The road was wide and beaten down by the passage of innumerable horses and people. The farther we got away from the city though, the narrower the path got. At first, there were many villages. It seemed like every time we got out of view of one village, another came in. Several days of travel passed by in a blink. Most nights, I slept in the back of a wagon which had a bed set up just for me. Although my ass was sore from the horse riding, I was actually in pretty good condition overall.
I mostly allowed the elves to lead the way, where my five soldiers formed a circle around the main wagon which mostly just contained my stuff. After the first day, I had started sitting on the wagon. Partially it was because of the abuse to my butt, but mostly it was because my mother had commandeered my steed. I wasn’t even attached to the horse in the first place, so it didn’t really matter to me that she decided to ride it all of the time.
After I started getting whispers and looks from the elves, I decided it wasn’t worth it to ride with my mother on top of me. Her affection was actually a little embarrassing, even if she was probably my most loyal ally. As for Baba, she had a tendency to disappear if you weren’t looking at her. More than once, the party had been convinced we had left her behind, but she always appeared at night, snuggled next to the campfire. Even though she looked cute and completely innocent, not a single person in the camp dared to harass her even a little.
The guards kept a wide birth, and the elves created a second camp about 50 feet away from our own. I was the only person willing to sit nearby her when I ate. Given a couple of looks, this seemed to have meaning to people too. Although, it was meaning that wasn’t there. It was their own fear and reverence, not some deep decision, that made it so I ate my dinner with Baba snoozing at my feet. As for teaching me, Baba hadn’t made a single attempt. She said we’d do it when we stopped in a village.
That first night, when the elves had made their campfire and told us to make our own, my guards had been offended that the elvish wouldn’t camp with us. I may be a devil, but I was a son of the kingdom, and when it came between those within your kingdom and those without, this lot would side on what brought honor the humans. Although elves and humans were peaceful, where there were differences, there was always division. So, there was tension there.
Eventually, I pointed out that more fires would suggest more people, and thus mean we would be less likely to be attacked at night by bandits. Of course, after that suggestion, the men wanted to create several extra fires to give the illusion that our forces were massive. I told them that they had to leave a man station at each fire to keep it going and they quickly gave up on it, as it was too much work and spread them out so they couldn’t effectively keep watch.
After a few nights, we were eating by the campfire when one of the men approached me. It wasn’t the overweight Captain Doar, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the man behind goading the young guard over. This guy was the youngest of the pack, and only about five years older than me. He bowed, but the expression on his face held anything but respect for my authority.
“My lord, I heard that the elf guard has been teaching you how to handle a sword.”
As it were, he spoke loudly enough that the elves could hear as well. In particular, the two princesses, Saria and Bala, glanced over with interest at our conversation. Both women knew well aware of the disdain that these men held to me. However, while Saria wouldn’t mind seeing me humiliated, Bala had her own reputation to maintain. As a swordsman, she had trained me to fight, and if I was defeated, I’d only embarrass her efforts.
“She’s only shown me a few pointers over the last week,” I said, bowing my head. “I’m certainly not at the level of a royal guardsman such as yourself.”
As a prince, I shouldn’t have to debase myself in front of a bodyguard, but offending him out here had worst repercussions. Therefore, I went with the most political answer I could give. Unfortunately, the man was unmoved by the compliment, and still seemed to want to cause trouble.
“No worries, no worries. Since you are still learning, I thought that perhaps we could exchange some pointers, you and me.” He spoke with a malicious grin.
I let out a sigh. They were quick enough to get offended on my behalf when it came to the entire kingdom’s honor, but they couldn’t work fast enough to embarrass me for their own amusement a few feet from an elvish delegation. Well, it was official, these men were idiots. Of course, it wasn’t like idiots couldn’t be useful.
“Very well.” I gave my answer, standing up.
Of course, I knew I didn’t have a chance. The people of this world weren’t like me at all. I hadn’t even learned magic yet. As for the force that Bala used to move quickly, she said it has something to do with body strengthening techniques, which she spoke as a different entity than magic. A swordsman used their body, a magician used magic, those were her words. I didn’t seem to have either at the moment. If I chose to back down, that would have its own downstream problems. My only choice was to fight. At least then, I wouldn’t come off as cowardly.
We made a circle, and surprisingly, several elves, including the princesses, came over to also watch my humiliation. Aeryn handed me my practice sword.
“Be safe.” She said.
I raised an eyebrow. It was unexpected that she would offer me any words of concern.
Aeryn snorted. “It’d be a shame if you were to bleed on anyone else.”
I let out a wry chuckle. That was more in line with what I expected from her. I also noticed that while Baba hadn’t moved, and everyone had kept a wide birth for her so that they didn’t interrupt her sleep, she had one eye open and was watching with a moderate degree of interest as well.
“Baby… you don’t have to do this.” Mother said, pushing her chest against me. “Just say no. He only wants to embarrass you.”
I smiled and kissed mom’s nose, causing her to blush. “I’ll be fine, mother.”
I spoke confidently, but at the moment, that was all I had. Standing into the ring, it was denoted by stabbing various weapons into the ground to create a round circle. As expected, it was Captain Moar who entered the circle.
“This match is about safety. A point per strike. The man with the most points wins. The match ends when one surrenders or is knocked out of the ring. Should this happen, to the party who is knocked out, they will lose the equivalent of five points.”
These were simple rules, but they were designed to embarrass me the most. He likely planned to strike as many points from me as possible. Perhaps, he would push me into a spot where I had to surrender to him, thus maximizing the humiliation. By all accounts, a simple sparring match or exchanging of lessons shouldn’t have anything like a point system. It was clear by the faces of my guards they wanted me to understand my place now that we were away from the castle.
Perhaps, after knocking a few points away, he’d ask me to make a bet. Maybe it’d be something like I’d have to give up my bed or wash the dishes or some other means of bringing a prince down to their level. In the end, they would use this as a platform to continue bullying me the remainder of the trip. At least, that was what I reasoned out of this fight.
However, I was willing to take the best out of it I could. It was an opportunity for me to learn a bit more about the fighting ability of people from this world. There had been only one combatant I’d ever seen, and that was Bala. Other fighters were bound to have other strengths and weaknesses. I was eager to see how a royal guard faired up to Bala. They’d have to be at the same level, right?
“Ready!” Captain Moar called. “Begin!”
The man burst towards me, offering not even a moment of thought before he was slashing his sword down towards my head. I looked up at it, and a strange expression came over my face. So slow! Compared to Bala, this guy moved way too slow. In fact, he felt no better than the fencing partners I had known. Was… was this some kind of trick.
I dodged his strike, carefully backing away to the other side of the ring. I had my sword ready for his sudden change of momentum and counter, but it never came. Rather, he followed through with the strike, missing me by a mile and hitting the ground. Only after he was done, and I saw at least three instances that I could have hit him, that he spun around. His face held surprise, but also anger. As for me, I was genuinely confused.
He lunged at me again, but it was no faster this time. His movements were wide, open, and wasteful. His technique was extremely sloppy. Perhaps, I could have imagined this from Captain Doar because of his weight, but this guy was nothing like that. Rather, he was like a child. Although it was true that Bala had helped me improve, it wasn’t at such a level. Even me from before I came to this world could have handled this guy with my expertise.
I was starting to realize a very particular point. Bala was a freak, wasn’t she? I had versed myself against her and got my ass handed to me. This gave me the impression that fighting was on a whole different level when one included things like will or mana. Yet, there was a royal guard. He was an elite of the human realm, and yet his fighting ability wasn’t much better than my own.
I wanted my shattered confidence back! A week of attacking Bala and having my ass handed to me and I was convinced that this world fought on another level. It turned out, it was only Bala who fought on another level. She was a freak of nature in a world only a little different. What was done was done, and after fighting her for a straight week, my eyes were far sharper than they were before.
He stabbed at me and then tried to switch into a slash to catch me off guard and keep me from jumping back this time. I casually brought my sword forward. I stuck his and met him blade for blade. Each strike caused him to grow off balanced. By the fifth strike, he was already at the edge of the circle. With my sword, I casually pushed it out and poked his nose. He fell back out of the circle, having only been struck once.
“Match…” I spoke dryly, not even breathing hard.
The elves didn’t look impressed or unimpressed. Rather, they looked like they didn’t care one way or the other. Bala also had her expressions hidden, although Saria was watching with just a bit of interest. As for the four other guards, they had ugly expressions on their faces. I started walking towards Aeryn.
“W-wait…” The man called, getting up angrily. “This match isn’t done!”
“I am tired,” I spoke simply. “And you are not my match.”
This only made the man angrier. So much for being diplomatic. I was irritated over my miscalculations and spoke in frustration. This shouldn’t matter in the slightest. I was the prince of the human realm. There should be no instance in which a bodyguard like this had the right to talk to me like that. Meanwhile, if I spoke to him angrily every day, it was my right. Apologizing now would only completely smear the title of Prince and make it meaningless.
“Watch your tongue…” I responded darkly, “I am your prince.”
“You are a devil bastard!” He shouted, and then raced forward, attacking me.
“Stop!” Captain Doar shouted, but he said it in such a disinterested voice, it was clear he was only paying lip service.
“Doar, stop this!” Mother cried out.
I casually knocked his sword back. He sent two more swings and I cast them aside. This time, I wore open disdain, not shock on my face. These were human’s finest? I was a hobbyist, yet I could use a sword better than this guy. Where had he been dug up from? He spun around, grabbing a handful of dirt and tossing it at my face. Some of the elves tsk’d in disapproval, while some of the bodyguards let out laughter.
Before the dust even reached my eyes, anger exploded through me. The particles of dust floating around seemed to slow for an instant. I felt like I could move between them. Although the world around me was moving slow, I felt myself being able to push forward. But it didn’t feel like forcing myself to push through molasses or honey. Rather, it felt like I was sliding between the cracks, moving along a current I didn’t even realize existed until now.
When the moment ended, I realized I appeared right in front of the bodyguard. He hadn’t even finished spinning around to attack yet, and I was already in front of him. I shoved my sword forward and struck his neck. He fell back and landed on his ass.
“It’s over,” I said flatly.
The world moved like normal again, and the dust he had throwing dissipated in the air. There were several audible gasps among the elvish. Other than Captain Doar, who was staring at me with a strange light in his eyes, the other men looked confused.
“He… he used will…” I heard an elf behind me whisper. “He’s a will user?”
“This is big…” One of the other elves said. “There are only a dozen will users per country. For the prince to be one…”
I turned around and noticed both princesses looking at me. Bala was wide-eyed, her mouth open, a strangely fearful expression on her face. So, she was using will before? She had never told me anything about will. As my expression shot to hers, she looked away with a blush. She had claimed it was body strengthening techniques. Body strengthening techniques my ass!
As for Saria, she was also looking at me with a strangely considering look. It wasn’t as threatening as she once had looked at me. If anything, it seemed more… interested. I didn’t know what I felt better about. Being looked at like an enemy, or being considered as an ally. When it came to Saria, I expected both lost out in the end.
“No!” The voice of my mother screamed from behind me.
“You devil!” The man screamed.
Bala pulled her sword and in a single swift motion, tossed it to me. I caught it smoothly by the handle and spun. My sword moved as well, swinging in a perfect arc. The guard was running at my back. He had pulled a real dagger out, and he had it lifted now. I didn’t hesitate to swing the sword with all of my strength. The man could only blink in surprise. First, his wrist was severed and the knife and his fist with it went flying in a fountain of blood. However, my swing didn’t stop, and his head soon followed.
Taking a step to the side, a bloody headless person collapsed at the point I had been standing a moment prior. Blood splattered across the ground, and Saria casually lifted her dress and stepped back, avoiding the bloodstain. She made sure to shoot Bala a tight look too. Bala had assisted me in my time of need right in front of everyone. She could have done more. She could have moved and blocked the man who was trying to kill me. However, she made the right decision. I needed to do this myself.
I turned back to the four men. They all had their mouths open now. Even my mother was red and shaking from shock and anger. The only one who seemed unaffected was Aeryn, but even she wore a slight grimace of distaste on her face. She was loyal to the castle, and to her, this man’s traitorous actions deserved no better than he got.
“I am Prince David, the future king of the human realm. If anyone else holds traitorous thoughts, step into the ring right now.” My words were pointed at these men.
Captain Doar glowered at me, but the other three looked away, finding themselves extremely embarrassed. I bent over, wiped the blade on the dead man’s clothing, and then tossed it back to Bala. I then turned and walked away from the circle, not looking back until I reached my wagon. A few minutes later, a body slammed into my back. It was my mother, hugging me tightly from behind, her warm melons pressing tightly against me as she cried.
“My baby… don’t do anything so dangerous again…” She demanded and then said lightly. “Even if it made you look cool.”
I turned around and lifted mom’s cheek, bringing her watery eyes up to mine. “If I don’t do anything dangerous, how will I be able to show mom the man I’ve become.”
Mother’s face went red and she lowered her head, suddenly pulling awkwardly at her dress and acting shy, “There are… other ways.”
It was unfortunately very easy to read where mom’s thoughts were at that moment. I couldn’t get her to go to bed in her own bedroll that night, so I had to sleep using her breasts as pillows. My life as a prince could be tough sometimes for various reasons.