The arena was empty when the squire arrived, pre-dawn, cold, clear, and crisp. Since the end of the contests and tournaments the roped off ground had been abandoned, save for a stray animal or two… and Tumble. His shirt, heavy armor, and tower shield piled in a corner, the squires bare chest steamed in the cold air as he slowly moved though the motions of a series of strikes and blocks. He couldn’t read the sword manuals he was trained from to save his life, but his instructor had drilled these lessons into him so hard it had penetrated even his thick skull.
His foot work slipped, and the strike was sloppy.
He dug in his heels and began again
And so, each morning, he practiced. With armor, without. With his shield, and without. Over, and over, and over again, until his breath burned and his arms ached, and his lungs felt like ice. He was no Ice Hardened, but he was the son of a Smith and a Farmer, used to the pre-dawn hours.
The callouses on his palms tore and the blood made the sword too slick to hold.
He bound his hands and began again.
Visions danced before as he worked. Images of horror he could never unsee, things he would never ever forget. Burning corpses rising again, shadowy spirits that crushed his mind with a word, blood drunk clansmen feasting on human flesh as they boasted about murder.
A hollow suit of armor and flowing cloak that mocked him for his simplicity. His… ordinary mortality.
His hips turned too slowly, the cut was weak and easily punishable.
He reset and began again.
Tumble drilled until his legs felt like frozen stumps and he couldn’t lift the heavy training blade anymore. Until the whispered jokes and jests and quiet laugher he had heard the last two days faded to the back on his mind. Until, mortal as he was, simple as he was, he had to stop and rest and watch the dawn break over the trees.
His breath in steaming clouds, he counts on his shield hand fingers:
“One: I will never take a human life”
“Two: I will never flee from the face of Evil.”
“Three: I will stand for those cannot stand for themselves”
Then he stands and begins again.