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So I swung my staff because I was supposed to, though I knew one day I’d become a diplomat like my father, using my voice and my mind instead of my muscles and my magic.

But I swung the staff for other reasons, too. It helped me forget how people looked at me funny in the corridors of the castle, forget how lonely I was sometimes locked up in the study. It gave me a reason to wake up early every morning, even when I had nothing else to look forward to.

Today was different, though.

Today Giancarlo was going to let me swing a sword, even if it was only a wooden blade.

Maybe it was because I was finally sixteen. Maybe he thought I was ready to fight some of those monsters that I’d never seen and didn’t even believe in. I never got a chance to ask him.

Giancarlo helped me put on the hardened leather breastplate, codpiece, and leggings. It is a little embarrassing to have someone help you dress. But if everything isn’t properly adjusted, you risk getting pinched somewhere tender when you’re swinging a staff. I’d learned that the hard way.

Follow me, Anders,” Giancarlo said, finally satisfied. “We’ll spar down by the river, on the practice field.”

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