Naida was sick of lifting weights. She raised the hunk of metal above her head once more, then dropped it roughly to the ground. “Am I not strong enough yet?” she asked Grayson, who was sitting on the floor cutting an apple with his feet. He gripped the dagger between his toes and somehow managed to shave off another slice. Stabbing it with the knife, he raised it to his mouth. Naida watched in fascination.
“Yes, I think you might be.”
“So can we get on to the actual training now?” she demanded. “I can’t rely solely on instinct and strength.”
“Yes, I think we can.”
Naida waited for Grayson to make a move to get up, but he just continued slicing his apple. “Well?”
“Wait until I finish my apple. Go take a break,” he replied. Naida frowned, but took a seat on the mat, taking a nice long drink from her canteen of water. She had only been resting for about thirty seconds when Grayson stood. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Naida rolled her eyes, but he had already gone into lecture mode. “See, I made you do a week of preliminary strength training because it is critical to what I’m about to teach you. If you have the strength for it, I’m confident you’ll get it easily, but without it, you’ll fail, get frustrated, and end up dying, probably.” He nodded towards the weapons. “Grab your mace.”
Walking to the wall, Naida plucked her mace off of the pegs, then walked back to the middle.
Grayson was still talking. “There is one huge advantage to using a mace, and that is its size and weight. Does that weigh your arm down very much?”
Naida shook her head. “No, not at all. It actually seems lighter than before.”
“Or maybe you’re just stronger,” he said with a smile. “And its length, is it cumbersome?”
“No. It feels like an extension of my forearm.”
“Good, good,” Grayson said. “I hope you’re comfortable with it by now, because what I’m going to teach you next is going to require caution not to cut yourself on it.”
“See, the advantage to using a mace is that you are given a lot of freedom to move around. You could hold a shield with your other hand, but something tells me that’s not your style,” Grayson said. “What is your style, though, is agility. A light, one-handed weapon offers you that flexibility. So I’m going to teach you some kicks, jumps and neat little moves, which you can pull off without the mace weighing you down.”
Naida set her mace against the wall, and picked up the wooden training stick which was similar in size. “I get the feeling I’ll want to practice first with something that can’t impale me.”
“That’s a valid feeling,” Grayson replied reasonably. “Okay, first I want you to stand on one foot.”
“Your foot. Pick one and stand on it,” he said. “I just want to test you balance.”
Naida stood on one foot for a few seconds before swaying violently. She hopped to one side, but caught herself.
“Good enough,” Grayson declared. He nodded towards a closet near the back of the room. “In there, you’ll find a wooden pillar with a wide base. Bring it out.”
Naida stepped into the doorless closet and spied the pillar as tall as a man. She wrapped her arms around it and moved to lift it, but it was a lot heavier than it looked. Grunting, Naida settled for sliding it into the other room. By the time she had pushed it to the middle of the floor, she was panting, her face red. She leaned against the pillar. “What, is it filled with rocks?”
Grayson grinned. “The base is, yes.”
“So it won’t fall over.”
“So it won’t fall over when you kick it,” he clarified. “It’s to represent a man. You can kick and hit it for practice. Kane made it for me. Or for him, rather.”
Naida scowled. “I could kick and hit you for practice,” she muttered.
Grayson chuckled. “You could try.” He nodded towards the pillar. “Ready? We’ve got a lot to do today. Can’t have you slacking off.”
Naida groaned, but pushed herself away from the pillar. This is what she signed up for, after all.
Cian knelt in front of the White Queen, keeping his face carefully blank. “M’lady.”
“What is it, Cian? Have you gotten anything out of the elf?” she asked sharply.
“Yes,” Cian replied. “He is a spy for the Black Kingdom, as you expected. He claims that he saw the vision of the Black Queen in a dream, and drew the picture based off of that. He was sent to spy on me.”
“And is that all you could get out of him?”
The White Queen frowned. “Very well, then. He is of no more use to us; we can dispose of him.”
“Actually, Majesty, I was thinking of something else,” Cian said carefully.
“Well, I was wondering if you still planned to kill the rebels.”
She scowled at him. “Was there ever any doubt?”
Cian shook his head quickly. “No, of course not. I merely thought to suggest an alternative.” The White Queen looked at him expectantly, so Cian continued, spouting out the plan that he and Pyralis had devised during the “interrogation”, “Well, since you’re trying to gain the favor of those in the Black Kingdom, I entertained the notion that it would be highly favorable to release the rebels as a sign of good faith. I am sure you, with your highly advanced magic, could wipe their memories of our involvement. The people would be certain to love you then.”
The White Queen considered this. “Hm...” Cian held his breath as her nails drummed a quick rhythm into the arm of her chair. “No. I think not. If they have rebelled once, what is to say that they won’t rebel once more, only when I am in charge? Besides, the people will love me anyway when I give them the severed head of the Black Queen,” she said with a kind of glee.
Cian tried not to let his façade falter. “As you wish.” He and Pyralis had anticipated this rejection, so Cian pushed forward. “In that case, I suggest that we make their executions public in the Black Kingdom and frame the Black Queen. It is a good plan, and if the people need an extra push, it will certainly provide one.”
“Yes, I rather like that idea,” the White Queen agreed. “A nice, public execution. Maybe in the town square or something. Sounds charming.”
“Indeed.” The White Queen was so predictable. Everything was going according to the backup plan, which would have to do. “Also, I suggest we take the elf. He tells me that he was well known and liked in the community; it will strike them as a blow, I am sure.”
“Very well,” she said, nodding. “Begin the preparations. I, naturally, would like to come and watch. The journey will take time; we will leave in two days.”
So far, it was going well. Cian bowed his head. “Yes, Your Majesty. I will get everything ready. If you would like, I can send a rider to the Black Kingdom, so that they will be prepared when we arrive?”
The White Queen nodded. “Wonderful. Leave me now.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Cian bowed again and then took his leave, turning from her and striding out of the room. Only in the hallway could he allow the disgust to show on his face. It had been very, very hard keeping it hidden. Their plan had to work. If it didn’t, Cian shivered to think what the White Queen would do to the Black kingdom.
“Thank you,” Pyralis said when he got back to his cell after talking to Cian. “Without you, he never would have listened to me.”
Kane looked at him. “I figured we can trust you.”
Pyralis nodded. “I came to the same conclusion about you.”
“Are you going to explain more?”
He owed Kane at least that much. Pyralis motioned for him to come closer. The other criminals didn’t seem to care much about them talking, but it was best not to take chances. Kane moved close to the bars and Pyralis lowered his voice, explaining quickly about the Tears of Dawn and the Black Queen.
When he was finished, Kane’s eyes were sparkling. “So there is hope! She can be beaten! You two will do it, I know it.”
Pyralis’s expression was pained. “You can help us, Kane. We can use you. I’m sure if Cian can manage to help me escape, he can help you as well.”
Kane hesitated, but shook his head. “I’d never be able to live with the guilt. My men, my friends...I can’t let them die while I run away. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”
“But ask them!” Pyralis prompted, gesturing towards the other cells. “I’m certain they’d tell you that they don’t want you to die for them. With them.”
It was no use. Kane’s jaw was set. “It’s not their choice. It’s mine. It’s all or none.”
“Then we’ll have to try for all,” Pyralis decided.
Naida whirled, snapping her foot out and feeling her boot pound against the wood with a satisfying thump. She landed hard, but solidly.
“Again,” Grayson said.
Her legs felt like lead, but Naida took a few steps back, readying herself for another kick. She ran forward, leaping into the air, spinning and kicking out. Again, she hit the target and it wavered as she landed.
“Good. I think that’s plenty for today. Go home, get some rest.”
Naida wiped the sweat from her brow. “But I still have so much to learn.”
Grayson looked at her. “You’ve learned four different kinds of kicks in the past two days, as well as some cool moves with that mace. You need to rest. Recover.”
“I don’t have time!” Naida snapped. “If I wait more than another few days... I don’t think there’s any hope of me seeing him alive again.”
“How do you know he isn’t dead already?” Grayson asked sharply.
Naida glowered. However, she had to admit that he had a point. How did she know that he was still in the castle? That he ever was? What if they had killed him on the way back, just because? “Well whether or not he’s there, I’m still going to get revenge on the knight who captured him.”
Grayson looked at her sadly. “Naida, you’re progressing really, really well, but up against a real knight you’ll never stand a chance. Kane was one of the best fighters I’d ever trained and he lost to this person.”
“He was ambushed.”
“I’m going in. Even if it’s just to find out what’s going on, in five days, I’m going into that castle,” Naida said firmly.
Grayson inclined his head. “If you must. Just remember what you promised me.” Naida nodded distractedly. “Go home. Rest up. Tomorrow we work on agility and keep you from accidentally landing on that thing,” he said, nodding at the mace.
Naida nodded and put it back in its place on the wall. “Goodnight.”
Naida left the room, and went out through the door that led to the corridor. The traps didn’t even phase her anymore, not after she had realized that the shock of the door wasn’t transmitted through fabric. All she needed to do was wrap her hand in her shirt and twist the knob.
The streets were dark and silent as Naida stepped outside. WIth a jolt, she realized it was after curfew. If she was seen by one of the guards, she would be arrested. The sound of footsteps echoed over the cobblestone pavement. Naida pressed herself back against the side of Grayson’s house, hoping she blended into the shadows well enough.
Two black figures came around the corner. The night was quiet and their voices carried.
“I don’t understand why we have to do this now,” the taller one said. “It’s late.”
“Because our orders are to not let the townspeople know what we’re building. We can’t afford another rebellion.”
“But won’t they notice that we’re building something and get curious?”
The shorter one jerked his head in annoyance. “Yes, but that’s easily placated by a lie. Then, the night before they arrive, we’ll set up the real framework.”
“I’m not sure we can build a platform. Like, I’m not sure we have the technical skill. And trap doors? Do you know how to build trap doors?”
Naida could practically hear the scowl in the other one’s voice. “We’ll figure it out, Glen.”
“Well we don’t exactly have a carpenter to call on now, do we?” the nameless one snapped. Glen went quiet. “He probably wouldn’t be too keen on designing his own execution station.”
Naida clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out. Kane. They were building something to kill Kane and the rebels. A platform with trap doors probably meant a noose. They were going to hang them. The two men kept walking out of earshot, and Naida glanced after them. They didn’t seem overly concerned by their surroundings, so she darted from her hiding spot to the nearest alley. From there, she ran closer on light feet and caught their conversation once more.
“-how many archers do we need?” Glen asked.
“Nine. But chances are they won’t really do anything,” the other man said. “They’re just for back up in case something goes wrong. In all my days, nothing has ever gone wrong.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
They stopped at the entrance to the town square. It was a wide, open courtyard which looked almost eerie with no people in it. In fact, the whole town seemed a bit like a ghost town. “Where’s it going, Edgar?” Glen asked.
“Right in the center.” Edgar walked to the center of the square, and then turned around to face Glen. He looked over at a building almost directly in front of him. “The archers can be stationed on that rooftop. This’ll be entirely in their line of sight. An easy shot.”
Glen nodded. “Sounds good. How long do we have until they get here, again?”
“Four days. The execution will take place first thing in the morning.”
Letting out a low whistle, Glen replied, “Well. We better get to it.”
Naida had heard enough. She turned away, slipping between two houses to an adjacent street. Peeking out, she found it empty and sprinted home. Naida came to a skidding stop at her front door, then wrenched it open and hurried inside. Slamming the door behind her, she sank to the floor, breathing heavily.
It seemed her schedule had just gotten moved up a bit.