Kaeso was again the first to arrive in the training yard, and this pleased Quintus. “I trust the morning sees you well.”
Kaeso acknowledged this with a nod. “And you?”
“Quite.” Quintus held back the smile that threatened his lips and threw a rudis to Kaeso. “Do you favour odds against me when it is us alone? A practice round, perhaps?”
Kaeso caught the wooden sword with ease and smiled. “I have no coin and can wager only pride.”
Quintus grinned at his offer accepted. “Pride is a price we both can afford to pay.”
They stood facing each other, practice swords at the ready. Circling at first, daring to see who made move to strike. Quintus could see strategy in Kaeso’s eyes, and as the smaller man lunged at him, Quintus laughed as he deflected easily, rounding upon him to make contact at his ribs. “Leave your side open for attack like that and your innards will find the dirt at your feet.”
They circled each other again, Quintus seeing every move of foot, every flinch of muscle, every intent in Kaeso’s eyes. They struck again, countered, attacked, and defended, and Kaeso kept favouring a rounded strike. Again and again he made the same move, and just when Quintus was about to reproach him for a foolish tactic, he sidestepped, feigned defence, then moved to attack as Quintus was caught off guard.
He struck the rudis to Quintus’ ribs without force. It was a fair strike. A good strike.
Kaeso stood back, wary and fearful, and he lowered his weapon. Quintus was surprised to be hit, yes. But also pleased. He let out a laugh. “The rabbit shows cunning.”
“You are not offended?” Kaeso asked.
“Offended only at my own mistake.” Quintus’ grin widened as he raised his rudis and resumed position. “Again.”
By this time, the other five guards had appeared. Upon seeing the two men fighting, they were alarmed but soon realised it was only sport. The more the two men lunged and struck, parried and deflected, the more Quintus laughed and Kaeso smiled.
“You hold back,” Kaeso said, easily deflecting a move.
“If you held true concern, you would be absent a smile.”
Quintus lowered his rudis and stood to his full height, their sparring over. “And I would be a fool to think you showed full force in return also.”