I let out a long sigh as I sank lower into the cool water of the ocean. The day was hot and muggy and I had spent all morning drilling the men before I had a chance to slip away. I tried to get to the ocean whenever possible, it was my refuge. A place where I didn't have to worry about the rigors of a Captain.
Today had been particularly trying. With the new recruits having arrived only a few days ago, I had spent hours training out the bad habits they had formed attempting to train on their own. There were a few who had natural talent, but most of the twelve to thirteen year-olds would never be particularly talented. The only thing that kept me from dismissing them altogether was their potential in other areas. Even if they couldn't make it as Palace Gurads, there was always room for the skilled archers Lanberia was known for producing and the well trained spear men that marched out to the front every day.
Yes, there was still hope for them.
I dived under the water, relishing the rush of bubbles around me. Every stroke I made pushed me deeper into the dark folds of the water, toward the unknown secrets in its depths. How I longed to stay this surface of endlessness, to completely enfold myself in its welcoming arms. But the burning in my lungs reminded me of the unfortunate human weakness for oxygen.
I pushed this need down farther into my burning chest, staying under as long as possible. Finally, I turned toward the surface, moving my arms as if they had been born for this environment. I could only wish that they had. Each stroke filled me with a mixture of dread, knowing that my freeness beneath the water would soon come to an end, but I relished it while I could.
I broke the surface in a spray of water as my lungs opened their welcome to the air.
"Ari!" My gaze turned to the shore where a young woman in a pink dress waved after me.
I waved back.
So it ends, I sighed to myself moving leisurely toward land.
I stepped onto the dock, water running from my body in shimmering waves.
"Oh Ari," the girl in pink cried as she draped herself across my arm. "You were under so long, we thought you had drowned!"
"Ah, but as you can see, dear Helen, I am not drowned, in exception to your needless concerns."
Helen's companions giggled slightly.
"Now, was there something you recquired, darlings, or were you just here to admire my great skill?" I wink at the girls, earning another wave of giggles.
Helen laughed, placing more weight on my arm. Apparently, she had no care for the fact that I was completely drenched. Her hands trailed up to the muscles at the base of my neck, moving in soothing circles.
"Actually," she said, a twinkle in her eye. "We were here for you."
I let out a laugh and swept her up into my arms.
I strode forward off the dock with my entourage of pretty young woman close by my side.
"Well where are we off to, ladies?" I asked, bestowing a charming smile on a young woman in a yellow dress close to my elbow.
She let out a giggle as a deep red blush darkened her nose and cheeks.
Helen laughed in my arms, swatting at my bare chest.
"Oh, let me down, Ari."
I gave her a sad look.
"Are you not enjoying yourself, dear Helen? Is my manly bearing to much for your fragile mind?"
Helen laughed again.
"Nothing of the sort. I just don't think my father would appreciate me ruining my new dress so soon."
"A new dress?" I gasped in astonishment, setting her down to examine the new bit of finery.
Before I could pay a compliment to the garment, a messenger ran up.
"Captain Farlen, the King requests your presence immediately."
"Tell him I'll be right there." I replied, then turned a blinding smile onto the dejected crowd.
"I'm afraid I'll have to leave you," I said with a sigh.
When my remark was greeted with a chorus of unhappy cries, I raised my hand.
"But," I paused for dramatic effect. "But I should be available sometime this evening. If you ladies would like to join me..."
I smiled as a cheer rose among them.
"Until then," Helen whispered in my ear, applying a quick peck to my cheek.
I smiled then waved goodbye as I set off in the direction of the castle.
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