Sport was undoubtedly my favourite part of my new life. Sure, I had ridden horses and run through fields at Belmont until my legs were numb but this was a whole different world. No matter how cold or wet, no matter how mud caked our boots or stained our pinafores were, we were sent outside for one hour a day until the stern eye of the large and imposing Ms. Langley.
Many Middles complained about how much time we dedicated to 'playing silly games'. But even as my muscles ached and my palms grew rough with calluses, I could have doubled that length. Organization, strategy and competition were things I didn't realize I was missing. It brought out the best in me. I grew loud and spirited during tennis matches and focused and determined during archery.
Beadie with her long, skinny limbs hated Sport. Blessed with a fast wit and mind, she lacked physical co-ordination and a strong constitution. She was forever breathless or afflicted with headaches, and was often excused by Ms. Langley to fetch water and rest indoors. Once, a few Middles openly muttered that Beadie was receiving special treatment, but Langley only tsk-tsked and added an additional lap to our field circles.
In Beadie's absence, I found another girl who, if not as athletic as I was, at least provided a delightful companion. Desdemona, with her soft brown skin and hair braided high on her head was short but full of upper body strength. She could notch and strike a bow at astonishing speed. I hit the bulls-eye more often, but Des could ring all six arrows around the target without breaking a sweat.
"Stunning!" I yelped as Des set down her bow and shrugged sheepishly. Langley had a set up a small tournament between the Middles. Des and I, as expected, were the final two and after a particularly long battle, I was victorious by two points.
"You won though," Des said, her eyes moist. I couldn't quite tell if it was from disappointment or exertion, so I shook her hand and smiled warmly.
"I may have but if I go into battle, I'd rather have you on the bow," I said. Des brightened even as Langley tsk-tsked behind us.
"No need for Merchant ladies to concern themselves with that. Archery is for physical education purposes only. And to ensure a base knowledge should the social opportunity arise during courtship."
"Of course, Ms. Langley! And in that setting, we would never think to challenge others in such a way," Des said. Ms. Langley nodded, satisfied. I liked Des well enough, but she sought the approval of teachers and the Laters to such an obvious degree that Beadie called her an arse-kiss. After Langley turned away though, Des stuck her tongue out as if she'd just sickened herself. If Des was an arse-kiss, she was aware of her flaw and in the end, she wasn't really hurting anyone.
Though I enjoyed Archery, my favourite sport was Fencing. Our lessons were rudimentary, but I loved every moment. We stood in a long line, repeating drill after drill, movement after movement. Near the end of the lesson, Ms. Langley would come down the line to practice spar one on one with each Middle. She grunted after every strike, offered a disapproving criticism and then moved on to the next girl in the line.
"Noodle arms. Noodle arms. Noodle spine. Footwork. Footwork. Do you even know where your feet are?"
During our third lesson, after sparring with me, she plainly said, "Good."
I flushed, delighted and felt the eyes of the other Middles on me. I was good. How I wished I could learn dagger work. I pictured Balthazar in my hand, swinging and slicing. Perhaps when I moved to Upper Year, I could query Langley about the possibility.
"Stiff. Weak. Noodle arms.... Excellent."
I snapped out of my daydream. Excellent? There was a rush of murmurs. The last girl in our line to spar with Langley received an assessment even more impressive than mine?
YOU ARE READING
When troubled Ophelia is found dead, four of her classmates are accused. With conviction and punishment a foregone conclusion, the girls - Portia, Beatrice, Viola and Desdemona - plot a daring escape in order to unravel the conspiracy behind the mur...