Fjord was surefooted on deck, under normal circumstances. For the most part, this was normal circumstances. Clear skies, favorable winds, kind waters, long and uneventful open sea between ports.
But, right now, he was learning an art: that of swordsmanship.
His study was clumsy at best.
Vandran stepped around a graceless forward thrust and shoved him between the shoulder blades. Fjord stumbled three steps across the deck of the Tide's Breath. He kept on his feet—barely—and whipped around, sword raised in an approximation of defensively, expecting Vandran to be right behind in mid-swing. But, Vandran kept a polite distance.
"You're afraid that I'll strike first," Vandran said. "You move before you're ready. Haste is the only thing you'll find when you go searching for speed, and it's a bigger problem than I'll ever be. Stop trying to move faster than I do."
It was a familiar lecture, one made countless times over the hours and days and weeks Vandran so far invested into teaching Fjord the correct way to hold a sword: There's no reason to move your blade quickly so long as you get it there at the right time. With control, you find the most efficient way to move. With patience, you find the best moment to strike.
Fjord never seemed to pick up the lesson. "I'm sorry."
"Apologize by learning, then by doing better." Vandran's voice cast no aspersions, but Fjord felt one regardless. Vandran motioned to start over. "Let's try again."
Not that this new round felt better, nor the next, nor the handful after that.
Vandran parried with a leisure that stoked something in Fjord's tightly-leashed temper. Fjord recovered from the denied swing—well aware Vandran generously allowed it—and he lashed out with a thoughtless swipe. Vandran dodged that one as well long before Fjord moved into the motion.
He felt Vandran's hand rough on the back of his neck and felt Vandran's boot collide with his shin. His weight went out from under him, and he was unceremoniously thrown down across the deck. His sharp inhale of surprise was forced back out of his lungs as he slammed into damp wood. He lost his grip on his sword.
Scattered laughter rang out around the deck. Someone clapped slowly.
"This isn't a show. Back to work." Vandran's voice carried an annoyed edge. Fjord couldn't tell if it was because of him or the others.
It was a sudden struggle to breathe, but Fjord tried to ignore it and moved to make it back onto his feet. He got himself up to one elbow before his body started to reflexively curl around the pain in his chest. It felt like his lungs were sticking to the inside of his ribs.
"You alright?" Vandran's voice was close. Fjord hadn't noticed him approaching. In the periphery of his vision, he saw Vandran crouch down beside him. "Can you stand?"
Fjord tried to speak yes, but it came out a sharp gasp.
There was inhospitably-toned chatter toward the stern, indistinct to Fjord's ears, but Vandran barked off in that direction, "When I said get back to fucking work, that included you, Baccarin, Mayfair."
Fjord tried to push himself up again, at least to sitting upright, but he felt Vandran's hand lightly on his shoulder. "Hey, take your time. It's a long way through the rest of the day." Vandran sat on his heels, laid his sword across his knees, and waited.
Fjord took more time than he would've liked.
Vandran hummed idly to himself some slow, low-throated tune Fjord didn't recognize while he waited. Just as idly, he observed aloud, "You are improving. Faster than you think you are."
Fjord coughed. "How do you know what I think?"
Vandran gave a single hmph! of a laugh. "If you can ask questions, you can stand." He rose and offered a hand. Fjord took it and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
Fjord scooped his sword back up off the deck. As he did, Vandran circled around him, moving away in a wider and wider radius. "Remember: control, patience. Discipline." He stopped.
Fjord readied his sword.
Vandran didn't. He held his down at his side, point of the blade extended outward just so. "Steady." He brought the sword upward, blade vertical, the hilt in his hand inches from his face.
Fjord mirrored him—sword at his side, then swung up into the same salute.
Vandran held. "Breathe."
Fjord took in a shallow, shuddering breath. He impatiently blew it back out.
"You're not listening." Vandran's voice was firm but not unkind. Vandran inhaled slowly and deliberately, and he released that breath again in a deep, almost sighing exhale. "Breathe, Fjord. Breathe."
Fjord took another breath, a little deeper than the first. Still unsatisfactory, as Vandran repeated the instruction—breathe. Fjord closed his eyes. He drew another breath, slowly measuring it out until it reached into the bottom of his chest. Then, he measured out another, and again, and another. For a moment, there was only the increasing steadiness of his breathing and the salt on the wind in his still-aching lungs. He lived in that unceasing moment for a bit.
He opened his eyes.
Vandran still stood exactly as he did. Waiting. Watching. But, smiling.
"Excellent." Vandran dropped his arm to ready his sword. "Back to work."