Word count: 1875
Prompt: sparring and a bet - ""And if I should win?" "What would you have of me, milord." "A kiss. Nothing more."
Summary: Pre game. Swordplay as foreplay for politics - because what else would you expect in Arcadia?
The royal library was one of the quietest places in the palace. The handful of scholars that haunted its bookshelves were a retiring, timid lot for the most part, disinclined towards noise or direct sunlight, and most of the rest of the staff only bothered with the place when they had to dust it. It was largely for this reason that several of Vayne’s personal tutors had taken to conducting his lessons there, away from the bustle and distraction of the more populated parts of the palace.
As if his classes hadn’t already been boring enough to begin with.
“In 689 King Barhei III standardized the system of taxation for the vassal states of the newly expanded Archadian Empire. His Alban Codex outlined the procedures for land allotments and tiered taxation rates for Arcadian citizens and the local indigens…”
Vayne propped his chin lazily against his palm, watching the motes of dust swirl and turn golden in the afternoon sunlight dripping from the overhead window. His books lay untouched before him on the table, the sun-soaked paper making warm blots on the polished wood, but History Master Teramin appeared to enamored by his own voice to care.
“Barhei’s laws supported the continued authority and prosperity of the local gentry. The partiality of this upper class was of especial importance after Barhei’s death in early 690…”
Gods, but Vayne hated history.
The door opened, the smooth, subtle creak of the hinges slipping all but unnoticed into the quiet. The sound that followed, however, was anything but subtle, and Vayne straightened in his seat as Judge Drace strode into the room, the rattle of her armour clattering noisily between the dusty shelves.
Teramin broke off his oration with a scowl, obviously unamused by the interruption. “Wha-?” he began.
Drace stopped in front of the table, every inch of her armour gleaming as she snapped off a sharp salute.
“Lord Vayne,” she greeted, the formal words echoing hollowly from behind her helmet. “And Master Teramin. I trust I find you both well.”
“Judge Drace!” Teramin snapped, a quiver of uncertainty hiding behind his pique. “What is the meaning of this?”
She sketched a slight bow. “My apologies for the interruption, Master Teramin. I have come to inform you that it is time for Lord Vayne’s fencing lesson.”
Teramin, who had been visably puffing himself up to deliver some irate, mortally offended diatribe, deflated slightly. “Really? I was under the impression that his lessons were later in the afternoon.”
“Unfortunately not, your Grace,” Drace answered, firm though not impolite.
Vayne decided to speak up. “It does seem about that time, Master Teramin,” he offered mildly. His eyes cut towards Drace, lightly measuring. “And Judge Drace is nothing if not thorough when it comes to overseeing my studies.”
Drace, cleverer by far than most of the courtiers who stumbled all over themselves to impress him, did not reply.
“Well, erm…” Teramin looked rather flustered. “Perhaps the time has gone by faster than I realized. That’s all for today then, Lord Vayne,” he declared, with a paltry attempt at his usual pomposity. “We’ll pick up tomorrow with the succession dispute of 690. No, leave your books here – I’ll arrange to have someone bring them up to your room later.”
Drace stepped aside as Vayne stood, standing to attention while she waited for him to pass. “After you, Lord Vayne. By your leave Master Teramin.” She saluted again and fell in step behind Vayne, Teramin left alone with the dust.
“Judge Gabranth usually oversees my fencing lessons,” Vayne waited until they were safely in the hall outside to say, starting down the corridor as he spoke.
The clatter of Drace’s armour followed the requisite step behind him. “Judge Gabranth has been unfortunately detained,” Drace said, her tone giving away nothing. “I hope I will provide an adequate replacement for your Lordship.”
Vayne shrugged carelessly. “No matter.” He let his glance slant, insinuating without being sly. “You seem far more successful at convincing my tutors to release me early than Gabranth ever manages to be.”
“I have many more years of practice than Judge Gabranth,” Drace offered noncommittally, reaching forward to open the door as they arrived outside the small room set aside for Vayne’s weapons training.
“How do you do that?” he asked as he walked in, going to the far wall to select a foil.
Drace shut the door and turned, cloak flaring around her. “Do what, Your Highness?”
Vayne allowed something like a grin to flicker across his face. “Manipulate people into doing what you want without making them angry with you.” He walked back to the centre mat with sword in hand, shedding his outer robe with quick, efficient movements. “Teramin keeps me longer out of sheer spite if ever Gabranth dares to enter the library.”
This time he could hear the smile in Drace’s voice as she took her position opposite him. “It’s an issue of authority.” Her head tilted, helm grating against the collar of her breastplate. “You might do well to cultivate such a skill yourself my Lord.”
Vayne smiled thinly. “The ability to exercise my own authority?”
“How to do so without making it seem as though you have,” Drace corrected. She drew her sword with a smooth, steely rasp. “It’s little different from swordplay, really – much of your success will depend on knowing your own strength and correctly evaluating how much of it to utilize against your opponent.”
“In what sense?” Vayne asked, leveling his own sword at Drace’s breastplate.
“Too little force and your opponent will overwhelm you; too much and you overextend yourself – leaving yourself vulnerable to attack both ways. You’d do far better to enlist a another’s capitulation without making him feel that his own authority is being undermined in the process.” She shifted into a ready stance. “Now come. Let’s see what Gabranth has been teaching you.”
Vayne sighed, ostensibly bored with the entire proceeding. “If you insist.”
Their conversation, such as it was, degenerated into the clash of steel on steel and the bark of Drace’s criticisms – follow through on your thrusts, don’t let your blade dip like that, watch the blind spot on your left. Vayne was soon sheened with a fine layer of sweat, his foil’s cloth-bound hilt growing slippery in his hand.
Drace seemed to be having no such problem – even though the breadth and heft of her armour had to be limiting, she fought on relentlessly, giving no indication of how taxing it must be. The armour itself, Vayne decided, was an extension of Drace’s authority as Judge, a symbol that granted her power that she might not otherwise have held.
Vayne shifted back out of his riposte, sword dropping tiredly. “You’re holding back,” he accused, swiping the back of his hand across his forehead.
Drace’s voice sounded amused. “I was under the impression this time was reserved for practice, rather than brawling.”
“And if I wanted a real bout instead?” Vayne lifted his chin arrogantly. “Surely my authority over you is sufficient enough to enable me that.”
“Might I remind your Highness that His Grace your father has charged me to oversee your instruction in these matters – not follow along with your whims.”
“A compromise then,” Vayne declared. “One that suits the balance of both of our positions.”
Drace cocked her head unhurriedly to the side, helmet rasping against her collar. “What do you propose my Lord?”
“One bout meant in earnest. Because it is only one, the winner shall receive a forfeit from the loser.” He raised an expectant eyebrow. “So I expect you to make full use of your talents, Judge Drace.”
“I see. And what would you have of me should you win, my Lord?”
Vayne considered. “A kiss,” he decided, and he could hear the shiver of metal against metal when Drace stiffened. “The conditions concern you?” he asked, with the carefully affected nonchalance his brothers used at state functions.
“Not enough to object my Lord.” Her tone was nothing but professional as Drace sank again into a ready stance, implacable and fierce in her horned helmet. “Though there seems to be one element of this exercise you have not fully considered.”
“Oh?” Vayne remarked lightly, springing forward in a low thrust. His sword clashed against Drace’s with a steely hiss and he back-stepped to avoid her next thrust, lunging neatly under it. “And what is that, pray tell?”
One moment Drace was parrying his thrust, heels digging hard into the mat, and the next Vayne was stumbling as the resistance against his blade simply vanished, leaving him flailing like an idiot. The cool edge of Drace’s sword slipped smoothly under his guard from the side – when had she moved? – kissing along the length of his neck with sudden and frightening immediacy.
He jerked back and fell hard, sword skittering out of his hand and coming to a stop halfway across the room. The sound of his harsh breathing was very loud in the quiet.
Drace shifted her sword away and reached quite deliberately upwards, gauntleted hands sure on the catches of her helmet. Locks of dark hair bounced as she pulled it free, small curls clinging damply to her face and neck. Her expression was frosty.
“Always keep in mind whether your demands are within the limits of what your people are willing to do for you, Highness,” she said, mouth set in a thin, disapproving line. “Else you might find them less than inclined to cede to them in the future.”
He probably shouldn’t exacerbate the situation, Vayne thought. “And how shall I know where those limits lie if I don’t push them?” he asked anyway.
“Discretion and good sense,” Drace told him promptly, as though the answer were obvious. “Even a prince can never observe too much. I think that’s enough practice for today my lord,” she continued in a more normal tone of voice. “I’ll inform Gabranth that he needs to focus on reacting to side attacks in your next lesson.”
“Thank you,” Vayne said, with as much dignity as he could muster while flat on his backside. “Your instruction has been most… enlightening.”
“Good.” She reached out with one hand and Vayne took it without thinking, a confused frown twisting his face when she made no attempt to help him up.
This time he could see her smile as well as hear it. “A forfeit, I believe, is due for the loss.” And she bent at the waist to place a chaste, gentlemanly kiss to the back of Vayne’s hand, every inch the noble courtier even in her massive armour.
“Thank you my Lord,” she said, mouth moving against his skin with the words. “For the bout.” Then she drew back unhurriedly, grip shifting from cradling to supportive, and pulled him effortlessly to his feet.
And Vayne laughed. “Well met, Judge Drace,” he declared, more amused than he had been in a while. “Perhaps I ought to take fencing lessons with you again – it seems as though they’d do me a great deal of good.”
Drace bowed low. “As you wish, my Lord,” she said, nothing more.
Which, as far as Vayne was concerned, was by far the best response she could have given.