All right, critiquing partners, we have two more submissions to analyze today.
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Submission #1 – Dragonfyre by Rex
Lexan’s boots crunched the gravel road as he quickly approached the crowded training grounds, bathed in the moonlight. “I can’t believe so many people are here this early.” His comment was directed inward, so the answer took him by surprise.
“What’s not to believe?” The gravelly voice came from one of the nomadic merchants that had arrived the previous night. “For years we’ve come to this village to trade, and each time we hear of some up and coming swordsman…the new pride of the King’s army. Pah.” His hand waved in a sign of dismissal. “I never pay attention. But last night at the tavern we heard that the talk this year was of a woman! I assume most people, like me, wanted to see it for themselves.”
Lexan followed his gaze as it returned to the match unfolding before them. There, in the center of the field, surrounded by three armed young men, was the subject of his own search. The woman about whom the merchant had been speaking; Solandis, the local blacksmith.
As he watched, he thought of how she had gotten this opportunity. When she had first spoken with the training master, her request to be trained was met with laughter. Of course her smithing was nearly flawless, but crafting a sword and using one were very different skills. However, once she convinced him to take her on, the laughter stopped immediately. Her skill with a hammer was dwarfed by her skill with a blade.
Lexan didn’t know why the council would send him to deliver her a summons so early in the day, but as he watched her session, that thought was driven from his mind. Solandis had her back to one of the recruits while guarding with both sword and shield against the others. Suddenly, the fighter behind her pulled back to swipe at her side. She quickly turned at the sound of his clanging armor and deftly parried the blow. A quick shove with her shield knocked the trainee to the dirt. The other two took advantage of her distraction and attacked together.
She ducked under one blade, but was too slow to back away from the jab of the other; the unwelcome thump of dulled blade to breastplate sounded in her ear. The gathered crowd was equally split with joy and shock. Ever since she had topped the recruit rankings, almost no one was able to touch her, a fact that was well known to the locals.
This rare moment of weakness stabbed at her pride, but she could still win this battle, and retain her reputation. She intentionally slowed and widened her strokes to bait them into attacking and lowering their guard. She had used this tactic several times against these two, but they never seemed to realize it. However, this time, her opponents reacted differently. Instead of dropping their guard, they closed their defensive gaps, and with two quick strokes managed to twist her sword from her grip.
The crowd was shocked into silence as the blade spun to the earth.
The merchant that had been speaking to Lexan was the first to speak. “I knew it. The new pride of the King’s army indeed. Why, when I was a lad…”. The merchant continued speaking to any who would listen, but Lexan had tarried long enough. He needed to deliver his message.
“Solandis!”, he called after her. “I have a message from the council.” He reached her just as she was trading her training sword for her personal weapon. Her sword, Maigorn, was a true masterpiece.
“What do they want, Lexan? I’m not in the mood for any nonsense today.” Solandis’ ego was obviously bruised from her rare loss, and her usual cheery demeanor seemed to have vanished.
“I don’t know. It’s odd for them to send me out before dawn, but they need to speak with you. They said it was urgent. I really should have stopped the match when I arrived.”
“Yes. You should have.”
There was a small hint of venom in her words. She knew he didn’t deserve to have her irritation taken out on him, but she also couldn’t apologize for it. After all, if he had stopped the match, her humiliation could have been avoided.
She stalked off, still angry at herself, both for her defeat in the arena and for almost losing her temper with Lexan. She wandered through the mostly deserted streets toward the center of town.
That was one advantage to training before dawn. In an hour or so the roosters would call all of the merchants and tradesmen, local and traveling, to begin their day. Every street would be packed with clothiers and cake sellers, minstrels and magicians. Each one offering their goods and services to grateful patrons.
As she walked she nervously fingered the hilt of her trusty blade. While she had suffered rare defeats using the training blades, she had never lost a match while wielding Maigorn. It was a bit of a good luck charm. Using the sword was painful now that her father was gone, but carrying it gave her a strong sense of comfort.
After a few more turns the gravel path beneath her feet turned into the familiar paved streets of the main square. As the sky grew lighter she could see her destination, dark and foreboding, just two hundred yards distant.
The council’s building loomed like death’s shadow at the end of the cobblestone lane. The large gate to the courtyard would be locked and guarded, as the sun hadn’t risen yet. The granite columns, which surrounded the building while providing anchor points for the perimeter fence, were definitely the most impressive feature of the complex.
While all twelve held designs, the two that stood front and center were the most magnificent of them all. Each one was carved with designs of dragons of all sizes and colors. The mere sight of them was enough to chase away her foul mood. Perhaps the morning wouldn’t be as bad as she had thought.
Submission #2 – Reborn by Rebecca
My life sucks. That’s the only way I can describe it. Of course, it probably isn’t as bad as those people on the streets-but still. The weather matches my mood: gloomy and dark. At the rate I’m going, my house will burn down next. Mom’s calling me down for breakfast. Maybe I should just skip. I mean, I’m gonna be late for the school bus anyway.
Sometimes, I wish I was one of those Christians. Everything good seems to happen to them, and they’re always happy. Other times, though, I remember all the bad stuff, like Nero. I’m at school now, and of course nobody is sitting next to me. They say, “Oh, she’s really grumpy.” or “I would, but I’m sitting with my friends.” Shoot-the principal just came in. I bet something bad just happened. Great. Wait, there’s somebody behind him. She looks like a freshman, maybe a sophomore. The principal just introduced her as Kiana, and she’s waving and saying hello. Now, the teacher, Mr. Pacin is pointing to me. Kiana nods and heads over to the empty seat next to me. Ugh.
Thankfully, Kiana’s only in one of my classes, public speaking. The rest of the day passes like normal. Nobody sits next to me, nobody talks to me. On the way home in the school bus, and then walking from the bus stop to my house, I replay my talk with Kiana-or rather, Kiana’s talk with me. I just sat and listened. My mom says hi to me and tries to hug me, but I shake her off. I don’t want to get attached to anyone any more than I have to. After losing Dad, James, and Nadine in that plane crash…well, I just can’t do it anymore. I head up to my room, deep in thought. Kiana had seemed totally fine with me not talking, but she didn’t seem like the ‘only talk about myself’ type. It was almost as if she understood that I didn’t want to talk about anything. As if she understood how I felt. No. I’m just imagining it. Nobody could feel what I feel, and definitely not Kiana. She was just too happy. Suddenly, a thought sprang to my mind. I could ask her the next day, perhaps, why she was so excited.
Public speaking comes, and Kiana arrives, smiling happily as she makes her way to sit next to me. For a second, I was almost glad that she still is here. I almost expected to see her go to sit with somebody else, who would actually talk. Gathering up my courage, I open my mouth-then close it again. Mr. Pacin just started talking, and Kiana seems enraptured with what he is saying. I tune out, knowing that he doesn’t expect me to do any work. After given her task, Kiana gets out a piece of paper and starts writing an outline. Thinking for a bit, she looks over at me, as if to see what I’m writing. Noticing that I’m not doing the assignment, she asks, “Why aren’t you writing your outline?”
I mutter, “‘Cause.”
“‘Cause why? Do you want to tell me about it?”
Wow. She sounds exactly like my counselor that Mom has hired. I swear, that woman never stops asking questions in that annoying, ‘This is what you have to do’ voice. I turn towards Kiana, ready to give her my death glare, but then I stop and think. She is my only friend-if you could call her that-and I don’t want to lose her. No, I can’t think like that. She’ll just move away or die or find other friends if I become her friend. Then Kiana says something that makes my head spin.
“I think I understand what you’re going through. I moved here a few months ago, and I was cooped up in an apartment until school started again. Now, I don’t have any friends. It’s just been really lonely. Finding you has made me realize that there are people out there who need a friend, just like I do.” She smiles sadly at me and goes to pick up her pencil again. I don’t know what to say. A thought flashes through my head, “Now! Ask her now!”
Nervously, I question her, “Why are you so happy, even after losing all your friends?” I can tell that she is taken aback, and mentally I hit myself. What was I thinking?
Then she says, “I guess it’s because I know that Jesus is helping me through all the hard stuff in life. I might sound a little Biblical, but I know that at the end of my life, there will be a reward for me for all the stuff that I’ve suffered-like no friends because people think that I’m a freak. Besides, right now is a trial, even as I’m talking to you. I’ve heard all the rumors about you, about what happened.” She laughs. “One girl even came up and asked why I bothered to speak with you. But honestly, I’ve had much harder. It’s really easy to talk to guys, easier than talking to girls.” Kiana falls silent. I ponder this in my head. Should I confide in her? It might make some things really easy for me and my mom.
Just then, Mr. Pacin stalks over to our table and bangs his fist. Kiana jumps, startled. I bite back a smirk at how silly she looks. Mr. Pacin yells-loud enough for the whole world to hear. I can tell that he isn’t talking to me, but to Kiana. Rough. Her second day, and already she’s on the naughty list. As soon as he leaves and goes over to his desk to keep watch on other tables, I lean over and whisper to Kiana,
“Meet me after school near the woodshop. I have to tell you something.” Her eyes widen and she nods. I sigh, relieved that I got that over with. I think I must have broken a record-I just said two sentences in one class!
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