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But Ears Are Important

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On the way to the village overlook, we stopped by at the fighter's guild on Glory Way to grab a pair of practice swords. Darbon ran into an old acquaintance, and they spent a moment sharing their stunned disbelief at the recent show of weapon skill that a dwarven cleric had demonstrated.

The grizzled veteran, called Bazhi, had apparently reached a level of ability with all manner of weapons that put most professional fighters to shame. Granted, a battle cleric from the warlike group known as the Scythe was nothing like the delicate healer Jhenna was to begin with, but even his kind generally stuck to blunt weapons like maces and flails, and rarely became particularly skilled in anything else. Darbon's friend amusedly remarked to me that soon we would have women rising to the same feat, if this kept up. I snorted at him and countered, "Or elves, for that matter!" with a wink to Darbon, who snickered into his beard.

I found the two fighters' amicable banter refreshing; while I was mostly ignorant of the specific goings-on of their guild, I felt their world was not so far from my own. Instead of being a third wheel, I was included in the conversation.

The realization brought a smile on my face as we took off towards our improvised training area.

The Tantallon Overlook stood on a cliff high above the ocean, providing a magnificent, uninterrupted view of the sea. On its north side was the high, wooden village wall, which connected to the walls of a mighty fortress on the north side of  Tantallon. The east side had a parapet for the view.

We divided the blunt instruments of mock battle amongst us, and I threw a half-serious salute Darbon's way. He returned it with a smirk, and the fight was on.

I feinted and dodged his first few swings, and even got a few weak slices to connect with his arms. The weapon was somewhat different in dimensions to what I was used to, and after a while our differences in strength got apparent: He had accustomed to his weapon, using it like an extension of himself, and I was still trying to use the contraption to fulfil the role of my more familiar weapon.

But I had other advantages, and kept dodging and teasing him around the small area, all the while looking for an opening to sneak past his defences. My feints and distractions did keep him puzzled enough for a while, keeping us on equal ground. When I started to wear out somewhat and slowed down to stabilize my breathing, he took the opportunity to land his first lucky attacks.

After that I was mostly on the defensive. Or retreat, even. Once I managed to miscalculate where the wall was supposed to be, I found my moving space reduced to a minimum. In a blink of an eye, my practice sword went flying, and I found myself bodily pressed against the confining non-protection of the city wall.

His face was suddenly quite close to mine, I realized.

He was not looking me in the eye, either. His eyes were wandering slightly lower... and to my lips. I could feel his breath on my skin. I could smell the leather of his armour, and something more – the musky scent of his sweat.

He smirked at my subdued bafflement and drawled, "Have I ever told you that you have exquisite cheekbones?"

I managed to snap out of my daze and rolled my eyes at his suggestive tone. "Pshaw! What kind of a cheesy pick-up line is that?" I swatted him on the arm and pushed him away, then straightened up and brushed the dust off my armour while dragging my mind back out of the gutter.

Darbon took a moment to stretch his well-toned muscles with abandon, while I decided I needed to get an eyeful of the ocean instead. Then we concluded that there had been enough sweat and bruises for one session, and headed back for the fighters' guild.

Chatting amicably, we went to return the weapons to the storage racks, while Darbon waved greetings to some acquaintances popping by. I was once again baffled at how easy-going and sociable he was, despite sharing the somewhat isolating lifestyle of a mercenary. Or maybe it was just me who was the broody storm cloud, and his behaviour represented what was normal among regular people.

As we stepped out, I was just giggling like a little girl at something Darbon said, when my smile froze: I spotted the mage.

Instead of recuperating at the temple, as I had expected, he was up and walking; or leaning on the wall of a building on the other side of the street, in any case. He was also looking straight at us, and I suddenly became very awkwardly aware of my hand resting on Darbon's arm. It had wandered there at random and completely innocently. But this, obviously, would not be apparent to anyone else from the way I was blushing about it.

Why do these things always happen to me?