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“Where are you going?” Sir Balan said to his brother, who was found walking in the opposite direction of their home.

“Mother is insane,” Balin huffed as he kept right on walking.

“She can be from time to time,” Sir Balan admitted. “Are you alright? You left real suddenly just now.”

Balin stopped in his tracks.

“You just don’t get it,” Balin said. “Life treats you fairly, brother. But as for me, nothing ever goes my way. Ever.”

“That’s not true,” Sir Balan replied.

“It is,” Balin said. “It seriously, and sadly, is true.”

“Well, I know one way to make sure things go your way,” Sir Balan said, trying to encourage his brother. “Training! Come on, let’s train. So that maybe things do go your way. In single combat, at least.”

Sir Balan picked up a dead branch and neatly lopped off the twigs that protruded from it with his sword.

“Now?” Balin whined.

“You better hurry,” Sir Balan warned. “Or I’ll start striking you regardless of whether you are armed or not.”

Balin sulked as he selected a particularly big stick, then drew his rusty sword and began to chop away at the branches with the dull blade.

“I’ll show you a little trick I recently learned from Sir Lanceor,” Sir Balan said and lashed the stick at Balin.

Balin backed up just out of reach of the strike.

“Hey!” he cried out.

“Go on,” Sir Balan said, holding his stick aloft. “At me.”

Balin rose his stick, then sliced down at his brother.

Sir Balan deftly sidestepped and parried the incoming stick, and sent his back hand down towards Balin’s lead hand and yanked the sword away with his own stick pointed at his brother’s chest.

Balin released the stick to avoid falling into the point before him.

Sir Balan stood before his brother, holding both sticks with a grin.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” Sir Balan asked with a smirk as he threw Balin’s stick back at him. “Now, you try.”

Balin grabbed the stick from the air, then held it out before him in his hands.

They circled one another for a moment, then Sir Balan swung down as he stepped forward, and Balin stepped aside and deflected the downward blow with his raised stick. Balin reached out with a hand and disarmed his brother, just like his brother did to him a moment ago.

Sir Balan backed off from Balin with his hands raised.

“Very good!” he said, grinning at his brother’s quick progress. “Practice it. It’s a good thing to be able to pull off. Now, let’s try it with real blades.”

Sir Balan threw down his stick and drew his sword.

Balin flinched.

“I… I think I got the gist of it,” Balin said.

“Come on now,” Sir Balan said with a smirk. “We’ll practice really slowly. No one will get hurt.”

“Do you…?” Balin began as he dropped his stick. “Hey, do you also… experience overwhelming anxiety whenever you draw your sword?”

“Hm?”

Balin drew his own weapon from his sheath and stared at the old, partially rusted blade.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “It never gets easier. The feeling of holding an open blade. It… frightens me. Knowing that at any moment, blood could be shed. Knowing that in my hand, I hold an object that could hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally.”

He turned the blade slightly, catching the sunbeams of the setting sun upon its unrusted area such that the orange light matched with the orange rust. He stared at it with wonder.

“I always feel it,” he said softly. “The panic in my heart when I hold a naked blade.”

Sir Balan pursed his lips.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said. “But!”

Sir Balan held his own clean and shiny sword aloft.

“Remember what father always told us,” Sir Balan regurgitated, quoting his father Balgaire of Northumberland. “Fighting is dangerous work, but someone needs to do it or else the Painted Ones kill everyone.”

“Yes, I remember,” Balin repeated with a sigh. “Or the Painted Ones kill everyone.”

Balin looked solemnly at his sword. Sir Balan looked worriedly at his brother, then sheathed his weapon.

“Come, let’s go home,” Sir Balan said.

“No,” Balin replied. “I would rather not. Mother’s not herself. I’m going to go to the store in Bath. See if I can’t find a bunch of one-and-a-half inch gears. Arthur and Merlin would be overjoyed if I told them I fixed their windmill.”

“Suit yourself,” Sir Balan said with a shrug. “I’ll see you when you get home.”

“See you in the evening,” Balin said to his brother.

“If God wills it,” Balan replied back. They parted ways.

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