In a surprise move, Cadet Berela tricked Chris into lowering his guard. Then Berela flung his saber at Chris’s unprotected chest.
A century ago, as recounted in the histories of the Mordanian Navy, an airship’s ensigns came up with the idea of throwing their sabers at enemies. They planned on impaling the officers leading a boarding party, depriving their airmen of leadership, and breaking the charge in one brilliant move. No doubt, the ensigns imagined praise from officers and medals of valor from their king.
They got neither of those.
Naval sabers are balanced for hacking and slashing, not throwing. The thrown blades arrived hilt-first at their targets, leaving a few bruises, but impaling no one. Most of the sabers never even left bruises. Already prepared to parry attacks, the enemy officers simply knocked the thrown sabers aside.
Left defenseless, the ensigns all died.
Ever since then, every new ensign spends an entire morning throwing a naval saber at a target, ensuring every ensign understands that sabers are not designed to fly. When I spent my morning learning something I already knew, my arm was quivering with fatigue before I got lucky and hit a target with the saber’s point.
That’s what should have happened with Berela’s surprise attack. Watching the saber spin towards me, I realized Berela rebalanced the saber so he could make this very attack. My opponent judged his distance perfectly, and I could tell the saber would plunge point-first into my gut.
If I’d kept my guard up, I could have parried the throw easily enough. But, the point of my saber had sunk into the ground after I lowered it. The blade didn’t dig very deeply, but it was deep enough to stop me from sweeping my saber up to knock aside the other sword.
I could dive right or left, but the surprise attack would still get me in the side, possibly biting deeply enough to hit a kidney. Stepping into the attack would save me from the point, but the sharp edge of the blade would still slice open my gut. That only left one possible action, and I took it.
I skipped backward a step.
The point sliced through the left side of my cadet uniform, but that was all. The blunt top of the blade slammed into my stomach. It would leave a bruise, but that was preferable to a jagged hole.
In the time it took his thrown saber to tumble harmlessly to the ground, Berela’s expression transformed from one of almost sadistic glee to one of wide-eyed dismay. He began backpedaling from me as I retrieved the saber at my feet. Armed with two swords, I stalked towards him.
“I yield!” he cried. “I yield!”
“Cadet Marlow has not yet drawn blood,” Commander Mills intoned. “You cannot yield until he does.”
“But, now he’s got both sabers!” Berela protested. “That’s not honorable or fair! He has to return mine so we can start over!”
Pointing both blades at Berela, I proclaimed, “You are disarmed as a result of your own cowardly attack, Berela. It was almost a clever move, but it didn’t work. Now, face the consequences of your actions like a man!”
He didn’t, of course. I spent the next five minutes chasing him around the courtyard, slowly restricting his options until I finally trapped him against the wall of one of the buildings surrounding us. I lifted my left hand—the one holding Berela’s blade—high over my head, preparing for a devastating slash.
“Please don’t kill me!” Berela begged. “Oh God, please!”
With all eyes on the saber glinting in the noon sun, I flicked my right arm up. My saber opened a thin line on Berela’s left hand. Blood welled up in the cut.
Lowering my left arm, I said, “I’ve drawn blood.”
“I yield!” Berela screamed.
“Both blades drew blood. One man yields,” Commander Mills announced. “Cadet Marlow has defeated Cadet Berela in fair combat.”
I tried glaring at Berela in haughty disdain, but I think my expression was closer to exhausted irritation than anything else. “I have granted you mercy where none was deserved. Cross me or mine again, and you will find me far less forgiving. Do you understand?”
Berela stared at me in fear and tried backing away from me. With his back already against a wall, he tried flattening himself against it.
I closed the distance between us until our chests were nearly touching. Looking up into Berela’s fear-widened eyes, I barked, “Do you understand?”
Head bobbing up and down, Berela babbled, “Yes! I understand! Yes. Yes. Yes!”
Without another word, I turned and stalked away, dragging both blades in the grass. Everyone watched me in silence, except for the lovely, lithe, blonde woman who was the center of my universe. I dropped the two swords as she sprinted to me and flung herself into my arms. Her feet flew out as I spun her around and around. Jade’s lips met mine, and it was as if her kiss gave the crowd permission to react.
Every cadet from a lost colony cheered loudly. To be fair, many of the cadets from the Federation joined in the cheering. At least a dozen cams swooped around Jade and me, while others focused on MP Berela. A very few even hovered before my vanquished opponent, who was still pressed against the building at the edge of the courtyard.
Martin and Megan followed closely behind Jade, and my second said, “I hate to interrupt such a tender moment, but the MP and the Commander are both heading this way.”
I stopped spinning, returning Jade’s feet to the ground. Leaving one arm wrapped around her waist, I turned to face the approaching men. I wasn’t surprised when the MP spoke first.
“I hope you enjoyed your little game, boy, because you’ve shown your barbarous nature to the entire Federation and betrayed the trust placed on you by your home world!” The elder Berela pointed at Commander Mills. “Did you know the Academy Commander can wash out any cadet, for any reason? What will your parents, your rulers, and your world think of you when you’re sent home in disgrace because of this duel? What will they think when they learn you threw away everything over the girl standing next to you?”
Before I could respond, Megan stepped between me and the MP. In a voice filled with righteous indignation, she proclaimed, “His parents will stand tall, proud they raised such a son. His future parents-in-law will stand tall, proud their daughter will marry such a fine man. His rulers will laud him, proud that they selected such a man to represent Aashla. And the people of our world will hail him a hero for upholding Aashlan honor in the face of the Federation’s dubious morality.”
I felt my cheeks redden at Megan’s impassioned speech, but MP Berela dismissed it all with the wave of a hand. Turning to Commander Mills, he said, “Do your duty, Commander.”
Dozens of cams focused on Commander Mills as he met the MP’s gaze. “You are correct, sir. I may expel any cadet should I so desire—and I very much desire it. Please gather your son’s belongings and take him away from my academy.”
“What?” MP Berela bellowed.
“Your son simply isn’t Scout material,” Commander Mills said. Then, he walked away from the spluttering MP.
Both Berelas were gone within the hour.
Will cadet life finally settle down to something approaching normal for Chris and Jade? Find out in Chapter 32, coming Friday.