My father tried to kill me and my mother.
This is the reminder I repeat during my training sessions.
I finished practice by swinging my staff in a front thrust and then an uppercut. I held my stance for a moment before coming to resting position. Sweat dripped onto my eyelashes. When I swiped them with the back of my hand, the sweat smeared across my eyelids. It was hot in the barn, but we had to keep the doors shut. No one was supposed to know what we were doing.
I was two years old when my father tried to kill me.
When my uncle, a former soldier in the king’s army, pushed me hard to train, my mantra kept me focused. My mother almost sacrificed her life to save me. I vowed my father would never hurt me or my family again.
“Come on, Vin. One more round before we go and check the rabbit traps.” Uncle Samson also nodded as another form of encouragement.
My uncle did not partake in idle conversation, but if the topic had anything to do with weapons, fighting, or horsemanship, he could be moved to speak with a confidence and authority that compelled you to pay attention.
He liked to call me by my nickname when he was pleased. When I handled the staff with precision and accuracy, I spoke my uncle’s language. The better I was with anything he taught me—weapons and fighting in particular—the better things stood between us. It was how we communicated most times.
I was very fluent in my uncle’s language.
He called me by my full name Vivian when he was not pleased. I hated to admit that I liked the endearment better, but my uncle was fair and was always patient, so I did my best to follow his teachings.
I’m seventeen years old now. My uncle, who is my mother’s brother, thought I was satisfactory with the staff, but not nearly as proficient with the long knife or bow. I held the staff so that it was separated into thirds and resumed my practice. I swung it through some forms—overhead front strike, four point strike, overhead rib strike. The staff cut through the air as I struck an imaginary opponent.
If only it wasn’t so damn hot. Flickering memories of being trapped in a modest cottage surrounded by smoke and suffocated by heat played with my senses. I forced the memories away and tightened my grip on the staff, the weight of it anchoring me to the present. I reminded myself, I’m not that little girl anymore.
As if reading my mind, Uncle Samson’s expression softened, and he said, “Maybe you can take a dip in the pond too when we’re done.”
I nodded my acknowledgement, focusing instead on my technique. I switched to a narrow hold—fists a few inches apart positioned at the center and moved to horse stance. I closed my eyes and lead the staff in a rowing figure eight motion. I concentrated on the weight and balance of the staff as it glided through the circular motions. My uncle taught me that a weapon is not a tool, but an extension of yourself. “How you use your weapon and how you treat it will determine your success with it,” he always said.
My weapons will be used to protect those I love. My weapons are treated with care and respect. As for success, it is up to me to be successful.
My father tried to kill me and my mother.
Whenever I tried to find out more about my father, my mother and uncle would only say that he was a very powerful man. My grandfather hinted once that my father was of noble blood. Someone from the palace. My grandfather used to be one of the top physicians there. My mother was upset for days after my grandfather’s slip-up. She assured me that I would learn the truth soon enough, but for now, I had to stay hidden and learn how to fight and protect myself.
My uncle’s voice cut through my wandering thoughts. “Be present in your actions, Vivian.”
I cleared my thoughts of my father. I opened my eyes, but kept my expression blank. Making excuses only earned more practice time. Action with purpose. That’s what mattered most to my uncle.
I raised the staff over my head, swinging it down in a striking motion toward my imaginary opponent’s ribs. I swung again, pivoting my hips and keeping my staff parallel to the ground, hitting the same point as before. I lifted up my knee and pulled my staff back in order to lunge and thrust the staff forward. I lifted up my knee again to repeat the stabbing technique, but stopped when I heard a crunch—a foot step—on dried leaves outside the barn.
My eyes darted to my uncle and we waited another moment. When the footsteps grew louder, signaling someone coming closer, I turned and sat on a bale of hay near one of the stalls. My uncle threw a smoothing cloth at me and then he grabbed a pitchfork from another stall.
One of the doors to the barn opened and the farmer’s daughter poked her head inside. She frowned. “Goodness, it’s hot in here!” She opened the other one and I was grateful for the cool air that floated through the barn. “If your uncle wasn’t here, I’d think you were up to no good, Vin.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Lena.” She was the same age as me, but we were opposites in appearance. She had long hair the color of corn silk, fair skin, and a generous figure. I was tall, lean and had short dark hair. I returned my attention to the staff, using the smoothing cloth to polish it. She stood in front of me, her lips pinched to one corner.
She liked to tease the boys in the village, but I never took the bait. I think she would probably be upset if she found out I was not a boy.