Playing in the Sandbox (Practice Part 1)

No, not my children’s sandbox. Too messy. We turned it into a water table for very good reasons.

I mean taking my characters for a spin in the sandbox of my imagination.

I have a character that has been knocking around in my head for sometime. You see her as an ancillary character in a few stories, but she’s never the love interest. I wanted to change that and write a story about her, but she’s very different from other characters I’ve written.

Having been allowed very little free will of her own for most of her existence, her morality is different. Her wants and desires are different. Her worldview is different. Not sure I’ll ever be able to write her as the heroine, but I want to try.

To help me better understand her, I wrote a short story from her point of view. The steamy scenes are very different than any of my other work, but I think it’s because she’s so much different than my other heroines.

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Practice

Mara swept the first young Knight’s feet out from beneath him and shoved him hard with her shield. He crashed to the ground, and before he could roll away, she hit his breastplate with her sword.

A second Knight charged her, but she pivoted, letting his momentum in full armor carry him past her. As he tripped over the first Knight, Mara hit his back with the flat of her sword.

Two kill shots. Both Mara’s. Anything but a training exercise, and the two Knights of Valor would be dead.

There was laughter and teasing from the sidelines, but a quick look from Mara silenced the other Knights. “How long will you survive in the eastern provinces?”

Knight Keenan helped the two younger men back to their feet. “We’re practicing. They’ll get better.”

“But not good enough.”

“Not all of us can be Sir Marcus,” the Knight Mara had tripped said.

Mara pierced the boy with her hard stare. “Sir Marcus spent his life training to fight a lich. You spent yours training to protect the safe streets of Tamryn.”

Knight Keenan cleared his throat. “We’ll practice again tomorrow.”

Mara looked over the assembled Knights, her gaze resting on each man in turn. “Anything you face in the eastern provinces will be alive because it’s survived worse than whatever haunts your nightmares. Do you think your enemies get knocked down during practice then toddled off to say a few prayers?”

The Knights stared back at her, and several of them were clenching their fists at their sides.

“Good. Get angry at me. Better angry than dead. Next lesson.” Mara motioned to a figure dressed in a plain brown cloak.

The woman walked over to Mara and bowed, then turned toward the Knights.

“Skyla,” Keenan said. “What are you doing here?”

“She’s going to help me demonstrate a lesson,” Mara said. “Are your healers out here?”

Keenan nodded toward Knight Matthias, but concern reflected in his pale green eyes. “Is this safe?”

“Less dangerous than sending out half-trained men.”

Knight Keenan glanced at Skyla then stepped back. “Be careful.”

Mara looked at the woman in the robes. Her rich brown hair was tied in a simple ponytail, and her large grey eyes seemed too big for her face. She was easy to underestimate as so many mages were.

“Just like we practiced,” Mara said.

Skyla nodded and moved several sword lengths behind Mara.

“Do you think your Knights can beat Skyla and me?” Mara raised a challenging brow at Keenan. “Or are you going to send them to their prayer vigil and hope Dracor gives them fighting skills?”

“I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Not what I asked.” Mara smiled at the gathered Knights, a taunting expression meant to rile them. “Pick your best seven. If they can get three points in before I get a killing blow, you win and I will come back and help you train them until the new moon.”

Keenan glanced at the recruits and then back at Mara. “You called for a healer. What do you have in mind?”

“Don’t think seven of your Knights can get in three hits?”

“And if they can’t?”

“You owe Skyla and me a hellfire at Ndrek’s bar.”

“Seven against you and Skyla?”

Mara nodded.

“Until the new moon?”

Mara nodded again.

“They could really use the practice against someone with your skills. You’re sure Skyla won’t be hurt?”

“It’s not her you should be worrying about.”

Mara fell into her battle stance, and she felt Skyla building the first spell as seven young Knights took their positions opposite her.

Keenan signaled the start of combat, and Skyla let loose with the spell.

A wall of flames scorched the ground and rose up between Mara and the Knights. Mara ignored the fire, ducking her head as she charged through them and tapped the chest plate of one of the Knights. Pivoting, she tapped the chest plate of a second before any of them had recovered their wits enough to close their mouths.

The remaining five backed away from the fire and Mara’s blade. Just as she’d anticipated.

Skyla loosed her second spell, and the ground under the remaining Knight’s feet turned to mud.

Mara charged.

Slamming her shield into the first Knight’s sword, she shoved hard and sent him stumbling back then barreled into the second. Surprise widened his eyes, and when he tried to turn, he slipped in the mud.

Mara slammed his chest plate with her sword, and if it hadn’t been a practice blade, she’d have killed the Knight. Instead, she sent him into the mud with the first, who’s chest plate she tapped.

They’d hurt, but the bruises would bring home a lesson they wouldn’t forget.

The remaining three Knights extricated themselves from the mud as Mara circled around them. She smiled as one tried to flank her while the other two came at her. Sprinting towards one, she used her shield as a battering ram and knocked him to the ground as the second scored a glancing blow against her arm.

She pivoted and knocked his feet out from underneath him them hit his chest plate with her sword. Leaping over him, she tapped the Knight she’d steamrolled to the ground.

One Knight remained.

As he stood watching her, black vines shot out of the ground and encased his feet, rooting him there.

Mara circled around him, but he couldn’t turn to face her. She came up behind him and tapped the middle of his back.

There were growing whispers that the battle hadn’t been fair. That they hadn’t been warned.

Mara only smiled. “Combat isn’t about fair. Or justice. Or right and wrong. It’s about winning. In real combat, Skyla would’ve been using fireballs, flame clouds, and ice storms. Never under estimate a mage.”

“Good lesson,” Sir Leopold said. “Well done, both of you.”

Mara felt the High-Knight’s faded blue eyes fix on her. She met his stare, her face impassive even as her stomach clenched. Tall and broad, the only thing that belied his age was the silver in his hair and the rank insignia on his uniform.

She wondered again what he’d feel like beneath her and how hard he’d fight her for top. How much she’d relish that fight. The thought made her belly tighten.

Stabbing the thought and leaving it to bleed to death, Mara handed her practice sword back to Keenan.

She picked up her sword and wiped the soot from her cheeks. “One hit to seven kills. See you at Ndrek’s.”

Keenan only nodded as he checked on his men.

 

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