Book 2 Chapter 42: One Last Spar
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The heavy armor pieces scraped against the chainmail underneath as Jon moved around. Hoping for agility while using such armor was nothing but a pipe dream. With each passing day, it felt like he was drifting further away from his mother’s fighting style.

“How do you feel?” Bella asked, her voice echoing through the empty classroom. She wore a heavily scratched cuirass, especially in the front and back. It rested atop a black gambeson. A round shield covered her left forearm, and an iron sword hung from her hip. Her relatively simple armor was compensated by the versatility of her spells.

“Still heavy, but better than when we started.”

“Don’t worry, the real armor will feel better. That piece of junk may have the same weight, but the distribution is all wrong.”

Jon nodded. He still had a fortnight until the Winter Tourney and needed to get the most out of it. “How’s your preparation, by the way?” Ever since she became an Archmage, he and Bella stopped their regular pairing during the Practical Combat classes.

Bella extended her free arm forward, and Jon felt a sudden tug on his helmet that forced him to take a step back.

“This stopped being funny weeks ago,” he grumbled, turning his head to catch a glimpse of a dark tendril dissolving onto the floor.

“Not from where I’m standing.” Bella drew her sword in an arc. “May we start?”

“Yes.” Jon stood at full attention. The first blow was always the most important in a duel, dictating its development. The large trunk from which everything else branched out. And, unfortunately, his current condition prevented him from taking the initiative.

This time, Bella refrained from using her spells directly on him. After all, the duel was supposed to simulate him being in triotium armor. So instead she rushed forward while raising a dark tendril from the floor halfway between the two. It wrapped itself around her waist and pulled, giving her a greater momentum.

The first few times Bella attempted this maneuver, she instead lost her balance and ended up skidding over the floor, hence the scratches in her cuirass. But after repeated attempts and failures, she had become awfully good at it.

Leading with the shield, Bella covered the distance in two strides. Jon turned sideways and met the bash with his shoulder. The impact rocked through his body, and his neck almost whipped back and forth.

Bella moved her sword arm, and Jon reacted by stabbing at her face. She pushed with her shield, narrowly avoiding the attack that instead brushed against her hair.

Jon kept his eyes on her, making sure to catch any slight movement. Bella tensed her legs and leaned forward, preparing the next attack. She brought her blade back, too wide to be a stab. Jon swung his weapon down to meet her attack, the resulting clash almost breaking their swords.

One upside to being the slower one was that Jon became more attentive to his opponent’s movements. Oftentimes, he would wait to be attacked before reacting, relying on superior agility to make up for the time lost waiting. The heavier weight turned such negligence into certain defeat, so he was forced to adapt.

Jon’s breathing came in quick bursts while Bella was still mostly fine. While he had found a way around the problem of agility, there was nothing that could be done about the endurance. The heavier armor meant he would always tire out first, so he always needed to win as fast as possible.

The two of them continued going blow for blow, neither giving an inch. Jon managed to keep up with her rhythm. Until he didn’t. A reaction a split-second too late translated into Bella carving a half-inch deep line on his breastplate. Another late reaction and her sword cut off a link from the chainmail falling over his trousers, coming dangerously close to making him a eunuch.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Bella pressed the attack, stabbing at Jon’s neck to end the fight. Her eyes opened wide as her sword was deflected to the side, leaving her open. She quickly reacted by raising her shield, blocking a sword tip aimed at her face.

But while her shield could block his attacks, it couldn’t be everywhere at once.

An iron-covered foot hit her in the shin, bringing her down to one knee. From there it was a matter of pulling the shield with one hand and stabbing at her arm with the other.

“Damm it!” Bella cursed loudly. A dark tendril rose from her gambeson and wrapped itself tightly against her arm to stop the bleeding. “That was a stupid trick.”

Jon laughed as he removed the stuffy helmet, his face dripping with sweat. He was indeed getting tired, but not to the extent he led Bella into believing. All it took were a few signs of weakness and she readily moved in for the kill. “It’s called strategy. It’s not just about making the best moves, but also leading your opponent into making a mistake.”

“What?”

“Just something a professor told me in class.”

She shook her head. “You win this time. Don’t expect it to work twice.” Her eyes trailed downwards to the deep line in his breastplate and then further down to the damaged chainmail. “But I must say that was a risky move,” she said while picking the broken link off the floor. “What if it had cut off more than just this link?”

“Then I would simply get it reattached by a healer,” Jon answered with a shrug. “Besides, I only use my cock for pissing, so it’s not like it would be much of a loss.” He was mostly joking. While he indeed didn’t have time to waste on the pleasures of the flesh, he still recalled how weak the eunuch Vasilis was. Jon wasn’t sure if the reason for his unusual weakness was due to being a eunuch, but Jon wasn’t taking any chances.

Bella looked at him incredulously for a second. “I must say, you’re usually one of the most well-mannered people I know, but every once in a while you speak as crassly as a drunken sailor.”

No, I’m not dead. Not yet, at least. I’ve been studying a lot and working even more, so there’s little time to sit down and write. The upside is that I’m finally doing well in college and also earning some money. As for book 2, it is approaching the final stretch, and I hope to have it finished before the end of the year despite the difficulties.

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