From Reviving the Commander, Book One in the Crowns Legacy series
“You must be about ready for dinner. I did plan for us to go to the palace for that,” Staid told Opal after their talk about Beltmon was over, but even as the words came out of Staid’s mouth, Opal recognized them to be an excuse.
For here they were, back in the central building of the military training site, having paused in a hallway on the opposite side of the building than the one they’d come down earlier. This hallway opened up into a wide court where recruits were working on their swordsmanship: some contending with fellow recruits, others matched up with swordmasters for critiques, and all of them currently practicing with wooden sticks of corresponding size and weight to swords they’d use in battle.
Opal’s eyes moved back and forth between Staid and the sword fighting that had arrested his gaze, and she spoke up. “You’d like to have a go?”
Staid’s head shifted as if it were going to shake but didn’t do so, determined not to risk missing anything. “I’ve not come to interrupt anyone’s routine today.”
“Mm.” Opal restrained a chortle. “My viewpoint may be an inexperienced civilian one, but according to what I see, I’d say a definite part of the men’s routine here today is swordplay. So. You should go play.”
Staid looked at her without entirely turning his head. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“As long as it doesn’t mean that I myself have to go swing one of those sticks around, no. I don’t mind.”
In response, Staid had his topcoat off in no time, but he did display a few seconds of uncertainty with it until Opal held out her hands to take the coat from him. “I’m not fully prepared,” Staid mumbled another halfhearted excuse as he rolled his shoulders to loosen up, but it was now clear that he wasn’t wearing a full suit today, only a white shirt and dark vest with his trousers, a fact that piqued Opal’s interest.
She watched Staid approach one of the swordmasters, and the man stopped, saluted Staid, and didn’t need more than a wordless second to know to pass his sword off to his superior and to step aside.
Without delay, Staid whipped around to the recruit standing there with a curious look on his face, and Staid’s sword thumped the recruit’s weapon downward with a solid knock of wood. “Look alive, soldier,” Staid advised with a roguish half-smile and a snigger in his throat, and in a flash, Opal saw Joshua, in mischievous laughter as he “galloped” his horsey on its head, checking to see if his audience caught the significance of what was happening.
During the minutes that followed, Opal’s thoughts ran out of room for toddler impressions as Staid himself came alive, a fierceness coming forth from him that Opal had never seen before.
“As for the man himself—well. He’s not in his prime anymore.” No. If his prime had been back in his twenties, he wasn’t in it anymore. Still, the silvery-gray-haired man now in action before Opal was a far cry from decrepit. As Staid balanced between giving the recruit instruction and opposing the young man to test his skill, Opal’s senses responded, a tingling sensation working down the length of her spine, so intense and pleasant that it staggered her. Oh. Oh dear.
Staid went on long enough to strengthen his wind but refrained from doing more, yielding the floor and the sword back to the swordmaster, and Opal was tempted to offer a round of applause as Staid headed back in her direction. Because applause would be conspicuous, though, she simply handed Staid his coat and told him, “That was something.”
“You think so?” Staid’s heavy release of breath held a rumble of gratification as he tugged at the bottom of his vest with one hand, and another half-smile came over his face, though this one had more of a curve than an edge to it. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to swing one of those sticks around, Miss Whilstead? It’s all quite invigorating, to say the least.”
While her spine was still recovering from its tingle, Opal replied to Staid’s teasing with, “Wisdom tells me that getting myself walloped in the head with a rod of wood in front of everyone here would result in far more humiliation than invigoration for me.”
Staid laughed at that. “If you say so, ma’am.” He passed his coat from one hand to the other and gave his vest another tug as he and Opal continued down the hallway. When they’d made it around a corner and beyond the view of the sword fighters, Staid asked her, “Am I together?”
Opal looked up at him, reluctant to point out that a lock of his hair toward the front had been jostled from its previous place, but Staid must have read her expression. “I’ve no mirror,” he said, leaning a degree toward her. “Feel free to correct it, please, whatever it is.”
“You look fine, sir. That is, just…” Opal hesitated and then accommodated him by reaching up to shift and smooth his lock back into order. She could only despair at the color she was certain came to call on her cheeks when she lowered her hand and her gaze found Staid’s, the moment extending a couple of beats after she’d already forgotten about his hair.
Oh. Oh, dear Providence. Do help me…
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