Chapter 17 Part II

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Fifteen minutes turned into an hour and an hour turned into two.  By the time they remounted their horses, the sun was already high in the sky. Tristan was none too pleased at the late start to the day, but attempting to wake him before he was ready was akin to poking a sleeping tiger with a stick. He was to blame for their late start, and he knew it.

They left Haywood with little fanfare. The duke, in typical fashion, did not bother to see them off; now that Tristan was no longer to wed his daughter, he likely had lost interest. Haywood, swept up in the madness of the Grand Fair, just two days hence, barely acknowledged their departure. It made for a quick exit.

Tristan set a breakneck speed in an effort to make up for lost time, riding their horses at a near gallop. Haywood was soon but a speck in the distance, the curved road wide and open with nary a soul in sight. Sam wondered if she would ever see her home again.

When the horses began to flag, Tristan led them to a nearby stream and told his trainees to dismount. “We’ll rest here,” he said.

“For the evening?” Sam asked. “We still have a few hours of daylight.”

Tristan patted his horse’s flank, encouraging it to drink from the stream. “The horses are already fatigued,” he said. “Besides, you and Braeden have hardly trained since we arrived in Haywood. Now is as good a time as any.”

Sam bit back a groan. Nothing like training after half a day’s hard riding, and on top of a night of drinking to boot. “More calisthenics? Or will you actually let us hold weapons?”

“I was planning on the latter, but in light of your impertinence, I’ve changed my mind,” said Tristan archly.

 “Wonderful. I just love calisthenics.”

“Someone will cut out that sharp tongue of yours one day, and when I say I told you so, you won’t be able to reply, sarcastically or otherwise. And to be clear, I said no weapons; I didn’t say no fighting. Some hand-to-hand combat practice is in order, I think.”

“Okay,” said Sam, feeling more optimistic. Sword fighting would be more useful when it came to killing demons, but she’d enjoyed the few grappling lessons she’d had. She certainly remembered the hip toss well enough.

“Now that I have your hard won approval,” said Tristan, “let’s begin. We’re going to start by practicing the three basic tie-in positions, so you’ll need to face each other. Braeden, move closer. Closer. There, that’s good.”

Braeden and Sam stood a little over a yard apart, their nearness emphasizing Braeden’s significant height advantage. He stared straight ahead at a spot above Sam’s head, avoiding eye contact.

“Now, step your right foot forward--no, Sam, that’s your left--so that your legs cross at the knees,” Tristan went on. “Burn this foot position into your memory. It’s the same for all three starting stances. Okay, now, Sam, I want you to grip Braeden’s upper arms around the outside, and Braeden, you grip Sam’s upper arms from the inside."

To Sam’s embarrassment, Braeden’s hands easily encircled her upper arms while her fingers couldn’t touch. She squeezed a little, surprised at the hardness of Braeden’s triceps muscles, and a little unnerved. Though Braeden still refused to meet her eyes, he wasn’t as apathetic as he pretended; a faint blush stained the ochre of his skin.

“Excellent,” said Tristan. “Both of you, drop your right hands and shift your left hands to each other’s elbows. Good. This is the single arm tie-up.” After they executed the starting stance to his satisfaction, he continued, “The next and final starting position is the double-waist tie-up. Braeden, reach around Sam’s waist and grab your wrist with the opposite hand. Sam, you do the same to Braeden.”

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