Home > Warrior of the Wild

Warrior of the Wild
Tricia Levenseller

PART 1

THE TRIAL

CHAPTER 1

An ax swings for my head.

The dull training weapon may not be enough to decapitate me, but I know all too well the sharp sting of metal on skin.

I duck.

A whoosh of air sails over my head, and while I’m still crouched, I thrust my ax straight out so the blunt tips of the double heads whack right into Torrin’s armor-clad stomach.

He lets out a sad breath of air. “Dead again.”

Ignoring the instinct to correct his form, I opt for a quick “Sorry,” as he rubs at the spot where I struck him.

He grins at me. “If I had a problem, I would find a different sparring partner.”

That smile of his sets my stomach to fluttering. It gets more and more charming every day.

But shame spreads through me when Torrin’s eyes raise to my hair. He hasn’t said anything about it, and I’m in no hurry to offer an explanation for its shorter length. Thankfully, Master Burkin strides over to us, saving me.

“Well done, Rasmira,” he says. Then to Torrin, “You’re too slow on the recovery. Unless getting eviscerated was your intention?”

A look of annoyance flashes over Torrin’s face, but it disappears as quickly as it comes. “Maybe it was, Master Burkin.”

“And maybe you’ll fail your trial tomorrow. This is the last day for me to shove any more training into your thick skull. Let’s pair Rasmira up with another boy so you can watch.”

Being put on display is the last thing I want. It separates me even more from the rest of the trainees. I already receive more attention, receive the highest marks. It’s as if my instructor, my father, and everyone else are trying to make life harder for me.

Burkin searches through the other pairs practicing in the training house. “How about…”

Not Havard. Not Havard. Not Havard.

“Havard!” Burkin calls on the second-highest rank in our training group. “Come pair with Rasmira so Torrin can observe how to properly recover from his own swing.”

“I know how to recover,” Torrin says defensively. “Rasmira is just fast.”

“The ziken are fast, too,” Burkin says, “and they will not have blunt claws for weapons. Now watch.”

I’ve spoken to my father about Burkin belittling the other students in order to raise me up. Complained profusely.

Nothing has changed.

So I’m forced to face off with Havard. He’s the biggest boy I’ve ever seen, with a scowl across his lips to heighten the effect.

No one ever did like being second best.

Then again, perhaps no one ever hated being first more than I.

I swing for Havard’s head, just as Master Burkin wants. Havard ducks and thrusts out with his ax just as I did before. With the same momentum of my initial swing, I curve my blades around, effectively blocking the jab toward my stomach.

“Perfect,” Burkin says. “Now step it up, Torrin. Else tomorrow will be the last day any of us sees you alive.”

And with that, Burkin stomps off to find other students to nag.

“Doesn’t he realize how hard it is to take this seriously when it’s the last day of training?” Torrin asks.

I’m about to respond, when a blur streaks toward me out of the corner of my eye.

I throw my ax up just in time.

It would seem that Havard isn’t done with me yet.

“Something is different about you,” Havard says, looking me up and down. The motion makes me feel dirty.

But then his eyes fix on my hair.

He laughs once. “You’ve cut your hair. Were you trying to make yourself uglier? Or does Torrin prefer it this way?”

I shove at our joined axes, sending Havard back a step. He has a knack for finding just the right ways to bring me down low. My eyes sting, but I have long since learned to control tears.

My father cut my hair last night. It used to flow down to my waist in blond waves. I loved my hair, despite the fact that it’s more white than golden, like my mother’s and sisters’. But now it barely reaches my shoulders, just like the rest of the men wear their hair.

I know that if my father could somehow force me to grow a beard, he’d do that, too.

My knuckles whiten where they grip my ax.

Havard notices. “You’re going to strike me?”

“I’m considering it.”

He snorts. “How would it look if the village leader’s daughter started a fight the day before her trial?”

“Like she got pissed off by the village idiot.”

His eyes sharpen. “You want to be very careful of what you say to me, Rat.”

Rat—his charming nickname for me. Havard has been using it since I was eight. He said I scurried like one every time I tried to find my feet after he’d knock me down in training.

And when I would come home covered in bruises from my shins to my cheeks, Father began training me at home, too. For the last ten years, I have learned very little other than how to handle an ax.

But that is why I’m the best.

Because I know he’s not expecting it, I fling my fist at Havard. His eyes were trained on my ax, not my free hand. The blow catches him on the chin, and I’m pleased by the way my knuckles smart. It must mean I hit him hard.

Havard cannot keep challenging me. I have to put him in his place. For one day, I will be his ruler, and if I cannot keep one bully in line, I’ll never be able to look after a whole village.

When he sends a returning fist my way, I move to block it with my ax.

But he uncurls his fingers, wraps them around the shaft, and traps my ax in place. After dropping his own weapon, he sends his now-free hand toward my face. I feel my skin split across my cheekbone as my face wrenches backward.

Burkin notices.

“Havard! No fists! You will apologize to Rasmira.”

Havard is furious at being caught when I wasn’t. Rage fuels him now—he’s past the point of listening. Past the point of being sensible, which is right where I want him.

He picks his weapon back up and flies at me, ax, legs, and arms swinging intermittently. I block each attack one after the next, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

There.

After a sweeping move meant to cleave me in two from head to toe, Havard’s ax nicks into the dirt floor.

I’ve already sidestepped it, and now I sweep his legs out from under him, landing him on his ass for the whole room to see.

“Quicker on the recovery!” Burkin barks out. “By the goddess, do none of you listen?”

Some of the trainees laugh, but I barely hear it. My entire focus is latched onto Havard lying on the ground.

I kick his weapon far from his reach, then lower my ax to Havard’s neck so the two blades rest on either side, pinning him to the floor.

“Dead,” I say. And then lower, so only he can hear, “Challenge me again, and the next time we face off, it won’t be with training weapons.”

Havard answers with a disturbing smile. “You won’t live long enough for us to face off again.”

I kick him, send my leg straight down into his stomach. “And you need never rise from this floor. Apologize if you wish me to free you.”

Once he catches his breath, Havard tries to use his hands to thrust my ax away from himself. I kick him again. This time my heel comes down on his nose.

Burkin does nothing. Will never do anything, because I am my father’s daughter. Displeasing me would displease Father.

A little voice scratches at the back of my mind, warning me that incensing Havard is no way to earn his respect and loyalty. I’m abusing my own power.

But a much more prominent voice practically shouts, Make him bend.

Finally, through a blood-soaked face, Havard says, “Apologies.”

I let him up, and training resumes.

* * *

TORRIN WALKS ME HOME, as he’s done every day for the last month. Though now it feels as though he’s always been by my side, we only became friends about six weeks ago. Before that, he was part of Havard’s group, just another face in the crowd of my tormentors.

I remember vividly the day everything changed. Havard thought to gang up on me with the help of his best friends, Kol, Siegert, and Torrin. But instead of siding with Havard, Torrin helped me fight them off. Afterward, Torrin begged my forgiveness for playing the part he had the last several years. He said that as our trial had grown closer, he’d given some serious thought to what it means to be a warrior. “It never sat right with me—the way Havard treats you,” he said, “but rather than face what I believed to be wrong, I did the easy thing. I don’t want to be that kind of man. I know it’s too late to take back what I’ve done, but I’d like to start changing now. I hope you can forgive me for the past.”

I didn’t think I was the forgiving type. I didn’t think I believed people could change. But as I watched Torrin start living his life separate from Havard, I started to become closer to him. For the first time, I had a friend. Someone who didn’t hate me for what I couldn’t control, for being my father’s daughter.

Now Torrin gently touches my cheek where Havard struck me. “We need to get this looked at right away.”

I’m torn. I want to shrug him off because I don’t need him fussing over me. He would never treat a male warrior this way. And yet, I don’t want him to stop touching me.

“Irrenia will do it when she gets home,” I say.

“Even with the cut, you’re still lovely. How do you manage that?”

Lovely.

I have received praise for being brave and strong, for having impressive aim, for holding my ax properly.

But no one has ever praised my looks.

A blossoming warmth spreads inside my chest, traveling upward. It envelops the pulsing sting in my cheek.

I have no idea how I’m supposed to respond to something like that. How do women handle such praise? Saying thank you doesn’t seem right. Especially when I don’t agree.

Thankfully, Torrin saves me from having to respond. “I overheard some of the trainees talking about sneaking out tonight to witness the Payment. Do you want to go? Not with them, obviously. With me. Separately.” He takes his hand back, and we continue walking toward my home. He moves slightly closer to me so that our arms brush as we walk. It’s such a subtle change, but I notice, as if he’d bounded into me headlong.

At this point, I’m convinced I would do anything as long as it means spending more time with him.

“Sure.” I try to sound as though I couldn’t care either way. I hope he doesn’t realize just how good it feels for me to be around him. While I’m almost certain he feels the same way I do, it’s impossible to tell for sure. But why else would he look for reasons to touch me? Why would he try to spend as much time as possible with me outside of training?

But if he does like me, then why hasn’t he kissed me yet? Maybe he is just as nervous as I am. Maybe it’s his first experience with courtship, just as it is mine. I’ve never seen him with another girl.

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