Naida showed up the next morning with a canvas sack full of vegetables, bread and fruits. Grayson hadn’t specified what he wanted, so she took the liberty of choosing for him. Thinking practically, Naida had steered clear of meats which required cooking. It’d be a little hard to cook without arms. She did, however, buy a few oranges. Everyone needed a challenge now and again.
Not bothering to knock on the door, Naida walked into Grayson’s house and found herself in the same hallway in which she had almost died the day before. She stepped forward tentatively, eying the slits on the walls. Surely he had disabled his security measures, knowing that she was coming that day. Nevertheless, when Naida reached the blades, she hopped past the slits as quickly as she could, just in case.
The blades whizzing behind her let her know that she had made the right choice. As she jumped, one of the apples she had brought fell from her bag and was sliced in half as easily as one might cut soft cheese. Oh well. Naida didn’t stop for it; she wasn’t about to risk losing a finger for someone else’s apple.
Annoyance flaring, Naida scowled as she turned forward. Did he expect her to jump over the hole while holding a bag of groceries? It would never work. She would either end up missing, or would drop the food in the hole, and it would be wasted. Naida frowned. She pulled the rug away, revealing the gaping hole in the floor. Wrapping her bag with the rug to keep the food from falling out and to protect it, Naida tossed the padded ball of fabric and food over the hole. It hit the ground and rolled, unravelling a bit, but that didn’t matter.
Naida took a few steps back and leaped over the hole at a run. She landed with a little stumble, but caught herself on the wall. After picking up the bag of groceries and tossing the rug away, Naida stood before the last obstacle. She certainly wasn’t going to allow herself to by paralyzed again, but Grayson had told her that the door opened at her touch. She frowned.
Maybe if she knocked, he could open it from the inside. Sure, he couldn’t use his arms, but Naida was certain that he was more than capable of opening a door. The helplessness, she figured, was a front to throw people off. Or so Naida hoped as she raised a hand to knock on the door. The moment her knuckles connected with the wood, she froze.
If Naida could have moved her mouth, she would have cursed, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. Luckily, she was standing in such a way that when she fell, she simply pivoted and her back hit the wall, keeping her upright. That way Naida could see the amused look on Grayson’s face when the door swung open.
“Almost made it,” he commented. “Hm, I seem to have neglected to tell you that the whole door was charmed, not just the knob. Ah, well.”
He didn’t know it, but Naida was internally glaring at him.
“Do come in, whenever you find yourself capable,” Grayson said with a chuckle. Hatred flared in Naida’s chest as she watched him turn and walk away. It seemed like an eternity before she could move again, but when at last she unfroze, Naida stalked angrily into the room.
“You think this is funny?” she demanded angrily.
Grayson smiled. “Quite.”
“I beg to differ. You may not think it’s funny now, but give it a few years, and you’ll come across a door that looks vaguely like that one and you’ll have a phobia about touching it,” he said with a chuckle. “You’ll think it’s hilarious then.”
Naida glared at him, slamming the bag of food down on the table. “And I guess you couldn’t have disabled all of those traps, knowing I was coming?”
Grayson gave an approximation of a shrug which sent his chains rattling. “Did you come here for training, or did you come here to walk down a dreadfully boring corridor?”
She paused for a beat. “I’d rather not be killed before training even starts.”
“Ah, but there is where you’re mistaken. Training has started. By the time you’re gone here, you’ll be able to navigate that corridor with ease.” Grayson looked proud of himself for cleverly working in a lesson. Naida wasn’t quite so happy. He pointed out to her, “You know, Kane used to love bringing me groceries. Never shied from a challenge, that kid.”
Grayson had won and they both knew it. Naida’s glare slowly lessened and she sighed. “Fine. Well I’m ready to really start training, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” he replied. “First tell me: when do you plan on storming the castle?” There was a hint of snideness in his voice.
“As soon as possible. There’s still a chance I can rescue Kane, but the longer I wait...How fast can you train me?” Naida asked.
Grayson thought for a moment. “I would say two weeks at the bare minimum, but you won’t be great, just good enough to survive, hopefully.” Naida pursed her lips. “You don’t look happy about that.”
“I’m not. There’s a good chance he’ll be dead by then.”
“And if you go before then, you’ll end up dead. Tell me, which is better?” he asked. “You have yourself quite a dilemma here.”
Nadia frowned. “Let’s start, at least. Maybe I’ll be a fast learner.”
Grayson laughed skeptically and she shot a glare his way. “Alright, then. To the training room we go.” He stood and led the way through a doorless doorway into another room, much larger than she expected. The floor had a very thin padding on it, and there were wooden targets nailed to one wall. The other held an impressive variety of weapons, from swords to maces and bows. A line of daggers sat on the floor, their points facing the wall. Naida’s eyes widened.
“How haven’t the guards confiscated these?” she breathed. It was like a miniature armory in here.
Grayson grinned. “First of all, they don’t know they’re here. Secondly, if they did come, there are always my security measures.”
“I got past those with no training,” Naida pointed out.
“Yes, but you are a lithe, thin girl. Could you imagine jumping that pit in full armor? Not a chance,” Grayson said. “Lesson number one, keep it light. You may not be as protected, but your maneuverability is well worth it. All that metal weighs you down.” He glanced down at himself and Naida looked away awkwardly. “Drop to the ground and do twenty push ups.”
Naida frowned, but rolled up her sleeves and positioned herself on the floor. She lowered herself down, then back up, feeling the tension in her arms. The first five went well; the second five a bit less so, but still okay. After she passed the tenth, however, Naida’s arms began to burn, and by fifteen she was dying to give up. This is for Kane, she reminded herself. She didn’t have time to be weak. Naida lowered herself for the last push up, and when she had finished, she rolled over onto her side. She lay there for a minute, breathing heavily.
“Hm, you’ll do.”
“What was the point of that?” Naida asked.
Grayson looked at her. “To evaluate your strength.”
“And what did you learn?”
“Not much,” he admitted. “After all, you could be really strong, but never use the muscles it takes to do a push up. What do I know about physiology?”
Naida hesitated. “So...what was the point of that, then, if you’re just going to discount your observations?’
Grayson’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Living vicariously through you. I miss push ups. They were always my favorites.”
She blinked. “Are you trying to be infuriating?”
“Is it working?”
“Yes!” Naida cried in irritation. “This training is a joke to you, is it?”
“Of course not,” he replied calmly.
Naida crossed her arms. “Then start acting like it! I was a fool to think that someone who can’t even use their arms could teach me to fight,” she said with a scowl. “You can’t even open a door, apparently.”
Grayson moved like a flash, snatching up a dagger with his foot. He spun and flung it with a jerk of his leg and before Naida could register what was happening, it was buried in the wall, inches from her face. She stared at it there and gulped.
“Lesson number two,” he said. “Never underestimate your opponent.” Grayson raised a brow. “Even when that opponent is wrapped in chains from the torso up.”
Naida fell silent. Perhaps he really could train her. “Can you teach me how to do that?”
He laughed, breaking the tension. “I could, but first we need the basics. Grab a bow and a few arrows, let me see how good of a shot you are.”
Naida did as he asked, positioning herself a little ways away from the wooden bulls-eyes. Notching the arrow, she pulled the string back and closed one eye to look down the arrow. Naida let it fly and lowered her bow. It was stuck in the wall, quivering, and very close to the center of the target. The only problem was that it wasn’t the target she had been aiming for.
“Well done,” Grayson said sarcastically. “Again. Try to hit the right target this time.”
With a scowl, Naida fired another shot. This time she hit neither target, but was at least closer to the one she was trying for. Three shots later, only one of the five had landed on the right target, and that had been out of sheer luck. No wonder she had missed that Black soldier in the woods.
Pursing his lips, Grayson said, “Well. It seems as if archery isn’t your strong suit. Let’s hope you’re better at sword skills.” He looked her up and down. “You look pretty strong.”
“I used to chop and sell wood,” Naida explained. “I still do, but ever since...Well, I don’t have as many buyers these days.”
“Take that sword over there. The one with the leather wrapped handle,” Grayson said, nodding to one of the gleaming swords hanging on the wall. Naida set the bow down and stepped over to the row of swords. She grasped the handle of the one he suggested and pulled it off of its pegs. Immediately, her arms sagged under the weight. “Too heavy?”
“No,” Naida lied.
“Good. Come to the middle of the floor,” Grayson said, pushing himself off of the wall against which he was leaning. She met him in the middle. “Do you know a basic fighting stance?”
Grayson spread his feet and bent his knees. “Like this. It lowers your center of gravity, keeps you stable.” Naida imitated him. “Okay, now swing. Do whatever comes naturally. Imagine you’re fighting someone.”
Immediately, the image of the man who had captured Kane sprung to Naida’s mind. She imagined that he was there, wielding a sword and a scowl. Determination flooded through her arms as she swung-
-and was then promptly lost as she fell. The sword clattered out of her grip and Naida went down with a hard thump. The padding didn’t really do much to cushion the fall.
Grayson was shaking his head. “You put too much power in it. The follow-through threw you off balance.”
Naida pushed herself up and grabbed the sword. “I’ll try again,” she said.
“Hm...No, I don’t think so.”
“I can do this,” she said fiercely.
He shook his head. “I don’t think it’s right for you. If you try to fight with a weapon that isn’t ideally suited to you, especially as a beginner, you’re asking to be killed. A weapon has to be a part of you. It has to move with you, adjust with you. A man is only as good as his weapon,” Grayson said thoughtfully. “That was the smallest sword. I wonder...”
Reluctantly, Naida hung the sword back up on the wall.
“Aha!” Grayson said suddenly. “The mace, grab the mace.”
“Which one?” Naida asked with a frown.
“Whichever you like.”
There were three maces there, each a little different. One was a metal handle with a spiky ball attached to the end, stationary. The second featured chains sprouting from the end of a handle and running down to a dangling spiky ball which looked deadly sharp. It was the third, however, which caught Naida’s eye. It had a handle wrapped in gray leather, and the metal itself was black, running up the handle and forming a flanged head. It looked like someone had honed several triangles to deadly points, their edges gleaming with silver, and then attached them to a center cylinder, the points facing outwards. It was beautiful, and shone with a deadly grace.
Naida lifted it from the wall, and it fit into her hand like it was meant to be. It had the same weight and feel of her axe, and she instantly felt comfortable with it. Naida turned back towards Grayson, and he smiled.
“I can see by the look on your face that you’ve found the right one,” he said, sounding pleased.
Naida nodded. “Any particular way I should use it?”
“However comes naturally,” Grayson said. “It is your natural instincts that you’ll resort to in a fight, and since I have little time to teach you many new techniques, you’ll have to rely primarily on those. Go on, try it out.”
Assuming the fighting stance that Grayson had shown her, Naida held the mace in her right hand and slashed down like she was chopping wood. She swung it up and around, then spun on her heel and jabbed out, thrusting the point of the mace into the stomach of her invisible enemy.
Both Naida and Grayson started grinning at the same time. “Beautiful,” he said. Naida lowered her mace, energy coursing through her body. Training might be more fun than she expected.