“Ouch!” Marie cried, stumbling as a hard wooden practice sword hit her left thigh. She glared at her sparring partner who smirked,
“I thought you didn’t want me to go easy on you Marie” Carline drawled.
Marie rolled her eyes, her sparring clothes stained dark with sweat. Rolling her shoulders, she got back into her fighting stance, sword held up at the ready. Carline’s eyebrows shot up, but she fluidly settled into a stance similar to Marie’s and waited for the girl to make a move.
Marie started edging to the right, beginning a circle, and lunged suddenly, her sword lashing out at Carline’s right upper arm. Carline sidestepped the blow with the ease of long practice and quick as a snake, rapped Marie on the back of her left leg with her sword again.
“Burning Hells!” Marie exclaimed in frustration, “I thought I had you that time Carline!”
A ghost of a smile flitted across Carline’s lips at her student’s frustration, disappearing as she replied “You gave yourself away again.”
“Oh no,” Marie groaned, "I didn't shift my feet again, did I?”
Carline cocked a brow, eliciting another groan from Marie who dropped to the ground and did 50 push-ups.
“I think that’s enough for today Marie.”
Carline said after Marie had finished her push-ups. Marie nodded and bent down to touch her toes. She had just finished her stretching when Carline added,
“You should shower, your father will be home soon.”
Marie looked at Carline her tired but erect posture disintegrating as her shoulders slumped in disappointment,
“Oh yay, I wonder what Father dearest will hound me for this time.”
she muttered, earning herself a stern look from Carline. Then she gathered up her simple brown leather bag and half-empty water bottle and put her practice sword back on the practice weapons rack. On the rack beside it were the real deal weapons all of which had wooden counterparts. Marie took a moment to gaze admiringly at the shining steel swords, and sleek deadly-looking daggers. There were also a few longbows and arrows, but despite Marie being stronger than usual for her age, she could not pull back even the smallest one. Compared to the attention she placed on the swords and daggers she spared the bows only a passing glance.
As Marie headed for the door Carline called,
"Aren't you forgetting something, Marie?"
Marie facepalmed as she jogged over to take Carline's practice sword.
She said, somewhat sheepishly as she hung Carline's wooden sword up beside her own.
Glancing around to make sure she had not missed anything else, Marie looked back at her instructor,
She said, her body language and tone conveying her sincerity. When Marie got to her room, she hastily stripped off her sweat-soaked training clothes and stuffed them under the dress she had worn the previous day. Conveniently, the dress was a navy blue which allowed her darker-colored training clothes to blend in.
"I doubt that the servants will say anything to Father, it's not like he doesn't know that I train with Carline after all, but it's best not to throw it in his face."
She decided, as she got into the shower and quickly washed her hair and body. The subtle scent of her vanilla-scented hair and body wash filled the bathroom, giving it a pleasant fragrance.
She dried her hair with a small red heatstone when she got out. The stone was enchanted to create enough heat to quickly dry her hair without becoming so hot that it burned her hand. Once it was dry, she braided her thick red hair tightly and reluctantly put on the scarlet red dress, trimmed with gold, that had been put out for her on her bed. Then, ignoring the large ruby pendant and six-inch heels that had been next to the dress, she put on a modest silver and emerald necklace shaped like a phoenix and slid her feet into an elegant yet comfortable pair of silver sandals.
"Father is crazy if he thinks I would wear a ruby the size of an egg. Don't even get me started on the stupid heels, I would LOVE to see him try to stand for hours in those awful things!"
She ranted silently her fists clenching in frustration. Taking a deep breath, Marie slowly made her way from her room down the sweeping staircase that led to the dining hall. To her surprise, when she reached the bottom, her father was waiting for her. His formal black coat and a scarlet red vest with gold phoenix embroidery matched her dress well.
“Hello Father,” she said, hiding her surprise well.
“Hello, my daughter” he replied, offering Marie his arm. Sighing softly at all of the formality, she took it.
When they reached the doors leading into the dining hall she realized they were closed. Just after she realized this, a herald stepped out of the shadows and announced them,
“Now arriving, the Duke of Skyhills and Lady Marie!”
" Seven Hells and Skyfire, not another thrice cursed Gala!”
Marie swore inwardly, shooting her father a death glare. When the ornate wooden doors opened, however, Marie had pasted a bright smile on her face. As the many heads in the room turned to watch their entrance Marie allowed herself an inward sigh, but to everyone who was attending the Gala, she was the picture of confidence and grace.
After Marie and her father sat down the servers rolled several food carts into the room. The aroma of roast duck filled the air and made Marie's mouth water. Serving first her father and her and then the rest of the guests, a portion of roast duck and brown rice was set on her plate. Along with the duck and rice were boiled green beans. The sight of one of her favorite meals lifted Marie's spirits. Her improved mood, unfortunately, did not last long thanks to her dance card. As she ate a small portion of savory roast duck seasoned with thyme and rosemary, she counted the names on the list
“22!” she thought in horror. nearly choking on her food “This Gala will last till midnight!”
All too soon the meal was over and the band began to play.
“Might I have this dance my lady?” a confident but not arrogant voice asked from behind her. Startled, Marie turned around, coming face to face with a blue-eyed, brown-haired boy, who looked to be about her age. When she stood, she had to look up slightly to meet his eyes. Being 5'9 inches she placed the boy at about 6'1. Quickly regaining her composure, she replied with a warm smile,
“Yes, you may” and allowed the boy to lead her onto the crowded dance floor.