Act II - 14 Bravado

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Catherine cursed as her arm was released and the man removed his weight from her back. He backed off, allowing her to get up, and she rubbed her shoulder gently. It was aching a little, and she lamented her old wrestling wound—brought on by stupidity during practice once. It had resurfaced more in her time here at Monteriggioni, and had made training difficult sometimes, but she worked hard to make up for it. Unfortunately, she was nowhere near as strong as the men she was training with, and even her sparring partner with only had maybe a month more experience always ended up beating her. She was pretty sure she could count her wins on one hand, but what really mattered was Mario's expression as the end the match. For that, she looked to the older man.

"You were sloppy, Filippo. You let your anger get the best of you. You have strength, but you must be more than a brute on the battlefield. However, your endurance has improved and you kept her on her toes for a long time. We will work on controlling your anger and using it properly later," he rumbled, and her sparring partner bowed his head in thanks. Mario then looked to Catherine, who had a bit of trouble meeting his gaze. She glanced briefly at the other men around the ring, although there were only a few since she was one of the last matches. "Catherine, your speed is good, as is your dodging, but your attacks are still weak. You lack the strength necessary, so you must learn to take down your enemy's most vulnerable points. In other words, you must make up for your strength with skill. You have improved, though, and that is good."

The redhead bowed her head, taking his words to heart. Certainly, she greatly lacked in strength compared to Mario's men. She was by no means weak, and six months of training had increased her muscle, but it was nothing compared to her comrades. She was also shorter than almost all of them, so all she really had was speed and smarts. The latter she was glad for; she was able to think throughout the fight for the most part, while the men would get erratic. Sometimes that worked in her favor, but not always. Still, it was an advantage she needed. Of course, she had a long, long way to go before she was where she wanted to be. She was getting closer, though.

"Both of you go clean yourselves up. You are done for the day," Mario continued, waving them off. They both bowed respectfully and then headed out of the ring. Her partner went one way and she the other. As it so happened, she came by Ottavio, who clapped her on the shoulder.

"Not bad, little one," he hummed using that nickname of hers. She both hated and loved it. Hate because it was a jab at how she was the youngest and the shortest, but love because it meant they had accepted her. A good deal of the men had a nickname of sorts, so it only made her feel more welcome, and she was honored to have gotten it only after about three months of training. She almost chuckled a reply, but the Captain squeezed her shoulder—a hidden sign to be careful. She looked at him with alarm as he frowned. "Emilio has returned from him work in Toscana. You would do well to avoid him. He has not forgotten you."

"Seriously?" she groaned, and Ottavio's continued stern expression told her it was. She sighed with exasperation, rubbing her slightly swollen cheek. "Great... I can't believe he's still pissed. What is he—a child?"

"Just watch out for him."

"Yeah, I will. Thanks," Catherine sighed, shaking her head. Great. Just great. The man-child with overly excessive amounts of strength was back and still upset over their match. It had been a simple skirmish—just a test of her skills, but the man had been incredibly cocky and underestimated her way too much. He was also fond of insulting her for being a woman. Mario has chided him the whole time, but the man didn't listen, and then she made the smart move of throwing dirt into his face and then struck him between the legs. She felt bad about it, although it had been insisted it was fair game to do so—one had to use every advantage in battle, and that was one of hers. Unfortunately, Emilio had not taken well to being beaten by a woman, and especially the raucous laughter of the men around him, who he had been boasting to about how he couldn't be beaten by them. It was then, for the first time, that Catherine had to endure a face of pure hate, and she had a feeling the man would have killed her right then and there if he could.

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