Hand of Fate
I knew from the moment that the foil crashed down that my hand was broken. I could also tell, from my jousting partner’s split second sneer that it had been her intent to harm me – though no one could tell by the way she lowered her foil and gasped. Her ice blue eyes widened as she dashed to my side. Across the Fencing Arena, the other Ides also lowered their foils, but hesitated. I knew they were trying to decide whether it was more becoming of an Ide to show compassion or to remain cool and unaffected in the face of an urgent situation. Eventually, the consensus turned to compassion and they flocked to me, their white robes billowing like clouds.
All I could feel was the searing pain, unbearable, gripping my hand tighter and tighter. My struggle was one of Mien. Like all of the Ides, I have been trained in the Idol Mien from their first day at the Academy. Maintaining an air of dignity, regality and sanctity was paramount, and required of us if we were to be selected as the next Idol. I knew that if I could keep my composure that the Proctors would take note and my chances would soar. If I screamed out in pain and wept, as I wished I could, they would plummet.
So great was my struggle to smile bravely and assure the other Ides, that I almost forgot about the pain in my hand. I was reminded of it as I tried to grip the foil. Hoping that the Proctors didn’t see the wince, I switched it to my off hand and approached the Instructor, my hand throbbing, twenty-three pairs of eyes following me.
“My hand has been injured. May I be permitted to observe the rest of the training?” This is the typical request of any injury, though it is not always honored. The Instructor frowns, clearly displeased with the disruption I have caused. The other Ides, sense her displeasure and flow back to their spots, foils raised. I straighten my shoulders and wait for an answer.
“Get back in line,” she replied brusquely, gesturing me away. “Use your off hand. At the end of training report to the Healer’s Wing. See if she will be able to do anything for you.”
I nod and turn to take my spot, as a feeling of cold dread trickles down my back. As Ides, we are taught out body is sacred and may not be touched. The Healer may be able to perform scans to tell me if my hand is indeed broken, as I know it is, but she may not touch me to apply any casts or set the bone. I begin to think with escalating fear about each of the classes I must complete as an Ide: Calligraphy, Arts, Gymnastics, Combat Training. Even in Mien and General Education Classes we must take careful notes which are reviewed and considered by the Proctors. Panic sets in as I raise my foil in my left hand. It feels awkward and clumsy, not at all the light graceful weapon that has become an extension of my arm in my months of training.
Thankfully, we are called to switch partners and I am paired with a petite Ide with dark blue eyes who is not a strong Fencer. I also know that, like me, she tries not to be swept away in the fierce competitiveness that some of our fellow Ides thrive on. Down the line, my previous partner looks quite disappointed that she isn’t being given the chance to break my other hand.
The Instructor starts the match. As the petite Ide makes her first lunge and I leap back, I realize that this does not mean that she will be easy on me. She knows she is being scrutinized more now than ever. I struggle with the parry and in less than a minute, she has the first touch. However, as we continue, I find I am fencing much more cerebrally and that I am even improving on weak spots that I had with my right hand. By the time the Instructor bellows, “Arret!” and we bow to each other, I think I have kept pace well enough to earn commendation from the Proctors. My only fear is that I have done this to the detriment of the petite Ide, who is doing her best to mind her Mien. Still, her shoulders slump slightly as she places her foil in its spot and retreats to the changing rooms.
I turn to follow her, the pain flooding back into my hand now that there is nothing to distract my mind, but I’m stopped by the Instructor. She has a hint of a smile carved on her severe face.
“Fencing with the off hand is a common training practice,” she tells me in a low voice, without making eye contact. “We won’t start doing that here until Second Year.”
I nod and try to look casual. The eyes of the Proctors are upon us, and dispensing information about upcoming training to the Ides is strictly prohibited.
“Don’t give up,” she says softly and walks across the Arena to her office. I don’t dare watch her retreat, but wonder who she is – or was – that she would give me such words of encouragement at a risk to herself.
As I glide to the changing room, my shoulders are back, my chin is up and my face pleasant and serene.