Chapter 36

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Chapter Thirty-six

Master Warrior Braden glared at the class from under his shaggy eyebrows. "Breathe," he said. The squat, muscular man turned toward Jaxx. "That especially goes for you. Do it again."

Jaxx yelped as his sparring partner cuffed him on the side of his leg with a wooden bo staff. He took deep breaths, trying to suppress his building anger. He felt like this drill was too difficult and unfair. His opponent was bigger and more experienced than him and did not control the strength of his attack. Even worse, the boy acted as if beating someone smaller than him was an accomplishment.

"Hah, got you again," the boy said, smirking.

Jaxx held his breath and raised his bo staff, wanting to bring it down hard over the boy's head, but Master Braden moved next to him and clapped a warning hand on his shoulder.
"You are not breathing," Master Braden said. "How can you control your emotions if you cannot control your breath?"

Ever since Ella's accident, Jaxx's emotions had been unpredictable. The smallest insult, intentional or not, would send him into a rage, or what was worse, make him burst into tears. His moodiness confused Ciarrna. She was not able to understand the reason for his mood swings. She only knew that her rider was in pain and she tried to protect him by sending him her magic.

Is my Jaxx hurt?

Jaxx took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. I am frustrated by this drill right now but I am not hurt, he said.

Lord Drakkar had decided it would be safer to limit Jaxx's exposure to magic until he could learn to control his emotions and abilities. While the other junior Dragon Riders were out on assignments with their dragons, Jaxx spent his time either in warrior training with Master Braden or in meditation with Master Bard Melaniya.

On the days he had to practice fighting, the bard accompanied him to training in case he needed to be soothed with her songs. He hated it. It made him feel like a baby that needed a nursemaid.

Even though Jaxx was in the beginner warrior class, the other students, who were younger than he, were much more advanced. When he first began, he enjoyed the weapon training despite feeling awkward at being the slowest, least experienced student there. Learning to defend himself felt empowering. After a while, though, it seemed like Master Warrior Braden intentionally sought out ways to frustrate him. Every time Jaxx began to feel a little bit comfortable with the drills, Master Braden would give him a tougher challenge and then watch him, squinting, in a way that made him feel like a specimen under a glass.

Jaxx moved into a guarding stance and held his bo staff in the defensive position. He tried to use his peripheral vision the way he had been taught to figure out which way his opponent's next attack was coming. The boy moved and Jaxx tried using a defensive swing toward his right shoulder but the other boy's weapon caught him behind the knees and knocked him off of his feet.

"Don't only use your eyes, boy, use your ears, too," said Braden without sympathy. "Listen for when he moves. What do you hear?"

"I don't hear anything, sir," Jaxx said rubbing his backside.

Master Braden hurrumphed and motioned for the rest of the class to watch. "Here," he said, handing Jaxx a piece of cloth, "cover your eyes." He turned to Jaxx's partner. "Start moving around like you are going to attack."

Reluctantly, Jaxx placed the blindfold over his eyes.

"What do you hear now?" asked Braden.

"I hear the sound of his footsteps on the gravel," said Jaxx. The sound was not easy to miss if you were paying attention. The other boy was about as quiet as a herd of cattle walking through a pile of dead leaves.

"Good. What else?"

Jaxx pushed his frustration aside and thought about it a bit more. Listening more closely, he heard the boy move to the left. He lifted his bo staff to a defensive position, spinning it in the boy's direction.

"Ouch!" Jaxx said, as the boy hit his arm, "How am I supposed to block something I can't see?"

"What do you hear just before he attacks? What do you feel?" Master Braden asked. "Nothing!" said Jaxx, becoming exasperated.

"Are you sure?"

Jaxx reconsidered. That was not completely true. He heard the boy take a deep breath seconds before attacking him, and he always grunted right before he was about to strike. He could also hear a whooshing sound as the bo staff cut through the air before it hit him.

Jaxx opened his mouth to tell Master Braden his observations, but the trainer held up his finger to shush him.

"I think you are getting the idea," Braden said. "Try again."

Jaxx's training partner moved again, the gravel making a crunching noise to the left. Jaxx listened for the boy's sharp intake of breath and moved forward, slashing toward the sound at waist level with his bo staff. Jaxx's practice weapon connected with the soft flesh of his opponent's stomach.

"I think I've got it," Jaxx said.

The next second, he was on his back and seeing stars when the boy's mis-aimed attack hit him in the head. In the distance, he heard Ciarran scream as she felt his pain and frustration.

"Breathe," said Master Braden in a sharp voice. "You must control your emotions."

Jaxx nodded, the movement sending pain through his temple. He took deep, cleansing breaths, just like Bard Melaniya had taught him, concentrating on bringing air in through his nose and out through his mouth. He counted five breaths before he felt his anger begin to fade.

Master Braden pulled the blindfold off of Jaxx's head, making him blink in the sudden brightness. He grabbed him roughly under the chin with his large, paw-like hand and tilted Jaxx's head from side to side.

"Eyes are normal," Master Braden said, speaking more to himself than to Jaxx. He patted him on the shoulder. "You are getting better at self-control."

Despite the pain in his head, Jaxx gave him a small smile. He knew that this was the closest to a compliment he could expect from the Master Warrior and it felt pretty good.
"I think you are ready for a true test of your control," said Master Braden. "Change into your riding clothes and prepare your dragon for flight. You will be meeting the Commander in the large clearing by the forest."

Jaxx's eyes lit up. Was he was finally going to get a chance to use his dragon's magic? He bowed respectfully and then ran to his chamber to get Ciarran.

Sensing his enthusiasm, Ciarran was wide awake and bouncing around in her nest, impatient to get started.

"Let's go, Ciarran," Jaxx said, "Today I get to be a real Dragon Rider."

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