"I can't concentrate without my glasses."

"Look, let's knock off early tonight. I saw a sign for a mom-and-pop motel in a small town not far ahead."

"But we'll get behind schedule."

"None doing. At this rate, we'll get to the bridge just after midnight and be forced to wait around anyway. Besides, we're near Chicago, and I have some gear I need to pick up tomorrow."

"What kind of gear?"

"You'll see..."

23

"You're a masochist, aren't you?" Holly asked when he suggested more training.

"We can work with the sword tonight," he said. Though Cadeon had gotten two adjoining rooms at the motel, he insisted on lying on her bed. With his back against the headboard and his legs stretched out, he surfed channels, while she reconfigured anything not bolted down.

"You think I'll need to know how to use a sword before I get changed back?" She could swear he was watching her rather than the pay-per-view he'd been so delighted to find here.

"A lot of factions in the Lore carry them."

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"Okay. Fine, let's sword fight."

"Good. Be right back." He rose and exited the room, returning a couple of minutes later with his sword and a broom. After snapping the end off the broom, he tossed the handle atop the bed, presumably for later sparring.

Then, with grave formality, he unsheathed his sword.

"How old is that thing? Have you had it carbon dated?"

He looked aghast, as if she'd insulted his grandmother. "Hey, no disrespecting The Sword. Besides, it's only three or four centuries old."

"Only? I would think that technology has improved since then. Why wouldn't you get a new one?"

"I'm on my way to, remember? Try to keep up, halfling."

She glared. "I meant in the last few hundred years."

"If it ain't broke...This weapon's saved my life many a time."

"How many have you killed with it?"

A shadow crossed over his face. "Too many." Seeming to give himself a shake, he held it up. "Now this is a double-edged greatsword. It's made to cut through armor and cleave a man in two."

"You really still use one of those?"

"Guns are pretty useless on us, as you saw when I was saving your life like a champ two nights ago." He handed it to her. "It's quite a bit bigger than most swords. So it might be difficult for you to maneuver - "

She easily lifted it with one hand, held it out at eye level to check its lines, then made an effortless circular slash.

"Ah, not too heavy, then. But pay attention to the handle - it's made for you to hold it with both hands, like in a batter's grip." He moved behind her, wrapping his arms around her sides to place her hands. "Like this."

"Are you going to smell my hair again?" she said sharply, irritated that she still reacted to his closeness.

"Can I help that your hair attracts males? Yet you act like it's my fault. Now choke up a bit on your grip. That's it. Get a feel for it. We're going to swing it slowly right, then left," he said, guiding her movements.

With each second she grew more comfortable holding the intimidating weapon.

"A little history while you accustom yourself," he said, his mouth right at her ear. "The word sword comes from the Old English sweord, which comes from the root swer, meaning to stab or prick." His voice was as low and rumbling as ever. "Gladius, the Latin word for sword, also means penis."

"It does not." She sounded unaccountably breathy.

"Do you want to bet me?" His chin rubbed over the point of her ear, the stubble tickling the sensitive tip, and she had to stifle a shiver.

Against her will, she found herself growing aroused by the heat of his massive body along her back. She could feel the rigid muscles of his torso flexing and relaxing as he moved with her.

"Since the first sword was forged, it's been a symbol of manliness and virility. You can see why when it's upright. Tell me, Holly, as you grip the hilt, does it call to mind anything you've seen recently?"

"Cadeon," she said warningly.

He continued undaunted, "And if the Latin word sword means penis, then you can imagine that the term for scabbard is its counterpart. That's right, halfling, a scabbard is called a va - "

"Stop! You're making this up."

"I'm not. If you read Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico in the original Latin, you're in for a laugh, because soldiers are always dropping their scabbards or even using their scabbards to clod their foes over the head."

Another rasp of his chin over her ear. Did he know it was driving her crazy? Oh, of course he did!

"They say every sword has its perfect scabbard."

She refused to allow him to make even sword fighting sexual. "I'm going to double check everything you're saying."

"Be my guest."

"So you read Julius Caesar?"

"In the original Latin, Holls. Do you like me better now that you know I can read ancient languages?"

"I would have been impressed with proof that you can read at all."

"Sharp-tongued Valkyrie. Now here's your fighting stance. Feet shoulder-width apart." He tapped her ankle with his own to get her to step her foot out more.

"Should I stay on my toes?"

"Good question. Normally, no. To withstand hits, you have to keep your balance - which is more easily done on flat feet. You'd be amazed at how hard another sword can come down - it'll throw you. And to give hard strikes, again, you need both feet firmly on the ground. That said, the Valkyrie fighting style is different than most."

"How?"

"They rely on speed. They can get behind you before you even have time to turn your head. Their swords are usually smaller, rapier-like, made more for thrusting jabs than for striking. If one were to fight me, she'd try to prevent my sword from hitting hers at all. They most often kill with a blow to the back."

"That doesn't seem very sporting." It went against everything she'd been taught - or, at least, that she'd learned from westerns and movies with galactic honor systems.

"Sword fighting in the Lore isn't sporting. It's about keeping your head on your shoulders. Okay, now chest up." He placed his palm on her shoulder and pulled back. "Raise the sword in front of your nose and let the tip drop to about forty-five degrees from your face. This is called the middle position. From here you can block blows from the right or the left. Now let's modify this a little." He maneuvered her body so that she was standing with her shoulder in front.