Before I met Durandal, I was a luggage bearer and sparring dummy for the soldiers in the army. After I met Durandal, I’m a luggage bearer and experimental dummy for Durandal. It feels like my life hasn’t changed much. Every day, when the sun rises, I wake up from my horse stance feeling 100% rejuvenated. I do 66 Breaking Blades in the time it takes Snow to wake up and make breakfast—the fact that my training wakes him up is irrelevant. In the afternoon, I perform another 66 Breaking Blades while traveling until it’s dinner time. After dinner, I finish up with 68 more Breaking Blades until it’s time to fall asleep in my horse stance.
I’ve been following that routine for a solid two weeks now, eating 20 treats, receiving 40 ear scratches, 67 head pats, and 107 lines of praise from Durandal every day. So this is definitely a lot better than the Ravenwood army—it’s satisfying! But today, Durandal finally finished collecting enough wooden spears for a full set of footwork techniques. He said there’s a total of 81 positions in the Steady Mountain Footwork’s manuscript, and I’m going to have to learn them all. Did I ever mention how he makes me carry those wooden spears while practicing? At least it’s not heavy like mini-DalDal whose been upgraded to 5,000 pounds since I, uh, did some … things … to make Durandal mad. It wasn’t even that bad!
“Are you ready, Lucia?” Durandal stood atop the field of wooden spears, his image like a dragon perched on its roost. Will I ever look as imposing as him? Snow says I won’t, but his opinions don’t matter.
“Maybe? I mean, yes!”
“Good. Watch carefully.” Durandal stepped from wooden spear to wooden spear, twisting his waist, his legs, even his upper arms on occasion. Even if it’s slow, how am I supposed to remember all of this!? After an hour of moving, he stopped and stared at me. “Did you see?”
“Yes.” But I don’t remember! “Can you show it to me again?”
“Can you, uh, put numbers on the sticks so I know which one I’m supposed to step towards?” Squirrels aren’t good at memorizing things. We store away food but forget where we store it, and it ends up growing into a tree or something. It’s very upsetting. Why couldn’t I have been a crow instead?
Durandal stared at me like he was staring at a child. He sighed. “Very well. I think that would be the simplest method.”
“You’re the best, Durandal.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
Shut up, Bouncykins. You always pour cold water on my good things.
“Is it?” Durandal’s eyebrow rose as he stared at Bouncykins.
“For her to fully comprehend the footwork, shouldn’t she not use numbers?” Bouncykins’ ears smacked away a few flies buzzing around him.
“There are geniuses who’re able to comprehend and memorize actions just upon seeing them,” Durandal said and nodded his head. “Clearly, Lucia isn’t one of them.” Hey. “The only way for her to learn is through repetition. Lots and lots of repetition. Eventually, after the movements become second nature to her, she’ll comprehend them fully.”
“If I have a way to impart a technique on Lucia without going through the standard channels, then I’ll do it.” Durandal nodded. “Why should she have to create her own path when people before her have already paved the road?”
“I thought you were an old-fashioned stuffy,” Bouncykins said and tilted his head.
“What’s the old-fashioned way of learning the Steady Mountain Footwork?” I’m curious now. This seems hard enough as is.
“The person who created this wanted to be as strong and as steady as a mountain, hence the name,” Durandal said. “He figured the best way to do that would be to walk up mountains during landslides, smashing everything in his way. These are the movements he found most efficient in accomplishing his goal.”
“…Wouldn’t he have to wait for landslides to occur? How did he do that?” The heck? There’s like one landslide every ten years or so in the southern pass. How long did that take?
“I’m just repeating what I read in the manuscript, Lucia. Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter. Everyone who learns the Steady Mountain Footwork follows these movements.” Durandal was already carving numbers on top of the wooden spears. “Once you memorize the movements, I’ll show you how the qi should flow inside of your body to bring the most out of it.”
“Can’t I just apply qi to every part of my body at once? Then I’ll hit all the required spots, right?”
“Theoretically, it’s possible,” Bouncykins said. “But you’ll exhaust yourself. It’s like how you’re supposed to circulate your qi to only the tired parts of your body during your horse stance. You can only do it because you’re sleeping while you hold your stance and your qi regenerates while you sleep, which is beyond abnormal, but you can’t do that with the footwork.”
You’re always pouring water on my good things, Bouncykins. That’s the second time in five minutes.
“Don’t look so glum, Lucia. I had to do something similar to learn my Wind Shadow Footwork.” Snow nodded. “It’s why even Durandal has difficulty hitting me.”
Difficulty my ass. “So why can’t you dodge my normal strikes?” I stared at Snow, who was covering the lump on his head with his hands. The culprit, mini-DalDal, was trembling after colliding with Snow’s head. Maybe one of Snow’s magic tools boosted his defense. Did I tap him too lightly?
“Alright, Lucia. I finished numbering the platforms.” Please don’t call wooden spear tips platforms. “I’ll be following along, correcting your posture as you take each step.”
“Before we start. Can we—”
“Establish your motivational goals?” Durandal smiled. “Yes. Yes we can, Lucia.”
Wow. How did he know what I was going to say? Maybe he really is a mind reader…
“I don’t read minds, Lucia. Anyways, if you manage to memorize 20 steps perfectly by the end of today, I’ll tell you a bedtime story.”
“I’ll do it!”
Snow and Bouncykins had faces that said, “You’re being bribed too easily, Lucia,” but what do they know? No one’s ever read me a bedtime story before. I definitely didn’t have to cry myself to sleep while other people had stories told to them and lullabies sang to them. Nope. This is simply for the first-time experience.