Soren always preferred to ‘get his run on’ in the morning. It cleared the sleep from his head, and was a good habit anyways, wasn’t it? He took the tower steps two at a time, eager to get up top and see the sunrise. It was still a little early, he figured he could make another lap of the stairs down the next tower and back up this one before the sun came up.
He was halfway across the wall-walk when he happened across Rayla, leaning between merlons. Unexpected, but an alternative to a lap.
She spoke first, not bothering to look. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. Do moon elves even sleep?” Soren took a spot a few away from hers, twisting and bending to continue limbering up.
She gave him the ‘ did you really just ask that’ look before turning back towards the faintly-lit landscape. “We do. I just couldn’t. Much.”
“Oh. That sucks.” He ran out of things to say. That usually happened, when Callum wasn’t around. Because, well… things weren’t bad between Soren and Rayla anymore, after they’d talk on the spire, but they weren’t exactly good, either. They just… were. Soren wanted them to be good.
“Do you uh…” he trailed off.
Rayla cocked her head at him, brows rising. “Really? You want to talk?”
“I was going to ask if you wanted to work out, or spar or something. But if you want to talk-”
“No.” Rayla cut him off. “We can drill. Show me some dumb human moves.”
“But ‘sweep the leg’ really isn’t one of them, honest.”
That made her smile, a little, so he smiled back. “Even so.”
“Great! Let’s go.”
The wooden sword was heavy and strange in her hands, but not completely alien. She’d trained a bit with a variety of weapons, and a longsword was no exception. Not so straight or weighted, but Soren was trying to be nice, so she didn’t complain. Much.
He eyed her relaxed stance. “That’s uh… interesting form. Do you want to learn the human way, or…”
Rayla stepped up to one of the training standees. “Yeah. Show me.”
The moves weren’t made for her. Not even close. Soren had fought her well enough in the past, with wide swings that leveraged his mass and strength, but she wanted to move like a dancer, trading strength for speed and flexibility. Rayla followed his demonstrations through a few strikes and follow-throughs before the nibbling annoyance grew to gnawing.
“Okay, enough, I’m not built for this. Let’s just spar, since we’re here. We can trade lessons or something. First touch?”
A flash of disappointment showed on his face before he smiled again and nodded agreement as they squared off, Rayla relaxing into the loose elven stance of her past. When he rushed, she spun into his range on her toes, deflecting and striking at once.
“Huh. Point to you.”
His second pass was more cautious, but she lashed around his guard with a twist of her wrist.
The forceful human form was clearly disadvantaged for ‘first touch’ rules, but Soren didn’t seem to mind. They continued a few short bouts, Soren adapting to her movements, until he surprised her with a heavy shoulder-check, sending her stumbling.
“Oh! Oh, sorry. I got a little into it, there.”
She waved him away. “That’s why we’re here. Again.”
Three points later he awkwardly tried one of the elven pirouettes himself and struck her left wrist a glancing blow. Rayla hissed in pain and dropped to the ground.
“Rayla! Oh man, I… are you okay?”
“I’ll be okay, just give me a second.” Rayla blinked back instinctive tears, clutching at the searing sensation.
“Yeah, no. We’re done, I think.
“I said give me a second. ”
Soren paused, his feet still in her field of view. He shuffled a bit, but settled as she took deep breaths and waited for the pain to ebb.
When she stood, Soren regarded her skeptically.
“Okay, but only three more. Then we stop.”
Rayla blinked. Not the answer she expected, but this was Soren. Not Callum. “Fine.”
“And Callum would kill me if you got hurt on your birthday.”
She lowered her sword. “You knew?”
“Yeah.” Soren looked away, sheepish as if he’d said something wrong. “Callum told me. On his birthday.” He looked back up at her and shrugged. “I uh, didn’t really know what to get you. Callum was already like my little brother, sort of, but uh, you aren’t exactly like my little sister.” There was a cringe in those last words.
“No.” Rayla looked down at the wooden weapon in her hand. Katolin and still new to her. Like the castle, the town, the people, the food… but a little more familiar every day. Like Soren. She took up her stance again. “But I am a little like you , aren’t I? And you don’t need to do anything, this is plenty. No one else will spar with me, you know. Not seriously.”
Soren brightened and barked a laugh. “Hah! I don’t think I can’t… not... “ His brow furrowed. “I’ll always take you seriously!” He raised his own weapon.
And he did, not holding back any of their last rounds.
It was much later, after a small celebration with the royal brothers and a few friendly faces, when he caught up to her again.
“Hey, Rayla!” She stopped and turned, waiting for him to catch up. “I uh, thought about what you said. How we’re alike. And that you aren’t like…”
“Yeah. Not like Claudia. So, well… here.” He offered her a sheathed sword. Not as long or wide as his Crownguard weapon, and certainly more worn, but well cared-for. The towers gleamed in the crossguard- it was somewhere between ceremonial and serviceable.
“It’s kind of a tradition, but a good weapon! The old crownguard commander gave it to me when she started showing me the ropes and… now I’m showing them to you?”
“Soren, I’m not trying to be a Crownguard.”
There was almost a pleading look in his eyes, willing her to understand. “I- I know that. But you’re always with Callum, and around Ezran a lot. You’re sort of a… secret Crownguard. That’s cool, right?”
Stupid, hopeful ‘puppy dog’ eyes so similar to Ez’s… and he wasn’t entirely wrong about protecting them...
“Fine.” She snatched the weapon out of his hands. “But nobody’s the boss of me.”
Soren just smiled as she exposed a hand length of the steel to inspect it. “Yeah. Callum told me that, too.” He faked an awkward cough before she could question him. “But yeah, it uh, should be good if you ever feel like going for a more ‘Katolis’ look.”
Satisfied with the weapon’s quality and care, she looked between it and the Crownguard. “And I’ll have to give it up to the next real trainee, won’t I?”
He crossed his arms. “Well, yeah, but I have a feeling you’ll have some say in who that is, now. I don’t think Ez or Callum are going to listen to anyone else. Not even me.” Something flickered in his eyes at the admission, and Rayla raised a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“They’ll listen to you. I’ll make sure of it.” Ah, what the heck. He’d earned it. “And if they don’t ask? I will.”
Soren outright beamed. “Hey, thanks! That means a lot, Rayla. Uh. Hug?” He opened his arms.
The nearly-new moon must be weakening her. “Just a small one.”
“Are we good?”
“We’re good, Soren.”