?”
“Fily might have told her that, but she does not understand her own abilities,” Gabrithon said.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked the Centaur.
“Well, you just beat the best swordsman in the Satyr kingdom,” Pinnathir said. “Either you were lying about having no formal training or you are the most naturally talented fighter I have ever met.”
“I agree with my son,” Terryn said, his breathing uneven. “That was a brilliant last move, by the way. Making me think I have won then surprising me. You are a quick thinker. And,” he added as an afterthought, “I believe you are right about our graceful style. Mayhap we should look into changing it.”
“Would you like to know what I think?” I asked, taking another swig of water.
“From such a fighter? I would be honored.”
“Do not stop teaching your graceful sword fighting, but add our ‘rudimentary’ fighting to it. Your style is part of your culture. Besides, you seem to be able to transfer it over.”
“It was a struggle, though,” Terryn admitted. “You were so persistent. I am sure that you have some bad bruises, just as I will. You might have landed only a few strikes, but they were good hits.”
I smiled shyly and handed Terryn the water. He bid us to go and rest, promising to teach me more and to learn from Elthinor. We walked out, heading for the dining area. I was quiet on the walk there, and even once we settled at the table.
“What is wrong, Filynora?” Nolan asked after a good twenty minutes of silence from me.
“Was I really that good?”
Gabrithon snorted. “You are good for your skill level. You did not hit him very often, but you kept coming back for more punishment. Besides that, you won. Your persistence paid off. You are going to be very sore for a long while, but you should be proud of yourself.”
Elthinor smiled at me. “You know something, Fily? I have been impressed with your fighting skills since I first met you. That you have a seemingly natural talent with a sword, or at least a makeshift sword, does not surprise me. Maybe it has to do with your skill with the bow. Maybe it is your skill with the knife. Maybe it is a natural skill that you have because of what you are. Who knows? All I know is that you never cease to surprise me.”
I smiled at him, feeling a little shy and self-conscious at his words. I could not deny that I like hearing about what he thought of me. But I could not help but wonder if his opinion was the one that truly mattered.