Keyel and Etania ascended the hill of the island as if they were going to the castle, but instead veered to the left and came to another area. This area was like the sand of a beach and cleared of trees. Instead, people sparred with one another in roped off circles. Past the sparring circles were large buildings that Etania assumed were the barracks.
Wood thumped against wood as two people sparred with swords. As she followed Keyel, she had to jump over a wave of water from a Ningyo, duck under the claws of an Eritam’s wolf, and narrowly avoid fire from a young dragon that looked about the size of a house cat. Etania tried not to stare at all the races from the different territories that sparred in the circles.
After dodging a whip made of leaves from a Naymatua and leap out of the way of a flood jewels and rock from a Kinzoku, Etania began questioning her decision to learn to defend herself. Keyel finally stopped at a large building that looked like it was larger than most of the barracks with a stone façade and slanted wood roof.
They entered through the double oak doors and Etania tried to keep herself from gaping at the array of weapons hanging from pegs on the wall. Axes, bows, swords, metal staffs, and spears, all hung against the wall. There were also at least a hundred mannequins supporting chainmail and helmets.
“Welcome to the armory,” Keyel said, his arms spread wide and a smile on his face.
“It’s-impressive,” Etania admitted. “But I doubt I’m ready to handle any of these weapons.”
“Yes, you can’t handle them-yet. The point of coming in here is to see which one you like,” Keyel explained.
“Hmm,” Etania said, walking along the wall and looking at the various weapons.
Their shiny and sharp blades intimidated her. She barely knew how to use her dagger, let alone a sword or spear. The small axes looked like she could handle them, but Etania shuddered at the thought of using an axe to kill someone. Above these weapons were the bows, the polished wood almost glistening from the light of windows that were at the very top of the building.
“What about that?” Etania wondered.
“A bow. Great choice,” Keyel said. “And I don’t just say that because I’m a Leici. However, I don’t think a bow would work for a short training period. Let me see…”
Keyel rummaged through a pile of weapons that looked like they needed to be put away and pulled out an odd wooden block with straps of metal on it that looked like a miniature bow.
“This is a better choice,” Keyel gave it to her.
Etania held it up, looking at it with confusion.
“What is it?” she wondered.
“A crossbow,” Keyel answered, and sorting through the pile again, pulled out small arrows. “These are bolts, which are used for loading the weapon.”
“Over short distances, yes. In close quarters, I will teach you to use that dagger and basic disarming techniques. Which do you want to do first?” Keyel asked.
“Uh, I guess the wood-bow-thing?”
“Crossbow. Okay, follow me,” Keyel said.
Etania jogged after him, her heart pounding as she once more had to venture into the fray of the Aolehr’s practice matches. Dodging, ducking, jumping, she was almost out of breath by the time they reached their destination, a large area of grass with targets set at different distances. Many practiced there with their longbows, and when they needed to gather their arrows, a person blew into a cylindrical horn and allowed everyone to gather them. They each had their own area, marked by poles connected by rope. Keyel found an empty one and stepped in beside Etania.
Since the roped area was meant for one person, the space between them was close. Close enough that Etania felt her heart beating quickly near the handsome Leici. She cleared her throat and tried to concentrate on his instructions. He took the crossbow from her and began demonstrating.
“To load this crossbow, you put your foot in the stirrup here, and use your hands to pull back the string until the mechanism in the center holds it in place. Then you place your bolt across the stock,” Keyel explained, and then handed her the crossbow. “Now you try.”
Etania fumbled with the crossbow. She tried to put her foot in the stirrup and almost fell backwards when Keyel stopped her with his hand. Her cheeks warmed with his touch. Finally, she got her foot in the stirrup and pulled the string back, the rough texture biting into her hands. At last, the mechanism snapped the string and Etania could move on to the bolt. She had problems aligning it against the stock, her fingers once again betraying her by moving in different directions. At last, she was finished.
Keyel merely looked at her and said, “I think you’ll need to work on loading. After I show you how to shoot, I want you to keep repeating the exercise until you’re out of bolts. You can’t let your enemy go faster than you can shoot.”
Etania merely nodded, wishing she could hide.
“Alright, put the tiller against your shoulder, and hold it with your hands like this,” Keyel instructed and guided her hands to the proper places on the crossbow.
Etania’s hands trembled as he adjusted her grip and stance.
“Okay, now, look down the stock of the crossbow towards the nearest target,” Keyel said.
Etania obeyed, looking at a target that was ten yards away from her.
“Push the lever upwards,” Keyel said.
Fingers slick, hands trembling, Etania did as she was instructed.
The bolt flew to the right of the target.
“Adjust to the left next time,” Keyel added. “Reload and retry again.”
Etania fumbled with the string to put the next bolt on it and then tried to calm herself as she took aim at the target again. The bolt skidded past the target and bounced off the side. Keyel told her to do it again.
How many times Etania reloaded the crossbow and shot again at the target, she lost count. Eventually, she hit the ten yard target, but that was only once. The rest were misses, occasional bounces, and the continual feeling of failure. At last, Keyel called her to stop.
“Alright, that’s enough for today. I’m sure you want some lunch, so I’ll escort you back to your house,” Keyel said.