Two figures pace around one another in an open field. One male dwarf, clad in a simple leather tunic and bearing a worn training hammer, mirrored on the other side by a red-headed human woman, armed with a blunted longsword and a battered steel shield. The two circle one another, without breaking eye contact, weapons held at the ready.
“So, then.” The dwarf bellows cajolingly. “Which one of us goes first, hm?”
“Remains to be seen.” Comes the reply, soft but with a firm tone.
“Come, now.” The dwarf lowers the hammer to point at his legs. “With these stumpy things, I certainly ain’t chargin’ at you.” The corner of the woman’s mouth lifts into a smirk.
“I know better than to give you such an advantage. The question is, Ironbeard, which one of us will lose patience first?” A few more steps in the circle are the only punctuation in the long silence that follows.
“You were never as stubborn as this before. I’ve changed you, Alla, and I’m afraid it’s fer the worse.” Ulgar’s tone remains light and joking, but he isn’t sure it was entirely untrue.
“I wouldn’t wish it to have turned out any other way.” She smiles at Ulgar, who grins like a drunken fool in return. In a flash, she is upon him, and the grin is gone. He repels two quick bashes from her shield, the second strike flinging the shield wide enough for Ulgar to bring the hammer in towards her stomach. The sword meets it halfway, and the hammer’s head sends a tuft of grass flying as it slams into the ground.
“That was dirty. We’ve trained together fer how many years now? And you resort te tactics like that?”
“Like you said: you’ve changed me, Ironbeard.” Ulgar smiles and rushes at her, unleashing a series of slow but steady strikes and howling in deep, staccato laughter. Alla raises the shield to meet each strike, but is driven several steps backwards. A horizontal slash with the sword meant for Ulgar’s chest ends the barrage. Alla, seeing an opportunity, lunges forwards, knocking Ulgar’s hammer aside with the shield and bringing down an overhand swing that barely misses Ulgar’s shoulder. He steps to the side and tries to sweep the hammer at her calves, but she rolls over it and recovers nimbly several feet away. Beads of sweat are visible on both of their brows.
The fighting continues for several minutes, the two clashing with eachother at intervals. Ulgar’s slow but devastating swings knocking her back some, Alla’s quick retaliatory slashes and maneuverability regaining lost ground.
“Truce?” It’s Alla who first offers. Ulgar’s face brightens into a grin, and he starts to bellow a “hah!” but regains some composure.
“A’ight, truce then.” They both lay down their weapons. To one side of the field is a small wicker basket filled with fruits, cheese, and summer sausage, and the two of them sit and begin parceling out their food. Ulgar’s expression turns from bright to sullen as he watches Alla bite into an apple.
“Alla.” She turns, brow furrowing as she sees Ulgar’s face. “We leave tomorrow.”
“I know.” The reply is soft, and she places the apple down on the ground. Ulgar starts several times to speak, stopping just short of the first syllable at each attempt. Finally, he sighs and pulls the leather gloves from his hands. After rubbing them together in uncertainty for a moment, he offers one across the basket to her. Alla’s face quickly grows to match the apple’s color, but she accepts his outstretched hand. They sit in silence for what felt to the both of them like several hours.
“If we don’t come back—” Ulgar begins.
“Don’t.” Her reply is firm, and Ulgar turns back to considering the sky, his food all but forgotten. “I know the risk you take, and I know that you don’t do it just for me. You do it for your king, for the country he guides, and for your new family in Shrikewatch. It is necessary.” Alla turns to him and places a kiss on his forehead. “Whether or not you return, you will be remembered. I vow it.” Ulgar nods once, then again several seconds later with less bravado, tears welling up from a place inside him he hadn’t seen in decades. Alla wraps her arms around him, and he weeps as the sun starts to set in the distance.