Al’s Training Takes a Turn

As with the previous scene, this one was dropped when the start of the book moved to Testing Day. I like this one because of the relationship it shows between Al and Master Ruipert. Also, this is where Al starts to get some confidence in his swordplay - but not too much.

“Again.” Master Ruipert scooped a big glop of redberry jam out of the jar and slathered it onto a piece of toast.

Al raised his sword to the first parry position. “But I’ve been doing the same thing for two months!”

“And you’ll keep doing it until you stop moving like a pregnant cow.”

Al brought his sword through the first progression of parries and counters that Master Ruipert had taught him. He’d done the movements so often that he didn’t even need to think about them anymore. After the first progression, he moved onto the second, and then the third.

Halfway through the seventh, Master Ruipert finished his toast and wiped his hands on his pants. “Okay.” He drew his sword. “That last routine wasn’t all bad. Let’s see it for real.”

Al’s eyes widened. “What?” Master Ruipert held a real weapon in his hands, not one of the wooden practice blades.

“Time to stop playing around. You need to learn to face a real weapon.”

“But I’m not ready!”

“Then this is going to hurt.”

Al moved into his base stance, holding his sword at the ready. Master Ruipert moved like no one else Al had ever seen. It was like the man never needed to shift his balance, which made predicting his movements all but impossible. Al had been hit more times in practice than he could count.

And now he’s trying to stab me with a real weapon.

The first attack came high, a stab toward his chest. Al parried hard, and as Master Ruipert’s weapon was forced out of line, he spun his sword around his opponent’s and shoved, trying a disarm maneuver. Master Ruipert’s blade moved faster, spinning around Al’s and slapping it out of the way.

“Not a bad choice.” Master Ruipert said. “But be careful. If the disarm fails, you can be left wide open.” He raised his weapon. “This time, let’s go a little faster.”

Al’s heart raced in his chest.

Master Ruipert stabbed, in exactly the same place as the first time. The blade moved so fast, Al didn’t have time to think. He stepped back as he parried, barely avoiding the tip. Master Ruipert brought his sword around again, this time in a slash. Al parried, stepping back again. The attacks continued, driving Al backward until his back touched the wall of the barn.

“Backing up is a valid strategy.” Master Ruipert said. “Until it’s not. The smart swordsman uses it only when necessary.”

Al licked his lips. He hadn’t been retreating as a strategy. He’d just been trying to stay alive. His eyes narrowed as he focused on Master Ruipert’s chest. The slightest of shifts warned him, and he parried just in time, pushing Master Ruipert’s weapon away from his chest.

The man’s eyebrows raised. “At last I see the potential your dad has spoken of. Now keep that focus.”

Al parried two more attacks, one high and one low, delivered in rapid succession. After the second attack, he tried a simple riposte, but it was batted away.

Master Ruipert stepped backwards and lowered his blade.

“Tell your father I was wrong, Al. You have progressed well. I’ll see you tomorrow. Drill hard tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll move faster than quarter speed.” Sheathing his sword, he turned and walked out of the barn.

“Quarter speed?” Al said hollowly. His mouth felt dry. He’d been moving as fast as he could.

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Dragon Run by Patrick Matthews, © 2012, 2018 Patrick Matthews. Published by Scholastic Inc. All Rights Reserved. Illustration © 2012, 2013 by Jason Chan. SCHOLASTIC and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc.