Filif wielded the stick again. The sound of wood striking wood echoed around the glade. The great oak that Filif chose as his training opponent remained unfazed by the stick, striking it again and again, timed like a clock. Downward. Sideway. Straight. Upward. In his hand, the stick was a sword, cutting down his enemies. But to the Tabaxi, this wasn’t a game despite his young age. He knew that he had to become stronger. Once again, his thoughts started to go back to the forest nearby. He kept repeating the movements but his hand began to shake. He was seeing them again. Their eyes filled with cruelty, their ugly smile as they knew he was powerless. With a shriek, Filif threw himself forward, hitting the trunk with all the strength he could muster for a nine-year-old boy. Again, the oak didn’t move and the sound echoed slightly stronger, not by much. Filif stood there, panting. He was training here several hours every day, and it had already been a month, but he didn’t feel like he made much progress. There were barely a few marks from the hits the oak had received, and none of them was making Filif feel proud. He prepared to resume the attack with his stick when he heard a voice behind him.
“That is not a proper stance.”
Filif jumped around, startled, holding his stick with both hands, pointing it at the old Human who had just spoken. The man smiled, clearly not threatened by Filif, and spoke again.
“Do not worry. I have no intention of harming you.”
Filif looked at him carefully. He had the outfit of a traveller, like the ones who visited Filif’s village every now and then. He was armed with a long spear but it was sheathed in his back. His face looked fairly old, with white hair and a white beard no thicker than a thumb. His eyes, however, didn’t look old. Filif had the feeling they could stare at his very soul or read his mind.
“I can’t read mind,” said the man, proving the opposite. “You’ll have to talk.”
“Who are you?” Filif finally spluttered.
“My name is Moëvan. I am but an old monk. And who are you, my boy?”
“I am Fiery Leaf. But most people call me Filif.”
“Well, Filif, what are you doing here?”
“I see. But you’re not doing it very well.”
“What do you know about that?” responded Filif angrily.
“Well, why don’t you prove me wrong then? Try and attack me with your stick.”
Filif was taken aback. The old man wanted him to attack him?
“I… don’t want to attack you. You’ve done me no wrong.”
The old man smiled again.
“Well, your heart is in the right place, that’s a good beginning. But don’t worry about me. You won’t touch me anyway.”
The words stung Filif’s pride and he took a fighting stance, readying his stick. He then focused to visualize the men of the forest instead of the old man. Soon, the gentle face was replaced with one younger but filled with dreadful intents. Fear sank its claws in Filif’s heart as he jumped forward, screaming with anger. He swung his stick with all his strength but the old man was suddenly by his side, the stick uselessly pointing at the ground where he had been before.
“That was no good. You used your anger to give you more strength but your movements were all over the place. Using raw emotion is not a bad thing in itself but try keeping yourself focused.
Attack me again, but this time, like you attacked that tree over there.”
Filif readied himself again, his back was now against the tree. He steadied his breathing, attempting to calm himself. Instead of the men of the forest, he began to visualize the big oak instead of the old man. The two shapes melted together in his mind until he was seeing a figure made of wood. Feeling calmer, Filif gathered strength in his legs. He leapt forward, attacking with his stick in one smooth motion. Downward. The figure took a step to the side, dodging the swing effortlessly, but Filif followed his movement with his arm. Sideway. The wooden figure took a step back as Filif pushed forward, keeping up his attack. Straight. His target dodged again with a step on the side but this time it was much more close. Filif suddenly raised his stick towards the face of the wooden figure, drawing strength from the anger he felt earlier, against the tree who wouldn’t fall, against his body for not being stronger already, against himself for blaming his own weakness. Upward. His stick rose much faster towards the face but suddenly, the figure’s hand caught it, barely an inch before it reached his face. Instead of the wooden figure, Filif was seeing the old man again, and he was smiling.
“You got potential my boy. There is a wave of deep anger within you. Do not worry, I won’t ask you about it. But I can help you refine it, make it into a weapon on which you’d have as much control as the rest of your body.”
“But… I trained for a month and, I still can’t do anything.” Replied Filif, ashamed.
“A month?! And how big do you think a tree can grow in a mere month? Remember Filif, growth takes time. But if you have the patience to see through it, you’ll be rewarded before you even notice. Now, let’s take a look at your stance.”
Moëvan moved below a few trees and picked a long straight stick.
“Mmmm, this is a bit long.”
With a flick of the wrist, Moëvan’s hand shortened the stick of a few inches.
“Try holding this one. It would feel like a spear more than a sword but using both hands on it will instinctively give you a sense of balance.”
As Filif held the “spear”, Moëvan helped him take a proper stance. Once done, the old man nodded.
“That looks better. How do you Filif my boy ?”
“My legs kind of hurt.”
“Good, that means your muscles are getting stronger. Now to give a hit. Keep waist at that height the whole time and, as you take a step forward, move your hands at the same time, with a slight twist of your wrist.”
Filif clumsily did as Moëvan said and repeated the motion, adding the slight corrections of the old monk at each time. After a few, he finally managed to do a proper hit. Moëvan nodded again with a bright smile.
“Good, from now on you just have to practice this. Do you always train alone?”
“Most of the time, but after three hours, Mirrain, that’s my little sister, usually comes to watch me.”
“I see. Well, I offer you this: I will train you like this every day, during the time you’re alone. You keep practising the lesson by yourself but you must speak of me to no one and I mean no one. Can I trust you Filif ?”
Filif found himself astonished. This old man was incredibly strong, he had no trouble feeling it. And yet he wanted to train him?! If all it took was a secret, it was already decided.
“Yes sir, I won’t say a word.”
“Then you will call me Master from now on. I will take my leave. Your sister will probably arrive soon enough. We’ll meet tomorrow at that tree.”
“Master, what if Mirrain arrives early, or she insists to accompany me when I come?”
“Do not worry about me, I will know if your sister is nearby. See you tomorrow Filif.”
The old man walked towards the woods and disappeared in their shadows. In mere seconds, it felt like he’s never been there. As Filif was still looking where his newfound master went, the echo of a voice startled him.
“Filif! I’m here!” shouted Mirrain as she was running to him.
As she was closing up the distance, Filif looked at the “spear” he was still holding. It was real, all of it, and now, he knew for certain that he could become strong.
“You’re not training today ?” his sister asked. “Usually you never stop hitting that tree.”
“I am training, but I’ll do things differently from now on.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll show you.”
As he started training in front of his sister, for the first time since he began, Filif felt no fear in his heart.